3.7L V-6 Gets Power of Envy

Pony Power Test

Story Chris Richardson - June 20, 2011 09:00 AM


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The cries came far and wide that when it hit the pavement, the Camaro bested Mustang by a hundred horses, give or take a few, in V-6 or V-8 guise.

Over the course of its multi-decade existence, the Mustang has experienced an ebb and flow of horsepower, even at its very beginning. As the ’64½ cars from the spring/summer production transitioned to the true ’65 model year that fall, all non-HiPo engines experienced a gain in output.

The oil embargo, by simple happenstance, ushered in the Mustang II. That first year, 1974, was the only period in which there was no V-8 offered, an oversight that was quickly rectified. During the 1980-’81 seasons, a 255 engine, Mustang’s smallest eight ever, produced less power than the turbocharged 2.3 liter of the era.

Returning in 1982, the venerable 5.0 signaled the beginning of a love affair that would last through 1995, when the 4.6 cammer came online the following year. Increasing the breathing capacity via three valves per cylinder brought 300 horsepower to the GT’s standard output for the fifth generation, a combination that has been the mainstay.

And then 2011 rolled around. After a decade and a half hiatus, the 5.0 liter made a triumphant return, heralding a new round of performance (412hp) that suddenly made Mustang a big league contender in up-level capabilities at a low cost. But what also enamored enthusiasts was the new 3.7 liter V-6.

This powerplant takes things to an entirely different level, able to make the claim of the first 300-plus horsepower six-cylinder to attain over 30 miles per gallon (305hp and 31 mpg with the automatic transmission), an absolutely impressive accomplishment.

We wanted to see how it performed in the real world of the enthusiast, which meant that we’d be putting this horse through its paces and, yes, we wanted to sample the row-for-yourself version of the six-speed.

Full MSRP for our Grabber Blue-hued coupe was $28,690. It was an up level “premium” version with the $1,995 Performance Package, its only option. Included in the group are beefier sway bars, specific front springs, a strut tower brace, unique calipers with Performance Friction pads, 19-inch wheels shod with 255/40R19 rubber (in grippier “summer” compound), 3.31 cogs (2.73 is the normal rear gearset), and a stability control system specially programmed with a sport mode. Black-painted side mirrors are also part of the deal.

After taking delivery, we traipsed over to Woodward Avenue (yes, that Woodward) the night before hitting the track to allow for some acclimation time with the tight gate. Only once did it snag during a quick two-three attempt. The rear stayed put, too, never stepping out during any of the swift shifting, a point to recall for later.

At the dragway, it’s important to remember that we were striving for “real world” numbers, so there were no burnouts or a tire “cleansing” performed before reaching the line and the psi was kept at as-delivered, factory specs. Likewise, we didn’t let the car sit for 45 minutes with a bag of ice from the concession stand planted on the intake plenum, either. We hit the track about 10 minutes after teching in, so this is as the car would perform as it sits at a stop sign with a long stretch of flat pavement lying straight ahead.

The first run felt tight and dialed-in, but the throw into third gear hitched slightly, which quelled the results. It was our only shifting hiccup of the evening, and still resulted in a 14.50 time. Had it been a clean change, a couple tenths less would likely have been the result.

During our third time out, the rear skittered to the right on the shift to second. This happened a couple more times, too, but our final run of the night is when things got a bit disconcerting. The car had barked the tires every time when hitting third before, but now its haunches kicked as if they were getting stung on the thigh. The recovery was fine, but the incident was certainly unwelcome. We really don’t believe it was the Mustang acting up here, though, as up to 35 mph gusts were occurring during our track time. Plus, as mentioned, stability was never an issue with the previous evening’s romps.

Shifts were performed at 6,500 rpm. About a hundred feet before the traps, while still in third and the tach swinging up, the car just touched the redline. As we said, hitting that gear hard produced a buzz of the tires and trying a few times going into fourth actually resulted in a slight chirp, which certainly came as a surprise. This clutch has more clamping force than a rabid pit bull getting its tail stepped on and was no worse for the wringing out, as engagement remained completely smooth and composed as we left the track.

The rest of the evening was spent in that 14.5 range and a registered 99.98 mph was the best we could do going through the traps (yes, at least a couple hundredths less than what we expected). A little later in our tenure with this ’11, we found ourselves on a long, empty two-lane freeway entrance ramp, which allowed for full-pedal application. This, in turn, resulted in an inadvertent run into that tri-numeral territory. Honestly, the Mustang had reached it before it was a realization, lending testament to the prowess of this six-popper pony.

A cooler engine, knocking down the tire pressure, roiling the rubber in the burnout box and shifting at 6,800 (by the way, that’s the redline for this mill), is likely where a sub-14 clocking is going to show up on the time slips. Well, all that, plus not having to deal with a literally pushy Mother Nature, too. We believe the crosswinds contributed to the times being a bit less strong than possible (and, like we said, a factor with the posterior not remaining planted during some gear changes).

The cries came far and wide that when it hit the pavement, the Camaro bested Mustang by a hundred horses, give or take a few, in V-6 or V-8 guise. Both of these new engines provide the extra motivation to put the breed on a level playing field with its crosstown rival. This tech-laden six not only has the power to make the basic model less so, but also changes the perceptions that performance engines can’t be efficient, too. With that, only one question remains: What kind of frosting would you like on your cake that you can now have and consume?