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New Car Review

Ford SVT Mustang Cobra

by John Heilig


SEE ALSO: Ford Buyer's Guide


ENGINE:             4.6-liter 32-valve V-8
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE:  305 hp @ 5,800 rpm/300 ft-lbs @ 4,800 rpm
TRANSMISSION:       Five-speed manual
FUEL ECONOMY:       18 mpg city, 26 mpg highway, 17.6 mpg test
WHEELBASE:          101.3 in.
OVERALL LENGTH:     182.5 in.
OVERALL HEIGHT:     53.3 in.
OVERALL WIDTH:      71.8 in.
CURB WEIGHT:        3,506 lbs 
FUEL CAPACITY:      15.7 gal.
LUGGAGE CAPACITY:   7.7 cu. ft.
TIRES:              245/45ZR17
INSTRUMENTS:        Speedometer, tachometer, fuel level, 
                    water temperature, oil pressure, 
                    battery voltage, digital clock.
EQUIPMENT:          Power windows, power door locks, 
                    power mirrors, cruise control, 
                    air conditioner, AM-FM stereo 
                    radio with cassette, anti-lock 
                    braking, dual air bags.
STICKER PRICE:      $28,660

There are Mustangs and there are Mustangs. Sure, the car returned to its former sporty self in the 1995 redesign, but the base car is still a V-6-powered car that is pretty tame. Stepping up the line is the Mustang GT, with a 4.6-liter V-8 that has 225 horses under the hood.

But the ultimate Mustang for 1998 is the SVT Mustang Cobra. SVT stands for Special Vehicles Team, the old Special Vehicle Operations that created the SVO Mustang. The Cobra is powered by a 305 horsepower version of the 4.6-liter V-8with 32 valves and other goodies.

The Cobra's engine has a nice growl to it. You know there's something important under the hood the instant you turn on the ignition. The engine comes to life and wakes the car (and a few of the neighbors) up. Shift into first with the short throw gear shifter and the Cobra literally takes off. If I was good enough with my pedal work, I'm sure I could life the front tires off the road while the rears are chirping away.

By the time you reach second gear, you're already exceeding the speed limit in most sane communities. I'm fortunate that I live in a fairly remote area or my license would have been confiscated a long time ago. Third gear is an excellent one for cruising around. The revs aren't that high and you can travel at the speed limit and still have enough in reserve for great acceleration.

Fourth and fifth are almost afterthoughts. Sure, I did get to fifth during my morning commute (traffic gets up to 70 mph sometimes, even though it is often close), but the engine is idling at under 2,000 rpm at that speed. Fifth is a great gear for tooling along on an Interstate or major highway where you know you aren't going to need the great acceleration power of the engine too much.

The Mustang Cobra isn't all about straight line speed. This is a car that also doesn't embarrass itself or you when there are bends in the road. The SVT Cobra shares the same basic suspension geometry as the standard Mustang and the Mustang GT. The only difference is that the Cobra has variable-rate coil springs up front combined with a 1.14-inch diameter stabilizer tube (it's 1.06 inches on the V-6 and 1.18 in the GT). The rear stabilizer bar is 1.06 inch in the Cobra and .94 in the GT. The stabilizer bar helps keep the car flat or neutral in high-speed cornering and allows the driver to maintain control of the car. Oddly, the relatively sophisticated Cobra still has a solid rear end.

Instrumentation is interesting, with black-on-white gauges for all functions. These revert to white-on-black when the lights are on and it's dark outside. In the transition period, they're not that easy to read.

Our tester was the convertible, which meant it had a basically useless, 7.7-cubic foot, trunk. The trunk in the coupe is a more practical 10.7 cubic feet. Neither of these approaches the carrying capacity of our old `65 Mustang fastback, but hey, all `65s had enormous trunks.

The day we returned the Cobra it was raining, which made the ride to the bus stop to pick up the driver an exciting one. There's a lot of power going to the rear wheels and not a lot of weight back there. So I found that cornering was especially exciting as the Mustang wanted to come around a lot. Acceleration away from stops was also fun because the tires simply didn't want to grip.

I liked the Mustang. Every now and then I get to drive a real hairy car that makes me feel 30 years younger. I can put the top down and cruise along any roadway as if I was a teenager. Of course, the response from people who see me is usually, "Who is that old man in the Mustang?" but who cares? I'm having fun.