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When It Was New Review - 1996 Ford Mustang Cobra - From The Auto Channel Vault

By: John Heilig

Mustang Photo

SEE ALSO: Ford Buyer's Guide

  • MODEL: 1996 Ford Mustang Cobra
  • ENGINE: 4.6-liter DOHC V-8
  • HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 305@5,800 rpm/300@4,800 rpm
  • TRANSMISSION: Five-speed manual
  • FUEL ECONOMY: 18 mpg city, 26 mpg highway, 16.4 mpg test
  • WHEELBASE: 101.3 in.
  • OVERALL LENGTH: 161.5 in.
  • OVERALL HEIGHT: 53.4 in.
  • OVERALL WIDTH: 71.8 in.
  • CURB WEIGHT: 3393 lbs (11.1 lbs/hp)
  • FUEL CAPACITY: 15.4 gal.
  • LUGGAGE CAPACITY: 10.9 cu. ft.
  • TIRES: P245/45ZR17
  • 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, leather seats, AM-FM stereo radio with cassette and CD, anti-lock braking, dual air bags.
  • STICKER PRICE: $26,645

Winter weather is not the ideal venue for a car like the Ford Mustang Cobra. There is so much horsepower (305) and so many foot-pounds of torque (300) coming out of the double overhead cam 4.6-liter V-8 and driving the rear wheels, you know there's going to be slipping and sliding. Add to that the Goodyear Gatorback tires with their performance tread which isn't exactly a snow tire, and you can see the problems. The Cobra can be a handful in humid weather, much less snow and ice.

So you can imagine my trepidation when the Cobra was delivered as we were shoveling out from one of our snowfalls this winter. In fact, the gentleman who delivered the car said the Cobra was sideways most of the way up from Philadelphia. And since our community is one that doesn't believe in plowing down to the blacktop, it was several days before I could get the Cobra out of low gear on my own street. It reached the point where I was starting in second gear and using all that torque.

But snow goes away (eventually) and most of it was plowed, and I had an opportunity to exercise the Cobra on some decent roads. Even though the weather was cold, the car was hot.

The Cobra is the top performing Mustang. The 1996 version contains all the bells and whistles that have been added to the redesigned Mustang. The most significant visual change is the switch from horizontal to three vertical taillights. Of course, the Cobra has other markings that will please the boy racer in all of us. There are snakes on the sides and a spoiler in the back.

The 4.6-liter engine is hooked to the rear wheels through a five-speed manual gearbox with nice short throws. It feels like a race car out of the box. The suspension was taut, and where I was able to exercise the car, gave very good handling. The tight suspension, however, did not give way to a soft or comfortable ride. We felt every little bump in the road and every defect in the asphalt, so that we knew what was going on. But if you want great handling, this is one of the prices you must pay.

The Cobra had full instrumentation, with black-on-white instruments that changed to lighted on dark at night. It had an excellent heating system, an AM-FM stereo sound system with cassette and CD, and all the luxury goodies of "normal" Mustangs.

When you're sitting in the Cobra you look out over a short hood with a pair of power bulges that let you know what's lurking underneath. The engine is not tuned for silence, so the exhaust also lets you know what's there.

The Mustang drives shorter than its chief rival, the Camaro, and it is about a foot shorter. It also looks stubbier, bit that's a styling trick. The rear seat is small, as in most pony cars, but the trunk isn't too bad at almost 11 cubic feet. This is about 50 percent more than the convertible, so if you're planning long trips, plan on getting the coupe.

While I didn't like the fact that the Cobra was delivered in a foot of snow, and certainly the man who delivered it wasn't too thrilled either, it proved to be a lot of fun and a good car for bashing around town on some last-minute shopping trips before Christmas. The cobra is not an ideal winter vehicle. Given infinite money, the Cobra is a car I'd only drive in the summer if I owned it, simply because that's where it belongs. But it certainly was a fun car.