Normally, my goal is to select the top-of-the-line car with the most horsepower and often least gas mileage, and drive it recklessly, as if it is the last time I will ever drive. But this time, I purposely chose a lesser model and went out of my way to drive as nicely as possible and see how this wild animal could behave in the civilized world.  This week I drove the 2011 Ford Mustang, V6.

My interest in the V6 is actually quite scholarly. It’s amazing that Ford could make an engine that gets 31 miles per gallon while producing 305 brake horsepower.  I had to find out what they had done.  Usually, you either tame an engine or you set it free. In this case, Ford did both.

Once I climbed in, I immediately noticed the difference in design.  Something I didn’t care for with earlier models of the Mustang was that the hood was so high that the gauges were hard to read. (Not that you really need to bother reading gauges in a Mustang.) I started the engine and heard that lovely roar.  I pulled out onto the road and drove along.  It was strange.  I felt like I was in a normal car with much less horsepower. It was clear that Ford had tamed the wild Mustang, but I questioned whether that was all they did. It was almost too easy to behave in this car.  The experience seemed a bit boring.  However, in the name of science, I refused to make a final judgment at that point. The Mustang trotted around town at a nice pace, following speed limits and attracting looks from other drivers. It really is a stunning car.

After a bit, I finally decided that it was time to see just how fast Ford’s version of Sea Biscuit, a docile yet incredibly powerful animal, could really go. The road straightened out and I put the pedal down. I was nearly thrown back into my seat as the Mustang broke into a gallop. Ford should not have called this car the Mustang, they should have renamed it “The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing.”  This car had become a monster. The roar of it all was so exciting. It was everything I had been missing earlier. It snarled as I maneuvered around corners and sped up to continue on my ride around town. At one point I fishtailed around a corner. I had the traction control on! I continued on my way and was finally able to calm down. It was time to head back to the stable.  Then, just as if I had pushed a button to return to pony mode, the little horse with a big heart trotted home.

All too often, I drive a car that begs to be driven hard. This car was civil one moment, but the second I put the hammer down it bit my head off.  In short, Ford is no longer making a Mustang; it’s making an entirely new breed of horse.