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2003 SVT Mustang Cobra is best ever

November 5, 2002

With the departure of the Chevrolet Camaro and the Pontiac Firebird from the performance-car market, Ford could get by with resting on its laurels for a while, as the Mustang suddenly finds itself without competition.

But there's no laurel-resting going on in Dearborn, Mich., as Ford executives are preparing a brand-new Mustang that will debut either as a late 2004 model or an early 2005.

Meanwhile, there's life left in the current Mustang, especially the 2003 SVT Cobra version, which has 390 horsepower, thanks to a supercharged, 32-valve version of the 4.6-liter V-8 engine. SVT is "Special Vehicle Team," a small but very dedicated group of engineers and designers whose job it is to take Ford products and hot-rod them.

The Cobra took the 2002 model year off, in part because of an embarrassing turn of events that had the previous Cobra generating fewer horsepower than the company was advertising. Knowing that the 2003 Cobra's horsepower would be scrutinized, SVT's figure of 390 is, by all accounts, very conservative.

With an out-the-door price of less than $34,000, actually less expensive than Ford initially led us to believe, the Cobra coupe is a lot of car for the money. The regular Chevrolet Corvette has 350 horsepower, though the Z06 model has 405. The Cobra is considerably cheaper than the base Corvette, and it has a rear seat (such as it is), but to many, it doesn't carry Corvette-level prestige. The Cobra convertible is $38,170. There are no options.

What you get, then, is a fully equipped vehicle, with leather-trimmed upholstery, a powerful stereo with six-disc CD player and all the power-operated equipment you'd expect. As with the previous-model Cobra, you get an independent rear suspension.

Inside, the Cobra looks and feels like a Mustang GT, and like a GT, I had trouble finding a comfortable seat position. Instruments and controls are nicely placed.

The Cobra's transmission is a six-speed manual, and on the test car, the clutch was the stiffest I've seen on a passenger car. The shifter was notchy and imprecise as well. A fix for both concerns is in the works, I am told by SVT.

On the road, handling and braking are exceptional. The ride is harsh only on very rough pavement. As for the engine, it does feel like 390 horsepower, but lacks the kick-in-the-pants torque that the Corvette's V-8 has, even the 350-horse version.

That said, this is the best Mustang ever, and a good way to wind down this generation of pony cars. Ford is keeping this flame red hot.

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My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.

My next Ford.....
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