One Foxy Snake: The latest Cobra is a classic
WE HAD TO AGREE WITH the SVT Mustang Cobra owners who contacted us: The car is a blast to drive, and a high-performance bargain.
Nearly all of the respondents already have owned Mustangs, Cobras or otherwise. And they like the fact this SVT car has lots of aftermarket potential.
If you don’t like the brakes or the clunky shifter or almost anything else, numerous, not-too-expensive aftermarket parts can improve looks, comfort and performance. One owner noted that while a stock SVT Cobra can now challenge (and has more power than) the non-Z06 Corvettes, his further souped-up Cobra can outrun the Z06 and even hunt a rival snake, the Dodge Viper.
We loved the supercharged, intercooled 4.6-liter dohc V8, blasting out 390 hp and 390 lb-ft of torque. The engine makes that torque from what feels like idle all the way up to the rev limiter, which cuts in at about 50 to 100 revs before the 6500-rpm redline (so we had to short shift the six-speed manual).
We initially struggled to route all that power smoothly to the wheels for our track times. We’d launch at about 2500 rpm and cause fairly violent shaking, or we’d try feathering the throttle, which bogged the engine. Power shifting didn’t help much either. “Power shifting is kind of a wasted effort,” a tester wrote, “because it appears that when you jab the clutch, it cuts supercharger boost. I can see pressure collapse on the boost gauge even though I’m still on the gas.”
With practice our launches and shifts became smooth enough to post legitimate times. We also noticed, after two cool-down laps, a big jump in speed. Despite the intercooler, the engine provides measurable performance gains if you cool it down.
Unlike the acceleration runs, the SVT-tuned suspension with the independent rear setup brought nothing but blissful handling on both street and track. “In the slalom, it’s easily controllable when the back end goes away,” our tester noted. “It’s recoverable like in the good old days. Drive it like a Porsche—opposite lock, stay on throttle, and it settles right back down.”
Likewise on the skidpad: “One of the most pleasing cars to balance with throttle and steering in recent memory.” We also noted excellent steering feel and good straight-line stability on freeways.
Regarding the Cobra’s looks, about half of the owners wanted more flash, the others liked its more subdued appearance vs. the boy racer-ish Mach 1. The latter is one step below the Cobra in the ’Stang lineup, offering 305 hp and 320 lb-ft and a sticker that’s about $9,000 lighter.
The SVT Cobra has its own front and rear fascias, larger wheels and tires (17-inchers) and redesigned front seats. All liked the front seats, except for one owner who, um, said they were “a bit too binding for real men.” Otherwise, the interior is basic Mustang, the quality of interior plastics a mixed bag.
The brakes do not match the Cobra’s impressive engine and handling. The front brakes are 13-inch vented Brembo discs, with twin-piston floating calipers that aren’t Brembo, but a less-expensive brand. Rear brakes (non-Brembo) are smaller than we expected, with 11.65-inch vented discs and single- piston floating calipers. (Four- channel, four-sensor ABS is standard.) Stopping from 80, 60 and 30 mph, the Cobra needed 18, seven and two feet more distance respectively vs. a 1998 Corvette convertible we tested (AutoFile, July 27, 1998).
The brakes are part of the cost saving, as are its Goodyear Eagle F1 GS tires, which aren’t the stickiest of that lineup.
But they contribute to the bang for the buck (which is what Mustang—and the late Camaro—has been about), and are areas the aftermarket can address.
We couldn’t help but be impressed with the responses from SVT Cobra owners. They described with passion their driving experiences and alterations to their cars to increase performance and driving pleasure. We believe this car, built on the old, outgoing Fox platform, will be considered a classic by Ford performance fans for years to come.
This car is a blast. It’s powerful, handles well—heck, it’s even comfortable. Who’d have thought you could get all this in a Mustang? Wonderful convertible top, tight and quiet. Bad news: still a Fox platform, complete with flexible chassis and rubbery shifter. Good news: an aftermarket full of quality, affordable parts to fix these—and then some. -Stan VanDernoot, Peabody, Mass.
Power anywhere, anytime, any rpm. But it’s the tuning potential that really sets the car apart. With easy, inexpensive modifications, such as a pulley, chip and cat-back, I get Viper output for less than half the price—all with the stock suspension (I don’t know how SVT got a 25-year-old Fairmont to handle and ride so nicely). It doesn’t have the aplomb of the Z06 or M3, and the interior is dated, but pure acceleration more than makes up for it. -John Triozzi, West Chester, Pa.
Having had 21 Mustangs since 1966, I feel qualified to say the ’03 Cobra is the best yet: incred-ible power, very balanced handling, and brakes that pull it down from triple-digit speeds in a hurry. I’ve made some minor bolt-on changes, and it now makes 482 hp and 514 lb-ft. The bargain-basement shifter needs to go. -Joseph Panciarello, Bay Shore, N.Y.
The SVT was cheaper than an M3 or a Corvette by $10,000 or more, yet equals or betters the performance of those. The car is brutally quick in stock form and totally satisfies enthusiast needs. -Steve Rold, Phoenix
Ford has a winner with this car. For the buck, it sure makes me feel good to see Vettes trying to catch a peek at the car knowing they now have competition. -Gene Pavliscsak, via e-mail
The new canvas top is miles ahead of the old plastic and it really keeps the car quiet inside. Had the cats replaced on the car early on and it really woke it up. The torque and horsepower sit in a very usable band—the car feels like a big-block 428 rather than a high-revving 281. -Bob Gerometta, Riverside, Ill.
Great performance value
Old Fox platform
Same old imprecise shifter
VEHICLE SPECS AND INFO
Ford Motor Co.
Special Vehicle Team
777 Republic Drive
Allen Park MI 48101
Customer assistance: (800) 367-3788
Internet address: www.svt.ford.com
Country of origin: United States
Number of dealers: 604 (est. SVT dealers)
As tested (includes $625 delivery and $1,000 gas-guzzler tax): $34,750
Owners paid; average: $32,245 to $39,995; $35,812
OPTIONS AS TESTED
OTHER MAJOR OPTIONS
Chrome wheels ($695)
Unibody two-door coupe
Wheelbase (in): 101.3
Track (in): 60.3 front and rear
Length/width/height (in): 183.5/73.1/52.5
Curb weight/GVWR (lbs): 3665/4435
Fuel (gal): 15.7
Cargo (cu ft): 10.6
Front-longitudinal 4.6-liter/280.65-cid supercharged V8
Horsepower: 390 @ 6000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft): 390 @ 3500 rpm
Compression ratio: 8.5:1
Fuel requirement: 91 octane
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Final drive ratio: 3.55:1
Front: Modified MacPherson struts with coil springs, gas-charged dampers and antiroll bar
Rear: Multilink with fixed toe-control tie rods, aluminum spindles, coil springs, gas-charged dampers and antiroll bar
Discs front and rear, ABS
Goodyear Eagle F1 GS
0-60 mph: 4.85 sec
0-100 km/h (62.1 mph): 5.09 sec
0-quarter-mile: 13.31 sec @ 106.6 mph
20-40 mph (first gear): 1.6 sec
40-60 mph (second gear): 2.2 sec
60-80 mph (second gear): 3.1 sec
60 mph-0: 124 ft
490-foot slalom: 43.8 mph
Lateral acceleration (200-foot skidpad): 0.87 g
INTERIOR NOISE (dBA)
Full throttle: 85
Steady 60 mph: 71
EPA combined: 18.85 mpg
AW overall: 14.08 mpg