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The New Ford Mustang GT Goes Against the Newly Freshened Pontiac GTO in a Muscle Car Showdown​
NATALIE NEFF, Published Date: 1/10/05​
Pontiac likes to lay claim to the title of original muscle car with its GTO, and while that first 1964 model was more a big-engined Tempest than a pure Goat, we’re hardly one to quibble over the finer points. What is definitive to our minds, however, is this: It would be at least a year before the diminutive Ford Mustang, which bowed that same year, would even come close to the midsize Pontiac’s performance, and at least four years before a Mustang had any chance of out-and-out beating one. That first year, however, was no contest.

In its top-end form, a stock ’64 GTO with a 348-hp (at the flywheel), 389-cid V8 was good for 6.6 seconds to 60 mph and under-15 in the quarter-mile. Not until the GT350 debuted the following year would a Mustang get close, and even then it still fell shy of the Pontiac—by then up to 360 horses—by nearly three-quarters of a second.
Yet today when we think of muscle cars, it’s the Mustang’s paradigm that persists, that of the pony car, the little car with the big heart. The intermediate has long since disappeared, a point driven further by the fact that today the GTO is not even two inches longer than a Mustang GT.

So as we approach three years without a Chevrolet Camaro to throw down with the Mustang GT, we thought it would be fun to pit the Pontiac against the de facto reigning pony car champ, to see which has more of what it takes to gallop home the winner.

The GTO may wear the Pontiac shield, but as we all know by now, behind that kidney-shaped grille breathes an Aussie beast. No worries; its V8-powered, rear-drive, two-door design gives it all the street cred we require for a legitimate showdown with the best out of Dearborn.

When last we visited with the GTO, the brute from Down Under was pounding out a dust cloud raising 350 horses and 365 lb-ft of torque, grunting and growling and sounding every bit the frightening Detroit iron its fabled name recalls. In its 2004 form the GTO was good for 5.49 seconds to 60 mph and a quarter-mile time of 13.82 seconds at 103.0 mph. Not bad numbers, to be sure, especially given the GTO’s none-too-buoyant 3700-plus-pound curb weight, though we’re sure the old model could have dropped a couple of tenths if not for the crazy amount of wheel hop it kicked up at the line.
The way the Mustang sounds, feels and drives
from the ample grunt under the hood to
the exhaust rumble to the clearly improved suspension
and steering response has made for many a happy
staffer around One AutoWeek Tower.

Today the ol’ Goat has traded in its 5.7-liter LS1 V8 for the monster 6.0-liter LS2, complete with 400 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque all routed through either a four-speed automatic or, more in line with our purposes, an optional six-speed manual. Add to that a more obvious performance-oriented look, including a more aggressive rear fascia with twin tailpipes, bigger brakes with red calipers and a new hood with functioning dual hood scoops, and there is plenty of new stuff going on with the 2005 GTO.

Same goes for the Mustang. After 25 years of Fox-bodied cars, with little of substance changing from one model year to the next, the folks at Ford have finally given us an all-new Mustang with which to play.

The last Mustang GT we tested in 1999 turned out 260 hp from its 4.6-liter two-valve V8. On the track that translated into 5.88 seconds to 60 mph, with the quarter-mile passing in 14.44 seconds at 96.9 mph. Of course, the much more powerful SVT Mustang Cobra we ran through our AutoFile tests in 2003 blew that away with a 4.85-second 0-to-60-mph time, but the new Cobra has yet to come out, so we’ll hold onto those figures for now.
From the moment you slide behind the wheel,
crank that awesome small-block and fling it
into a corner, you know this GTO shares little
with its namesake other than you can have a
bunch of fun behind the wheel.

The new Mustang comes in two distinct flavors. The base model, a lively six-cylinder churning out 210 horses and 240 lb-ft of torque, makes up the bulk of Ford’s pony car sales, a full 70 percent. It uses a newly designed 4.0-liter engine with overhead cams in place of the aging 3.8-liter ohv V6 that made its home for so long underhood. For our purposes, we turned to the backstraight-blazing, V8-powered GT, with 300 horses’ worth of thoroughbred top-end married to 320 lb-ft of clomping off-the-line grunt. It depends on a highly revised version of the 4.6-liter, using three-valve heads now as well as variable-valve timing.

Our first few experiences with the Mustang GT have proven Ford still knows a thing or two about building a fun car, despite the blahness the Five Hundred imparts. The way the Mustang sounds, feels and drives—from the ample grunt under the hood to the exhaust rumble to the clearly improved suspension and steering response—has made for many a happy staffer around One AutoWeek Tower.

Of course, our first time behind the wheel of a GTO more than a year ago proved more than fun, too. We thought the steering felt fine, calling it “quick, crisp and responsive.” We especially enjoyed how well the vehicle handled, its “chassis almost unflappable over road imperfections and through aggressively driven curves,” its “superior body control... particularly fine when hustled full-on through tighter combinations of turns.” We loved the notchiness of the six-speed, and found the interior design fresh and exciting. The skin? Well, we had nothing bad to say about it; we simply called it forgettable.

Bringing the more-powerful-for-2005 model to the track opened some eyes, to say the least. All the straight-line numbers hit right where we had expected—5.15 seconds to 60 mph, 13.75 seconds in the quarter-mile at 104.1 mph, trumping the Mustang’s numbers across the board—but the GTO didn’t feel nearly as lively or as sharp as we had remembered. The reason? Driving the car back-to-back with the new Mustang GT.
The difference was most marked through the slalom course. The GTO’s steering, while fine on its own, felt hugely lumbering and slow compared to the Mustang’s. The Pontiac’s handling style requir*ed us to predict each cone by turning the wheel early, then waiting half a heartbeat for the car to follow behind. Doing so made the car a breeze to drive, as it could basically be steered on the throttle like that all day long. Problem was, switching to the Ford almost always resulted in a spinout the first go-through the cones because our hands would instinctively try turning in early, only to have the car react in a flash and loop. In other words, where the GTO’s steering wheel—and everything it’s connected to—felt heavy, muddy, even numb, the Mustang’s had a sharp, immediate turn-in feel and bristled with visceral sensations of the road at every turn.

The Mustang felt sharp throughout the test. Down the drag strip the shifter made for quicker, more precise shifts than the GTO’s, even if it ultimately couldn’t match the extra 100 horses the Pontiac’s increased displacement affords. The Mustang’s brakes felt better, too, even though both cars required 128 feet to stop from 60 mph. After several deceleration runs the GTO’s brakes started to shimmy on application, indicating a warp or other negative wear pattern; the Mustang’s felt fine.

Overall, the difference with the Mustang mechanicals was you could actually feel what they were doing; the GTO, in the immortal words of one staffer, felt like it was wearing an auto-condom. A good set of performance tires could put the Mustang into another league altogether.

As for style, the Ford looks cooler, inside and out, and cool counts in this segment. Sure, the Mustang takes zero styling risks as it is practically a carbon copy of the ’67 fastback, but the ’67 was a cool-looking car. The GTO, on the other hand, is total blandsville. It leaves absolutely no impression whatsoever.
Then there’s the matter of the moolah. The pony car segment has traditionally been a good one in terms of bang-for-buck deals. In that regard, the 2005 Mustang GT is a hard-core traditionalist, making for one heckuva compelling package when you consider it costs thousands of dollars less than the Pontiac.

For our tastes, in the end, pure might doesn’t necessarily prove right. For all the GTO’s brute power—its liter-and-a-half, 100-horse advantage, its quarter-second-quicker 0-to-60-mph time, three-tenths- quicker quarter-mile time—not to mention the car’s hefty price premium, it simply cannot match the Mustang for feel, style or value.

Overall, the Mustang backs up its looks with a handling performance that puts to shame the GTO’s. Any minor shortfall at the strip was worth how brightly the Mustang took on the cones. Sound the bell, it’s no contest: The winner is the Mustang GT.


HORSEPOWER: 300 @ 5750 rpm

Front-longitudinal 4.6-liter/281-cid sohc V8
Output: 300 hp @ 5750 rpm, 320 lb-ft @ 4500 rpm
Compression ratio: 9.8:1
Fuel requirement: 87 octane

Rear-wheel drive
Transmission: Five-speed manual
Final drive ratio: 3.55:1

Unibody two-door coupe

Wheelbase: 107.1 in
Track (front/rear): 62.6/62.5 in
Length/width/height: 188.0/73.9/55.4 in
Curb weight: 3483 lbs

Front: Independent MacPherson struts, coil springs, antiroll bar
Rear: Three-link solid axle with coil springs,
gas-charged shock absorbers, Panhard rod, antiroll bar

Vented discs front and rear, ABS;
aluminum 235/55ZR-17 Pirelli PZero Nero M+S​
Fuel: 16.0 gal
Cargo: 13.1 cu ft
Options as tested
Interior upgrade package, with leather steering wheel,
aluminum trim, polished register rings and sport shift knob
for manual transmission, polished six-gauge cluster with
MyColor feature and message center, dark charcoal door
panel inserts ($450); side airbags ($370); 17-inch bright-
machined aluminum wheels ($195); wheel-locking kits ($50)​

HORSEPOWER: 400 @ 5200 rpm

Front-longitudinal 6.0-liter/364-cid ohv V8
Output: 400 hp @ 5200 rpm, 400 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
Compression ratio: 10.9:1
Fuel requirement: 92 octane

Rear-wheel drive
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Final drive ratio: 3.46:1

Unibody two-door coupe

Wheelbase: 109.8 in
Track (front/rear): 61.8/61.8 in
Length/width/height: 189.8/72.5/54.9 in
Curb weight: 3800 lbs (est.)

Front: Independent MacPherson struts,
progressive-rate coil springs, antiroll bar
Rear: Independent semi-trailing control arms,
coil springs, gas-charged shock absorbers, antiroll bar

Vented discs front, solid discs rear, ABS;
aluminum 245/45ZR-17 BFGoodrich g-Force T/A KDWS[/CENTER]
Fuel: 18.5 gal
Cargo: 13 cu ft
Options as tested
Six-speed manual transmission ($695)​


> For me there is no debate, I’ll take the Mustang, thanks. Sure, the GTO has more raw power, but I prefer the Mustang’s handling, and its 300 hp isn’t anything to scoff at. Factor in the Ford’s far more captivating design and lower price, and you have your answer. —Mac Morrison

> As much as the brute force of the GTO intrigues, in the battle to reinterpret ’60s icons for the new millennium, the ’05 Mustang GT wins hands down. It fixes most everything we hated about the previous model, without ruining the heritage of Ford’s pony. What do they say about imitation? —Bob Gritzinger

> While so many are voting for the Mustang, I’ll take the GTO. Why? Because I love GM’s small-block V8 and I like the subtlety in the GTO’s shape. Call it dull if you want; if it had wings and spoilers and scoops and flares hanging all over it, people would complain about that, too. I also like the GTO’s roomier-than-Mustang interior. Mostly, though, I’m hoping the GTO wakes GM up enough to spawn a Camaro rebirth. —Wes Raynal

> From the moment you slide behind the wheel, crank that awesome small-block and fling it into a corner, you know this GTO shares little with its namesake other than you can havea bunch of fun behind the wheel. I had the pleasure of plying SoCal’s twisty land of canyon runners with a GTO, and it kept up with the best of the lot. Better still, the GTO sounds spectacular, the interior is simple and tough, and it doesn’t back down when taunted. Now GM throws in more horses! Oh, my: This could be the best sleeper sports coupe for the cash. —Dutch Mandel

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410 Posts
thanks for posting this 05GTO.

Its amazing 2 evaluators pick the Mustang and 2 pick the GTO and they claim the Mustang wins hands down. Seems like a well written article and fair comparison compaired to others we've seen. They at least clearly explained why they felt the way they did.

I'm over in the UK this week so this was a good read. I'm missing my ride and driving on the other side with four-bangers just isn't quite the same. BTW, Gas is $8 a gallon! Aren't taxes great!

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410 Posts
I did notice when during my test drives that the steering on my Camaro Z-28 was quicker than GTOs I drove, but I did not find it objectionable and I though it made the car easier to drive on the highway - not as much attention to keep it in the lane. Maybe alls the GTO need was a little quicker steering and the GTO proponent would have been in the majority and put the GTO in the "favorite" column.
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