2016 Ford Mustang GT First Drive

Two Mustang GT’s, both with manual transmissions? Is this heaven on earth?

I was really wondering if I had to put the word "Ford" in the title of this article. Why, you may ask? Because if you tell someone you drive a Mustang, you know it's a Ford. Take a good long look at the new Mustang – there isn't a Ford logo on it. Instead, there's a galloping horse, the car's icon. You know what a Mustang is.

Until last year, I didn't have much experience behind the wheel of a Mustang. I had friends who had them, but I didn't have enough wheel time to form a valid opinion on them. Come 2015, and it's my first time behind the wheel of the new, 2015 Mustang GT convertible. I hated it.

SEE ALSO: 2016 Chevrolet Camaro 2LT Review

The convertible had the same V8 engine as the GTs I'm talking about today, but the droptop version weighs considerably more than the hardtop. On top of that, I was driving an automatic, which dulled my driving experience even further. It didn't feel as fast as I expected in any sense, and I was let down immensely.

2016 rolled around, and I was once again offered the opportunity to drive the Mustang GT – this time both droptop and hardtop versions. I made a beeline for the hardtop immediately.

The first GT of the two was a California Special – a far cry from the GT convertible I drove last year. The hardtop meant it was lighter, and a manual box sitting in the middle of the car meant a more engaging drive. I should also add that this is the first 6th generation Mustang with a California Special package that I've ever seen in my life. It's also the first California Special I've ever driven.

I'm going to take a wild guess as to why the 6th gen Mustang with the C/S package is so rare: The GT's performance package is $2,495 – the C/S package is $1,995 and you can't have both. Because of the staggering value offered by the performance package, choosing it over the C/S is easy.

But which one is better?

While behind the wheel of the C/S, I really couldn't see how the Performance Pack could have been better. The engine, a 5.0L "Coyote" V8 was such an eager unit – it snarls when you blip the throttle for downshifts, and even in high gears the slightest dab of the throttle is all you need to wake up the torque to get you moving on the freeway. When you're idling at a red light, the V8's exhaust burble lightly reverberates across the cabin, reminding you know you're driving a V8, not the Ecoboost or the V6.

Still, the exhaust is not as loud as I'd want it, in fact it gives the car a hint of subtlety which is completely out of character for this car. While driving, I couldn't help but constantly wish that the exhaust was louder to bring out the full personality of the V8.

The gearbox has a mechanical stiffness to it and every shift feels nice and crisp. The tiny gearknob doesn't fit into your hand as nicely as the Focus/Fiesta ST's – do yourself a favor and throw the stock knob away immediately. The clutch bites almost immediately after you start to release the pedal, largely reminiscent of the Hyundai Genesis's gearbox.

Aside from the drivetrain, there's the looks of the C/S. Without the Mustang badge occupying the center of the grille, it sort of reminds me of the fifth generation Shelby GT. The wheels look like they're from the Sport trim of the Explorer (kind of lame), but that can be changed by yourself. To remind you that you're driving a C/S, it says it everywhere – on the seats, above the glovebox, on the trunk, and even on the strut tower bar. In case you're wondering, you can get it in more than just red.

As fabulous as all of this sounds, the C/S isn't the end-all car for the GT.

Enter the Mustang GT Performance Pack.

If you're serious about V8 performance on a budget, take a serious look at this. The performance pack, as I mentioned earlier is a hot option. It's easy to see why- the $2,495 price tag nets you some very nice upgrades such as Brembo brakes, a bigger radiator, a strut-tower brace, bigger rear anti-roll bar, a gauge pack, 19" aluminum wheels and a 3.73 Torsen LSD.

The new wheels on the performance pack give the GT a staggered setup; the GT C/S sits on 255mm wide rubber all round, whereas the performance pack has 255 on the front, 275s on the rear. No body-hugging Recaro buckets on my test car – an option I'd definitely have ticked, but the stock seats are good enough on their own.

Driving it on the freeway, it feels almost exactly the same as C/S – the same with driving it around the streets of Signal Hill. The performance package doesn't add any power or mess with the transmission, so it doesn't feel much different, aside from a stiffer ride due to the new front springs.

Due to the fact that nearly all of the Performance package upgrades are meant for serious cornering work, I couldn't feel a difference between the two on the short 20-something mile test course. Despite the short drive, the Mustang ate nearly a ¼ tank of fuel – something which surprised me while not surprising me at all.

In conclusion, the GT looks fantastic, it's got a hefty amount of power and is excellent value for what it is. Regardless of which package you pick (or if you don't pick either one), you'll be getting a car with lots of character, which, in my opinion, is one of the most important things in a car.

At-A-Glance Specifications:

MSRP: From $33,295

Engine: 5.0L DOHC 32V V8 "Coyote"

Horsepower: 435 @ 6,500 (93 octane fuel)

Torque: 400 lb-ft. @ 4,250 RPM (93 octane fuel)

Transmission: 6-speed manual (tested) or 6-speed automatic

Curb Weight: 3,705 lbs (manual)

Tire Size: 255/40ZR19 (square setup for GT C/S); 275/40ZR19 rear for Performance Package

Tire: Pirelli P Zero

Overall MPG: Not enough data

EPA Estimated MPG (city/highway/combined): 15/25/19 (manual transmission)

Fuel capacity: 16 gal

Cargo Capacity: 13.5 cu. ft

Reach Staff Reporter Joe Seto here. Follow him on Twitter here.