Do you know what car companies are good at? Dividing their fanbases with subsequent model generations. While some folks embrace the changes with each new version, others lament over the model’s lost character.

Today’s vehicle of focus makes that abundantly clear. Although we have ranked Ford Mustang among America’s most iconic classic cars, many people despise what the model has become. They would say it no longer carries the old, gritty spirit with its pedal-to-the-metal vibe. Once a stallion you had to tame, now barely worthy of its name.

But is that true? Has the Mustang shed away its character with each new generation? Or maybe some of us just prefer being glued to the past? Hop on, we are going on a ride to find that out!

Is Mustang the first pony car?

Depending on who you ask, the iconic Ford model may have been a tad too late to the party. Technically, Plymouth Barracuda claims to be first, having come out two weeks before the Mustang. We can argue back and forth about how we count that, but it matters little.

Ultimately, the Barracuda failed, while the Mustang proved just how much potential pony cars have. After all, we do call them ponies, not “fish cars” for a reason.

The Ford model became a quick success, selling over a million vehicles in two short years. That being said, after six generations and more than 50 years on the market, the model sales have been steadily declining. Somehow the Mustang failed to carry the initial success through the decades. Did the changes really ruin the model?

How did the Mustang change through the years?

Even a few thousand words would not do this question justice, let alone a brief overview. Nevertheless, I will try to summarize the evolution. Wish me luck!

  • First-gen Ford Mustang (1965 – 1973)

The original Mustang still holds the title for the most units sold. Its more basic versions are fairly cheap muscle cars that can make you feel rich. Though it really depends on what year make you get. It saw so many changes that some would have passed as entirely new generations by today’s standards. Ultimately, the first-gen finished with 375 bhp top V8 engine and 0-60 mph acceleration of 4.9s.

  • Second-gen Ford Mustang (1974 – 1978)

On the one hand, this car built upon its predecessor’s success with over a million sales as well. On the other hand, enthusiasts do not regard it all that well. Ford had dumbed the exterior down, not to mention how boring the engine options were.

Some versions came with just around 90 hp. Even its top V8 engine only had 140 hp and took 10.5 s to get to 60mph. Seems like a bad joke compared to the original!

  • Third- and fourth-gen Ford Mustang (1979 – 1993; 1994 – 2004)

Design-wise both versions are huge deviations from the initial muscle aesthetic. In terms of power, the third-gen managed to improve a bit on the second, but not by much. The fourth-gen started seeing some return to form though. The speediest versions had 390 hp and could go from 0-60 mph in 4.9s.

Many fans think that during those generations the model went from a pony car to one big confusing mess. It looked less like a muscle, more like a general everyday coupe. Surprisingly though, the third-gen sold almost as many units as the first one, and the fourth passed the million mark too.

  • Fifth-gen Ford Mustang (2005 – 2014)

Thankfully, in 2005 the model veered away from complete disaster. Its design took inspiration from the original with engines and performance to match the looks. That proved enough to save the lineup, though sales continued to decline. For its 10 years on the market, it barely went over 1,000,000 cars.

The main reason for this has to do with Ford’s inability to produce a solid concept. The automaker wanted it to be simultaneously affordable, yet with a bunch of luxury features. Ultimately, Ford could not strike the balance between comfort and performance, sacrificing certain aspects of the latter for the former.

  • Sixth-gen Mustang (2015 – Today)

After three abysmal generations and one that could not find its identity for a while, the Mustang lineup finally produced a worthy successor. This is the first version that somehow blends modern design without doing away with its heritage.

It drives like a sports car, looks like a beast, and does not feel hampered in any way. With its 5L V8 (460 hp) going from 0 to 60 takes you just 4.2s. At the same time, it gives you just enough comfort, without unnecessary luxury additions to drive the price up. In other words – it embodies the spirit of what the pony car was made to be: affordable, fast, and aesthetically aggressive.

  • The oddball Mustang SUV (2021?)

I just had to mention this one. Oh, people never asked for a Mustang SUV? Guess Ford didn’t get the memo. Though the sixth-gen restored our faith in the model, Ford once again decides to muddy the waters by banking on Tesla eSUV’s success.

Making it an EV may have been the right decision, but slapping the Mustang logo on it is a step too far. They could have figured out another animal to start an entirely new lineup. Who knows, maybe it would have been iconic on its own. Now we see that Ford just doesn’t care about its lineup integrity. It makes me worry about the future of the stallion brand.

Which would you rather have – first or last-gen Ford Mustang?

Set aside the “classic” badge for a second. Instead consider this in terms of looks, performance, and overall experience. I know many people want to sound tough and say they prefer the good old ride. But have you actually driven one?

I would actually take the new-gen. The older I get the more I think of safety, which also includes the way a car drives. Handling, ease of use, responsiveness – these things matter more to me now. However, you may have an entirely different take. Tell me about it and maybe we can have a discussion!

By the way, if you want to scratch your muscle car itch even further, check out our article on the age-old argument: Camaro vs Firebird!


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