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The Design of the Mid-2000s Ford Mustang Is Holding Up Surprisingly Well

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author photo by Eric Brandt January 2018

When the concept car announcing the coming of the fifth-generation Ford Mustang debuted at the 2003 Detroit Auto Show, it made waves because of its "retro-futurism" design. It was a modern interpretation of the classic first-generation Mustang, made from 1964 to 1970 -- and the car that made it to production starting in the 2005 model year was quite close to the concept. In fact, the production car arguably looked even better than the concept. There was a lot of excitement about the new pony car at the time, as the retro/modern styling craze that would spread throughout the industry was just getting started.

Fast-forward 12 years, and this car still looks pretty darn good. Sure, it's not as striking or head-turning as it was in 2005, considering they've been all over our streets for over a decade now -- but I still do a double take when I see a really clean example or one that's tastefully modified. The fifth-gen (or "S197," if you want to say it the cool way) Mustang still has the look of a modern pony car with classic design cues.

The SN95 generation of Mustang that came before the S197 (I have no idea what these letters and numbers actually mean, by the way) was part of the "New Edge" design language Ford was doing at the time. It wasn't a bad-looking car, but it wasn't modern enough to be modern and not classic enough to be classic -- and it's aged poorly, becoming the poster child for the wrong path Ford took in the late 1990s and the subpar vehicles that resulted. The design of the S197, however, got the modern/classic aesthetic right in a way that few other manufacturers have matched since.

It's also a great used car buy. Sure, the S197 may not be the best-looking Mustang of all time -- and the performance of some of the older ones may not hold up by today's standards. But it's still a fun, great-looking car that makes for an excellent bargain on the used market. A V8-powered Mustang GT with a manual or automatic transmission can be had fairly easily for under $15,000 on Autotrader -- a nice figure for a weekend car, or even a track toy, if you're up for it.

The price can go down if you're okay with a V6, and the price can go up if you opt for one of the high-performance variants like the Shelby GT500 -- which came with a bonkers, supercharged 5.4-liter 32-valve DOHC V8 under the hood that cranked out 500 horsepower and 480 lb-ft of torque (along with other performance upgrades like Brembo brakes -- and, perhaps most importantly, a killer appearance package).

Then there's my personal favorite, the 2008-2009 Bullitt Edition with its Steve McQueen-inspired appearance, slight performance upgrades, and a special exhaust designed to sound like the car that roared through the streets of San Francisco in the movie Bullitt. People who know what it is know how cool it is when they see it -- but to anyone else, it's just a green Mustang.

Really, the best thing about the S197 is how well it holds true to the original ideals of the Mustang. The Mustang was created in the sixties to deliver fun performance and eye-catching good looks in an affordable package that's easy to live with. Ranging from the affordable V6 option to the insane Shelby variants and everything in between, the S197 offered something for everyone who would ever want a Mustang -- and it looked good doing it.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
The Design of the Mid-2000s Ford Mustang Is Holding Up Surprisingly Well - Autotrader