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Road & Travel's 2004 Sexy Car Buyer's Guide

Ford Mustang
2004 Ford Mustang

The scene is vivid. The memory strong. The surly black muscle car explodes in a road rocket launch over the crest of a San Francisco hill in hot pursuit of the "bad guys" in someone else's wheels. To a Ford Mustang fan, that's the epitome of perfection, the holy grail of autodom, the unending rerun of the ultimate car chase.

Mustang staked its road-owning claim years ago when actor Steve McQueen climbed behind the wheel of his fabled GT "Stang" as Bullitt, the inspector in the film of the same name, and launched a legend. Since people often equate power with sexiness, then the time-honored Mustang brand, now 40 and with no end in sight, has got to be one of the sexiest autos on earth. It has power in every important area: Reputation, performance, attraction.

Since it first hit the streets running in the mid-'60s, it has wowed, quickly rising to best seller and box office hit. That it's an affordable, performance-based "pony" car (from the original Mustang emblem) not what purists consider a true sportscar, hasn't dimmed its cult status one bit since.

Despite being long-overdue for an update, Ford has eeked out one more year of the current model for '04 by branding each Mustang with an anniversary emblem. It offers a collectors' must-have special anniversary package and Mach 1 performance package, and it puts performance-enhancing 17-inch Bullitt wheels on the GT. There's still the respectably forceful V-6 in the bargain-priced base coupe (just under $18,800), the power range where most current Mustang buyers live. The loaded, top-of-the-line convertible comes in a shade under $30 K and is a blast to drive top-down, even under storm threatening skies.

Big news is the upcoming '05 edition, a complete remake that brings back more recall of early Steve McQueen days in appearance. There's more thunder, particularly with the new, and as yet unnamed V-8 engine that preliminary testing has put at 300 horsepower. For the first time, Ford adds a five-speed automatic. Engineers have tweaked the suspension to smooth out vibration without taking away any of the performance aspect, just making it smoother to drive. And Ford officials confirm base for the 200-horsepower V-6 will stay under $20 K. As any Mustang intender will tell you, it can't get much better than that.