With the Ford Mustang being the last pony car left in the corral, the Cobra reigns as king of the stable. The Cobra is a kicked-up version of the Mustang created by Ford's Special Vehicle Team (SVT).
The 2003 Cobra gets a new supercharged 4.6-liter V8 that links to a six-speed manual transmission. An Eaton supercharger and aluminum alloy cylinder heads increase airflow, helping the engine produce 390 hp and 390 lb-ft of torque. The powerplant also turns out plenty of low-end torque and enough get-up-and-go for most drivers. However, the gearshift for the six-speed manual transmission sits at an awkward angle to the driver, making it a bit difficult to get at. The gearing is close and it's easy to shift into the wrong gear until you get the hang of it. The clutch, which is too stiff for my liking, combined with the hard shifting, makes driving the Cobra quite a workout.
Our test vehicle was a convertible, thankfully, and I had plenty of opportunity (i.e., good weather) to drop the top. SVT engineers took into account the stiff structure when they designed the convertible Cobra's special suspension tuning. Front spring rates are 500 lb-in. and the rear are 470, compared to the hardtop Cobra's 600 lb-in. front and rear spring rates. The Cobra, the only Mustang to carry an independent rear suspension, gets upgraded bushings and an additional crossbrace for 2003. Up front, a modified MacPherson strut design includes gas-charged Bilstein shocks and a 29-mm stabilizer bar. The ride is what you'd expect: a little rough over bumpy roads, but great response when cornering, thanks to power-assist rack-and-pinion steering. Traction control is standard, but a simple push of a button beneath the radio turns it off. This, for some, is license to try and lay some rubber with this rear-wheel-drive beauty. I plead the fifth as to whether it's actually possible. The Cobra rides on 17-in. wheels wrapped in fat Goodyear Eagle performance tires.
The car comes well stocked with standard equipment including: power windows, doors, mirrors, and driver's seat; Mach 460 AM/FM radio with in-dash six-disc CD changer; cruise control; leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear shift; and an SVT leather interior. Bucket seats up front are new, decked out in leather with suede inserts. The driver seat gets power-adjustable thigh and side bolsters and power lumbar support.
All this performance and power comes at a price, $37,370 to be exact. And, like all SVT products, 91 octane minimum is required. Add taxes and destination charges and you're looking at a $38,995 bottom line. If you're looking for a hot, fast convertible, the Cobra is the ticket.
-- Sherri L. Carmody