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ZO6 owner gives his personal insight to the comparision to the Mustang SVT! Very cool

JBsC5

Well-known member
Joined
Nov 28, 2001
Messages
1,219
Location
Northern NJ
The Snake That Charmed Me
by
David Fogel

I love Vettes. My good friend Bradley loves Mustangs. I suppose that’s the reason why I own a 2002 Z06 and he a 2003 Cobra. Amongst Vette owners, especially Z06 guys, there stirs a carefully bridled undercurrent of curiosity over the abilities of this new Cobra. Just how fast is it really? Does the most noteworthy upgrade of Ford’s latest venomous offering, eight-pounds of whiny boost, really deserve all the wonder it has inspired? How well does the revised suspension, highlighted by a set of unforgiving Bilstein shocks, stay the course when the road has more curves than a pool party at Hugh Hefner’s place? Traction? Shifting precision? Clutch feel? All these questions and a slew of others are swirling through the inquiring minds of those anxiously awaiting their first encounter alongside this enigmatic new stallion.

After several spirited “round the block” test drives in Bradley’s new thoroughbred over the last few weeks, he came by this past Saturday to give me a good long go behind the wheel and a couple hours to wander through the car and really take it in. I felt like the grandest of swamis, the consummate snake charmer-a passionate member of the Z06 faithful laying his appraising eyes on the Cobra. In the end, though, my inquisitiveness more than satisfied, it was the snake that charmed me.

Here is the play-by-play:

Acceleration

Unlike its recent predecessors, this Cobra makes power quickly. So quickly, in fact, that the rear tires are effortlessly set free if your left foot doesn’t first build an obliging rapport with the clutch. Power delivery is smooth and impressively consistent across the RPM range. The sense of acceleration in this whiny stallion is not that of a slam-you-into-your-seat torque monster, which affords the Cobra a dangerous deceptiveness! Make no mistake about it, the Cobra tears through RPMs like a starving lion tears through a fresh kill. The DOHC 4.6, displacementally challenged as it may be, loves to rev. With an Eaton horsepower factory perched atop its intake manifold, force feeding air and fuel down into a belly of forged internals, the already rev happy 4.6 behaves frighteningly similar to Linda Blair’s character in The Exorcist. My first go behind the wheel revealed a much faster car than what I expected. It doesn’t have the brutal, pavement-grinding feel of the Z under wide-open throttle (WOT from hereforth), but it does invoke the same sensation that your stomach is playing CuisineArt with your last meal.

Throttle response is almost instantaneous. The pedal is sensitive, even if the pressure being applied is a mere tease of the full distance to the floor. If there is any lag in the blower’s delivery of boost, I did not notice it. Boost appears to come on as soon as acceleration commences, with a seemingly even distribution from launch to redline. Not surprising when you consider that positive displacement blowers are designed to purvey this mode of performance. All this equates to a power band that is wide and blissfully accommodating to those who appreciate the availability of power, lots of power, at almost any RPM in almost any gear, which, aside from the engine-strangling disposition of Sixth, is precisely what the new Cobra serves up.

I, proud owner and lover of the venerable Z06, acknowledge that the new Cobra is a force to be raced with. That having been said, let me now tell you what I do not like about the get-up-and-go of this mutative cross between the Equus caballus and the Ophiophagus hannah (the Mustang and King Cobra for anyone whose knowledge of Darwin has a little rust on it).

Bradley has owned a half dozen Mustangs since the late ‘80s. One trait common to all of them has been a rear end that likes to break loose when the gas is buried and the clutch dumped. It’s as if the Fox Body’s very construction is a form of defiance against its driver’s dogged efforts to find traction. This car has simply never liked to hook up. The current installment, though refined in many ways, is no different. Tag the gas without a practiced, no, perfected, feathering of the clutch and you will find yourself 90 degrees of your intended center, the smell of scalded rubber wafting through the windows. In my experience with Mustangs (racing against them mostly), history tells a story of great woe where effectively putting power to the pavement is concerned. The latest Cobra, with revised suspension, a wider stance and more rubber grabbing at the ground, is a marked improvement over its ancestors, but there is still much to accomplish if future editions of this beast are to truly maximize its potent prescription for power.

Transmission/Shifter/Clutch

The Tremec T56 does a deft job of corralling the Cobra’s plethora of ponies and putting them to good use. The gear box is tight and shifting is, compared to Mustangs of the recent past, precise, if not a bit fitful when the gears are whipped through under WOT. The real weed amidst the roses is the throw from second into third gear. Several times under WOT I gracelessly flubbed Third, finding an empty rev at the end of my eager right foot. Initially, I blamed this on my unfamiliarity with the car’s shifting behaviors, but Bradley absolved me by confirming that third was, in fact, mysteriously awkward and at times hard to find. Inexplicably, the gate into Third does an exceptional job of being elusive. This could be attributed in large part to the shifter, which, despite its attempt to affect more efficient (notice I didn’t say “shorter”) throws via an inverted curve in the throat, beleaguers the driver with a feel that, due to its shape, is unavoidably cumbersome. I tried several different approaches to the shifter, adjusting my grip to every conceivable position that typically registers with me as comfortable. Same results-oafish shifts and more disharmony between Second and Third. If I were the owner of an ‘03 Cobra, the first mod-before pulleys, chips, exhaust, even removing the protective cover from the stock pulley-would be a new shifter. It’s over-designed and under-refined.

I’m still undecided about whether I like or dislike the Cobra’s clutch. It has a leaden feel to it that in one day built my calf muscle more effectively than a dozen years of heavily weighted raises at the gym. Yet, at the same time, I was quite pleased with the clamping force, especially at shifts near redline when high horsepower/torque cars tend to hammer grinding and chattering screams from a single disc clutch. The grab was strong enough to squeeze out energetic chirps through third gear, which brought a smile of pride to Bradley’s face and a smile of giddiness to mine. I’ll need to log more time on the Cobra’s flight deck before I can say with certainty whether I am fan or foe of the clutch. I would also like to try my hand at a few aggressive downshifts, which I was hesitant to do in a friend’s new car with a still infant 1,300 miles on it. For now, I reserve a sentiment about the clutch that mirrors the invariable political position of Switzerland.

Ride/Handling/Build Quality

Admittedly, I’ve never been a big fan of the Mustang’s ride. It’s always felt unsteady to me, prone to sudden shifts and squirreling all over the road, easily staggered, uncomfortable in its own skin. If these characteristics are to be used as a precedent, suffice it to say that this new Cobra is nothing short of an anomaly. The latest Cobra has shed that old, uncomfortable skin. It holds the road with confidence, the tires sticky, the steering precise, and the least amount of discernible body roll of any Mustang I’ve driven or driven in to date. I expected a listing and lurching ride that would test the limits of my mettle, especially when I first piloted the Cobra on a road that twisted more than a tornado. The testing ground was a mountain pass (they’re hills really, but mountains by New Jersey standards) called Bonnie Burn Road. A two-mile stretch of long, banking arcs and curls, which slices through the thick stands of oak and spruce that shape the local landscape. The Cobra drove its fangs into the first set of curves, a double “S,” at 45, without so much as a squeal.

“At that speed, my 2001 Cobra would have wrapped us around one of these trees,” Bradley said. The new Cobra, however, affixed itself to the road with impressive stability. It attacked the curves instead of being attacked by them. By my opinion, and by the opinion of just about every Mustang enthusiast with whom I’ve spoken, the Mustang has always been predominantly one-dimensional, a road warrior that has fought its battles in straight lines. Revised MacPherson struts and new Bilstein shocks have paved the way for this final vestige of the Fox Body to break molds and murder stereotypes. While not yet ready to be a force on the Auto X circuit, the new Cobra has come a long way. I am convinced of its capabilities to dig in and hold its ground on the roads that force it to do so. If nothing else, this is a trend worth cultivating in the recast Mustang, rumored to be slotted for release in 2005.

Interior

Sit into the Cobra’s cockpit and you immediately assume the role of boy racer, whether you want to or not. There is an important preface to be shared here-I realize that Ford can only offer so much for $35,000. Having said that, corners were not cut in the engineering of the Cobra’s performance. That much is obvious. Where the car does suffer a nosedive in quality, however, is inside. The leather, trimmed in a questionable suede, feels more like those protective plastic covers in which your mom used to encase the living room furniture. This slippery skin serves as the veneer for a pair of front seats that I found to be less than comfortable. I tried a number of different positions, to no avail. When I finally found a reasonable relationship to the clutch, with the shifter commodiously aligned with my right hand, my lower back spoiled the victory by aching and cramping its protest. Try as I might, I just could not achieve a happy position in the driver’s seat (a sharp contrast to the comfort of the Z’s seats, which in comparison feel like a Lazy Boy). It also conjured a feeling of altitude, what with the way in which the seats are elevated, I felt at times I was hovering above the car rather than riding in it. Perhaps Ford did this on purpose, so line of sight was not encumbered by the raised center of the hood? One highlight of the seats is the stout lateral support they offer, which keeps you firmly planted through even the most hostile of curves. Oh, and the cobras stitched into the top of both fronts seats are pretty cool, too.

The rear seats are functional, but I wouldn’t recommend offering to drive if your passengers are going to be a trio of the long-legged. The front seats don’t have to be far back on their tracks to encroach on whomever is crammed in behind them. And then there’s getting in and out of the back, which could probably qualify as an Immunity Challenge on Survivor

The gauges are clear and crisp, if not plain with their pale white backgrounds. My favorite of the cluster is the boost gauge, which chronicles all eight pounds of boost and seems to accurately depict precisely how much forced induction is being delivered. The Mach radio blasts an impressive amplitude of power, with a generous number of speakers front and back and an in-dash six-CD player. Overall, the interior is rather unremarkable, but then the interior is not what makes this car.

Exterior

I’ve never been particularly inspired by the Mustang’s looks, so I suppose my perspective suffers from a lack of partiality. Still, objectivity demands that I express my honest impressions. Here’s some of that honesty: I find the new Cobra, well, visually appealing. Yes, being a tried and true Vette guy, that little admission didn’t come easily. But it’s true. The boys over at SVT seem to have set out to simplify the look of this Cobra, and I like the new lines they’ve added. The new rocker panels fashion the car sleeker, less busy and, if you will, less obnoxious. The front fascia, with the absence of a grille, achieves subtlety, yet at the same time bleeds an air of mean intention. The fenders mesh well, with little to no gaps (at least not on Bradley’s Cobra) and the new five-spoked rims are distinct without being pretentious. Bradley had just fed the paint a healthy helping of Zaino, and the Ebony finish responded beautifully. I had no trouble seeing how badly I needed a shave when I peered down at the mirror-quality reflection in the hood. Speaking of shaving, that’s what SVT did with this new Cobra-they tidied up its appearance and turned it into a fine piece of trim, clean-cut American muscle.

Exhaust

Maybe this category would have been more aptly labeled “Supercharger” or “Blower.” One aspect of the Mustang’s persona I have always appreciated is the guttural exhaust note that requires no aftermarket bolt-ons to provide good, old-fashioned V-8 growl. It is this very cacophony of horsepower with which the Z06 pleasantly surprised me the first time I summoned the engine to life. I was expecting at least as much audible bite from the historically vociferous Mustang. I guess it just wasn’t to be, for this new Cobra sings a different song. It is a high pitched wail that grows ever louder as the RPMs climb the tachometer’s hump and plunge toward redline.

Motor, well, blower more specifically, overwhelms exhaust in this Cobra. The sound is akin to the shrill of a ceaseless wind, squeezing itself through openings far too small to accommodate its force. It is a wonderful resonance that delights the ear and easily allows forbearance of the sacrifice made in exhaust note. Some will long for the angry grunt of Mustangs past. There are numerous aftermarket systems to choose from should that longing grow unbearable. Me personally, I wouldn’t want to do anything that might drown out that wonderful scream from beneath the hood. A more civil exhaust or not, the blower is the defining characteristic of this car, and it should be heard.

Brakes

“Wow” is the first word that comes to mind. When before has a Mustang ever, and I do mean ever, braked this well? Um, how about never. The first time I stomped the Cobra to a stop from speed, I became an immediate fan of Brembo. These brakes are muscular! Consider the bulk of this Cobra . . . we’re talking a car that is reported to weigh upwards of 3,600 lbs. Another word that presents itself is “effortless,” which is the best way I can think of to describe how the new Cobra decelerates. These brakes grab. And when they do, the Cobra is at a dead stop long before unpleasant images of Mustangs with bad braking manners have a chance to pollute driver confidence. I’ve always been of the opinion that a car receiving significant design enhancements should be measured against its predecessors to arrive at a fair judgment of current quality. If I apply that approach specifically to the ability of this new Cobra to brake and to the fundamental improvements made in braking, the judgment I render is “unreservedly impressed.”

Conclusion

My late grandfather once gave me a valuable piece of advice that has stuck with me. That is, “never admit respect for your enemy to your enemy, or that enemy may realize that he’s not your enemy at all.” The Chevy vs. Ford war has been fiercely waged for more years than I am old. It’s been an exposition of ego and one-upmanship that has reared itself on every street, on every quarter-mile strip, on every track of every kind across America. The recipe for this rivalry calls for no more than one part Chevy, one part Ford to really get cooking.

I don’t foresee any viable truce being reached between the two in the near future, other than relaying to each other concession and acceptance. Concession that each is capable of manufacturing some truly awe-inspiring performance. And acceptance of the fact that one attaining new levels of strength doesn’t necessarily render the other weaker; what it does is inspire both of them on to continue doing better, to raise the bar, to strive for prominence, to claim and reclaim the edge. In the end, we, the enthusiasts of both, benefit, regardless of which is on top, if either is truly “on top”, at any given moment in muscle car time.

So, this is precisely what I’m going to do. I am going to concede that I am damn impressed by the new Cobra. I’m also going to voice my acceptance of the fact that the Cobra setting a new standard of performance, mostly for itself, profits Chevy and Ford loyalists alike. Remember, I was that grandest of swamis, the lover of all things Z06, who was going to charm the snake. Just for the record, I’ll say it again-the snake was the one that charmed me. And I’m not afraid to admit that to my “enemies.”
 

JBsC5

Well-known member
Joined
Nov 28, 2001
Messages
1,219
Location
Northern NJ
Great Article by David Fogel. Great skill was used and all I did was post this here for all forum members to enjoy..

I live by the rule of "looking outside the box" not just within it.

We as corvette enthusiasts enjoy our cars with great vigor and hopefully have the ability to admire other makes such as this and make comparisions or get insight from those comparisions.

David did a great job on his writeup and I've also submitted it to Autoweek magazine editors for possible publication..

Will it happen.? That I don't know but it sure is a great read!

I definitely felt as I read this... like I wasright there with him.

Thank you David!

Thanks for the insight on another great american icon!
 

Mad-Mic

Gone but not forgotten
Joined
Feb 12, 2002
Messages
1,853
Location
Annapolis Maryland
Corvette
1987 Redskin Red Coupe
awesome piece!

yes that was some great work. i knew that new cobra had some serious teeth! wish we could of got an actual 1/4 mile time out of it! i'm sure some guys will be pushing that psi upto around 12 probably more. will be very interesting seeing a Cobra beating a Viper let alone a ZO-6. i've been lucky to own several muscle cars. a 72 chevelle SS with a 402 BB that ran 13 flat @ 105mph with stock rear gears (2.73's) would o f been low 11's with 4:11's then a 77 Firebird 301 BB (was slow but i liked the body style but was a money pit) then bought my 82 Z/28 (13.5's@103mph) but looked at a few mustangs but the ones i drove (late 80's) LX's and GT's even Cobra's the seat did feel like you were sitting on 2 phone books :L and the rear end did like to walk too much. felt like they were rising up and wondering around almost like on ice. all my GM cars especially my 82 Z/28 and my 87 vette squat and just point the front wheels the rear one follow. i've always like this about GM cars. haven't hammered down in a C-5 yet although i did drive a ZO-6 with a salesmen, but still wound her up to 6000 rpm 1st thru 4th couldn't really hammer down and see what she had but she did feel super strong! i've drove my uncles 69 Z/28 350 LT1 car that runs 10.90's thats the fastest i've ran on 4 tires :D
 

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