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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


MotorSpaceNW does Ford Virtual Reality Tour/Dearborn, MI (4)

Our shuttle driver stopped at the outermost of Ford’s test tracks and radioed for clearance to cross from a flight traffic control tower overlooking the entire lot. Several Mustangs whizzed past us on the straightaway and we were given the go-ahead to continue to the heart of the infield where we arrived at a stylish modern building. 

Inside, we ate lunch and resisted the cheesecake while one of Ford’s test drivers took the stage to tell us our next mission was to play with their 2011 lineup out on the high speed ring and handling track. There were rules of course, speed limits and the like, but after educating us on them, Ford guy raised his hand and asked us happily:

“Who’s gonna cheat?!”

I planned on it too. My team was first up on the handling track. We exited the building into near blinding sun and seventy degree weather. All around us, various Ford cars, trucks, crossovers, odd box trucks, new versions of cars I’m not supposed to talk about (Fiesta/Mustang, etc) where being tested on multiple tracks under the supervision of the control tower. 

But the handling track was all ours, as were the 2011 model year vehicles Ford had parked single file for us to enjoy:

Mustang V6, Taurus SHO, Fusion Hybrid, Lincoln MKS, Escort, Fiesta, Flex, for some reason, a Transit Connect, and… another Mustang. Black. Could it be? I strolled up closer until the reflection of a polished emblem near the right front fender began to hurt my eyes. 

Yes. Unless the gal from AutoTrader had slipped some LSD into my fruit medley, this menacing badge of honor definitely read 5.0. I was going to tear this thing up. 412hp. Six speed manual. Closed course. They were asking for it. 

Mr. Pear hurried past me and plopped into the 5.0’s driver seat. I wound up in the Transit Connect; exciting in the sense that it’s got the goods to revolutionize the delivery vehicle segment, but on my first lap at Ford’s handling track I felt the urge to roll it just to bate my appetite for the upcoming thrills of the Mustang. Try as I might, the trustee van stayed upright even with the accelerator pinned to the floor for most of the course. 

Back at the starting line another greedy press person beat me to the 5.0. I made my way to the blue V6 Mustang, only slightly crestfallen. For 2011 it makes 305hp, or roughly what last year’s Mustang with the 5.4L V8 used to make. Unexpectedly, one of Ford’s marketing ladies jumped into the passenger seat next to me. She was very sweet, and like most other guests on the tour that day, had been driving casually about the track, as if she were making a brisk trip to the grocery store. 

But this was a Mustang, even though this particular model was outfitted with the fuel economy-boosting automatic transmission (31mpg highway). It showed. When I buried my foot into it coming out of the first turn… nothing happened. Marketing lady remained oblivious to my mischievous intentions. Then it downshifted.

RAAAAAHHHH!!! The V6 wound up and we took off into Ford’s handling track. Dips, banks, hairpins, slaloms, up hills, down hills, we hit them all as hard as possible, pushing the traction control to its limits. The Mustang loved it. Ford’s marketing lady did not. She held on to her door handle with both hands. When we arrived back at the starting point she exited quietly. A track hand informed me this particular course was really more of a second gear only sort of affair; our speed limit here for the day was 30mph, and it was only slightly flexible.


The 5.0 was driverless. I threw myself into the driver’s seat. Hello. A young blogger girl with a mow hawk appeared in the passenger seat. She explained she didn’t know how to drive a manual but still wanted to have some fun. A quick finger to the start button brought the V8 rumbling to life. Glorious. For the next lap this car was all mine… ours. 

The traction control button caught my eye; tempting, but it was best to leave it on. This situation was already primed to end badly. We hit the first tight corner at mild speeds, keeping it in second. On the exit I buried the accelerator. There was no delay this time, no V6 wail. Just a roar and the giddy squeals of two young Internet people being thrown back in their seats. We hit a stretch of dips and slowed to the mid RPMs of second in preparation for a left hairpin. Halfway into it, I floored again. 

Another roar. I had to work to keep the front end in front, but the traction control held the tires to a light chirping noise. Out of the hairpin the course jutted abruptly up and to the right in a sudden turning hill that easily could have made the car go air-born in third gear. I floored it again. 

ROAR! At the crest of the happy ascent the accelerating Mustang lost most of its weight while trying to follow the track to the right. The right rear broke loose. We slid to the left, crossed up with our stomachs jumping up to our throats. 

Through my window I could see the track hands less than a quarter mile away watching my door turn to face them atop the hill. Squealing tires. Tight guardrails. The draw ties on blogger girl’s sleeveless top hung in mid air below her chin. She was feeling all sorts of emotions. 

Time froze. 

I eased off the gas ever so slightly and the Mustang took the liberty of correcting my horribly timed throttle stomp in fractions of a second. The front end came right back around. It wasn’t the first time Ford’s traction control saved my ass. Impressive, but what was this story going to be worth without a proper burn out? 

After the slalom, the track hit an 8th mile straightaway behind a large grassy hill where several landscapers were adding blue dye to a giant Ford logo. They were the only ones that would be able to see what was about to be concentrated here. The track hands would have no idea, except for the ungodly noise. 

We came to a quick stop in the hidden area. The traction control came off. Blogger girl and I shared a quick s*** eating grin. 


It was short and hard. I cried invisible tears. We reappeared from behind the hill in second gear, on our best behavior. They fed us snacks before shuttling us back to the airport, but all I wanted was more Mustang.   


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