It took all day--a scramble out of L.A. morning rush hour toward the canyons, a thread-the-need operation through a few thousand degrees of hairpin turns and ambient degrees F, a drive-by through a Malibu hotel porte-cochere, a half-hour of stop-and-go traffic. It came down to the last mile of bad Beverly Hills roads before the 2015 Ford Mustang drew its first stares.

"What year is that?" A redbeard in a Honda Accord wants to know. "Nice. Nice lines." Within the next 500 yards, the 30-something guys and 20-something girls pause to wave with admiration for the new 'Stang.

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That must be reassuring for Ford, because after years of selling the Mustang as a rough-and-tumble muscle car, it now has a pony car that's fully refined in all the ways a daily-driving car needs to be--and is ferocious and tractable the way a grand touring coupe should be.

It's changed what the Mustang is inside--but the instant-recognition appeal is intact.

The new look

First glances at the Mustang are mostly positive ones. The fastback has a graceful slope, the haunches are thick and muscly, and the trapezoidal cuts across the front end don't scar up the shark nose--they brace it. It's true that this Mustang doesn't really reach for anything new or make any brave departures, though.

Some angles aren't purely flattering: the rear quarters echo the Pontiac Grand Prix two-doors of the Nineties. The black panel that surrounds the taillamps lays flatter than Mustangs have--it tends a little more Mopar-ish as a result. The tripled-up light pipes that slash at the grille have a distinct Miami Vice vibe. The era-mashing fillips of the last-gen 'Stang worked together a little better.

Inside, the Mustang's aviation-themed cabin (see the "Groundspeed" markings on the speedo) is organized neatly and fitted better than any Mustang yet. Large, clear gauges are tucked in more deeply, and the tactile toggle switches and knobs provide better control. A metallic chin-up bar sweeps across the dash truckishly, and diminishes the classic dual-binnacle look to a couple of eyebrows over the dash.

2015 Ford Mustang 50 Year Limited Edition

2015 Ford Mustang 50 Year Limited Edition

Natural aspirations

Ford says they wanted to build a better performance car with this entirely new Mustang, and they have--assuming that doesn't include the base 300-horsepower, 3.7-liter V-6 model omitted from our first drive.

Maybe it's a mercy omission, what with the arrival of the Mustang's first turbo four since the mid-1980s SVO. The turbo engine outclasses the V-6 on paper on almost every front, and telegraphs the Mustang's newness--the move to a modern architecture and to an independent suspension.

MORE: Read All Our Latest Ford Mustang News

The new EcoBoost unit, which features twin-scroll turbocharging and direct injection, offers up 310 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque. We drove it coupled to the optional six-speed, paddle-shifted automatic, fiddling through Valley traffic and canyon roads through the rev-matching transmission's stock and sport-shift modes. Like most current Fords, the slower throttle and shift response in normal modes clears right up once the shifter's pulled down into S(port). The turbo four percolates nicely in its wide powerband, drops the laggy action of the normal mode.

It might offer sub-six-second acceleration times to 60 mph, but something about the nature of the turbo four makes the wide, long Mustang feel smaller--like an overgrown sport coupe, not a musclecar. The torque's fine--the noise that comes with it is flat, artificial, buzzy, entirely disconnected from what a musclecar sounds like. It does us all a favor and gives us permission to ignore the base V-6, but it's no GT substitute.

2015 Ford Mustang 50 Year Limited Edition

2015 Ford Mustang 50 Year Limited Edition

Where the sidewall ends

The Mustang's magic elixir is--duh--displacement. The GT's cubic inches do magic, knitting all those subsystems together into a wonderfully composed road car with huge potential for the track.

The 5.0-liter V-8 checks in at 435 horsepower and 400 pound-feet of torque, according to Ford's latest estimates (subject to change, they asterisk.) Said to be good for 155 mph, the V-8 and six-speed manual combination's easily good for a 0-60 mph time of 4.5 seconds 0-60. Aurally it's also missing some of the excitement it could and should have: there's none of the flap-crackle-snarl that erupts from the similarly-sized Jaguar 5.0-liter eight. It's muted through sound deadening and gear whine, recognizably there but blanketed a little too much.

The Getrag six-speed shifter sometimes vagues out lever feel--if anything it could be a notchy, gated affair--but it pairs with hill-start assist and keeps us from stalling out on the uphill climbs through the Hollywood hills.

It's true, there's no more live axle to kick around--the Mustang has a strut front suspension and an independent rear that finally ditches the setup that's hounded the Mustang ever since the revived Camaro and Challenger came to life. There's a limited-slip differential, and standard 18-inch wheels and tires, all tallying up to a curb weight of about 3,700 pounds or more--substantial heft, a moderate gain over the live-axle 'Stang.

Like the EcoBoost car, the Mustang GT works its new suspension and revamped electric steering for great effect. Smoothly damped and twice as capable at snuffing out dive and squat, both Mustangs have great ride isolation and steering precision, whether the rack's feel has been toggled to Comfort or Sport from Normal feel. Hurtle it down a straight, snub off speed with the GT's four-piston front brakes and thick treads, and the Mustang tucks in neatly, quickly into the next corner. No more crazy-schizo axle hop to disturb you or the chosen line--the attitude is flat and it's easy to nudge through corners with the throttle.

Flick more of the toggles, and the Mustang cycles through drive modes that set its throttle, steering, stability control, and automatic-trans shifts. Skip by wet/snow and normal for Sport's deft reflexes--or Track, for an intervention-free slide (not recommended in Malibu, where washouts and police are equally dangerous hazards).

You can press the Mustang to its max giggle loads two ways. The first one's $2,495 more than the base GT: the Performance Pack. It swaps out the limited-slip diff for a Torsen unit, skins the wheels with Pirelli P Zero tires (255/40R fronts, 275/40R rears), slaps on Brembo brakes, braces the strut towers, and stiffens up the sway bars, springs, and dampers. Almost a hundred miles in this GT setup didn't garner any vetoes: the ride's still compliant enough for everyday use, the Torsen sticks the rear end to the ground like it's got worms.

The second one: launch control and line lock. Knock off impeccable 0-60 mph runs with the former, smoke away as much tire as you can afford with the latter. Line lock only works on level ground with steering set straight ahead and takes a half-dozen button clicks to access, so practice makes perfect before you make your coffee-and-octane debut, word to the wise.


Grown-up stuff

The gut feeling of heft is no mirage: the Mustang rides on a 107.1-inch wheelbase, and is 188.3 inches long--almost as big as a Fusion sedan. 

With tilt and telescoping steering and well-shaped, well-bolstered seats, the Mustang can handle those guts, and tall drivers too, much better than the Camaro. In the passenger seat, a slim knee airbag frees up so much room, you can stretch all the way out for a long highway ride. Move up to the GT's optional Recaro seats and the bolstering gets tighter but even more comfortable. Most of the finishes are suited to the price, but the hard plastic on the transmission tunnel and some of the trim intersections aren't as artful as the ones on, say, the Ford Flex.

Good luck in wedging the same bigger bodies in the back seat. True, the front chairs do move up to create real knee room. But if you're more than five and a half feet tall, there's no chance you'll be able to sit upright. The seats fold down to pass through to the trunk, but the trunk itself will hold a couple of golf bags--somehow, that's become the universal gauge for acceptable storage space.

Visibility is a surprise. Sure, there are blind spots over shoulders, but turn halfway around and the big rear glass opens up the view, enough to grab a gasp of another driver when they realize it's the first '15 they've seen in the wilds of Beverly Hills.

As for fuel economy, the active grille shutters on the EcoBoost Mustang help it earn 32-mpg highway ratings with the automatic transmission. The EPA has certified the Mustang lineup as a whole, from 22/31/26 mpg for manual EcoBoost to 15/26/19 mpg for the GT manual.

Hey, stay in touch

High-tech features on the new Mustang include those drive modes, launch control and line lock, as well as infotainment gear like SYNC with MyFord Touch and Shaker Pro audio. The cockpit lighting can change its colors, the side mirrors cast pony images on the ground at night, there's a standard rearview camera and a USB port, hurrah, in plain sight facing the driver on the console.

All that comes over a bigger spectrum of prices, of course. A base 2015 Mustang fastback coupe equipped with a 3.7-liter V-6 and six-speed manual transmission will set you back $24,425. The turbocharged, four-cylinder Mustang EcoBoost costs $25,995, and the V-8-powered Mustang GT runs $32,925 before that Performance Pack and any other goodies are factored in. If you still have cash to spare, the Mustang GT Premium costs $36,925. A loaded GT runs easily in the mid-$40,000s.

The mid-range Mustangs are worth the price of admission. With better room, better comfort, better bones and borderline brilliant handling, the pony car's become a sort of Motown Maserati.

Is the loaded car better than a $65,000 BMW M4? That depends. What exactly did you have in mind for the leftover $20,000 to $30,000?

Whatever you decide, know this: the Mustang you want to drive is no longer the entry-level, prosaic little pony car it once was. It's a luxury sport coupe that can wear the grand-tourer label without apology--and it's sure to be treading on sports-car status just as soon as a GT350 gets out of the gate.

For more on the Ford Mustang, read the in-depth reviews over at The Car Connection.