Can you make a comparison between the Mazda MX-5 and Ford Mustang? Yes, actually you can. Not only are they very successful sports car icons in their own right, they also have a tremendously popular tuning scene behind them. Even when the cars are good to start with (and perhaps even more so when they're not), buyers haven't been able to resist a bit of aftermarket enhancement - and when cars like the MX-5 and Mustang respond as well as they do to some fettling, it makes a lot of sense.
Moreover, while modded Mustangs had been a predominantly American thing in the past for obvious reasons, the introduction of right-hand drive cars means a whole new wave of potential customers. So while Steeda may not be a familiar name yet in the UK, there's every reason you might be hearing a lot more about them in the future.
Based in Florida and founded in 1987, Steeda is the world's largest privately owned aftermarket manufacturer of Ford tuning parts. It has bits for the Mondeo, Fiesta, Focus, F-150 truck and, of course, the Mustang. Should you want one in the UK, the cars are available via Ford dealer Haynes in Maidstone. And on this experience of the Q500 Enforcer, that's a mighty fine thing.
Either way you'll want to ignore the name, because it makes the Mustang sound like another daft tuner special that's all about noise, aggression, machismo and little else. Fact is this car proves that, by drawing the Mustang modifying away from huge power gains, Steeda has probably created a more satisfying product.
The standard Q500 package comprises a power boost (via remap, exhaust and air filter) to 480hp and 475lb ft, a suspension upgrade including new springs, bushes, braces and bars, a few new body parts and the obligatory badges to mark the car out as something special. However this Q500 is more serious still, boasting Velgen 20-inch wheels, a fully adjustable coilover kit plus an even louder exhaust.
Steeda describes its apperance as 'factory-plus', which we would politely rephrase as 'factory-PLUS', because this is one mean looking Mustang. Lowered on wheels one-inch larger than standard (plus that very fetching ducktail), it makes a regular Mustang look a little timid.
The Enforcer makes a regular Mustang sound a little timid too. The uprated cat-back system sounds fabulously naughty even at idle, and shows where Ford could move the standard car, but it's probably not going to make you many friends. Unless they're car spotters.
It takes all of about two hundred metres to detect some pretty major improvements from stock to Steeda Mustang. Even with the coilovers in a more aggressive, circuit focused setting, eliminating the pitch, heave and wallow from before, the ride is still more competent at dealing with imperfections. Sometimes having more communication doesn't necessarily make things more uncomfortable for a tuned car (even if that sounds more like relationship advice than dynamic assessment).
With more rubber on the road and the car sat lower, there's an incisiveness and precision to the Enforcer's turn in - and consequent faith in that gigantic front end - that eludes the plain Jane V8. And while it must be entirely a placebo, having the GT350's Alcantara wheel makes steering the car even more pleasant. You still won't really want to move from the 'normal' steering mode, but the gloopiness and vagueness of the stock option is largely gone.
That we've got this far into the story without discussing a modified Mustang's powertrain much should tell you how impressive the rest of the package is. That said, Steeda's work has reaped worthwhile gains and, just as crucially, revealed where the OEM product falls short. Because, in all honesty, the Mustang that this is based on - that being the pre-facelift car, not the recently launched 450hp version - can just sometimes feel a little weak. It's like that guy who's monstrously built up top but hasn't squatted since his P.E. lessons: this was a big car with a big engine and big numbers, yet when it came down to some hard graft - say, pulling through the middle of third or fourth - it could be found wanting a little. Not Honda VTEC style, just lacking the muscle you would hope from a V8 Mustang.
That's gone with the Enforcer, the 80lb ft gain meaning it pulls every single gear with much more conviction. Combine it with the thunder erupting from behind you and what feels like a tad less inertia (perhaps a result of the intake tweaks), and the Coyote V8 finally feels like you would want it to in a Mustang costume. And there's a manual. Quite a decent manual, in fact.
Therefore, when you're out of the urban crawl and driving somewhere more interesting, the Steeda can bring together its detail improvements across the board - engine, ride, body control, steering - and deliver a Mustang driving experience few in Britain will have ever known. The press material talks about the desire to "sharpen responsiveness", and there can be little doubt the Q500 is a world away from a normal 5.0-litre model in terms of eagerness, agility and immediacy. It's not flighty or edgy, rather a vast improvement that makes the Enforcer immensely more satisfying to drive: you can trust your inputs and the car's response (rather than second guessing both), embrace huge grip and traction and start to appreciate the balance because you're better informed as the driver about what's going on.
It doesn't lose sight of being a Mustang, though. Largely that's because of the Bullitt soundtrack, but also because it hasn't been made into some super stiff track renegade, despite the development work at Homestead Miami. It's a car with a suitable level of ability and focus for the road, rather than an aftermarket product that feels like it has a very narrow operating window. Certainly there would be scope to make it more aggressive still, but in creating a track car from a Mustang would likely require bending the laws of physics to their breaking point.
Ultimately, sheer size is what limits the Enforcer's charm in the UK; nothing Steeda could really do about that, but worth noting nonetheless. Despite being right-hand drive and markedly more adept than standard, it's still a large car to thread down a B-road, and that's something you can never fully escape. Same goes for the weight: Steeda's efforts have worked wonders for the GT's nimbleness, however there are points the c.1,800kg kerbweight catches up with you - even if they're admirably few and far between.
And it would be a shame to belittle Steeda's achievements here, if you'll pardon the pun. What could occasionally have felt like a one-trick pony car (sorry) previously is now a rounded, enjoyable, capable sports car. A ruddy massive one, yes, but hugely likeable. If you have a Mustang - or are sorely tempted by the early V8s at less than £30k - then Steeda's upgrades come very highly recommended. They realise potential in the base product without feeling like a clone of rivals, and create something deeply appealing as a result. Get the engine upgrade, get the coilovers, think long and hard about which exhaust you really want and enjoy. We did.
SPECIFICATION - STEEDA Q500 ENFORCER
Engine: 4,951cc, V8
Transmission: 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 480@N/Arpm
Torque (lb ft): 475@N/Arpm
0-62mph: 4.8sec (standard car)
Top speed: 155mph (standard car)
MPG: 20.9 (NEDC combined)
Price: £8,998 (excluding base car, additional options for this car including but not limited to Velgen wheels with Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres at £3,500, the exhaust at £1,000 and the coilovers at £1,600. See Steeda's website for more options).
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