S197 vs S550 Mustangs
So, you’ve finally saved up some money to get your first Mustang and you want the newest car you can afford. You think that you want any of the bodies after 2005 since you like the modern look best, but you realize quickly that there are so many to choose from. With so many updates and changes to the Mustang in the past fifteen years, finding the right car for you is a bigger undertaking than you had first assumed. With two distinct body styles, there are options for you to decide on to help figure out which Mustang you want to buy.
When it comes to Mustang generations, the newest two are ones that people tend to be drawn to. Dubbed the S197 (2005-2014) and S550 (2015-present), these two generations of Mustang cover most modern technology, performance, style, and comfort. With the S197 comes the classic design, muscle car performance, and over a decade of aftermarket support. With the S550 comes more luxury, sportier handling, and modern design language that is only a few years old.
With each of these cars, there are benefits, negatives, and compromises with each other, so it is important to look into each of these details in-depth before deciding which generation Mustang you should buy for your own purposes. Within the Mustang name, the S197 and S550 have major differences to take into account, and the two cars are completely different animals with regards to what they are in the Mustang’s history.
Early S197: 2005-2010 2005-2010 Mustang GT Performance Specs Later S197: 2011-2014 2011-2014 Mustang GT Performance Specs S550 Mustangs: 2015-Current 2015-Current Mustang GT Performance Specs A Difficult Choice
Early S197: 2005-2010
The S197 began its life in 2005 as a replacement for the New Edge Mustang and brought a completely new body and platform as well as spurred on interest from its old rivals to come back to the market years later. From 2005 to 2010, the Mustang rode on a completely new platform and brought back the retro styling of the first generation model. With the new, radically different styling, the S197 was an instant hit in the market and sold incredibly well. The car’s flat and tall sides made it perfect for customization with wheels, spoilers, lips, and exhausts.
The 4.6 liter SOHC V8 in the early S197 offered up to 310 horsepower without modification and were easy to work on since they shared many of the parts from the New Edge Mustang before it, but was heavily reworked for upgraded performance figures. While a V6 was offered in the S197, the reworked 4.6 liter V8 was the engine of choice for enthusiasts and with very few exhaust modifications could still carry over the classic muscle car exhaust note from its past. This early body style S197 served as the basis for the joint project creating the Shelby GT500 in 2007 and offering 500 horsepower from its supercharged 5.4 liter V8.
The early S197 have become bargains if maintained properly. While not the most powerful Mustang by today’s standards, the 3-valve V8 is a great starting platform for serious builds while also keeping the retro body lines that made the car so popular when it debuted.
2005-2010 Mustang GT Performance Specs
|2005-2010 Mustang GT||Performance Figures|
|0-60 MPH||5.3 seconds|
|60-0 MPH||157.11 feet|
|Top Speed||149 Miles Per Hour|
|Gear Ratio||3.31:1 auto, 3.55:1 manual|
|Gearbox||5-speed manual, 5-speed automatic|
|Quarter Mile||13.9 seconds|
Later S197: 2011-2014
In 2011, Ford turned up the Mustang’s performance, style, and versatility with a refresh to modernize the car. The effort to make the newer S197 stay relevant against its returning rivals - the Camaro and Challenger - resulted in upgraded suspension, massively improved interior, and multiple performance upgrades along the way. While still using the classic lines in the design, the Mustang grew in size to be more usable as an everyday vehicle while keeping the same weight as before.
With the refresh, came the biggest performance upgrades in a long time with the new S197 receiving the Coyote 5.0 liter engine rated at over 400 horsepower. Along with the massive power increase, the new Mustang received a new 6-speed manual gearbox option for the first time on standard base and GT models, which gave the car better gear ratios, offered a higher top speed and better fuel economy. The base 3.7 liter V6 in the later S197 models also received a power increase which brought it to 305 horsepower which nearly matched the earlier models’ V8 output while the newer V8 put out 412 horsepower. With this newer body style, the new Shelby GT500 also received massive updates which brought the car to 662 horsepower in the 2013 model year which dwarfed its rivals until only recently - with the 2020 Shelby GT500.
While these newer generation S197 Mustangs are more pricey because of their age and generally being lower mileage than the earlier models, a well-kept late S197 can still be had for fairly low cost. With V6 models available under $10,000 often and the Coyote engine models priced under $20,000, these are great value for the money.
2011-2014 Mustang GT Performance Specs
|2011-2014 Mustang GT||Performance Figures|
|0-60 MPH||4.3 seconds|
|60-0 MPH||107 feet|
|Top Speed||146 Miles Per Hour|
|Gear Ratio||3.15:1 auto, 3.31:1 manual (3.55:1 and 3.75:1 option)|
|Gearbox||6-speed manual, 6-speed automatic|
|Quarter Mile||12.7 seconds|
S550 Mustangs: 2015-Current
The S550 generation was an evolutionary step forward for the Mustang name as it was the first time the car was sold in nearly every country around the world. In a sense, the S550 improved over the S197 in every conceivable way with power increases, handling improvements, and more. As a result of this, the S550 was designed to be completely different from previous models. To meet expectations, the S550 Mustang transitioned away from its muscle car heritage and pushed more towards luxury and performance around tracks. To do this, Ford fitted the Mustang’s first independent rear suspension to the car as opposed to previous generations’ live rear axle setup, improving ride quality and performance. Additionally, the styling of the car was reworked, making it sit lower and sleeker to fit its new sporty intentions.
With its new market, the S550 moved to being a serious sports car over being a sport-oriented muscle car; the Mustang moved into new territory. Offering three engines (eventually two) below the actual performance model, the S550 expanded to fit multiple markets including the sporty tuner market as well as the near-luxury coupe market. With the performance variants as the GT350 and GT500, the S550 generation fills every niche in the current sports car lineup, covering even the rental coupe and convertible demographic.
2015-Current Mustang GT Performance Specs
|2015-Current Mustang GT||Performance Figures|
|0-60 MPH||4.4 seconds|
|60-0 MPH||106 feet|
|Top Speed||155 Miles Per Hour|
|Gear Ratio||3.15:1 auto, 3.55:1 manual|
|Gearbox||6-speed manual, 6-speed automatic, 10-speed automatic|
|Quarter Mile||12.2 seconds|
A Difficult Choice
When it comes down to actually deciding between the two, both cars have their own appeal. The S197 has had long enough to build a massive following in the market and in the community. Although the rear suspension is less advanced, it communicates more with the driver and helps the driver feel how the car is riding more clearly. The S550, with its advanced independent rear suspension, is less communicative but easier to know what it will do solely based on knowing it handles better and grips corners better. Comparing and contrasting the later S197 with the S550 is more difficult since they use the same engine and shifter setup, but the early models are easier to differentiate.
Ultimately, one of the most obvious differences if you are looking to buy is price. Early S197, even in near showroom condition will not demand much of a premium unless heavily modified while newer S197 will possibly hold a premium for low mileage and unmodified models. Obviously, special edition models will hold higher prices as well. The S550 will be the most expensive since it is the most advanced and newest, but finding a low mileage S550 is much easier than for the others. Both the S197 and S550 have benefits to offer, but personal taste and price in the cars will be the deciding factor for most buyers.