The 2015 Ford Mustang (I give it four out of four stars) redefines the affordable American sporty car.

New from the ground up, the Mustang runs laps around traditional competitors like the Chevrolet Camaro and Dodge Challenger. The first Mustang developed to be sold all over the world, it can also compete with luxury sport coupes that cost thousands of dollars more.

The Mustang's architecture, its basic structure, is all new. Barely a nut or bolt carried over from the 2014 model, chief engineer Dave Pericak told me before putting a V-8 Mustang GT through its paces on a twisty track near Ford headquarters in Dearborn, Mich.

The difference is immediately apparent. A new independent suspension absorbs bumps better than ever before. This is the smoothest-riding Mustang ever, and the best handling, thanks to the suspension's improved road holding.

Prices for the 2015 Mustang start at $23,600 with a 300-horsepower 3.7-liter V-6 and six-speed manual transmission. A six-speed automatic is a $1,195 option with all the Mustang's engines.

A powerful and fuel-efficient, turbo-charged 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine is the new Mustang's main drivetrain innovation. It uses the suite of technologies Ford calls EcoBoost to produce 310 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque, more power than the BMW 435i's legendary 3.0-liter six-cylinder turbo. Prices start at $25,170.

The iconic 5.0-liter V-8 Mustang GT's power increases 20 horsepower to 435 horsepower for 2015. Prices start at $32,100.

The Mustang is a great value, whether compared to the less technically advanced Camaro and Challenger or costlier luxury coupes like the $46,000 six-cylinder 435i and $71,825 V8 Audi RS5. All prices exclude destination charges.

Mustang convertible prices start at $29,100 for a V-6, $34,670 for a 2.3-liter and $41,600 for the GT. I didn't test a convertible, thanks to the Polar Vortex's unexpected November return to the Great Lakes. One more reason to hope for an early spring.

I tested two well-equipped coupes, a $43,560 GT and a $37,425 EcoBoost 2.3-liter.

Both test cars had manual transmissions and features including Bluetooth audio and phone compatibility, ambient lighting and pushbutton start. Options included blind-spot and cross-traffic alerts, navigation, aluminum wheels, parking assist and adaptive cruise control, which uses radar and automatic braking to follow cars in traffic safely.

The interior boasts an attractive design and materials that look and feel fine, including aircraft-style aluminum toggle switches.

The controls are terrific, combining voice recognition with dials, buttons and switches to control climate and audio. Ford seems to have learned from complaints about its balky MyFord touch layout: 2015 Mustang controls are simple and easy to use. The optional Recaro seats could use a wider range of adjustments. The lid of the bin in the GT's center console had a troublesome latch that didn't always catch.

The exterior styling is attractive and evolutionary. With so many radical changes under the skin, Ford designers played it safe, creating an exterior that's immediately recognizable. Notable touches include front LED running lights and functional air extractors in the GT's hood to reduce lift and improve high-speed stability.

The Mustang's handling and ride are a joy, and both engines I tested provide plenty of power. Ford's 5.0-liter V-8 is one of the best, with a rumbling sound and a broad torque band that delivers strong acceleration in all gears.

The 2.3-liter EcoBoost revs fast, and accelerates eagerly thanks to its own broad torque band — 320 pound-feet at 2,500-4,500 rpm.

The 2.3-liter's handling benefits from the lighter engine and a more even front-to-rear weight distribution.

The engines' fuel economy is also impressive. The GT scored 15 mpg in the city, 25 on the highway and 19 in combined driving. The 2.3-liter turbo rates 22/31/26. Both engines achieved their rated power and fuel economy with regular gasoline.

That efficiency combines with the 2015 Mustang's features, value, looks and performance to set a new standard of excellence for affordable sporty cars.

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Behind the Wheel

2015 Ford Mustang GT Premium coupe

Rear-wheel-drive four-passenger sport coupe

Price as tested: $43,560 (excluding destination charge)

Rating: Four out of four stars

Reasons to buy: Performance; looks; ride; features

Shortcomings: Rear leg room; no shift indicator; latch on center console

2015 Ford Mustang 2.3-liter EcoBoost Premium coupe

Rear-wheel-drive four-passenger sport coupe

Price as tested: $37,425 (excluding destination charge)

Rating: Four out of four stars

Reasons to buy: Performance; fuel economy; looks; ride; features

Shortcomings: Rear leg room; no shift indicator; engine sound

Competitive EPA fuel economy ratings:

(Manual transmission, rear-drive models, unless otherwise noted)

2015 Ford Mustang GT Premium: 15 mpg city/25 highway/19 combined. Regular gasoline.

Audi RS5 Quattro (AWD, automatic): 16/23/18. Premium gasoline.

Chevrolet Camaro SS: 16/24/19. Premium gasoline.

Dodge Challenger R/T Plus (automatic): 15/23/18. Premium gasoline.

Source: www.fueleconomy.gov

(Manual transmission, rear-drive models, unless otherwise noted)

2015 Ford Mustang Premium 2.3-liter: 22 mpg city/31 highway/26 combined. Regular gasoline.

BMW 435i: 20/30/23. Premium gasoline.

Chevrolet Camaro 2LT V6: 17/28/20. Premium gasoline.

Dodge Challenger SXT Plus (automatic trans.): 19/30/23. Premium gasoline.

Source: www.fueleconomy.gov

Comparative base prices (excluding destination charges)

(Manual transmission, rear-drive models, unless otherwise noted)

2015 Ford Mustang GT Premium: $36,100

Audi RS5 Quattro (AWD, automatic): $70,900

Chevrolet Camaro SS 2SS: $37,305

Dodge Challenger R/T (automatic trans.): $29,995

Source: Autotrader.com

(Manual transmission, rear-drive models, unless otherwise noted)

2015 Ford Mustang Premium 2.3-liter: $29,170

BMW 435i: $46,000

Chevrolet Camaro 2LT V-6: $29.205

Dodge Challenger SXT Plus (automatic trans.): $29,995

Source: Autotrader.com

Specifications as tested

GT Premium engine: 5.0-liter 32-valve V-8

Power: 435 horsepower at 6,500 rpm; 400 pound-feet of torque at 4,250 rpm

Premium EcoBoost engine: 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder

Power: 310 horsepower at 5,500 rpm; 320 pound-feet of torque at 2,500-4,500 rpm

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Dimensions

Wheelbase: 116.2 inches

Length: 190.6 inches

Width: 75.5 inches

Height: 54.2 inches

Curb weight: V-8 – 3,705 lbs.; 4-cylinder – 3,532 lbs.

Where assembled: Flat Rock, Mich.

Key features on vehicles tested:

Standard equipment: Antilock brakes; stability control; front seat side air bags; curtain air bags; driver's knee air bag; Bluetooth phone and audio compatible; voice recognition; pushbutton start; power locks, windows and mirrors; backup camera; premium audio; leather-trimmed seats; limited slip rear axle; heated and cooled front seats; dual-zone climate control; ambient lighting; AM/FM/CD/USB audio; split folding rear seat; LED fog lights, tail lights and front running lights.

Options: Blind-spot and cross-traffic alert; Recaro seats; adaptive cruise control; navigation; aluminum wheels; reverse park assist.

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ABOUT THE WRITER

Mark Phelan is the Detroit Free Press auto critic. He can be reached at mmphelan@freepress.com.

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©2014 Detroit Free Press

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