The Ford Mustangs S197 versus S550 – A Comparison. The terms “Ford Mustang” are associated with the words “muscle car,” and even those who know nothing about cars can recognize one and recognize it as a force to be reckoned with. That is how strong the Mustang legacy truly is.
While the Mustang has been around for more than a half-century, it has only been in the last decade that it has become a car that can be driven on a daily basis. It’s difficult to turn a thoroughbred muscle car into an everyday driver without draining its essence. The Mustang S197 chassis from the mid-2000s didn’t bother with any daily-driver foolishness. It was created with only one purpose in mind: the drag strip. Many Mustang fans believe that is the Mustang’s domain. That is what a Mustang is designed for.
However, the S197 faces a challenge from the newer sixth-generation S550 Mustang. 2005, the S197’s debut manufacturing year, is already over 20 years ago, and it is reflected in almost every manner with the S197. The S550, introduced in 2015, finally brings the Mustang formula into the twenty-first century.
Both the S197 and S550 chassis are purebred Mustangs, with the S550 being more usable. The choice between the two is based on a few fundamental considerations. In this comparison guide, we’ll go over the main differences between S197 and S550 chassis Mustangs, as well as analyze the advantages and downsides.
Mustang Styling Comparison: S197 vs S550
You never get a second chance to make a first impression, as the saying goes. While that phrase is usually used in a different sense, it absolutely applies to automobiles. While both the S197 and S550 Mustangs are visually appealing, they do it in completely different ways. The differences in style between the S197 and S550 Mustangs are significantly more pronounced than a mere shift in body lines. At their heart, the chassis are fundamentally different.
S197 Exterior Design
One of the first posters I ever bought as a kid was of an S197 Mustang. In that regard, I don’t believe I was exceptional. In fact, the S197’s bulging hood scoop and foglight-adorned grille captivated an entire generation of kids growing up in the 2000s. As a result, there is a certain nostalgia built into the S197’s style when viewed now.
It’s not just childhood nostalgia, either, as the S197 takes many aesthetic inspirations from the classics. The fastback-inspired triple rear tail lights harken back to a time before satellite navigation and MP3. The old-school pedigree is visible from practically every viewpoint.
Just because the S197 design has a unique mid-2000s vibe doesn’t mean it’s not a good-looking vehicle. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and many people believe that the S197 is Ford’s best-looking modern chassis.
Throughout its outstanding 10-year career, the S197 design evolved, with a dramatic facelift in 2010. The S197 after the facelift is notably more modern in terms of design philosophy, but also noticeably less sharp. The designer clearly received instructions to soften some of the harsher edges of the S197 design, as evidenced by a new headlight design with integrated turn signals, a new slimmer side mirror design, a prominent “power dome” hood, and revised three-lens tail lights with LEDs that blink in sequence for turn indication.
S550 Exterior Design
It’s tough to deny that the S550 Mustang looks mean.
In fact, it’s easy to argue that it appears nastier than it is. If the S197 was intended to be a love letter to classic Mustangs, the S550 is intended to be a monument to what Ford sees in their future. While boxiness defined the S197’s looks, wind-tunnel aerodynamics are the driving force behind the S550’s design philosophy.
The skinny headlamps and gaping trapezoidal grille of the S550 are stylishly frightening. Due to its predator-like ferocity, Mustang aficionados have called the new front fascia the “shark bite” look. While the S550 lacks much of the classic appearance of the S197, the Mustang legacy is evident in subtle ways.
The S550, like the S197, follows the legacy of split triple tail lights initially seen on 1960s Mustangs. On higher trim levels, the S550 additionally has a noticeable power dome and gaping side inlets. While it may appear to be from the twenty-first century, the S550 is still a pony at heart.
Interior Design of the S197 vs. S550 Mustang
As with any car, the interior design is critical because it is where you will spend the majority of your time. Much of what was written about the exterior appearance of both chassis applies to the interior styling of the S197 and S550.
Interior Design S197
Stepping into an S197 Mustang quickly reveals that the vehicle is from the mid-2000s. While this may not appear to be a terrible thing on the surface, it is really unfortunate on the inside. The inside of the S197, like that of most other Fords of the time, is virtually entirely plastic-clad. The unintended consequence is that everything feels cheap and rattly.
That also indicates that most S197s on the market now will not have fared well after 15 years of use and abuse. Scratches and imperfections are common on practically any S197 on the market today.
The S197’s standard interior features were adequate in 2005, but by today’s standards, they are dreadful. Finally, you may expect power windows and locks, a CD player, and power windows. Navigation, dual-zone climate control, and a backup camera were available as options on 2010+ vehicles, but that was the extent of technology for the S197.
The one redeeming grace for the S197’s interior is Ford’s throwback homage to prior Mustangs. With sunken faces and a retro typography, the center speedometer and tachometer seem straight out of a 1960s fastback. The chrome climate control vents provide a touch of retro style.
S550 Interior Design
Ford upped their inside game in an unprecedented way with the S550. Unlike the S197, the S550 is a pleasant place to spend more than a few minutes on the drag strip. Aside from the basic leather seats, everything in the S550s inside has a premium vibe.
Whereas every panel in the S197 felt like it was one wrong nudge away from collapsing, the S550’s interior had a superb tactile feel. Yes, plastic is still used in everything. The rubberized feel of the majority of the S550’s internal components, on the other hand, is smooth and nicely placed.
The S550 also offers a significant advantage in terms of onboard technology. Unlike the S197, the S550 goes above and beyond minimal interior requirements to provide a more opulent experience. The S550 includes an infotainment screen with Ford’s SYNC user interface, Bluetooth connectivity, navigation, diagnostic tools, and optional Apple CarPlay. In 2018, traditional cluster gauges were replaced with customisable digital gauges, adding to the premium feel.
Another emphasis for Ford with the S550 was safety, as evidenced by many of the optional high-tech safety measures. The S550, for example, includes a rearview camera, pre-collision aid with automated braking, and automatic lane assist. If you spend a little extra money, you can get adaptive cruise control, remote start, and a heated steering wheel.
In many ways, the S550 sacrificed muscle car practicality for luxury. That surely comes through on the inside.
Availability of S197 vs S550 Mustang Engines
It wouldn’t be a Mustang discussion unless we discussed engines. There is considerable overlap and a lot of difference between S197 and S550 powerhouses. Many of the differences between the available engines in both vehicles are the result of engine technology developed by Ford over the last ten years. As a result, certain engines were exclusively available in the S197, others only in the S550, and a few were available in both. This is how it appears:
So there was definitely no scarcity of engine possibilities for either the S197 or the S550. While the S550 has lacked the diversity of options that the S197 has had thus far in its production run, the S550 is still in its early stages of manufacture.
Engine Options for the S197
There were two primary engine options available for the S197. An S197 was available with either a V6 or a V8 engine. Naturally, with less environmental constraints in the mid-2000s, there was a far greater selection of V8 options available. However, in terms of output and torque, V6-powered S197s were still acceptable.
Initially, the sole V6 option for the S197 in 2010 was the 4.0L Cologne V6. While a strong engine, it is somewhat old, having been in production since 1965. I suppose you could say it completed the retro look of the S197. It was the S197’s least powerful engine option, producing a pitiful 210hp.
The more modern 3.7L Cyclone V6 engine, available in both the S197 and the S550, was by far the superior V6 engine option. To this day, the normally aspirated 3.7L Cyclone is the last naturally aspirated engine offered in a Mustang. The Cyclone was replaced in 2017 by the more efficient EcoBoost inline-4.
While there were just two V6 engines available in the S197, V8 options were more plentiful. Prior to 2011, the S197 was only available with V8 engines from Ford’s Modular series. In the 2000s, the Modular V8 series was Ford’s all-purpose engine, powering everything from the Mustang to the Crown Victoria. This means a 4.6L Modular V8 producing 315hp in the S197 in 2010. For the 2010 GT500, a 5.4L version of the Modular V8 was fitted with a supercharger, producing 500hp.
Ford debuted the “Coyote” designation for their next series of V8 engines in 2011. Since then, three distinct versions of the Coyote V8 have been released, each with slightly greater horsepower and torque. Only the first two generations of Coyotes were offered in the S197, with the third generation reserved for the S550.
Engine Options for the S550
When it comes to engine options in the S550, Ford has pared them down a bit. While there may not be as many engine options as before, the options that do exist do not leave any holes.
The only engines that are shared by both platforms are the 3.7L Cyclone V6 and the 5.0L Coyote V8. Ford phased out all V6 engines from the Mustang platform in 2017, hence the Cyclone V6 was only offered for the first two years of S550 manufacture.
The S550’s truly distinctive powertrain options are Ford’s freshly designed EcoBoost engines. The 2.3L EcoBoost 4-cylinder debuted with the S550 chassis and was Ford’s approach to meeting more stringent pollution rules with a high-performance, low-emission powertrain. In many ways, the 2.3L EcoBoost carried on from the 3.7L Cyclone. The 2.3L was not only more efficient than the Cyclone, but also more powerful, with a 310hp output. Enthusiasts also like the EcoBoost for its tuning potential.
For those seeking a true Mustang experience, the S550 GT is also available with a third-generation Coyote V8. With 460hp, the 5.0L V8 provides the performance you’d expect from a pony.
To finish off the S550 portfolio, the GT500 model comes with a 5.2L Voodoo V8, which is also available in Ford’s Coyote series. The 5.2L Voodoo V8 produces 520hp and is Ford’s top-of-the-line V8 at the time.
Transmission Options for the S197 vs. the S550
In the same way that there were various engine options in both the S197 and S550 chassis, there were also several powertrain options. Transmission options were a major source of change as the S197 and S550 chassis evolved and underwent different modifications.
Both the S197 and S550 had and still have automatic and manual transmission options. Having said that, Ford experienced significant growing pains in developing transmissions for both chassis.
Related : The Honda D15B Engine Manual
Transmission Options for S197
Manual transmission options were standard when the S197 was released in 2005. Naturally, because different engines necessitated different transmissions, the S197 offered three distinct manual transmissions depending on the model.
The Ford T5 transmission, which was available in V6-equipped S197 Mustangs, was one option. The T5 is one of the most infamous Ford transmissions of all time, as well as one of the longest in production. The T5 was employed in everything from the Astro Van to the Mustang. T5 is a tried and tested 5-speed transmission with a 30-year manufacture history.
For 2005-2010 Mustang GTs on the S197 chassis, Ford used the TR-3650 5-Speed transmission. TR-3650 is a notoriously robust transmission, which is exactly what it needs to be. The TR-3650 is reported to be able to resist nearly twice the power of early-model S197 GTs, which are rated at 300hp.
With the launch of the Coyote V8 in 2011, Ford collaborated with renowned gearbox manufacturer Getrag to develop a revolutionary transmission for the new S197 GT; yet, despite this supposedly failproof collaboration, the resulting MT-82 5-Speed has serious flaws. The MT-82 is infamous for its difficult shifting, which frequently results in missed or abrupt shifts. Later model S550 chassis Mustangs had these concerns resolved.
Many fans who are dissatisfied with the MT-82 transmission available in S197 GTs choose to replace it with the much more popular TR-3160 and TR-6060 5-speed transmissions found in Shelby S197s.
The 5R55S, which was available from 2005 to 2010, was the only automatic option for the S197 series. In general, the 5R55S has received favorable reviews, with many users reporting that they are dependable and trouble-free.
Transmission Options for the S550
Overall, the S550 transmission selections are relatively comparable to the S197, with quality upgrades and additional automatic transmission options available.
The MT-82 transmission seen in Coyote-equipped S197s is still used in the S550. However, after many worries concerning transmission arose over the first few years of its adoption, many improvements were made to improve it. On early S550 automobiles, the shifter bushing and bracket of the MT-82 were replaced.
MT-82 received a significant update in 2018 and newer S550 Mustangs. This primarily entailed adjusting the gear ratios and installing new synchros. This largely resolved whatever faults that the early MT-82 had, allowing it to continue to exist.
S550 chassis also had a couple new automatic transmissions that were designed to work with EcoBoost engines. The newer 6R80 6-speed automatic and 10-speed 10R80 automatic were among them. The 6R80 was available from 2011 to 2017, whereas the 10R80 began production in 2018 and continues to the current S550s.
Mustang S197 versus S550 Handling
One of the most noticeable distinctions between the S197 and S550 chassis is Ford’s emphasis on performance handling. The S197 demonstrates that Ford designed the mid-2000s chassis with early Mustang ideas in mind. Prior to the S550, the Mustang formula was primarily concerned with straight-line speed, with little respect for handling characteristics.
Ford clearly altered their ideology with the S550. The S550 modifies the Mustang approach dramatically, with improved suspension and balance technologies. As a result, the Mustang is fast in more ways than just straight line speed.
Mustang Rear Suspension S197 versus S550
The addition of independent rear suspension was a much-needed modification that significantly improved the handling qualities of the S550. While other manufacturers switched to IRS in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Ford took much too long with the Mustang.
Top Gear’s Richard Hammond claimed in his evaluation of the S197 GT500 that the Mustang was superb in every regard except one that mattered a lot: the handling. Finally, the S197’s solid back axle made it handle like a barge in a hurricane.
The old technology did not allow the rear wheels to move independently with the suspension, resulting in a rough ride over road irregularities and considerable body roll around turns. Ford preserved the 1920s design because it was less expensive to produce and better for drag racing. They realized that with the new chassis, those were no longer legitimate excuses.
To the delight of every enthusiast, the S550 was revealed with independent rear suspension. Independent rear suspension is not only more comfortable to drive on a daily basis, but it is also superior for performance driving. Eliminating body roll always results in better handling. That is exactly what the S550 does.
S197 Mustang MagneRide versus S550 Mustang MagneRide
The S550 chassis also received certain 21st-century suspension modifications that set it distinct from the S197. MagneRide is one of such characteristics. While it is still an option for lower-level S550 models, it is a worthwhile investment for a few reasons.
Many enthusiasts regard performance suspension as a nightmare if they intend to drive their car on any surface other than a racetrack. With the flip of a switch, MagneRide suspension bridges the gap between performance and comfort suspension.
MagneRide suspension, as the name implies, uses magnets and magnetorheological fluid to generate a changeable responsive damper. MagneRide works by exposing conductive fluid to a magnetic current. When there is no magnetic current, the fluid within the shocks is less viscous, making the ride more comfortable. When a current is applied to the fluid, it stiffens, resulting in a fibrous fluid structure in the shocks. This is best suited for track or performance applications where a firmer ride improves cornering abilities.
While MagneRide is a $1,650 option on lower-trim S550s, it is one of the greatest add-ons to consider. MagneRide is a must-have for people who want to drive their S550 on a daily basis during the week and have some fun on the track on the weekends. Because it isn’t accessible on the S197 chassis, it should be a clear distinction between the two chassis for people planning track days.
Other Performance Differences Between the S197 and S550 Mustangs
Aside from suspension, transmission, and engine variations, there are a few more performance factors to consider when choosing between the S197 and S550 chassis. Few Mustang owners are satisfied with their vehicle in standard condition, thus aftermarket assistance is essential to consider.
Aftermarket Support for S197 vs S550
Mustangs, regardless of chassis, are muscle vehicles at heart. Having saying that, aftermarket improvements and performance add-ons have always been a part of the muscle car scene. In this regard, the S197 now has significantly more aftermarket support, as the aftermarket community has had far more time to develop performance parts for the older chassis.
The S197 undoubtedly offers more options for performance bolt-ons, tunes, supercharger packages, exhaust modifications, and suspension refresh kits. Since the S197 has been on the market for almost 15 years, tuning and performance part manufacturers have had significantly more opportunity to experiment with the chassis. Manufacturers like as Roush, SCT, BBK, Steeda, and Edelbrock have a vast inventory of performance components for the S197, so it’s unlikely that there are any performance upgrades for which you couldn’t locate parts.
While the same breadth of possibilities for altering an S550 is not presently accessible, it will be in the near future. Even while the S550 aftermarket catalog isn’t as extensive as the S197’s, there is still a lot of support. Many of the bolt-ons, tuning, and suspension modifications available for the S197 are also available for the S550. There are simply fewer options to select from. Because the S550 has received such positive feedback, the catalog will continue to expand.
Why Choose the S197 Over the S550?
While most people think that the S197 chassis is inferior, the Mustang is superior in many aspects. That may sound a little perplexing, but bear with me while I explain. Mustangs from previous decades didn’t give a hoot about interior comforts or comfort. Straight-line speed has always been the Mustang’s ethos, and it lives on with the S197.
Even if the inside was falling apart around you and rapid turning was just not an option in the S197, it would always go like hell on the drag strip. That is truly the S197’s bread and butter. That is not a secret. Everyone is familiar with the characteristics of an S197.
As a result, if all you want is a quick drag car with pedigree, the S197 is the car for you. For off-the-line digs, the fixed rear axle outperforms the IRS on the S550. The incredible amount of aftermarket support for the S197 is focused on making it faster in the quarter-mile.
Aside from its performance, the S197 has become a Mustang line symbol. The retro-futuristic style is popular in the community and brings back memories for those who grew up with a poster of one on their wall. If pricing is a consideration, the S197 triumphs as well. Most driver-quality S197 GTs currently sell for less than $15,000, but a comparable S550 would cost twice that much.
Why Choose the S550 Over the S197?
The S550 is a significantly better all-arounder than the S197, whose specialty is straight-line speed and vintage appeal. The S550, unlike the S197, is quick on the drag strip and at your local Grand Prix track. Even better, the S550 will run a quarter-mile in under ten seconds and get you to work in comfort.
The S550, unlike the S197, is a Mustang that you can live with every day. The S550 is equally as capable as a Honda Civic for daily driving responsibilities, with to options like Bluetooth, heated seats, adaptive cruise control, and MagneRide suspension. It corners, handles, and rides far better than the S197, making it the best Mustang ever.
While aftermarket support for the S550 isn’t as extensive as it is for the S197, there are still plenty of go-fast pieces that can be mounted on the chassis. The S550’s aftermarket support will only improve as it ages.
With S550 GT-spec Mustangs starting at $38,000, it’s a much larger financial impact than an S197. However, one could argue that the S550 is twice, if not three times, the price of the S197. For that price, you have a car that can race and go on road trips, whereas the S197 can just race.