One of the first things that most people do when getting a new Mustang (or any performance oriented car, really) is to swap out the stock exhaust for an aftermarket one. Whether it’s an axle-back or cat-back, Flowmasters, Magnaflows, Corsa, Borla, RTR, Roush, or numerous other brands, chances are you’re going to want something that opens up the flow a bit more and sounds a bit more aggressive than your stock system.
I’ve noticed that exhausts come in two flavors; those who like a loud, raspy, throaty bark that wakes up all the neighbors (like my neighbor with two Corvette Z06s and a New Edge Mustang), or those that want their cars to have a low, rumbly growl as opposed to a sharp bark. I count myself in the latter group. I like for my muscle car to sound menacing, but not sound like it’s trying too hard for attention. I don’t care to make enemies out of my neighbors, nor do I care to announce my arrival with a loud roar that can be heard from a mile away. All I want is a nice, somewhat subtle rumble that can start earthquakes.
This is why after shopping around for different exhaust systems and doing my homework online, I settled on the Flowmaster American Thunder axle-backs. Actually, that’s what WAS on my “to buy” list until Steeda announced their own axle-back system. I took one listen to their announcement video and quietly canceled my Flowmaster order. Sure, the Steeda video sounded like it was shot with a towel wrapped around the mic, but the sound I was looking for was there; the deep, menacing growl that sounded like the Balrog was coming up behind you.
The Steeda S550 Mustang GT fastback axle-back exhaust system is proudly made in the USA out of 3” 409 stainless steel piping. The exhaust flares out to a 4” 304 polished stainless steel tip with the “Steeda” logo etched on the ends. What really surprised me when working on the exhaust was how much lighter it was compared to the OEM exhaust. I didn’t weigh them, but at one point I had one in each hand, and it was noticeable. My buddy who was helping me with the install also remarked on the weight difference. It’s nice to save a few pounds after the swap, kind of like a small, unintended performance boost (gains from the axle backs themselves will be minimal at best, if anything). Another thing I noticed was how many bends were on the stock piping. Looking at the piece right now, I can count 6-7 bends in the tubing. The Steeda exhaust has 3-4. My friend (who has worked on numerous Fords in the past) said that this was a trait that all the Fords he’s worked on had. For whatever reason, they just seem bend-happy when manufacturing their exhaust pipes. I’m no exhaust expert, but it seems like overkill to me. Either way, once the Steeda axle back was installed, it made for a much cleaner look underneath.
If you visit Steeda’s page for the axle back (http://bit.ly/1OoiKUL), you’ll notice one feature that’s plastered prominently front and center: “No drone.” Steeda has incorporated a proprietary baffle design that claims to remove all unwanted drone while driving. For those who aren’t familiar with the concept, excessive drone while driving is something that plagues many aftermarket exhaust systems. My neighbor’s New Edge Mustang has this issue; as we’re driving along, you can hear the exhaust noise prominently in the cabin (which is a good thing, for the most part). However, that noise is so pronounced and never ending that it’s nearly impossible to even carry on a conversation in the car. The drone is all encompassing; it’s there constantly and it’s gives me a headache after a while. Cruising along at freeway speeds is normally a relaxing thing to do (for me anyway), but with the drone boring its way into my head, it becomes a chore. If Steeda is claiming no unwanted drone with this system, then I’m sold. The only thing left to do was install the thing and test it out.
Installation was not too difficult, even for a first timer like myself. Any issues I had were mainly from my own stupidity, such as not measuring correctly and working with a janky sawzall. Also having a four year old and a two year old running around made things much more difficult than necessary. The directions that came with the exhaust were pretty self explanatory; you need to measure 2.5” inches back from the beginning of the straight portion of the exhaust (picture in the install instructions). After marking it off, take a saw to the pipe and cut it off. Be careful while you’re cutting because you’ll be working near the gas tank. Remove the assembly and file down the end of the piping that was just cut (to remove burrs). Repeat on the other side.
That’s the hardest part. The rest is simply slipping the new exhaust on and clamping down. In my case, I had made too short of a cut my first attempt, so the muffler was getting in the way of the rear bumper. My second cut was better, but the tips of the exhaust still stuck out a bit further than what was pictured. Overall, I didn’t mind too much; in fact, it kind of looked cool with the stainless tips displayed so prominently. Getting the overall assembly to fit nicely took a bit of “massaging;” it certainly didn’t just fit perfectly right away. I don’t know if this had to do with my cut or just the fact that this is my first time installing a new exhaust, but it took a bit effort to line up correctly. Nothing too bad; it’s just that it was over 100 degrees with two kids running around, and the exhaust is kind of heavy. You get the picture.
Once all was said and done and everything was clamped down nice and tight, it was time to start her up and listen to the new exhaust for the first time. The difference was noticeable immediately. She started up with a nice, menacing rumble, and remained rumbling at idle. Once I backed her out of my driveway and punched into first gear, I had a giant grin on my face. The sound was glorious. Inside the cabin was perfect. The noise was slightly louder than the stock system and definitely more noticeable, but I was still able to carry on a normal conversation and listen to music at the volume I typically do (which is pretty loud, if I’m honest). With the windows down, I could hear to growl of the car as I pushed her through the windy hilly roads. When I hit the freeway, I was able to enjoy the bellow as I zipped through the on ramp. Once I got on the freeway and reached my cruising speed, I made sure to pay attention to how bad the drone was. My neighbor’s car was at it’s absolute most unbearable on the freeway, and I felt this would be the true test of “no unwanted drone” as Steeda claimed.
I’m happy to say that other than the normal “drone” that you would hear while driving along, there wasn’t much else going on. Once I got up to speed and was cruising along at 70 MPH, all was well. Nothing too loud, nothing that made me want to poke my eyes out, and I was able to enjoy the sounds of my car rumbling along the highway. Hats off to Steeda for that.
The important thing for me when I was looking for a new exhaust system was that I didn’t get one that was too loud. I like my neighbor just fine, but anytime he starts up one of his cars, the whole neighborhood knows it. My kids have been woken up too many times to count by his cars. Now granted, he doesn’t stay in his driveway and rev nonstop like a moron, but his cars are definitely way louder than necessary, and I wasn’t about to add my car to the mix. I wanted something that was only a bit louder than stock, but more importantly than the volume, I needed something with the right tone. I was able to find what I was looking for with Steeda’s setup. It’s louder than the stock setup, for sure, but it isn’t loud to the point of being obnoxious. Because the tone is so low, the rumble doesn’t blast the neighborhood like my neighbor’s loud, barking, raspy system that shakes the windows. People will hear my car, but not that much more than the Nissan Maxima across the street or my other neighbor’s F150. I’m pretty certain they’ll recognize it more for the rumble than the volume, and that’s perfect. I have no plans to become the neighborhood pariah, and the Steeda exhaust gives me the sound I want while keeping things respectable.
There’s a reason why I have a giant “STEEDA” decal on my windshield, and it’s because I have consistently been pleased with the quality of Steeda’s work. They’re not the cheapest to buy from, but honestly, if I’m putting pieces in my car that affect performance, who wants cheap? No, I need quality, and for nearly 30 years, Steeda has proven to be quality company. The axle back exhaust I just put in may not look all that fancy, but they have it where it counts, and for me, that’s a nice, low aggressive muscle car sound with no unwanted drone, and a volume that my neighbors and I can live with. It’s attractive, sounds good, and lighter than the stock system. What’s not to like? Well, I guess if you’re someone that needs the volume all the way to 11…