Once the country's dominant "pony car" – extremely powerful and fast, but larger than the typical European sports car – Ford hopes the new Mustang will push it past the Chevrolet Camaro, now the preferred power car among US buyers.
Ford pitched it as the ultimate American car, hoping that it will catch on and boost the company's global brand.
"It's a big deal to not only our company, as it's an icon, but also America in general," said Mustang engineer Dave Pericak.
"It represents what a lot of Americans cherish which is the freedom, and the dream of being different and unique."
The sixth complete makeover for the Mustang, the new car is from the front an unmistakable 21st century version of the 1964 original, with bold angles rather than the smooth contours of rivals. But it sits lower and wider, with a lower roof.
The back section of the roof now sweeps almost all the way to the rear, more of a fastback look that leaves little room for the spoilers that early enthusiasts had.
Pericak said the new model was redesigned from the ground up, an all-new car that is "quicker, better-looking, more refined and more efficient, without losing any of the raw appeal that people have associated with Mustang for half a century."
It comes with a standard 300-horsepower, 3.7-liter V6 engine, with alternatives in Ford's similar-powered 2.3-liter EcoBoost, and a 420-horsepower, 5.0-liter V8.
Immortalized in Wilson Pickett's suggestive soul tune "Mustang Sally" in 1966 and the car Steve McQueen literally flew over the hilly streets of San Francisco in 1968's "Bullitt", the Mustang has survived at the center of American car culture for almost five decades.
Not all of the makeovers have been successful, but the company has large hopes for the new version: it will sell it for the first time in Europe and Asia. Ford also was rolling out the car today in Barcelona, Shanghai and Sydney.