First Drive: 2013 Ford Mustang

We spend some time sampling Ford's newest pony.

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March 19, 2012

First Drive: 2013 Ford Mustang

Our car for the day, a 2013 Ford Mustang GT convertible, was handling the twisties with far more confidence than its driver, and powering through the straights with ease, thanks to the V-8 lurking under hood.

Introduction
With rain bearing down hard on the hood, we focused our senses extra hard as we tackled corner after corner of a winding road somewhere between Portland, Oregon, and the Pacific Ocean. Our car for the day, a 2013 Ford Mustang GT convertible, was handling the twisties with far more confidence than its driver, and powering through the straights with ease, thanks to the V-8 lurking under hood. The modern iteration of the original pony car does make a great case for itself as a driving companion, even when Mother Nature is making an all-wheel drive wagon look like the smart choice.

For those wondering what's changed about the Mustang, let's start with the new front grille, new front and rear fascias, a bonus eight horsepower in the 5.0-liter V-8 found on GT models (bumping the total to 420), a new manumatic function for the automatic transmission, and some new features, such as an available Track Apps screen that can be used to measure 0-60 times and other performance benchmarks.

One might wonder why Ford is bothering with what seems like the umpteenth refresh of the 'Stang, and the answer is that the a redesigned car is coming, but it's not here yet. Thanks to the long lead times involved in vehicle development, and thanks to the fact the Ford has a decision to make--should the Mustang's design remain retro or revert to a modern theme?--Ford isn't ready to take the next Mustang out of the oven just yet. Therefore, this year's car gets a refresh.

2013 Ford Mustang New Features Wannabe racers will appreciate the available Track Apps package, which as noted above, measures 0-60 times, quarter-mile times, and other performance data. The same 4.2-inch LCD screen that hosts the Track Apps also can provide the driver with additional information on what's going on with the car, thanks to digital gauges that can be accessed via a five-way steering wheel controller.

Other new goodies include two new upgraded Shaker audio systems, standard HID headlamps, functional heat extractors (located on the hood) for the GT, available Recaro seats, body-color rocker panels, new wheel designs, mirrors the project an image of a pony (seriously), LED fog lamps, an available GT Track Package (more on that in a bit), signature lighting, a hill-start assist for manual-transmission cars, and other tweaks.

The Track Package is only available on GT cars with the 3.73 rear axle and offers an engine cooler, upgraded radiator, performance friction brake pads, and the same Torsen differential from the Boss 302. In other packaging changes for this year, the V-6 Performance Package is now available on cars with an automatic transmission, and the Brembo Brake Package is offered on GTs with either transmission.

For those wondering what's changed with the Boss 302, it only receives minor cosmetic tweaks.

Pricing is as follows: $22,995 for a base V-6 Mustang, $26,995 for a V-6 Premium, $31,095 for a base GT, $35,095 for a GT Premium, $42,995 for the Boss, $54,995 for a Shelby GT500, and $59,200 for a Shelby GT500 Convertible.
2013 Ford Mustang On The Road We spent most of our morning behind the wheel of a GT convertible with the 6-speed automatic transmission, but we did briefly sample a manual-transmission GT coupe and a V-6 with the stickshift as well.

As one might expect out of a car with 420 horsepower and 390 lb-ft of torque, the 'Stang lept from corner to corner without hesitation, and a deep reserve was always there for passing. The GT does feel a tad heavier than a pony car should, which seems problematic until you remember how heavy the rival Camaro SS is. Same goes for the Dodge Challenger R/T and SRT8 392 combo. By comparison, the GT feels like the salad at the buffet, albeit the salad with extra ranch.

The biggest change from 2012 to 2013 might be the steering, which offers a lot more precision than before, at least on GT models. There's even actual feedback this time, although not as much as we'd like. This is worlds better than the non-existent feel of the 2012 models, although that's a bit of faint praise in this case, since giving a homeless man Spam is still better than letting him starve.

At least now the steering competitive with that found in the Camaro SS, so much so that the difference might come down to personal preference.

The other big revelation is the stiffness of the convertible, which while still not on par with the Camaro SS, it's at least damn close.

During cornering, the Mustang took a set with confidence and less drama than the first minute of any given reality show, exhibiting only some understeer when pushed too far. Smoothness on the wheel was not hard to achieve, and even when our humble test driver--who may need an eye exam sooner than he thinks--misjudged a tight corner and braked way too late, the car did nothing more scary than slide neutrally towards the outside edge before settling and regaining the right path. The ride was surprisingly pleasant around town and on the highway, without the jitters and judders of Mustangs past.

The SelectShift automatic allows drivers to hold the car at redline or make other featherbrained shifting decisions, and it does allow the driver to pick the gear he or she wants, but we'd like to see paddle shifters. Other than one brief stint in manual mode, we generally left it in drive, but hardcore back-road burners will appreciate the option.

Our time in the manual coupe revealed no major differences, except for a shifter that was slightly sloppy (it also occasionally flat refused to enter reverse, including one instance when we were making a three-point turn of questionable legality in order to find a good photo location).

Hopping into the 305-horsepower 3.7-liter V-6, we found that the steering didn't appear to receive the same improvements found on the GT, and the exhaust note lacks the classic muscle car appeal. That said, the V-6 may be the more logical performance buy, do to its lower price and weight, and higher fuel economy (31 highway with the automatic). The main ride and handling difference is that the slimmer V-6 feels lighter on its feet, unsurprisingly.
2013 Ford Mustang New Looks We like the hood heat extractors on the GT, but we're not sure how we feel about the gaping maw of the new front grille. Overall, the look is distinctive enough to be distinguished from 2012 models while still keeping the same general theme. For drastic change, you'll need to wait til 2015 or so.
2013 Ford Mustang On The Inside The cabin doesn't change much, except for that available 4.2-inch LCD screen and the available Recaro seats, so expect the same slightly dated interior. Cabin materials don't feel cheap, but the Mustang's cockpit could use a bit more class (if Ford can work wonders with the interiors in its other cars, it should also be able to do so here).

The gauges work well and are easy to read, and everything is placed where it should be, but the center console is so small as to be almost useless, and we pity those adults who must be punished by being banished to the backseat.

Several times during our drive of the drop-top we forgot we were even in a convertible, although the soft top does of course allow in more exhaust and road noise than the coupe. The top also showed no leaks even in a steady downpour. Of course, the coupe was quieter, as one might expect, and both cars were quiet enough during sedate driving--even with the V-8--as to be downright civilized.
2013 Ford Mustang Fuel Economy We had no chance to officially measure fuel economy in either car, although we saw numbers as high as 17 mpg on the trip computer, even after some aggressive runs through the mountains. Officially, the car is listed at 19 mpg city/31 mpg highway (29 with the manual) for the V-6 and 18/25 for the V-8 with an automatic, 15/26 for a V-8 manual.
2013 Ford Mustang Wrapping Up The Mustang isn't dramatically different than it was before, and that's a good thing. Still, Ford knows that there's no reason not to improve on the formula, and the end result is a car that kept all the good stuff while shedding the bad, kinda like what we were promised with zero calorie soda. The V-6 remains the more logical performance buy, but it's hard to argue with the V-8, extra expense (both on the window sticker and at the pump) be damned.

The days of pony cars being performance bargains (at least in V-8 trim) are gone, but in a general sense, pony cars and their muscle car brethren (really, the Camaro and Challenger, rivals to the Mustang they might be, are muscle cars. The new breed of pony cars is represented by Hyundai's Genesis Coupe) have never been better. The American sports-coupe wars continue, and while the big blows are being struck by the Shelby GT500s and Camaro ZL1s of the world, it's the minor improvements to bread-and-butter cars like the Mustang V-6 and GT that drive the showroom sales. In this case, Ford might be able to say 'mission accomplished.'

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