Driving Northwest: The 2011 Ford Mustang Convertible

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by TOM VOELK / KING 5 Car expert

NWCN.com

Posted on October 8, 2010 at 11:31 PM

Updated Friday, Oct 8 at 11:31 PM

There are icons and then there are icons.  Marilyn Monroe, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, and Old Faithful live up to the lofty requirements.  So does the Ford Mustang and symbolically it’s right up there with other American standards such as Levi’s, the Coke bottle and credit card debt.  Some might nominate Corvette when it comes to cars but we seem to like our underdogs in the US and Mustang has always been the everyman’s performance machine.   With its recent redo it’s looking pretty good for pushing 50 years old. 

Back in 1964 (and “a half” if you remember your Mustang lore) this new pony car phenomenon created a buying frenzy pretty much unmatched in car history.  Named after the WW II fighter plane, not the horse, dealers were swamped and songs were written about it.  It’s gone on to become one of the longest running continuous production cars ever.  Over the years it’s had its up and down in terms of performance and sales, surviving even the Mustang II years.  With all due respect to those who love the classics, the 2011 version is arguably the best Mustang ever.  No small words.

New Found Giddyup

Get this, I’m not even talking about the GT and it’s 412 horsepower V8.  The Premium model convertible Ford has dropped off has the new 3.7-liter V6 stashed under the long classic hood.  The blue oval folks have refined this car quite a bit over the past few years.  2010 models got new sheetmetal and interiors but only a year later Ford engineers added fresh aerodynamic front and rear facias plus installed an underbody “aeroshield”.   Got to figure the new Camaro had something to with all this.

Call me un-American but after driving the Duratec V6 I could live without the eight.  In my hands the car would live in dense Seattle traffic with little opportunity to drive it hard.  Yeah, reality sucks.  The 3.7 doesn’t though.  It’s smooth, it’s powerful, it sounds snarly and throaty.  It wasn’t that long ago that V8s couldn’t match the 305 HP this six pumps out.  The 2011‘s engine has 95 more horsepower than last year’s six.  Aluminum replaces the iron block, manifolds are lightweight composite and there’s Twin Independent Variable Camshaft Timing.  Oil change intervals are 10,000 miles due to a deep sump oil pan so there’s more time on the road, less at Jiffy Lube.
 
Ford crows the Duratec is an unbeatable power to efficiency setup achieving a 30 MPG highway score from the EPA with the six-speed automatic.  That drops one MPG with the six- speed manual in my tester.  City mileage is 19 automatic, 18 manual.  Shift feel is precise and substantial with throws on the shorter side.  Clutch take up is just right with moderate pedal effort.

Good Mileage is Possible....

5.2 second 0-60 runs won’t return the EPA rated fuel economy but it’s great fun and really, isn’t that what this car is about?  Buy a Prius if you’re that guilty.  Besides, buying the V6 is a responsible decision and it doesn’t require much of a sacrifice from the owner.

Damper tuning, spring rates, the lower control arm and firmer stabilizer bushings are different on 2011s.  Throw it into a curve and the smiles keep coming, Mustang corners accurately, confidently and tenaciously.  It now has electric power steering but manages to keep a good amount of road feel.   Of course the ride quality is firm but it isn’t harsh.  Close your eyes (not recommended while driving of course) and it’s easy to believe the solid structure of this Ford belongs to a German car. 

Top down, wind management is good for those up front.  Those in back aren’t as lucky but that’s physics folks, I don’t know of any other car that does much better.  There is a hint of the rear end getting a little loose during hard cornering on broken pavement but the chassis team gets an A here.  11.5” front and 11.8” rear brakes (anti-lock of course) haul the Mustang down swiftly from speed with good pedal modulation.

Obviously the main competition is Chevy Camaro, Dodge Challenger, and Hyundai Genesis Coupe.  Right now only Mustang is available as a drop top.   Know that this isn’t a one button operation, the headers have to be latched.  This will not kill you, my 13 year old managed it just fine.  The top is a nice quality vinyl.  Yes a hardtop drop top offers more security but it adds weight, cost and complexity. 

Room for 4?

A handsome interior is very reminiscent of the original ‘stang from oh so long ago.  Materials from the soft touch instrument panel to the aluminum trim look and feel good.  This is a Premium model so it’s possible to change the ambient light color, enjoy supportive leather seating, and rock out to the great Shaker 500 sound system.  This car doesn’t have the optional nav package (which includes HD radio and dual zone climate for $2,340) but there’s a back side camera with a display in the rear view mirror.
 
The improved Microsoft Sync system allows iPod and Bluetooth phone connection plus much, much more. Voice commands are a little more streamlined but really there’s so much more to this feature it’s a story in itself.  Visit the Ford website to get more information. 

Generally performance convertibles have virtually no room in the back seat but Mustang does OK.  I’m 5’9” and I’m snug but comfy, the seats are actually nicely sculpted and comfortable.  There’s just enough space for feet and legs but no beverage holder for the two back passengers. 

That leads to gripes, the steering wheel doesn’t adjust for reach and its thick spokes get in the way during hard driving, common thermal coffee mugs don’t fit well in the cup holder slot, I bumped the center console  mounted trunk release 3 times by accident   There’s no breakaway feature on the side view mirrors and heated seats are a $595 option on this Premium model ragtop. 

The good, the bad and the space efficient

Lower the top with a hardtop convertible and you loose nearly all the trunk space.  Mustang’s soft top design keeps the trunk the same lid up or down.  Great for road trips though there’s no spare, just an inflation kit. The opening is a bit on the narrow side.  Mustang convertible scores a 4 in the TP trunk test which is not bad for a performance machine.

A few of you out here might be wondering what’s up with the grille.  Where’s the pony in the corral?   My tester is a rapid spec 203A,  AKA the Mustang Club of America Package.  It includes the unique front end, stripes and 18” wheels.    Even auto headlights and most importantly premium floor mats.  While I understand the desire for the standard iconic face, I like the way the MCA grille widens the visual stance. 

A base priced Mustang hardtop starts at just around 23 grand and that puts this 305 horse, rear drive machine in the same price bracket as Mazdaspeed3 and VW GTI. Apples to pears maybe but something to think about.  This specific well-equipped convertible retails for 33 grand.  If the much improved engine, handling and value don’t temp a driver maybe the sequential turn indicators reminiscent of the old Cougar will seal the deal.  Ford is not simply resting on its reputation for building inexpensive fun, at 46 years old this icon is showing the others how to do it.  It’s become more than an American classic; Mustang is now a modern world-class performance machine.
 

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