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Mustang Gallops Again

It's a fine Sunday afternoon, and I'm pushing a wedge of Detroit steel down a winding road. I have no place to be. The ragtop is down and the cockpit is saturated with fresh summer sunlight and the vibrato of a well-tuned V-8. It's been too long since I've driven one of Dearborn's designs out of joy rather than a sense of duty, but here it is—the new Mustang GT Convertible, rendered in a bombastic blend of nostalgia and modernity.

Thank the auto gods, for Ford has rediscovered its iconic badge's sweet spot. Recent times have been tough at the manufacturer, although the redesigned Mustang coupe, released last fall, was a commercial and design success. Still, it's the convertible V-8 GT that most of us hunger for, and I'd been impatient for it to come out.

So on the first genuine summer day of the year, I pick up the car at a parking garage, drop the top and escape New York City's blue-exhaust humidity. My GT has the deluxe package, with 17-inch Pirelli P Zero Neros and the three-valve, 4.6-liter V-8 married to an old-school five-speed manual. The engine kicks to life with a gritty rumble that is pure Americana. The exterior is coherent and aggressive, the first Mustang in years to be designed from the ground up. Clean lines and elegant folds of sheet metal lend the effect of taut skin over lean muscle, and the double exhaust pipes, the grille's galloping mustang and swept-back roof lend just the right number of retro cues.

I drive north on I-87, sweeping past delivery trucks and heavy SUVs as I work my way through the gears, testing torque range and cowl quiver. But as I drop off the highway onto the foliage-lined lanes of small-town New York, I've already forgotten my technical checklist. The Mustang is simply fun to motor.

Why this car, which is neither a daily driver nor a luxury show-off?It's simply the passion for driving a rollicking rear-wheel-drive, front-engine muscle car. At first blush it is the steering wheel—prominent with an excellent driver's position—and the pedals—perfectly positioned for heel-toe downshifts—that make it clear that this is a car designed for the driver. The experience is more intense and hands-on than that of piloting a European-bred, all-wheel-drive, electronic-nannied sports car. I'd almost forgotten the sensation of being rocketed into curves like a kid on a tricycle pushed by an overzealous dad.

The V-8 produces 300 horses and 320 foot-pounds of torque, and the car jets to 60 m.p.h. in a smidgen over five seconds. Yet it's the suspension that surprises. Several older Mustang iterations, due to awkward chassis, weren't up for curvy tracks. Not so with this one, I find out as I spirit along narrow mountain roads. Ford is using a live rear axle and softened springs that minimize body roll. You're not giving up performance with this ragtop.

The interior of the Mustang, unlike that of the recent Thunderbird (the company's earlier attempt at updating a classic), draws blood. The bucket seats are comfortable, leather-sheathed and available in a saucy red; the chrome-circled instrument cluster speaks to speed and attitude. There are still a few obvious things from the general parts bin (time for a new key fob, guys), but the overall effect is divorced from Detroit homogeneity.

The soft top cradles back easily into its stowaway, taking a sedate fifteen seconds to complete the task. Happily, it doesn't steal much space from the trunk, which will accommodate two golf bags. If you care to take the family for a weekend ride, the back seat provides an unlikely amount of room.

At a mere $34,000 for the deluxe package, the Mustang GT Convertible is the ideal third car in your garage—the Sunday driver and the siren call to play afternoon hooky at the links. Ford has created a modern-day muscle car worthy of its Detroit roots. •

Scorecard FORD MUSTANG GT CONVERTIBLE

BASE PRICE/AS TESTED: $30,550/$33,905

ENGINE: 4.6-liter V-8

MPG: 17 city/25 highway

HORSEPOWER: 300

TORQUE: 320 foot-pounds

WEIGHT: 3,614 pounds

ZERO TO 60 MPH: 5.1 seconds

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