JULY 1, 2005
By Thane Peterson
This Mustang Is Part Echo, Part Thunder
Thoroughly redesigned for '05, the latest version harks back to the
classic pony cars of yore, while delivering major bang for the buck
The other evening, I found myself having dinner at a place called
Johnny Rockets, one of those retro burger joints with old-fashioned
malteds, rock 'n' roll oldies blaring on the jukebox, and burgers the
size of a catcher's mitt. You're drawn to places like this when you're
tooling around in a Torch Red Ford Mustang GT convertible on a hot
summer evening. I mean, if this car doesn't put you in a retro mood,
nothing will. It's just so satisfying to be able to sit in a booth by
the window and watch people outside sidle over to the car and give it
an admiring once-over.
The Mustang, of course, is an American icon, and sales of the latest
version are booming: Ford (F ) is producing 192,000 Mustangs this
calendar year, up from 112,000 in 2004. Yet, with sales up 47% through
May, the main problem with the 2005 Mustang is getting your hands on
one. Most of them are already spoken for, and dealers are starting to
take orders for the 2006 model, which will hit the showrooms in August
The good news is that the 2006 Mustang will be almost identical to
this year's model, a Ford spokesman says, though it's not yet clear
whether the price will go up. Place your orders now, anyway, if you
POTENT COMBO. One reason the Mustang is generating so much excitement
is that in the all-new 2005 version Ford did a wonderful job of
updating and redesigning the car. The retro styling really turns
heads. And the base sticker on the 2005 GT convertible is just $30,240
-- and, even with numerous options my test model listed for $34,080.
At that price, it's hard to beat the new Mustang's combination of
style and performance.
Indeed, in my quest to find the ideal Midlife Crisis models -- the
ones with the excitement quotient to put some pizzazz in an aging baby
boomer's otherwise humdrum existence -- the Mustang GT Convertible
fairly jumped out and demanded to be included in the list.
The car is just so cool looking. With its relatively short front
profile, it doesn't really look much like the early Mustangs, the
classic "pony cars" with the signature long sloping hood, short rear
deck, and sculpted flanks. But the stubby rear end, the contouring
around the rear bumper area, the slight suggestion of a prow in the
hood -- to say nothing of the galloping silver horse logo on the
grille -- all give the car a retro feel that strongly suggests
Mustangs of the past.
HEAR IT GROWL. Ditto for the interior. Clad in black leather with
highlights in brushed aluminum -- a $450 option that my test car had
-- it's almost understated, except for some retro touches that give it
punch. For example, the dash has four very distinctive-looking chrome
air vents with brushed-aluminum louvers. In my test car, the bucket
seats were in red leather with matching red floor mats (which cost
another $175). The red is very striking against the black leather,
though I suspect the effect would wear on you after a year or two.
Then there's what may be my favorite feature of the whole car: The
engine's throaty growl. The second-to-last day I was test-driving the
GT convertible, two Pennsylvania state troopers dropped by the house
(I won't go into why except to say I really wasn't at fault). As soon
as they were done with business, they started peppering me with
questions about the Mustang parked out front. When I revved up the
engine so they could give it a listen, one of the cops marveled:
"Isn't it great to hear that sound again?"
Exactly. The roar of the engine is loud enough to drown out
conversation when you're accelerating with the top down -- and that's
another deliberate attempt to recall the muscle cars of the '60s and
'70s. Think of the sound of Steve McQueen redlining a 1968 Mustang GT
through the hills of San Francisco in the movie Bullitt.
SOLID BONES. The new GT convertible doesn't just sound speedy.
Equipped with the 5-speed manual transmission (you can get it with a
5-speed automatic for an extra $985, if you prefer -- but why?), the
powerful 2005 GT's 4.6-liter, 300-horsepower V-8 propels the car from
zero to 60 in just over 5 seconds. That's fast enough to match much
more expensive convertibles such as the BMW 645ci and the Audi S4.
The handling is also reasonably tight, unless you do some really hard
cornering. Thanks to a number of structural enhancements, the new
convertible's frame is much more rigid than the previous model's. That
keeps it from shuddering and rattling on bumpy roads when you're
driving with the top down.
The Mustang's main downside is the minuscule back seat. The only way I
figure a normal adult can sit in the thing is to push the front seat
all the way forward, get into the back seat, and then ease the front
seat back over your feet. That leaves you with no wiggle room to keep
your legs from cramping on a long ride. The 11 cubic feet of trunk
space is tolerable for a convertible -- unless you go for the optional
$1,295 Shaker 1000 audio system, which includes a subwoofer the size
of a carry-on bag stashed in the trunk.
FIVE-MINUTE OPERATION. Getting the automatic soft top up and down is
a bit of a chore, too. It does raise and lower easily enough: You just
undo two levers at the top inside of the windshield and then hold down
a switch for 15 seconds or so. But getting the fabric cover on -- and
you're not supposed to drive without it -- involves pinching the
cover's edges in under the body and around the back seats, and
attaching various cords and plastic clips to hold it down.
I never got it on in less than five minutes. That's a heck of a lot
less handy than the automatic tops on General Motors (GM ) models such
as the Corvette and Chevy SSR.
Still, those are mainly quibbles. We're talking an American icon here
at a price most Americans can afford. Hi Yo Silver!