• Sep 21, 2010
Forty-six Years Of Refinement Make It The Pony Car To Beat

2011 Ford Mustang GT Convertible - Click above for high-res image gallery

Potentially ruinous. All that work on an impressive new 5.0-liter V8 engine, chassis tweaks and other piecemeal refinements for the 2011 Ford Mustang GT are almost all for naught because of a single glaring issue. What could erase all the gains the Mustang has made for 2011? The answer is nestled between the front seats, and it goes by the name 6R80.

Despite the promise that a smooth-shifting six-speed automatic transmission carries, not to mention the associated fuel economy, the auto 'box blunts the Mustang's edge severely. Can the new 5.0-liter V8 and wind in your hair make up for the dulling effect of the Mustang GT Convertible's transmission? Follow the jump to find out.

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Photos copyright ©2010 Dan Roth, John Neff / AOL

The 2011 Mustang wears year-old styling that still looks up-to-the-minute fresh. Of course, there are retro cues in the sheetmetal, but the changes to the Mustang's looks for 2010 deftly separate the newest Mustangs from the 2005-2009 cars. Surfaces are far more sculpted and much more playful with light, and the front-end styling brings a lot of the Shelby GT500 to the everyman's Mustang. The $34,645 entry point for a V8-powered Mustang convertible is attainable, and the GT Premium Convertible carries SYNC as standard equipment, as well as the Shaker 500 audio system (both options on lower trims), along with interior ambient lighting. The gauges in the GT Premium also get into the chameleon routine with MyColor, and trim detailing dresses up the Premium's interior with chrome accents and a glossy center stack finish.

With the arrival of the new V8, "5.0" badges make a return to the Mustang's flanks after an 18-year absence. The folding soft top on the convertible saves weight and only consumes 3.8 cu. ft. of trunk space, though it does add some buggy-whip anachronism to the Mustang's otherwise slick profile. Mustang GTs are also quickly identifiable by their grille-mounted foglamps and 18-inch wheels that fit snugly under the boldly flared wheelarches. Awkwardness does creep in around the tapered rear corners, but ponycars are bold, and the 2011 Mustang is no wallflower.

2011 Ford Mustang GT Convertible side view2011 Ford Mustang GT Convertible front 3/4 view2011 Ford Mustang GT Convertible rear 3/4 view

Fine assembly quality is on display both inside and out. Panel gaps are close enough to pass muster in the luxury world, and even without its roof, the Mustang Convertible feels tight, though there is cowl shake on some surfaces and distinctly less body rigidity than the coupe. The interior is much improved over the previous generation, though it won't be winning any awards for opulence. The cabin is on par with its Chevrolet Camaro and Dodge Challenger competition. The dashboard is made of low-gloss, soft-touch material that presents well and the leather upholstered seats in the GT Premium Convertible we drove are comfortable, if under-bolstered.

Sadly, door panels are cheap-feeling hard plastic and make elbows ache. A power lower cushion and manual backrest adjustment may save weight, but it's annoying in practice and gives the impression of cost-cutting more than any nod to trimming a few pounds. Taken in context with the rest of its class, however, the Mustang's interior is well-imagined and functionally excellent. The power-operated convertible top has a rigid front panel that makes it less necessary to wrestle with the tonneau cover, and weather sealing is good. Predictably, noise is up over coupe versions; good in that you can hear the burble of the 5.0 more, bad in that there's more wind noise at highway speeds. It's nothing that the Shaker 500 audio system can't overcome, if it's tinnitus you seek.

The retro-themed interior, with its patterned-metal inlay, chrome-ringed electroluminescent gauges sporting a retro narrow font and running-horse emblems will please baby boomers looking to recapture their senior year of high school. Modern details hide inside, too. Ford's Sync system is a star in everything, and illuminated door pulls, sill plates and footwells are a nice touch – in switchable colors, no less. The Rapid Spec 401A Premier Trim and Color Accent Package was tossed in on our test car, a $395 charge that adds colored trim to the seats, stitching and Pony badges on the door panels and a darker finish on the instrument panel.

2011 Ford Mustang GT Convertible interior2011 Ford Mustang GT Convertible seats2011 Ford Mustang GT Convertible gauges2011 Ford Mustang GT Convertible door panel

The real news is the 5.0 liter V8 that makes its debut in the 2011 Mustang GT. Dubbed the Coyote during development, the dual overhead cam engine independently varies the timing of intake and exhaust events with a system Ford calls Twin Independent Variable Camshaft Timing (Ti-VCT.) Tubular exhaust headers and a classic "Powered by Ford" legend on the valve covers are outward signals of performance. Inside the aluminum engine block, jets of oil keep the pistons cool, main bearing caps are cross-bolted for rigidity and a baffled oil pan shrugs off repeated hi-g cornering. Ford knows it's built a killer affordable performance car that can mop the floor with most vehicles it encounters, and has endowed it with an engine that can stand up to racing right off the showroom floor.

From behind the wheel, it's immediately evident that the Mustang GT Convertible is no parade float, even with the automatic. The engine's 11.0:1 compression ratio realizes its full potential on premium fuel, resulting in 412 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque. Horsepower drops off to 402 on regular fuel, while torque takes a greater hit, falling to 377 lb-ft. Truth be told, the automatic transmission is okay once you get used to it. There's a delay for kickdown, as in most modern automatics, but shift quality is good and it gets itself into locked-up overdrive as soon as possible, resulting in EPA fuel economy estimates of 17 mpg city and 26 mpg highway.

There is no manual shift gate, sport mode or paddles on the non-telescoping steering wheel. You're faced with the very same shifting options as your grandmother's Crown Victoria: PRND321. It's frustrating. Of all the cars in Ford's lineup, the Mustang should be first in line when doling out the sporty shift programs. The V8 with automatic is perfectly happy to swallow interstate miles or drag race tarmac, but when the road turns twisty, it's a dud thanks to the recalcitrant transmission.

2011 Ford Mustang GT Convertible engine

It's a shame that the automatic cuts into enjoyment, because the rest of the 2011 Mustang is so fully realized. The engine is responsive, throaty and strong; it's a trifle to blow the car sideways by pulling into traffic over-zealously. There's low-end torque and plentiful high-rpm power. The 245/45 Pirelli P Zero Nero tires on 19-inch wheels that our tester wore can only resist the wave of muscle from the engine so much, though the Mustang is easy to bring back under control once it breaks traction.

There's finally satisfying mojo under the hood of a Mustang that can keep up with the excellent V8 engines in the Camaro and Challenger. The new 5.0 is the last piece of the puzzle to Mustang dominance in the segment, too. It's still significantly lighter than its two main rivals, and moreover, it feels lighter on its feet. Live axle or not, this is one great-handling car. Ford's electric power steering system can do impressive things like compensate for crown in the road or unevenly worn tires, but it's also slightly on the numb side. The roofless structure is relatively solid, with only some occasional cowl shake. Load up those 19-inchers in a tight corner and the Mustang Convertible doesn't feel like a clockspring winding up; that's good.

2011 Ford Mustang GT Convertible rear 3/4 view

For a $37,845 base price, our 2011 Mustang GT Premium Convertible was not only very well equipped, as it should be, but very capable. And most drivers will likely see the automatic transmission as an asset, rather than the detriment to driving enjoyment we found it to be. In our experience, the live rear axle simply isn't an issue, despite the constant drone of the naysayers. The Mustang rides and performs impressively, with tightly controlled chassis motions and predictable handling. It's a better-rounded package than either of its neo-ponycar colleagues, and it's the only convertible in town, at least until the drop-top Camaro arrives next year.

In addition to being at the head of its own class, the 2011 Mustang GT Convertible is also a scrappy athlete that can mix it up with much more expensive and snooty hardware. In that sense, it's a repeat of what's always been great about Detroit performance cars – just try and find a better deal on a new car that performs this well. Even with the wrong transmission.

Photos copyright ©2010 Dan Roth / AOL

Second Opinion: 2011 Ford Mustang GT Premium
by John Neff

I'm not a convertible guy. Aside from the extra weight and platform compromising characteristics of a drop-top, I just don't like sharing my stereo with the rest of the neighborhood. I'll also take a manual transmission over an automatic any day, so I thank the car gods that the 2011 Ford Mustang GT delivered to me wasn't the same one Mr. Roth reviewed. Mine was the coupe with the six-speed MT82 transmission, sprayed in evocative Grabber Blue and commanding a less-expensive base price than the convertible at $32,845 (all Mustangs carry an additional $850 in destination charges, as well).

In the case of the 2011 Ford Mustang GT, if you're interested in things like performance, handling and price more than whether or not your not cranium can get a tan, go for the coupe. Comparing manual-equipped models of both, the Mustang GT coupe is 118 pounds lighter than the automatic and $5,000 less expensive. There's not much left to consider unless you plan to drive your Mustang GT in a parade every weekend.

2011 Ford Mustang GT Premium

As for Dan's distaste of the Mustang GT's automatic transmission, I'll agree that saddling any modern day muscle car with an automatic transmission is a disappointment from the get-go, especially when said slushbox comes with no manual shifting functions. The 'Stang's six-speed manual is the transmission you want if you're going for the full muscle car effect; accept no substitutes.

Whereas the six-speed automatic effectively corrals the new 5.0-liter V8, the six-speed manual lets those ponies run free, fuel economy be damned. The shifter action is nice and deliberate if a little notchy, but definitely not sloppy. The stick itself is also very short, which makes throws quick and easy unless you've got a beverage in the center console's cup holders. Best to avoid bottles of any kind, which are tall enough to get right in the way of your arm's motion when shifting gears.

The new 5.0-liter V8 is a gem of an engine and plays perfectly with the manual transmission. Perhaps its most surprising characteristic is that it delivers power everywhere, even high in the rev range before it tops out a redline just shy of 7,000 rpm. That makes the new 5.0 more than just what its peak power numbers of 412 horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 390 pound-feet of torque at 4,250 suggest, since its broad powerband is working hard for you at every rpm. Of course, that's to say nothing of the engine's aesthetic qualities, a feature so often forgotten these days under the many plastic shrouds that commonly obscure an engine's actual shape. The Mustang GT bucks this, showing off its tubular exhaust headers like a body builder's bicep peeking out from the sleeve of his muscle shirt.

Fortune had it that I also drove a 2010 Dodge Challenger SRT8 a couple weeks prior to the Mustang GT, and a comparison between either the Challenger or this car's other obvious competitor, the Chevrolet Camaro, brings into sharp relief what Ford is doing with the Mustang. Its cross-town rivals are less focused on bringing a balanced performance car to the party than creating an experience. At its most basic level, the feeling of driving a modern day muscle car requires retro styling and a big, powerful engine. Both the Challenger and Camaro offer this, though each takes their own tack at what "retro styling" means.

2011 Ford Mustang GT, profile2011 Ford Mustang GT Premium front detail2011 Ford Mustang GT Premium 5.0 badge2011 Ford Mustang GT Premium faux gas cap

The Mustang, however, hasn't taken a break in 46 years, and so doesn't need to convince anyone that it shares a direct link with the cars from the late '60s and early '70s that defined this class. Instead, the latest generation Mustang nearly evolves the car right out of the muscle segment. It is a high-performance car on every level, perhaps evidenced best by what it's being compared with other than the Challenger and Camaro. We ourselves pitted the new 2011 Mustang V6 against the Nissan 370Z and Hyundai Genesis Coupe, while Motor Trend put up this same GT model against the BMW M3. Let me repeat: the BMW M3. And the Mustang GT almost won, which is a victory itself.

All this is to say that the 2011 Ford Mustang GT is laser-focused on being the best all-around performance value on the market, not just the best reinterpretation of what it means to be a muscle car in 2010. If you just want to look good in a Mustang, get the automatic-equipped convertible model reviewed above and idle along on Woodward Avenue to your heart's content. If you want Challengers and Camaros in your rearview mirror while nipping at the back bumper of an M3, get this model.

Photos copyright ©2010 John Neff / AOL

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 4 Years Ago
      Nice, but I won't even think about buying a Mustang again until the cheap unpainted plastic plastered all over this car is gone or painted, and a real tan interior is offered again.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Having sat in many Mustangs, I can say the thing that turns me away from 'Stangs more than anything is the horrible interior quality, particularly on early 2000 models (though it may have been neglect from the car owners). Those cars (and early 2000 Fords in general) had the worst interior plastics I've ever encountered and seemed pretty sloppily assembled. Then I got in a 2011 model. My how things have changed. Seriously, hop from one to another and you'll realize that while it may be no Audi, it's still worlds better than anything Ford made in the not to distant past.
        • 4 Years Ago
        3:02PM (9/21/2010)
        Having sat in many Mustangs, I can say the thing that turns me away from 'Stangs more than anything is the horrible interior quality, particularly on early 2000 models (though it may have been neglect from the car owners). Those cars (and early 2000 Fords in general) had the worst interior plastics I've ever encountered and seemed pretty sloppily assembled. Then I got in a 2011 model. My how things have changed. Seriously, hop from one to another and you'll realize that while it may be no Audi, it's still worlds better than anything Ford made in the not to distant past.

        Jonny, we are talking about the exteior plastics. I had a 99 v6 manual Mustang and a 2002 automatic. Slow yes, but you couldn't tear that engine up! Interior held up very well too. My grandma has a 2000 Taurus and the inside is still in good condition as is my grandpas 2002 F150. I know there is a big difference from then vs now tho, I have been driving Fords for a while. My 2004 F150 interior seems to have held up better than my new 2010. My 2010 already rattles and the dash scratches easily.
        • 4 Years Ago
        This comment made me so happy. I'm a huge Mustang fan, but the gaudy cheap hard plastic all over this car looks awful, and up close, feels even more awful. What's wrong with painted rocker panels? I never see people complaining about this, but it is truly something that needs to be complained about.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Ugly gaystang.
        • 4 Years Ago
        This car is the #1 car icon for years. Being female, I have a 2011 Gt and it turns the heads i'd have to say...my dad has a 1969 mach 1 and it does the same, take it out and you hear the compliments from men, woman and kids. We take the mach 1 to car shows and everyone is in love with it. Wins everytime for peoples choice. The Mustang is the most loved car for years, there is very few that dont like them. I feel sorry for you, that you don't see this beauty. Don't be jealous. :)
      • 4 Years Ago
      The ponycar to beat?...thats funny. There are so many cars on the road that beat the mustang. The new Camaro sweeps away the mustang without even trying. The mustang is an icon car, theres no doubt about that, But this version isnt anything special.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Never thought i would want to own a stang..
      • 4 Years Ago
      Ford could fix the transmission selector by dumping P RND321, and use P RN D6, D5, D4, D3 (and have a button on the side to lock out 1st gear)

      Does Ford offer the the 3.55 & 3.73 ring/pinion in the Convertible?
      • 4 Years Ago
      I would buy one of these GT's, but Ford only offers Grabber Blue with Black Interior, and I hate black interiors - especially on Convertibles.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Me Like, Me Like!
      • 4 Years Ago
      Well said . I just had the pleasure of road testing a new coupe myself with the track pkg. & manual trans . I must say its really true what all the experts have been saying . This car is a remarkable bargain when you consider / experience the ultra smooth power delivery the sound & feel of that engine is the next best thing to sex . Will stop on a dime time after time from 100 mph without any sign of fade . The 3.73 gear feels & sounds like a perfectly streetable gear even for the highway . Put some padding on the door trim panels & change the shifting characteristics of the automatic and this car will be complete . Do you here me Ford ? Are you listening ?
      • 4 Years Ago
      I drove a V6 Premium Package model recently and the auto trans was a disappointment. I was really surprised to see that there was no manual shift mode available. My 2003 Passat has this but a 2011 'Stang doesn't? Odd.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I ordered a 2011 mustang 5.0 G.T 412hp early this spring. Performance White with Glass Roof, Brick red leather interior, navigatoin system, and it is a beauty car that turns the heads. I am addicted to driving it! As of people commenting on the quality of the interior it is 100% more stylish than the camero in my opinion. The ambient lights the navagation the two tone dash makes it look very modern and rich. The red accents that come with the brick red interior just add to the hotness. Love this car! This car is all that they say it is, drives amazing and the power of this machine is more than enough for one person behind this beast...do i need to continue? DRIVE ONE before you talk it down.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I think they are REALLY nice. Ford hit that sweet spot, but I do wonder why Ford is so reluctant to offer a slapstick/paddles on their automatic transmissions. It's clear that some of us live in urban environments that make a manual too much of a chore, but want to kick up some fun on the weekends.
      • 5 Months Ago
      Screw a Manual Transmission! I'm a Ford, Lincoln, Mercury person from my father working with them when I was younger and still in school. I'm still crazy about V8(302Cui/5.0L or 351Cui/5.8L) or even (281Cui/4.6L).......as long it's Automatic Transmission equipped. My 1st and favorite Mustang I owned was a V8 1994/95(SN95) with Automatic Transmission. I was crazy about it & any newer models I'm interested so far has to be V8 & Automatic. I don't care about the 150-200MPH top speed crap. I like my convertible to be V8 with AT. And you don't have to any Grey Poupon either.
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