Putting The Finishing Touches On The Poster Child For The Midlife Crisis

2013 Ford Mustang GT Convertible

Shortly after I turned 16, my father set out to acquire a new car for himself. Dad knew a guy who knew a guy who ran one of those quasi-legal used car lots that specialized in deals-too-good-to-be-true, so, armed with the protection of the referral, he drove off to the wrong side of town to see what might replace the 1980 Ford Fiesta that was about to become my hand-me-down.

When dad came home in a barely used 1987 Mustang GT, my mind was blown. I pestered him to let me drive it the moment he set foot through the door of the house, but was told that I was not allowed, as he had not actually purchased the vehicle, but merely borrowed it for the night. Dad wasn't sure that it was the right car for him, he said, explaining that what drew him to it was that, like the Fiesta, it was a hatchback.

The absurdity of this statement was not lost on me. The Mustang met 110 percent of my automotive fantasies at the time, and even at my young age, I could sense that giving a newly ordained driver access to such a car would be eclipsed in the Pantheon Of Bad Parenting only by introducing your child to hookers and blow. This just made me more furtive and desperate.

2013 Ford Mustang GT Convertible side view2013 Ford Mustang GT Convertible front view2013 Ford Mustang GT Convertible rear view

I had no idea how to convince my dad to keep the Mustang, but knew I must. So when mom said we needed milk for dinner, I volunteered to accompany my father on a run to the store. I had no plan, but if I was in the car with him, I reasoned, he might be distracted from finding something wrong with it. The errand also provided an opportunity to actually go for a ride in the Mustang, an experience that an hour earlier had existed only in the realm of my wildest fantasies. But I had already discounted merely riding in the car, so quickly does the adolescent mind move from one desire to another. Even getting behind the wheel had been subverted by my quest to possess the Mustang, like some teenaged Gollum. But dad improbably tossed me the keys, breaking his own rule and unknowingly providing me with a lifetime of animus against Ford's venerable pony car.

Although I managed to keep my cool for the two minutes it took us to exit our subdivision, when I pulled out onto the road that led to the grocery store, my foot crammed the accelerator to the floor and I got to hear that 5.0 sing all the way up to redline. Alas, it was a sad song of goodbye, as by 60 mph, the loudest sound in the Mustang was not the exhaust, but my father screaming at me to slow down.

The next day, dad returned from work late, behind the wheel of a 1986 Ford Tempo.

2013 Ford Mustang GT Convertible front detail2013 Ford Mustang GT Convertible hood vents2013 Ford Mustang GT Convertible wheel2013 Ford Mustang GT Convertible taillight

At least until the all-new Mustang on the horizon for 2015 bows, this one is the ne plus ultra.

I have spent the last two-and-a-half decades trying to work through my feelings about the Mustang. But as each successive generation has improved, the awe and delight that initially accompanied those cars has given way to the bitterness of my first encounter. It has been just too easy to find fault with subsequent Mustangs, which have always been too ugly, too cheap, too underpowered, or too impractical. But now, just months shy of my 40th birthday, a week spent driving a 2013 Mustang GT Convertible seems to have erased the psychological trauma of my childhood. That my tester was a lavishly outfitted Premium model with a sticker price of $47,305 – which included over $7,000 worth of options like Brembo brakes ($1,695) and a navigation package ($2,340) – certainly helped, but beneath all the extras I found a pretty amazing car.

The 2013 Mustang is the final step in the multi-year redesign of the then-revolutionary 2005 'Stang. The first Mustang in the model's long history to be given its own platform, the S197 was a good car saddled with a crummy interior and a dated powertrain lineup, complaints that have now been addressed. Ford began the process in the 2010 model, fixing the interior along with an exterior restyling that effectively pulled the Mustang's lines just a little more taut. Two stellar new engines debuted for 2011, including the GT's 5.0-liter V8 and a 305-horsepower 3.7-liter V6. Adjustable settings were introduced to the electric power steering system in the 2012 model, and the 2013 model features new front and rear fascia designs that further separate the current Mustang from those 2005-2009 models. At least until the all-new Mustang on the horizon for 2015 bows, this one is the ne plus ultra.

2013 Ford Mustang GT Convertible engine

It's the first modern Mustang I've driven that looks and feels like a complete package, a car that's exciting enough to make me once again covet a Mustang like I did at age 16. Explaining how I've come to this way of thinking might best be left to the therapy chair, but it starts with a simple question: What else is left for Ford to do?

What matters are three things: Looks, fun and value – and the new Mustang delivers on all three.

Now before the collected enthusiast community – minus the Mustang fans – all shouts "independent rear suspension" in unison, I'll preempt that by saying that I just don't care. If my test car had a rear axle made out of Legos and a suspension designed around the viscous properties of marshmallow fluff, it would not matter in the least to me if it still did the things it does as well as it does them. (And to the greenies who point to the GT's EPA fuel economy rating of 18 miles per gallon city and 25 highway, might I direct you to the V6 Mustang.) What matters are three things: Looks, fun and value – and the new Mustang delivers on all three.

The redesigned front fascia and vented hood that's exclusive to the GT give the '13 models an aggression that just wasn't there last year. The upgrade also includes HID headlights and body-colored rocker panels. While I really liked the way the old grille sat hidden underneath the horizontal overhang of the hood, the new front end emphasizes the vertical, giving the Mustang more of a fuselage look. Out back, the new LED taillights are less of a big deal, but they do give the rear end a cleaner look. The 2013 is the first of the post-2005 Mustangs that seems to have tilted the scales far enough away from retro to look fresh, without evolving into a 21st Century Ford Probe like some expect to see in the next-generation design.

2013 Ford Mustang GT Convertible interior2013 Ford Mustang GT Convertible front seats2013 Ford Mustang GT Convertible rear seats

The interior in the Mustang is nothing special, but neither is it deficient. It hasn't been reworked aside from the addition of a new, optional 4.2-inch LCD display in the center between the speedometer and tachometer, necessary to accommodate the Track Apps feature, which we'll get to shortly. The seats in my test car looked like a million bucks done up in red leather with white stripes, but they felt flat and uncomfortable after a few hours behind the wheel, with no lumbar support and Ford's odd half-power, half-manual adjustment. Having a steering wheel that didn't telescope didn't help, but the optional Recaros seem like they might. While some of the switches and finishes inside the 2013 Mustang aren't quite as nice as in some other Ford vehicles (the Taurus SHO comes to mind), the utility of the interior controls is undeniable. The Mustang has never been a form-over-function kind of car, and though the 2013 may flirt with self-indulgence a bit – the side mirrors do display the Mustang logo in a puddle of light at night – this is a car that delivers everything it promises.

This is mostly thanks to the GT's 420-horsepower 5.0-liter V8, which has received an additional eight horsepower for 2013. No, the two-percent improvement isn't something you're going to notice, but the addition of SelectShift to the six-speed automatic transmission is significant. It allows for manual control of the transmission by means of a shifter-mounted button, and while it doesn't make the Mustang's automatic sporting in the way of a real manual, it certainly doesn't hurt, allowing you to choose your own gear and, more importantly, keep the tranny from upshifting. SelectShift's usefulness is somewhat limited, however, as the manual shifting action is not all that quick, and compared to a better solution like paddles, the rocker button is unsatisfying.

2013 Ford Mustang GT Convertible Track Apps2013 Ford Mustang GT Convertible shifter

This is the first car I've ever driven that will let you display cylinder head temperature.

While I'm not one to shy away from a good manual transmission, mashing that gas pedal and feeling the rocket launch of the V8 uncomplicated by a third pedal, is as enjoyable as it ever was. Maybe this seems adolescent and unsophisticated, but once you convince the throttle to open up, the 2013 Mustang will make you say "Ahh!" While my GT's six-speed automatic did seem to poison the performance of the big V8 a bit, particularly when I left the transmission alone to choose an inevitably higher gear than ideal, the car is still extremely quick. Nimble too: When you adjust the electric power steering to the sport position, the steering feels really good, weighty, but quick and direct. On the comfort setting it's noticeably softer and more appropriate for a long freeway slog. The optional Brembo brakes on my test car produced phenomenal stopping power and were easily modulated, with excellent pedal feel. For a convertible, the Mustang feels stiff and solid, and with the top up it's surprisingly quiet.

One new feature for 2013 is the aforementioned Track Apps, which will measure a number of performance stats while you drive. It's similar to systems found in other performance cars, like the Dodge Challenger SRT8, with an acceleration timer, a g meter, and a braking timer. It's thanks to this nifty piece of tech that I know the Mustang GT Convertible can pull over 0.9 g's on its street tires. All the Track Apps information is displayed on that nice looking little LCD in the center of the instrument panel, but amongst all the menus and options (this is the first car I've ever driven that will let you display cylinder head temperature) there's no digital speed display, which would certainly help mitigate the barely legible speedometer.

2013 Ford Mustang GT Convertible rear 3/4 view

With a starting MSRP of $37,290, I just don't think you can find a car that can do more for less.

The 2013 Mustang GT Convertible is fun to drive and be seen in, and it is such an all-around performance car that it's hard to resist its allure. It may not be the best at everything, as there are certainly other competitors that are flashier, more powerful and more exotic, but there are few other performance cars easier to justify owning. The backseat of the convertible is large enough to be useful, and so is the trunk. I can imagine a Mustang GT Convertible working out quite capably as an everyday driver and family conveyance while serving equally as well as a hobbyist project and weekend toy. With a starting MSRP of $37,290, I just don't think you can find an enthusiast's car that can do more for less.

You certainly aren't going to find many other performance cars with the unique history of the Mustang, and that certainly counts for something. That GT I drove in back in 1988 was the second coming of Ford's pony car, a performance bargain to reignite the enthusiasm of those Baby Boomers who had come of age during the Mustang's original heyday in the late '60s. That today's Mustang GT is once again wearing the 5.0 badge is significant, as it's now my generation that's looking back at the Mustang of their youth and seeing it reincarnated, for the better.