2013 Ford Mustang Expert Review
The Pony Car's Best Ambassador
Despite extolling their many carnal virtues for years, we know that there's still a sizable group of enthusiasts who have never managed to wrap their heads around the idea of owning a pony car. We've heard all the excuses before, from complaints about refinement, Jurassic underpinnings and muscle-straining inputs to shopworn stereotypes about the people who drive them. Thing is, if we're being honest, many of these same notions have troubled us as well – even those of us who have triumphed over our prejudices and actually bought one of the things.
Well, boys and girls, Ford finally has a four-wheeled answer for the naysayers and skeptics: The Mustang Boss 302. Just as bacon is the gateway meat for wayward vegetarians, the orange crush seen here is the four-wheeled, applewood-smoked come-on for pony car doubters. Better still, unlike that tasty bit of swine dining, it's nearly guilt-free.
The 2012 Boss 302 may carry the namesake of Ford's legendary 1969 competition car, and it might work a treat on racetracks, but Ford has made sure it's an honest-to-Detroit everyday proposition, not just a weekend warrior for waxing overconfident BMW M and Mercedes-Benz AMG preeners.
There was never going to be a problem with power. The 412-horsepower 5.0-liter engine in the Mustang GT is a corker on its own, but Ford has gone to a lot of trouble to extract 444 horsepower and 380 pound-feet of torque for this car. They could've simply bolted on a blower and called it a day, but in order to maximize reliability and stay true to the legacy of the original Boss, natural aspiration was called for. To that end, the 5.0-liter has been treated to CNC-machined aluminum heads, special pistons and sinter-forged con rods, sodium-filled exhaust valves and an uprated crankshaft. Other key changes include a 3.73 final drive ratio, reworked 1.0g-approved oil pan, a composite short-run intake and a unique quad-outlet exhaust system.
It's those last two bits that will have you seriously considering sending fawning holiday cards to Dearborn before you even leave the driveway. Without them, you wouldn't have the glorious aural feedback that accompanies the Boss' sky-high 7,500-rpm redline runs. Most pony cars make their power in the low and lumpy realm of the revband. That's long been part of their charm, but it's also been something of a turnoff for highbrow European buyers who like their V8s to be quick-revving screamers. The Boss 302 satisfies both sets of tough customers.
The Boss offers one of the best soundtracks we've ever heard on a mass-production car.
There's plenty of torque down low, but it's the aforementioned trick exhaust setup that adds the wow factor. By employing two conventional rear outlets and a smaller pair of all-but-hidden pipes that exit from the crossover and dump in front of the rear wheels, sidepipe-style through a pair of disc-shaped resonators, the Boss offers one of the best soundtracks we've ever heard on a mass-production car. The system delivers both racecar yowls and workable everyday refinement depending on whether the driver is wearing his Jeckyl or Hyde cap. We've seen dual-mode systems like this before, on the Chevrolet Corvette, for example, but the General Motors system transitions poorly, going from muted to cacophonous in a non-linear, on-off manner. The Boss system is far more organic – you never get the sense that a computer is moderating your car's soundtrack... because it isn't.
Speaking of organic, the Boss' suspension system isn't a rat's nest of gee-whizzery, either. You won't find any iron-filing-filled magnetic dampers or active anything. Heck, you won't even find an independent rear suspension. What you will find are manually adjustable shocks and struts, along with a lower ride height (11 mm up front and 1 mm out back compared to the GT) and a fatter rear sway bar. The shocks offer five settings, and if you want to tweak them, there's no knob on the dashboard, you'll need a screwdriver. Don't worry – any excuse to open your toolbox is good for your newfound muscle car credibility.
The Boss arrives on level two of five from the factory, and it's an excellent setup for the street, one that's compliant enough to deal with potholes without turning into a lugubrious mess in the twisties. It's amazingly well tuned – you still know there's a live axle out back when you encounter a mid-corner bump, but the experience isn't unnerving or seemingly even unanticipated – it's just dispatched with a minimum of drama, to the point where the sensation is almost part of the fun, not behavior you need to make excuses for.
You won't find any iron-filing-filled magnetic dampers or active anything.
When it comes time to slow down this 3,632-pound party, the Boss' 14-inch four-piston Brembo front brakes are happy to soak up the abuse, so much so that all that's called for out back are a set of high-performance pads. More rigid brake lines ensure that modulation is easy and direct, and we noticed no untoward noises when the brakes were cold.
If there's an area where the Boss offers a concessionary handshake to those looking for more electronic intervention, it's the steering. Connected to the meaty Alcantara-covered three-spoker is a speed-sensitive electric power assisted setup with a trio of settings to alter weighting: Comfort, Normal and Sport, selectable through a switch near the headlight controls on the dash. We selected Sport most of the time. It's not a Nautilus-level workout and the added heft is in keeping with the rest of the experience. Normal is just fine, too, and even Comfort isn't off-puttingly fingertip light. Even if the multiple-setting thing is a shade gimmicky, it works well because the staggered 19-inch Pirelli P-Zeros proffer a surprising amount of feedback for an EPAS arrangement.
Like the less powerful GT, the Boss' clutch is a model of progression, and you don't need Vin Diesel calves to actuate its carbon fiber plates. For a muscle car with so much racetrack potential, the Boss is surprisingly easy to drive – the short-throw six-speed manual gearbox finds cogs faithfully and doesn't mind being rushed, and the limited-slip 3.73 rear axle puts the V8's power to the ground with a minimum of drama. It's far easier to drive than the more powerful yet cruder Shelby GT500, particularly with our tester's optional Torsen limited-slip differential (part of a $1,995 options pack that includes Recaro seats). Of course, if it's drama you want, you can have it, from smoky burnouts to predictable, laugh out loud tail-wagging antics in any corner, thanks to the healthy leash provided by the Boss-specific stability and traction control systems.
If there's a single area that will give European buyers real pause, it's the cabin. While the aforementioned Recaros are grippy yet surprisingly cushy and the main controls (wheel, pedals and shifter) offer no cause for complaint, the rest of the interior is standard-issue Mustang, which is to say that it's the best of an uninspiring class of vehicles. The rumormill suggests that Ford will grace the Boss with SYNC connectivity for 2013 – a welcome upgrade – but this is clearly a humdrum interior that's not really even up to the levels of Ford's newer subcompact and compact offerings, let alone its more continental rivals.
Even without our car's Competition Orange paint, the Boss 302 aesthetic is clearly not for shrinking violets. The standard Mustang GT is aggressive enough, but the Boss brings with it an all-business front splitter and a pair of blocked-off fog lamp openings. There's even a Boss-specific rear spoiler out back to manage drag. The blacked-out roof and hood bulge adds a touch of menace, tying in with the coupe's look-at-me boomerang striping along the bodysides. We could do with a different pattern than the polished-lip wagon wheel alloys, but that's what the aftermarket is for.
Speaking of the aftermarket, it's a time-honored tradition to seek out high-performance tidbits from non-OEM parts bins to better one's chances at the racetrack, but Ford is clearly keen on keeping some of that action for itself. The standard Boss 302 is a fine piece for weekend circuit work, but if it's still not enough, Dearborn will be happy to outfit you with a Laguna Seca edition instead. For a few more shekels, Ford will fit your Boss with R-compound tires, a different front splitter, brake ducts and a larger rear spoiler. More substantive changes take place inside, where Ford rips out the rear seat and installs an x-brace stiffener, along with substituting firmer springs, shock absorbers and a larger rear anti-roll bar. Officials say these changes should be good for a second or two a lap compared to the base Boss, but we're guessing that if you plan on using your car a lot on the street, it's the standard model you want.
Whether you select the regular Boss or plump for the Laguna Seca, the Blue Oval still has your on-track performance in mind. Ford's optional TracKey is a novel way to set up your car for circuit use. Basically, it's a red key that optimizes the drivetrain for racing ("TracMode"). Something like the secondary key on a Bugatti Veyron that liberates the supercar's top speed mode (albeit without the seven-figure price tag), TracKey alters over 200 engine computer functions, including things like spark mapping, variable cam timing, engine braking and fuel delivery. The result? Improved low-end torque and a suitably lumpy idle. Ford has also thrown in a launch control system derived from the one on the Cobra Jet drag car, a nice addition.
Ford has also thrown in a launch control system derived from the one on the Cobra Jet drag car.
While this feature was announced at launch, Boss owners were been unable to secure their TracKeys until recently, as the technology was caught out by the hand-wringers at the California Air Resources Board who dragged their heels on the now-completed certification process. Not surprisingly, then, the magic red key was not provided for our week-long over-the-road testing. As it is, Ford will not allow Boss 302 drivers to purchase a TracKey until their vehicle is paid and the title is in hand.
The Boss' rarity should appeal to image-driven consumers as well – just 4,000 models will be built this year – 3,250 standard models and 750 Laguna Seca editions. Pricing is a fair shake for this sort of exclusivity, as well. A standard Boss starts at $40,310 (plus $795 destination), while the Laguna Seca commands an extra $6,995. For the base car, that's more than eight grand cheaper than the GT500 for a more tractable and well-rounded car. The capper? With city/highway EPA fuel economy figures of 17/26, the miles per gallon figures are the same as normal GT.
Of course, the hard truth is that even if the Boss 302's visuals were tempered, Ford dealers still probably wouldn't see a lot of cross-shopping from buyers of premium European and Japanese performance iron – the decades-old perception gap just runs too deep. Still, open-minded enthusiasts who give the Boss a chance will like what they find – it's more than good enough to stand fender-to-fender with the globe's finest big-engined coupes. We reckon the best chance that Ford has of winning uppercrust converts is a good old-fashioned game of put-up-or-shut-up. After all, getting shown up at their local track day by a box-stock pony car is bound to make a few believers.
The Trans-Am series of the late 1960s and early 1970s could be considered the golden era of American motorsports. Not only did it showcase the most desirable American cars of the time, but it featured some of the world's greatest racing drivers engaging in this country's own brand of fender-banging racing.
It's why Ford is so proud of the Boss 302, winner of the 1970 Trans-Am season with legendary driver Parnelli Jones behind the wheel, and why the street car has become a legend. But ask Jim Farley, Ford's head honcho of marketing, about the 2012 Mustang Boss 302, and he'll tell you that it's not just about building a remake of the original. "This is not a nostalgia project," he told us. "This is not in any way trying to bring back the Boss. This project is so much more than that. If we wanted to do that we could take a 5.0-liter, put some stripes and spoilers and other upgrades on it and that would be it. It was not a means to an end. The Boss 302 was originally a means to an end. It was a production car to go racing. This is a completely different project. We were not going to do this project unless we could beat an M3 at this track." This track being the famed Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
With Bavaria's best sportscar in it sights, did Ford achieve its goal of building a modern day legend, or is the 2012 Boss 302 simply another one of the infinite variations of the Ford Mustang? Ford invited us out to Monterey for a full day with the car, including some track time at Laguna Seca, and we have the answer.
Continue reading First Drive: 2012 Ford Mustang Boss 302...
Photos copyright ©2011 Drew Phillips / AOL
While Mr. Farley might not call the new Boss 302 nostalgic, it certainly looks the part. The exterior design takes distinct styling elements from the 1969 Boss 302, including the signature C-stripe graphics on the side of the car, black hood, a more aggressively designed front fascia, a grille with blocked off fog light openings and a subtle spoiler at the rear.
Five colors are being offered for 2012: Performance White, Kona Blue, Yellow Blaze, Race Red and the Competition Orange you see here. White graphics are standard on the Kona Blue and optional for Race Red, but the pairing doesn't seem to work as well visually as the other combinations because of the black wheels. Surprisingly, we thought the car looked its best in the most subtle of the colors, Performance White.
Head inside to the cockpit and you'll see what mostly appears to be a base Mustang with a few track-themed items thrown in for good measure. Those hoping for a navigation system or SYNC need not apply, as they aren't even available as options. What you will get, however, are an Alcantara-covered steering wheel, "Powered by Ford" sill plates, black gauges with a 180-mph speedo and 9,000 rpm tachometer, and a retro cue ball shifter.
Our Boss 302 was also equipped with the optional Recaro seats. The package costs an additional $1,995, and while that sounds like a lot, it also includes the Torsen differential. Truthfully, you'd have to be insane to order the car without them. Not only do the seats look fantastic, but they are both incredibly comfortable and supportive. The only reason you shouldn't part with the extra two grand is if your girth limits your ability to squeeze in between the side bolsters. We easily fit inside, but we didn't hear any complaints from the larger members of the media in attendance.
If you really want to see the Blue Oval's dedication to creating a good product, then open up the hood. Ford's engineers probably could have done some minor tweaking to the 5.0-liter V8 to reach their target goal of 440 horsepower (they ended up with 444), but they went all out to ensure that the engine was worthy of the Boss 302 moniker. If you go by the numbers, a 32-horsepower gain doesn't seem like all that much compared with the standard Mustang GT, but there's a lot more to this engine than peak horsepower.
According to Mike Harrisson, the Boss' engine program manager, the focus was to "make it breathe, make it rev and make it durable." The first was achieved with an all new intake manifold inspired by Daytona prototypes that features shorter runners for improved air flow at higher RPMs. Also improving the engine's breathing is a new set of high-strength cylinder heads that have been CNC ported on both the intake and exhaust side, a process that takes two and a half hours per head. Finally, the lift and diameter has been increased for the exhaust valves. And to make it rev? Ford engineer's swapped out the Mustang's entire valvetrain and bottom end to handle their target goal of a 7,500 rpm redline. The list of fortified parts – forged aluminum pistons, sinter-forged connecting rods, race-spec crankshaft and rod bearings, heavy duty valve springs and more aggressive camshafts – leaves little else to be upgraded and shows just how different this engine is from the standard Mustang GT's. The result is that the motor is stable up to 8,400 rpm. That leads us into durability, where Ford took the approach of testing out the engine in the motorsports arena. The first 10 engines assembled went straight to Multimatic Motorsports, who used them in their Boss 302R race cars. The team ran with the engines all of last season without a single hardware failure.
We'd be remiss if we didn't mention the Boss 302's exhaust system. Like with the rest of the car, Ford didn't settle for the ordinary, instead opting to design a unique quad exhaust that utilizes two main pipes that exit out the back as well as two additional pipes that exit just ahead of the rear wheels. Each of the cars leaves Ford's Flat Rock Assembly Plant with a 5/8-inch restrictor for the auxiliary pipes, but it can be easily removed by the owner. More on that in a moment.
While Ford knew that the Boss 302 would benefit from extra horsepower, they also knew that it was how the car handled that would determine whether or not it could best the M3 at Laguna Seca. The engineers started off with adjustable shocks and struts with the option of five different settings, then added higher rate coil springs, stiffer bushings and larger sway bars both front and rear. The brakes are the same that come with the Brembo package for the standard Mustang GT with 14-inch discs and four-piston calipers up front, but Ford has also added unique brake pads and low expansion brake lines for improved pedal feel. Staggered 19-inch wheels, nine-inches wide up front and 9.5-inches at the rear, are wrapped with Pirelli P Zero tires.
As if all that weren't enough, Ford also came up with what's called the TracKey. A secondary key that comes with the car, the TracKey can be activated by an authorized Ford Racing dealer (for a fee, of course) and changes more than 400 parameters of the Boss 302 through a dual-path PCM. Some of the most notable features include a lopey idle, a two-stage launch system, improved low-end torque, enhanced deceleration on track, and the deletion of the automatic skipshift.
You can see exactly how the launch control system works in the Short Cut video below.
For those customers who want an even more hardcore Boss 302, Ford will also be offering a limited number of Laguna Seca models. Available in two color combinations – black with red trim and silver with red trim – the Laguna Seca package comes with an aggressive aerodynamics package and more hardware for use at the racetrack. Most noticeable is the massive front splitter, which has to be installed post-title due to crash regulations, but the package also includes lightweight wheels, Pirelli R-compound tires, an air scoop on the transmission for additional cooling, an air duct kit for the front brakes, a dash-mounted gauge pack and a nifty looking cross brace that replaces the rear seats. The Recaro seats and Torsen differential also come standard.
So how does the 2012 Mustang Boss 302 drive? In a word: fantastic. With the high revving motor we weren't sure whether the Boss 302 could offer the same oomph as the standard GT at lower RPMs, but we needn't have worried. The torque curve feels as flat as Kansas, and the 5.0-liter V8 pulls hard from down low all the way up to its 7,500 rpm redline. In fact, it felt like the motor wanted to blast past the electronic barrier, with the power never falling off. Matched with 3.73 gears, the Boss 302 feels incredibly fast, closer to the GT500 than the Mustang GT in a straight line.
We weren't about to test the handling limits of the car on public roads, especially with track time later in the day, but the Boss 302 performed admirably on the street against everything we threw at it. The live axle only makes itself known on the bumpiest of corners, and the electronic steering provides excellent feedback. Ford had sent us out with the suspension set at 2 (with 1 being the softest and 5 being the stiffest), and we were surprised at how civil the car felt even over rough pavement. In fact, the entire car felt more docile than we expected. The exhaust note, while it sounded great, was even a little quieter than we expected. Ford has definitely designed the Boss 302 to be a car you could genuinely drive every day. The only issue we ran into was with the shifter, which occasionally refused to find the proper gear during softer gear changes. Whenever we were pushing the car hard, though, the shifter made its way with ease. Like many cars designed for the track, the Boss 302 simply functions better when driven hard.
We didn't waste too much time on the street, though, with the promise of 2.24 miles of enclosed pavement waiting for us. Back at Laguna Seca, we hopped into another Boss 302 that had the TracKey in the ignition and the plate removed from the exhaust system. The difference was immediately noticeable from outside the coupe, with a much more aggressive, rumbling tone emminenting from all four pipes. The difference was even more obvious while behind the wheel. In fact, the TracKey and the wide open exhaust completely change the Stang's character. With TracMode engaged, the Boss 302 becomes a snarling beast that's nothing like the relatively tame pony car we were in just a few minutes earlier. The 5.0-liter engine produces an ungodly sound at full throttle that sounds right at home at the racetrack and delightfully inappropriate for the street. If we had a Boss 302 in our garage, we'd run the exhaust wide open all the time and leave the standard key in the junk drawer. The sound and character of the car with the TracKey and the open exhaust is simply addicting.
Once out on track, we found the Boss 302 to have incredibly neutral handling. The front end simply goes where you point it with the rear following closely behind, making pinpointing apexes a breeze. This was most evident in the double apex of the Andretti Hairpin, where the Boss 302 never encountered even a hint of understeer. The Recaro seats work brilliantly at keeping occupants in place, and after just a few laps we were further convinced that they are a must-have option.
The availability of torque at any RPM was even more evident on track than on the street. We could drive nearly the entire course in third gear, with fourth gear required on the three main straights, and second gear only needed for the very slow turn 11. Ford says that the standard Boss 302 will lap Laguna Seca a second faster than the BMW M3 (the Laguna Seca package is one second faster still), and we're inclined to believe them. Ford actually brought an M3 for us to compare the two, but the Bimmer had some problems earlier in the day and we never got the chance.
The only weakness of the Boss 302 we encountered was with the brakes, mainly at the rear. The front Brembos were fine, but the 11.8-inch discs with single-piston calipers out back weren't up to the task of consistent hot-lapping. A few times the cars came in with smoke coming from the rear, and we couldn't do more than three or four really hard laps before they needed a cool down. Track addicts take note: new pads and maybe an aftermarket set of rear brakes should be on your shopping list.
We managed a few laps in a Laguna Seca model as well, and while we weren't disappointed, we were hoping for a more noticeable difference between the two cars. We'll be the first to admit that we didn't push the cars as hard as some, and the differences are probably more noticeable for more seasoned weekend racers. Even so, the standard Boss is good enough that we would only recommend the Laguna Seca for the most hardcore racer.
Pricing has yet to be officially announced for both cars, but expect the standard Boss 302 to come in at just under $41,000 with the Laguna Seca package retailing for an additional $6,995. Both cars are a screaming good deal, but the regular Boss is such a phenomenal vehicle that we see it as the better value. Plus, you can always buy the front splitter and air ducts for the brakes from the Ford Racing catalog. The only thing we'd really miss from the Laguna Seca is that ultra-cool rear seat delete.
At the end of the day we had concluded one thing: The 2012 Ford Mustang Boss 302 is easily the coolest, most technologically advanced, highest performing Mustang ever produced by Ford. It's more than a fitting tribute to the original Boss 302, and will easily become one of the most desirable Mustangs of all time.
And here's where we make our plea for the customers who have already put down deposits and to those who will be lucky enough to own this car. Drive it. More than any other car we can think of, the Boss 302 deserves to be used and not stored away as an investment item to be sold at auction to overzealous bidders 40 years from now. Jim Farley stated it perfectly: "The Boss 302 is not a car that should be in someone's collection sitting there with seven miles on it. This car should be on YouTube doing something maybe even against the law because that's the spirit and the soul of this project. Every part of this car is about driving – the pure pleasure of driving at speed on the very limit of the driver's capability."
Photos copyright ©2011 Drew Phillips / AOL
New Car Test Drive
With more refinements for 2013, it keeps getting better.
The 2013 Ford Mustang features a facelift and comes out bigger, bolder, cleaner. It's a change, not just a tweak. The 2013 Mustang resembles a Steve McQueen Bullitt Mustang, its mouth shaped more like '70 Mustang than a '65.
The Mustang was redesigned for 2005 and got rave reviews for its looks, totally capturing the old Mustang but still looking contemporary. The styling tweaks since then have made it even better, and that holds true for the 2013 Mustang.
A black eggcrate grille opens wide over the bumper, with a clean and full chin, fascia, and air intakes, and just a tidy flat-black horizontal spoiler at the lip. The triangular rear window masterfully evokes the roofline of original '65 Mustang, replacing its fake louvers with glass.
We're less enthusiastic about the interior of the 2013 Mustang. Reviews all end up saying that the materials are okay considering the price of the car, remember it's only a Mustang, and we can't argue. The steering wheel lacks imagination, and that's disappointing.
However the cloth seats are great; cloth can easily be a deal-breaker, and in the Mustang it's not. In fact, the cloth seats fit better than the leather, maybe because they grip better. The optional Recaro seats in either cloth or leather are excellent. There's good head and leg room up front, and visibility through the windshield is good, especially for a low-slung coupe. There's considerably more room and better visibility in the Mustang than in the Chevrolet Camaro.
Naturally, the two-passenger rear seat is no place for adults. Rear-seat headroom is limited by the rake of the coupe roof, and leg room is minimal, even with the front seats moved forward. That comes with the territory of such a car and its shape and is a small price to be paid for such proportions.
The retro instrument panel in the V6 and GT models clings too hard to the theme, we think. Having retro instrumentation on a car with modern performance like the Mustang is like having a telephone with a cord. The optional Shaker audio system is acoustically superb. Ford's SYNC system works well to choose music, but we had trouble operating it with voice commands.
The Mustang convertible has a power fabric top and glass rear window. Trunk space in the convertible is reduced to 9.6 cubic feet, from 13.4 cubic feet in the coupe. The coupe has standard 50/50 fold-down rear seats that vastly expand the cargo space, by opening the trunk all the way to the front seatbacks.
The V6 makes 305 horsepower, more than V8 muscle cars, and it does not sound like your father's V6. It's a fairly high-revving engine, reaching its horsepower peak at 6500 rpm and its torque peak at 4250 rpm, so it's good to play with. The manual transmission is the way to go if you like to play, because it's so good. And the manual comes with Hill Start Assist, so no worries about coasting backward when starting off on a steep hill. The automatic, meanwhile, does have a manual-shift feature it's awkward to use.
The Mustang V6 is EPA-rated at 19/31 miles per gallon City/Highway. However, we didn't get anywhere near that, running it hard on twisty two-lanes.
Mustang GT has a smooth, rumbling and growling 5.0-liter V8 engine. And with 420 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque, it snaps your neck on the way to a quarter-mile time of about 13 seconds flat. That's quicker than the Chevrolet Camaro SS, even with its huge 6.2-liter engine and 426 horsepower. But the Mustang is 230 pounds lighter, and that makes a big difference in acceleration, also handling.
The Boss 302 makes 444 horsepower with the same engine. But if you order the Track Package and Recaro Package on the GT, you can get most of the Boss for much less of the money. However the Boss has non-retro instrumentation, that's way cleaner. And it's a Boss 302.
Brakes are good. Ford engineers have revised the braking system of the Flex, Taurus, and Mustang, and the feel is powerful without being overly sensitive. And with the Boss 302 and Shelby GT 500, when you increase the size of the front rotors to 14 inches and add four-piston and six-piston calipers by the Italian company Brembo, you've got the best stopping power money can buy.
The chassis and electronic power steering is adjustable to Comfort, Standard or Sport. The names of the modes are apt. Comfort mode kept the ride comfortable when driving over rough pavement, Sport mode improved responsiveness on winding roads. We found the electronic stability control effective without being intrusive.
The 650-horsepower Shelby GT 500 joins the 2013 Mustang lineup. You read that right, 650 horsepower.
The Mustang could be a four-wheel football team, with its lineup of 11 cars: Mustang V6 ($22,200), V6 Premium ($26,200); V6 Convertible ($27,200), V6 Premium Convertible ($31,200); Mustang GT ($30,300), GT Premium ($34,995); Mustang GT Convertible ($35,500), GT Premium Convertible ($39,300); Boss 302 ($42,200); Shelby GT 500 ($54,200), Shelby GT 500 Convertible ($59,200). (All prices are Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Prices, which do not include destination charge and may change at any time without notice.)
Mustang V6 models use Ford's 3.7-liter engine making 305 horsepower, and a 6-speed manual transmission standard, with 6-speed SelectShift automatic optional. Also standard are a 2.73 rear axle ratio, 17-inch aluminum wheels, electronic power steering, stainless steel dual exhaust, HID headlamps, LED taillamps, capless fuel filler, manual air conditioning, tilt steering wheel with controls, cloth seats, and 50/50 rear folding seats (not convertible).
The V6 Performance Package includes a strut-tower brace, larger front sway bar and SVT rear sway bar, stiffer front springs, upgraded brake calipers with performance pad, 19-inch painted aluminum wheels, 255/40R19 summer-only tires, higher stability control calibration, black side mirrors, 3.31 rear axle, and unique engine cover (manual transmission only). There's also an Equipment Package ($295) and Tech Package ($1295). For the Premium models, there's a Comfort Package and Electronics Package.
Mustang GT models use a 5.0-liter V8 making 420 horsepower and 390 foot-pounds of torque, with the same transmission selection, 3.73 rear axle, and 18-inch aluminum wheels. Equipment and options closely match the V6 packages. The Premiums have reclining front bucket seats, a Shaker audio system, and ambient lighting.
Boss 302 uses a pumped-up version of that V8, with 444 hp and 380 foot-pounds, and 19-inch aluminum wheels. Also Brembo front brakes with four-piston calipers on 14-inch rotors, adjustable shocks, 3.51 rear axle ratio, four-gauge cluster, suede wrapped steering wheel, dark aluminum instrument panel, unique Boss cloth seats, side and rear exit exhaust system, rear spoiler, classic Boss 302 striping, grille, front splitter and engine cover. Recaro cloth is optional, as is a Laguna Seca track package ($6995).
Shelby GT 500 coupe and Convertible mean business with a 650-horsepower and 600-foot-pounds 5.8-liter supercharged intercooled V8, mated to a Tremec 6-speed manual transmission, with 6-piston Brembo calipers on 14-inch front rotors. Bilstein electronic adjustable dampers, 3.31 rear axle ratio, Torsen differential, black-vented aluminum hood, GT 500 striping, and Shelby Cobra front fascia, splitter, and spoiler. Also creature comforts such as leather seats, ambient lighting, LCD message center, suede steering wheel, satellite radio. With the SVT Performance Package ($3495), a Shelby GT 500 is capable of, gulp, 200 miles per hour. Extra oil coolers, aerodynamics, and 20-inch wheels.
Safety equipment on all Mustangs includes front and front side airbags, stability control, anti-lock brakes, tire pressure monitor, and Ford's MyKey system, which allows car owners (parents) to limit the speed and sound system volume, when they hand the keys over to others (teenagers).
The looks of the Mustang keep evolving nicely. It was the best looking of the reborn retro machines when it was redesigned in 2005, and it's only gotten better looking since then.
For 2013, Mustang gets another facelift, with a stronger and cleaner grille and front fascia, incorporating the air intakes and doing away with all the flat-black plastic from before. New HID projector-beam headlamps have two LED streaks at their sides, a look that will take getting used to.
The sequential LED taillamps are another matter, instantly pretty on the nice rear end that's true to '65 Mustang. At the rear, there's new body-colored fascia on the 2013 Mustang, again replacing flat black pieces (good riddance). Another improvement for 2013 is the loss of the flat-black rockers; they're now body-colored and grownup. And there are many new wheel designs for 2013.
Overall, the 2013 Mustang looks tougher and more Mustangy than ever. The combination of open-mouthed grille and bulging hood gives the 2013 Mustang muscular distinction. The GT boasts real black vents, in the bulging hood over its beefy 5.0-liter V8. The chrome Mustang galloping horse logo against the black eggcrate grille, on the base V6 model, also looks hot, and traditional. The foglamps go inside the grille like bookends on the silver horse, also just like 1965.
The sideview mirrors do something cool: when the unlock button on the remote is pressed, an image of a galloping horse in white LED light appears on the ground like a spotlight on a stage.
The small triangular rear window is a stroke of design brilliance, and makes the roofline sleek. It's wonderfully and totally true to the 1965 Mustang fastback, which used vertical fake louvers in that triangular roofline sweep.
The twin wide stripes on the 2013 Shelby GT that's coming in summer of 2012 are classic. Some of the other graphics packages are dubious. But you could for example get a V6 and add Shelby wide stripes. Casual glances won't know it's not a V8 under the hood. And not when you accelerate away, either.
There are two new colors for 2013: Deep Impact Blue and Gotta Have It Green, which is kind of mellow in a loud green kind of way. Our favorite color is still Grabber Blue, which on another continent would be French Racing Blue. And then there's black, and Mustangs always look GREAT in solid black, it's one of the many reasons it's easy to buy one. Ford makes it easy to stand out in style with a Mustang.
There are many styles of wheels mated to the 11 different models. Some are lovely, some we're not crazy about. We will say that the 18-inch painted aluminum wheels that were on the Mustang GT Premium we drove were gorgeous.
The 2013 Mustang interior doesn't keep up with the exterior, which is disappointing. The standard steering wheel, even on the Boss 302 and Shelby GT 500, looks like it was borrowed from some nondescript sedan; we wish Ford had instead borrowed the lovely steering wheel from the new Taurus SHO.
The trim and soft plastic on the dash are appealing, especially in faux aluminum, though there are some hard plastic bits, namely in the doors, and flimsy plastic hinges on things. The overall shape of the dash is undramatic, but the dash layout and switch panels are uncomplicated and effective. Most controls are big buttons, although climate and radio are big knobs. Premium and up models have standard ambient lighting in five selectable colors.
We think retro instrumentation has worn off. We don't really care to be reminded of the 1970s every time we look at the speedometer or tachometer, and that's what you get with the V6 and GT. On the Boss and Shelby, the numbers on the gauges aren't retro, and they're way more pleasing. We like how Ford pulls off the exterior retro style, but instruments are another matter. You don't just look at them, you use them. Retro-looks good, retro function bad.
On the base Mustang V6, you get a small fuel and temp gauge, inserted into the speedo. There's also what Ford calls a four-gauge cluster, which is digital information in a box between the retro speedo and tach. But it's distracting to have to click arrows on the steering wheel to read the numbers called a gauge.
On some models the 4.2-inch LCD screen between the tach and speedo provides more vehicle information, accessed by using that five-way button on the steering wheel. It displays not only basic information, but test-pilot things like air/fuel mixture and cylinder head temperature. It features Track Apps, which displays g-forces, shows acceleration times in quarter-mile and 0-60 increments, and reveals braking times. It also does automatic and countdown starts. It's a toy, not a need, nor is it much use for most drivers.
The cloth bucket seats that come standard are terrific. They hug the body with material that's rugged. The leather seats on the Premium models don't seem to be shapely enough or have enough bolstering for the Mustang expectation. However, the optional Recaro seats available for on all models in cloth or suede are so great that we'd say they're a good investment, if not necessity.
For a rumbling V8, the Mustang GT is quiet inside, and the V6 is even quieter. So the Shaker Pro audio system can blow your head off. Like Ford says, a complete acoustic experience that simulates being at a live performance. There are two Shaker sound systems; in the Mustang GT Premium it's eight speakers and six channels, while the Shaker Pro with nine speakers was found to be so loud during testing that extra sound-absorption material was added to the Mustang.
Ford's problematic MyFordTouch is missing but not missed in the Mustang. However there is SYNC with voice command, which works well to choose music. Voice-activated navigation is available on upper models.
Drivers of all sizes should be able to find a comfortable seating position. The steering wheel tilts, although it doesn't telescope, and we wish it would. There's good head and leg room up front, and visibility through the windshield is good, especially for a low-slung coupe. There's considerably more room and better visibility than in the Camaro.
Naturally, the two-passenger rear seat is no place for adults. Rear headroom is limited by the rake of the coupe roof, and leg room is minimal, even with the front seats moved forward. That's nothing new. It comes with the territory of such a car and its shape. Small price to be paid for such proportions.
The side mirrors have convex blind-spot panels in their top outer corner, a rearward visibility solution that we like at least as much as electronic blind spot lights and beepers with all their false alarms. The coupe's rear pillars don't block over-the-shoulder visibility, but it's hard to see out the back in the convertible with the top up. The optional back-up camera and reverse sensing system help. The Mustang has a lower beltline than the Camaro, allowing better visibility to the sides. The advantage became especially apparent when we compared a Mustang and a Camaro on an autocross course. We could easily see the cones from inside the Mustang, but not from inside the Camaro.
The Mustang convertible comes uses a power fabric top and glass rear window. The top is released with two slick latches within the driver's reach. The top and frame drop behind the rear seats. The vinyl tonneau cover must be installed manually, and costs an additional $160. The convertible top's storage space also reduces trunk volume nearly one-third. The Mustang coupe's trunk has 13.4 cubic feet of cargo space, which is comparable to that in a compact-to-mid-size sedan. The opening isn't particularly big and the lift-over is high, but the coupe's 50/50 fold-down rear seats expand cargo volume substantially.
We were able to get decent seat time in four Mustang models: a 3.7-liter V6 Premium with manual and automatic transmission and a 5.0-liter V8 GT Premium with manual and automatic.
The Mustang V6 is EPA-rated at 19/31 miles per gallon City/Highway, but we didn't get anywhere near that, running it hard on twisty two-lanes. With 305 horsepower, it's more powerful than the V8 of just a few years ago. It's called TI-VCT, for Twin Independent Variable Camshaft Timing, a system that precisely times the valve openings to increase power, throttle response and fuel mileage, while reducing emissions.
The V6 is fairly high-revving, reaching its horsepower peak at 6500 rpm, while its 280 foot-pounds of torque peak at 4250 rpm, so it's good to play with. The V6 will get you down the road as fast as a driver needs to go, 0 to 60 in the low 5-second range.
Almost as good, there's a new exhaust system that makes it sound like more like a V8. The V8 rumble isn't quite there, but the wimpy whine of a V6 isn't there either. If the V6 is as fast as a driver needs to go, it's not necessarily as fast he or she wants to go.
The Mustang GT with its 5.0-liter engine making 420 horsepower and 390 foot-pounds of torque will do 0 to 60 in the mid 4-second range. But we don't want to quantify the kick-ass acceleration of the Mustang models with numbers. We've got fast (V6), faster (V8 GT), faster-plus (Boss 302), and scary fast (Shelby GT 500).
The Mustang GT, with its smooth, rumbling and growling engine, feels more like an old-school Mustang. And with 420 horsepower and 390 foot-pounds of torque, it snaps your neck right quickly, on the way to a quarter-mile time of about 13 seconds flat. That makes it a couple tenths quicker than the Chevrolet Camaro SS, even with Chevy's big 6.2-liter engine and 426 horsepower. But the Mustang is 230 pounds lighter, and that makes a big difference in acceleration.
Now try 444 horsepower in the Boss 302. But you don't need to. In fact, you can get the Track Package and Recaro Package on the GT, and end up with most of the Boss for a much lower price. Do the math, and it's 95 percent of the horsepower. What you don't get, is the grown-up non-retro instrumentation with the Boss.
We give both the 6-speed manual and 6-speed automatic transmissions the highest marks, but we especially love the manual. It's tight, has a short throw, delivers secure shifts every time, is easy to heel-and-toe, and it's totally tolerant of aggressive downshifts. You'll love shifting this Mustang so we say go for the manual and stay true. The manual comes with Hill Start Assist, which makes choosing it easier. No worries about rolling back when starting off on a steep incline.
And we love and appreciate the pure programming for the 6-speed SelectShift manual automatic. We highly praise Mustang engineers for recognizing that sporty drivers do not like to have their wishes ignored by their manual automatic transmission, nor do they like being told what to do by their manual automatic transmission. The SelectShift is literal; it shifts into the gear you select. It won't downshift in a curve on you, or upshift before you want it to.
However, we hate the ergonomics of the SelectShift. Shifts are made with a button on the lever that's much too hard to reach. Up or down, you shift gears with your right thumb, using one small button on the left side of the shift lever. Your thumb has to find the right spot on the button each time, often quickly, when your hand really needs to be on the steering wheel. But even if your thumb lands on the right spot, your elbow has to be raised and your wrist cocked, to better orient your thumb joint. If only the SelectShift simply worked lever-forward and lever-back, like others, it would be acceptable, although paddles would be even better. This one is a deal breaker. The Camaro has paddle shifters, and the Dodge Challenger shifts by moving the lever from side-to-side, as it has since 1996, when Dodge invented manual-automatic shifting in the Stratus sedan.
Brakes are good. Ford engineers have revised the braking system of the Flex, Taurus, and Mustang, and the feel is powerful without being overly sensitive, for all of them. And with the Boss and Shelby, when you increase the size of the front rotors to 14 inches and add four-piston and six-piston calipers by the Italian company Brembo, you've got the best.
As for ride quality, the chassis on both the V6 and GT is adjustable to Comfort, Standard or Sport, and that pretty much takes care of it. The electronic power steering gets adjusted in the bargain. We ran it in Comfort over patchy two-lanes and in the city, and it was comfortable; we ran it in Sport when we picked up the pace on two-lanes, and were pleased with its steady responsiveness, even on wet corners. There was one IndyCar driver there with the journalists, and in his review he trashed the handling as either pushing at the front wheels or loose at the rear wheels, sometimes both in the same corner; we don't doubt him one bit, but we wonder how hard you have to drive the car to feel that. He added, by the way, that for a car of the Mustang's price, the power and handling were exceptional. And that's what we'll say.
Another thing we liked was the programming of the stability control. It was effective, without being intrusive at any time. We threw the tail out on purpose, a number of times, and hammered the throttle expecting the tires to spin on the wet road, but the gas was not taken away from the driver, just invisibly modulated. Great job, Ford.
With 11 models ranging from 305 hp and about $23k to 650 hp and $60k, if you like Mustangs at all, there's one for you. The entry level Mustang V6 Coupe with a manual 6-speed transmission is a big winner for the price, and with a few options it can be made better than any muscle car of old. The Mustang GT with its 5.0-liter V8 is the rumbling Mustang we all know and love. The Boss 302 and Shelby GT 500 are 21st century muscle cars, both offering tremendous performance for the price.
Sam Moses filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report after his test drives of the Mustang models along the Oregon coast.
Ford Mustang V6 ($22,200), V6 Premium ($26,200), V6 Convertible ($27,200), V6 Premium Convertible ($31,200), GT ($30,300), GT Premium ($34,995), GT Convertible ($35,500), GT Premium Convertible ($39,300), Boss 302 ($42,200), Shelby GT500 ($54,200), Shelby GT500 Convertible ($59,200).
Flat Rock, Michigan.
Options As Tested
Pony Package ($995) includes special trim, auto headlights, fog lights, rear decklid spoiler, special floor mats, 18-inch polished aluminum wheels; Reverse Sensing System/Security Package ($695); Comfort Package ($650) includes six-way power passenger seat, heated front seats, heated mirrors with Pony projection lights.
Ford Mustang V6 Coupe Premium ($26,200).
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