By Casey Williams
From the available red-and-white-striped seats to the wind it puts in your face, the 2011 Ford Mustang GT Convertible is like a big kid’s Schwinn Stingray. I had one in yellow and red when I turned five. About five minutes after it came home, I weebled it into my mom’s Pontiac Phoenix and dented both the car and my chin. The car survived the incursion (although it later shed its transmission and every other part not deemed essential by itself). My chin, however, required five stitches to be put whole. Buy a 2011 Mustang GT and you’ll have a lot of fun – hopefully without a trip to the emergency room.
Check the front fender and you’ll see a classic element we used to love: a chrome 5.0 badge. Raise the hood and you’ll find much more. An all-aluminum 32-valve V8 engine generates 412 horsepower, directed to the rear wheels through — God forbid anything else — a solid rear axle. You can option a six-speed auto transmission, but the crisp six-speed manual is the one to own. Fuel economy for the manual GT is rated 17/26 mpg city/highway. If that sounds like too much excitement, there’s no shame in choosing the base Mustang with its 305 hp 3.7-litre V6 that achieves 31 mpg!
One gets the feeling by looking at the Mustang that V.P. of Design, J. Mays and his team aimed to imbue just a bit more European flair to the latest pony. Exterior styling could be mistaken for nothing other than Ford’s flagship sport coupe, but it seems more finely tailored. An aggressive grille, canted taillamps with progressive turn signals, and a hip bump in the shoulderline update the classic. I like the 19″ alloy wheels on our test car, but would go for a more dramatic color than basic silver.
Back to those clay red leather seats with creamy white stripe: they look great, fashionable, and complement the red leather steering wheel and charcoal metallic-look dash inserts. Padded dash materials cover a twin-cockpit design that echoes past Mustangs. Large analog gauges with changeable light colors, a big aluminum shift knob, and freeze-cold climate control make the car even more enjoyable. Mustang is also available with SYNC, Ford’s voice-activated audio and navigation system. You can summon restaurant directions, view weather forecasts, or access your iPod’s menus (via USB port) on command.
Mustang’s key competitors – the Chevy Camaro and Dodge Challenger – sauntered out of the last decade underpinned by independent rear suspensions. Well, we would have none of that advanced technology under the Mustang. Ford sticks with a solid rear axle, but has significantly enhanced the car’s handling with new rear lower control arms and stiffer rear stabilizer bar bushings. The car still dances its tail over very rough pavement, but the behavior is ages ahead of anything that came before. Purists will argue the rear axle allows hot rodders to more aggressively modify the Mustang. Who am I to argue? It certainly hasn’t hurt sales, and Ford enthusiasts seem perfectly pleased.
That’s not where the under-skin changes stopped their molting. Engineers replaced the traditional belt-driven power steering system with electric assist that is quieter, uses less energy, and allows for variable-assist to best balance light low-speed effort with heavier high-speed feel. Drift-Pull Compensation automatically adjusts the steering to compensate for crosswinds and road crowning. Nibble Control filters out vibrations from out-of-balance wheels. Electronic Stability Control, four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, and traction-control keep this powerful stallion in the corral. Available Brembo brakes halt the rampage from ridiculous speeds without drama.
Driving the Mustang GT is believing. The car is noticeably more refined, separated from squeaks and rattles, and behaves itself even over rough roads. It feels sportier, tighter, and much more mature than any Mustang before. It is a car that remembers its raucous roots, but steps up with a level of sophistication that would be a great compliment for many European-brand sport coupes. I was more than pleasantly surprised. Mustang enthusiasts have much for which they should be thankful.
I could quibble about the solid rear axle, tight cockpit, and old-school powertrain. However, there is no debating how well Ford knows its customers that keep the Mustang in the pony car sales race. They evolve what needs to evolve and leave the rest the heck alone. That seems to keep the tribe happy, giving the rest of us plenty of eye candy on the highway and boulevards. One certainly can not dismiss 45 years of success.
The classic styling of the Schwinn and the power of a modern day supercar put the Mustang GT at the top of any kid’s wish list. Now available with the iconic 5.0 on the front fender, this may be the best overall Mustang yet. Put down the top, slip into the striped seats, and take a ride through your Schwinned childhood. (Just watch out for parked Pontiacs.) Mustang GT Convertibles start at an incredible $34,645.
2011 Ford Mustang GT Convertible
Four-passenger, RWD convertible
Powertrain: 412-HP 5.0-litre V8,six-speed, manual transmission
Suspension f/r: Independent/Solid axle.
Wheels: 19″/19″ f/r.
Brakes: Disc fr/rr with ABS.
Must-have feature: Style, speed.
Fuel economy: 17/26 mpg city/hwy.
Assembly: Flat Rock, MI
Base price: $34,645
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