So is this it for the Ford Mustang as we’ve known it for going on 50 years? Might be. The thought triggered a wave of memories and emotions as I climbed behind the wheel of an updated 2013 Ford Mustang convertible with the V-6 engine ($31,999 base).
You see, various places have been repeating a Wall Street Journal story that says Ford plans to turn the current car on its head. Ford, apparently, has come to the notion that it’s time to end this relentless pandering to baby boomers who can’t let go of their youthful pony car memories.
The idea, it seems, is to take a run at capturing Generation Y buyers who wouldn’t know a Mustang from Lee Iacocca. As Automotive News reports, Gen Y buyers – born between 1980 and 1999 – have no emotional connection to this Mustang which, as we all know, looks quite a bit like the 1964½ original. And these buyers matter. By 2020, the trade journal notes, Gen Y will represent as much as 40 per cent of the car-buying market, according to a 2009 study by Deloitte.
Boomers don’t want to accept this, but the car business is slowly coming around to the idea that the world does not revolve around us. The story is in the numbers: DesRosiers Automotive Consultants tells me that Mustang sales fell to around 70,000 last year, down from about 166,000 in 2006 when the car last got a big remake.
Still, for 2013 Ford has done something of an update to its current pony car. Not the major makeover of 2006, mind you, but the car does have new front and rear fascias, a more prominent grille and splitter, standard high-intensity discharge (HID) headlamps. Also, Ford points to new lighting, painted body-side rockers, “dramatic” LED taillamps, new mirrors and a new wheel lineup.
I welcome the look, though every time I see a Mustang – this being no exception – I cannot help but drift back to 1965 when my own dad fell in love with this Ford. Our next-door neighbour was an early adopter and I thought dad would have a nervous breakdown. He was so, so envious. Within weeks, dear old dad did one better by coming home with a gold Rambler Rogue convertible with a white top and a 290-cubic-inch V-8 that blew the doors of the neighbour’s ’Stang.
But let’s not dwell in the past. Ford is surely planning to get out of the Mustang nostalgia business and so should we. Between now and the next all-new ’Stang – which the Journal suggests might very well be a car that looks like the Evos Concept Coupe – Ford has put more power in the GT V-8 ($44,299). That would be 420 horsepower in all. So-called SelectShift automatic transmissions are part of the package, too.
Still, Ford is not driving away from the original quite yet, as Darrell Behmer, Mustang chief designer, says: “This latest Mustang design is very respectful of its heritage while continuing to look forward with a more powerful and modern look.” Make of that what you will.
In terms of pure functionality, standard high-intensity discharge (HID) headlamps come on both V-6 (305-hp) and GT cars and three high-tech LED bars comprise the rear lights in a way that suggests the original lighting from decades ago, though with a modern twist.
The standard wheel package for the V-6 includes 17-inchers, but my tester ragtop had a $2,900 package that swapped those for much fancier 18-inch wheels with fatter rubber, power heated seats with lumbar and a better-looking cabin all around. The leather seats ($1,500) were also optional, as was voice-activated navigation and climate control ($2,300), a long list of safety and security add-ons ($700), and a few other odds and ends. Price out the door: $39,399 plus freight ($1,500).
The seats surprised me. The leather sport design had side and back cushioning that suggested the kind of support you’d want in a racy car – to keep you from sliding around in hard cornering. The integrated head restraints were a smart touch, too.
Ford offers the ’Stang with a six-speed SelectShift Automatic transmission ($1,400), though in true boomer tradition, the six-speed manual seems more appropriate. But if I were buying, I’d get SelectShift. It allows you to choose between fully automatic and manual control via a selector button on the side of the shifter.
Tom Barnes, the engineering manager, says SelectShift won’t second-guess the driver with an override shift. In other words, manual control is truly manual. If you want to hold a gear, the car won’t presumptuously override you. If you do get the manual – and why would you if you live in a stop-and-go city? – Ford has added Hill Start Assist to keep you from rolling backward on hill starts. It’s a good gearbox, but SelectShift is more practical over all.
This latest ’Stang update is slick enough and the V-6 car is plenty powerful, though purists will probably go V-8. A solid effort and a very pleasant coupe overall.
Frankly, though, the Mustang is starting to feel like something of an anachronism. Let’s just hope that the totally reinvented Mustang coming in a year or two at most is not a remake of the lamentable and utterly disastrous Mustang II, but something completely new in every way. Gen Y is watching.
Tech specs: 2013 Ford Mustang V-6 convertible
Type: Convertible coupe
Price: $31,999 ($1,500 freight)
Engine: 3.7-litre V-6
Horsepower/torque: 305 hp/280 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 11.1 city/6.9 highway; regular gas
Alternatives: Chevrolet Camaro convertible, Chrysler 200 convertible, Mini Cooper convertible, Volkswagen Eos convertible