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2012 Ford Mustang GT convertible. (Ted Laturnus for The Globe and Mail)
2012 Ford Mustang GT convertible. (Ted Laturnus for The Globe and Mail)

2012 Mustang GT Convertible

A Mustang blast from the past Add to ...

There are lots of different ways to make cars go faster. Turbocharging, supercharging, better flowing heads, enhanced electronics – even, these days, hybrid technology. Manufacturers are limited only by their imaginations (and budgets) when it comes to squeezing more power out of the internal combustion engine.

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But the tried-and-true traditional method is one that’s been around since the beginning: make it bigger.

Forced air induction, multi overhead valves, auxiliary electric motors, etc., are fine, but there’s no substitute for cubic inches (or litres nowadays). Even with gasoline up to and beyond the $1.50 a litre mark, car makers are offering big honking V-8 engines in a variety of applications.

Like the Ford Mustang GT, for example. Available with either a hard or soft top, it’s more than adequately powered by a 5.0-litre V-8 that develops 412 horsepower. You can choose from either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission, but either one will give you the kind of performance hot-rodders used to dream about in the 1960s, when the Mustang first debuted.

And, interestingly, although this is a large engine, it benefits from a host of new-fangled engineering innovations. Aluminum block and head, twin overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder, variable valve timing, and coil-on-plug ignition are all part of the package. There’s nothing old-fashioned about this engine, and even though it feels like a ’60s-era muscle car, it’s as up to date as anything else in this segment.

Fire it up and you’re greeted by a muted but raspy exhaust note that wouldn’t be out of place at a NASCAR event. Ford engineers worked long and hard to give the GT its distinctive growl and it’s an aural treat. Lovely. Especially under hard throttle.

Moving right along, manual transmission refinement, always a bit of an issue with the Mustang, is much improved. A heavy clutch and long throw between gears have been a hallmark of Ford products, but those days are gone. The clutch action on my six-speed manual GT convertible was smooth, manageable, predictable, and required no “feathering” or modulating. Just let it out and off you go.

As well, the shift gates have been cleaned up and, although it’s undeniably still a tire-spinning muscle car, this iteration of the GT is the most refined it’s ever been. On the highway, at 100 km/h, in sixth gear, the engine is barely spinning over at about 1,800 to 2,000 rpm, which, for this engine, is hardly more than an idle. It redlines at 7,000 rpm and will go up to 8,000 rpm, if you push it. Interestingly, although the Mustang GT is assembled in Flat Rock, Mich., the engine is built in Windsor, Ont.

Elsewhere, the soft top on my convertible goes up/down in about 15 seconds. Release the two catches mounted on the windscreen, hold the button, and that’s it. Those release catches, by the way, are much easier to deal with than they used to be. Once the top is down, wind turbulence is minimal and, with the heater going full blast and the seat warmers on, riding around in the autumn chill is a civilized experience.

Lots of other creature comforts too, including Ford’s Sync system and MyKey, which lets you program the vehicle and limit its top speed, as well as restricting stereo volume and not allowing the traction control to be de-activated. This is in case Junior “borrows” the car and wants to impress his friends by repaving the local main drag. This latter feature is a good idea, but I can do without Sync. The GT is a car where performance comes first and electronic do-dads come second – if at all.

Ford has stiffened up the suspension on the GT and it’s considerably harsher than the garden-variety Mustang rag-top. If you’re a performance enthusiast, you’ll probably like it, because it enhances the car’s handling and makes it more responsive. If you’re just someone who likes to drive a V-8 convertible and handling be damned, you may not care for it, as it does hit the bumps harder.

When the company re-did this generation of Mustang, it debated long into the night about retaining this setup or moving to independent rear suspension. The latter feature is better for comfort and high-speed handling, but the former has the edge in seat-of-the-pants driving and power delivery. I’m glad it stayed with the traditional arrangement. As they used to say back in the day, it’s more fun than watching Reggie under a fly ball.

In fact, what I like more than anything else about the Mustang GT is its ties with the past. It definitely takes you back to your misspent youth, but is as contemporary and current, engineering-wise, as anything else on the market. Under different circumstances, this is a car I would consider owning.

That said, it ain’t cheap. After the dust settles and you’ve paid tax and various duties and levies, you’ll be up to and over the $50,000 mark.

Nothing old-fashioned about that.

Tech specs

2012 Ford Mustang GT Convertible

Type: Four-passenger sports car

Base Price: $42,999; as tested: $48,399

Engine: 5.0-litre V-8

Horsepower/torque: 412 hp/390 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed manual

Drive: Rear-drive

Fuel economy (litres/ 100 km): 12.2 city/7.6 highway; premium or regular gas

Alternatives: Chevrolet Camaro, BMW 3-Series, Lexus IS250, Volvo C70

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