When Ford introduced its Mustang convertible - back in 1964 - its powerplant was considered to be a bit of a mechanical marvel, thanks to its relatively small size, healthy power output and adaptability to high-performance upgrades.
It was powered by a 260-cubic-inch (4.3-litre) cast-iron V-8 that developed just over 160 horsepower.
It was later bumped up to 289 cubic inches and more, and Ford went on to sell more than a million of the first-generation Mustang in its first year of production. Aside from the F-150 pickup, Mustang is the company's longest-running nameplate and is now in its fifth generation.
Some 46 years later, the Mustang convertible's base powerplant is an all-aluminum V-6 engine that has a smaller displacement yet develops almost twice as much power as the original V-8. Of course, it has up-to-date engineering goodies like fuel injection, four valves per cylinder and a pair of overhead camshafts, but still, to get more than 300 hp - or 82 hp per litre - out of a normally aspirated V6 engine is pretty remarkable. You gotta love the march of technology, and the 2011 Mustang's V-6 has almost 100 horsepower more than the 2010 edition. It joins a 5.0-litre V8 in powertrain choices for the convertible.
Ford's variable valve timing feature is standard issue with this new V-6 and, in combination with the twin camshafts, that means engine load on the valvetrain is minimized, and fuel economy is enhanced.
Mated with the Mustang's new six-speed manual gearbox, the V-6 convertible delivers 11.1 litres/100 km around town and 6.9 on the highway. Interestingly, these numbers are inferior to the automatic transmission model, but not by much.
This V-6 also behaves like a V-8. It has all kind of bottom-end grunt, revs nicely to almost 7,000 rpm and is quiet and well-behaved in operation.
My tester had the manual gearbox, but I've driven the automatic as well, and this is one of those times when I can't recommend one over the other. If you're a closet boy/girl racer, get the manual; otherwise, the automatic should work just as well. It too has six speeds and neither transmission adds to be the cost of the car. In other words, you'll pay the same for a six-speed, whether it's a manual or autobox.
For what it's worth, you can take the V-6 with the manual gearbox from 0 to 100 km/h in about six seconds if you really want to and, on the highway, sixth is almost like an overdrive; at 100 km/h, the engine is barely rolling over at 1,800 rpm. I found the shift gate a little tight on the manual transmission, and Reverse, in particular, can be hard to find sometimes. Don't look for a manual transmission that shifts as smoothly as, say, something from Honda or Nissan; this is still a big, rear-drive American pony car and the shift mechanism is heavy and uncompromising.
Elsewhere, the convertible has a lined top with a heated glass rear window and it deploys in about 15 seconds. A pair of levers must be manually unlocked and disengaged on the windscreen header, and the power button is located overhead. I noticed some balkiness when it came to manually locking/unlocking the top, particularly on the passenger side latch, but the windows do lower themselves automatically when the top goes down.
And when the top is down, you understand why some folks wouldn't be without a convertible.
As well as improving all-round visibility, it exposes you to the world and gives driving a whole new dimension. I can understand why some folks wouldn't be without a soft-top of some kind - me, for one - and I've owned some kind of convertible for most of my driving career.
Parallel parking is made a whole lot easier with the top down, because rearward visibility is extremely poor when it's up.
At about $29,000 for the base model, the convertible comes well-equipped. Air conditioning, one-touch up and down power front windows, tilt steering, speed-sensitive sound system and keyless entry are all standard, and my tester had the "interior upgrade" package ($1,500), which includes Sync, Sirius satellite radio and an upgraded, 500-watt sound system. Personally, I'd give all of these a miss, just as I would the rear-view camera ($300).
My tester also had a nicely trimmed cloth soft-top - which runs $300 more than the standard-issue vinyl top as well as glitzy red candy metallic red paint. Again, an extra $300.
All in, my tester was nudging $38,000 after extras, which kind of takes the fun out of things. Still not bad value for the money, but I love the idea of a four-seat, 300-horsepower convertible for less than 30-large.
2011 Ford Mustang Convertible
Type: Four-passenger convertible
Base Price: $31,399; as tested: $37,749
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: Volkswagen Eos, Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder, BMW 135i Cabriolet, Chrysler Sebring Convertible
Driver's Logbook: 'Chick cars' do exist
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