Mustang magic continues

When Ford announced earlier this year that it would quit making cars to focus on pickups, crossovers and SUVs by 2020, there was one exception: the Mustang will live on.

No wonder, because there’s nothing like a Mustang. That can’t be said of the other cars made by Ford: the Fiesta, Focus, Fusion and Taurus. Pry off the badges and these sedans could be made by almost any other automaker.

Not true with the Mustang, which stands out far more than other auto offerings from Ford.

I recently had a red Mustang GT convertible as a media test vehicle for a week. The base price was $52,838 and there were plenty of options — including the $3,700 GT performance package that includes 19-inch premium aluminum wheels; the $1,500 safe and smart package with adaptive speed control; the $600 racing stripes, and the $1,000 dual exhaust with quad tips. The final bill: $67,138.

The Mustang is fast, comfortable and fun. It also attracts lots of attention.

Pre-teen kids on their bikes point to the Mustang as I roll by. Seniors at the mall parking lot walk by and yell “Nice car!” Everyone else seems to stare and wave. Such attention immediately becomes a standard part of driving a red Mustang convertible. Putting the roof up or down — at a stoplight or in the parking lot — attracts even more looks and thumbs up.

Outside, the Mustang is distinctive. No one is going to guess it’s something else. The front is aggressive, and the rear triple taillights per side is a styling touch borrowed from the original version that came out in 1964.

And fast? This 5.0-litre V-8 has been re-worked and now cranks out 460 horsepower. Sure makes starting off from stoplights fun, even with the 10-speed automatic transmission. Times are said to be 0-100 km/h in under four seconds. I didn’t personally try to beat this time, in spite of the allure of the new Regina bypass.

The interior is one of the nicest I’ve ever seen. Everything is laid out in a logical manner, and there’s no hunting for any switches. There is a taste of the original Mustang, as the dashboard has raised pods on each side. The red leather seats are extremely comfortable, even without the built-in massaging option. There’s lots of room up front for the driver and passenger. The steering and handling make for a very comfortable ride.

Rear seating is a different story. Technically it’s called a four-seater, but that’s a bit of a stretch. Perhaps with the front seats moved all the way forward there would be room for two people in the back.

The trunk is also cramped, but the lack of space in the back seat and trunk is probably not of much concern to Mustang buyers; there are plenty of other vehicles that offer more space for passengers and gear, and anyone who wants hauling capacity wouldn’t likely be checking out the Mustang GT convertible.

Visibility in the convertible — with the top up — is adequate. The rear window is small, and the back-up camera sure helps. With the top down, like any convertible, shoulder checking couldn’t be better.

The exhaust is loud — although there are various levels of loud, thanks to a switch on the dash. This could be seen as either an advantage or a disadvantage. I think on a long road trip it could eventually become a disadvantage — in spite of a great stereo — but the rest of the time, it’s appropriately loud for a red convertible with a V-8.

When the Mustang was introduced in the spring of 1964, it was an immediate hit and far surpassed sales projections.

It was introduced as a dressed-up compact Ford Falcon, and lots of people liked the new outfit — or outfits, to be more precise.

The Mustang had a huge option list. Never before had there been so many options available on one car. It meant people could personalize their Mustang.

For some, it was a fancy-looking economy car, powered by the basic 170-cubic-inch six-cylinder engine also found in the Falcon.

For others, the Mustang was a high-performance car, by selecting a V-8 and four-speed transmission. Lots of high-performance options were soon made available.

And, the Mustang could be a small luxury car, sort of a mini-Thunderbird, with luxury options like air conditioning, stereo tape system and vinyl top. Sales to people over the age of 30 were higher than anticipated.

The youngest buyers of the first Mustangs now are in their 70s.  Yet the Mustang still appeals, primarily, to young people — just as it did when it was introduced. It still offers personality and affordable performance. Like the original, today’s Mustang continues to make it easy to custom-tailor it to a person’s particular likings.

As a basic car, with a 2.3 litre EcoBoost 4-cylinder engine, the Mustang coupe starts in the low $30K, and a base convertible starts at under $40K — a little more than half the price of  the loaded GT test version.

Inside, the Mustang also promotes personalization. For example, a toggle switch on the dash allowed me to select different kinds of rides: normal, sport, track, dragstrip or snow/wet conditions. Another switch allowed me to pick the kind of steering control I wanted: normal, sport or comfort.

The Mustang is iconic.

During the 54 years since it was introduced, plenty of other competitors have come and gone. Some have even come back, like the Camaro and Challenger. Yet the Mustang has always been around. No other brand can brag about its history like the Mustang.

After driving a Mustang GT for a week, it’s clear why there are enough customers to convince Ford to keep making the Mustang after it quits making other cars.

Dale Edward Johnson is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada. The test vehicle was supplied by Ford of Canada, and the automaker did not review or approve this article before publication.

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