LOS ANGELES The Ford Mustang convertible defines top-down motoring in America. Some 980,478 examples hit the road from 1964 through 2002, and you can still see some of the 145,231 first-generation ('64-'66) cars cruising the streets near any high school as if the '60s had never ended.With its classic proportions, muscle-bound skin, and flashy interior trim, the Mustang convertible is a visual trip right back to that first decade. It looks just as good as the coupe. Many of us have run our mouths about the retro obsession of J Mays, Ford's styling director, but we have to thank him for the Mustang, which is retro done right.
Of course, every previous Mustang convertible has been a terrible lash-up under the skin. In contrast, electronic CAD/CAM design has helped provide lightweight, elegant solutions to give structural integrity to this topless 3614-pound car. There's a triangular brace between the B-pillars, a brace across the top of the front subframe, and heavier-gauge steel in the rocker panels. The new convertible is twice as rigid in torsion as last year's version (although only half as stiff as the new coupe).
It makes for a driving experience that's just as good as this car looks. When you bend the Mustang GT convertible into a corner, it takes a set quickly, unlike the previous-generation car, which feels like an old, creaky sailing ship in comparison. Broken pavement will shake the new convertible's steering wheel and windshield header, but these motions are damped out quickly. Just like the coupe, the convertible works its front tires effectively, and the steering delivers quick, linear action. The convertible also rides well on the Mustang's four-link, live-axle rear suspension with its low-pressure, gas-charged Tokico dampers. Drive this car at a swift but relaxed pace, and it's fine; if you want real hard-bitten cornering dynamics, you'll start by fitting bigger tires than the GT's 235/55WR-17s.
As convertibles go, this should be an easy car to live with through all four seasons. The electrically powered top has special features to seal out both the weather and wind noise. More important, the Z-fold top folds back into a low, tight stack. The trunk is big (though the rear seat no longer folds forward). The backrest of the rear seatback maintains the same angle as that of the coupe, but a loss of shoulder room means this is a more intimate two-plus-two.
As before, the Mustang convertible will cost three or four grand more than a coupe, and it will make up an astonishing 30 percent of overall Mustang production. You should be seeing this car driven around high-school campuses for generations to come.