First Drive: 2013 Ford Mustang

2013 Ford Mustang

The current generation of the Ford Mustang received a facelift in 2010 and two new engines in 2011, but that still hasn't been enough to stop many pony-car buyers from visiting Chevrolet dealerships instead of Ford showrooms. Last year, the Chevrolet Camaro outsold the Mustang by 17,811 units, and in the first two months of 2011 the Chevy is outpacing the Ford to the tune of 1545 cars. It should come as no surprise, then, that Ford has launched a series of updates for the 2013 Mustang.

The Mustang faithful will notice that the 2013 model wears a different front grille and fascia, along with narrower headlights. A new front splitter on all models is said to reduce lift, while the trunklid now has a gloss-black panel between the taillights, a treatment previously exclusive to special models like the California Special. The GT also features functional heat extractor vents on the hood. Two more hues join the paint palette, the handsome Deep Impact Blue and the attention-grabbing Gotta Have it Green.

Some of the most striking visual upgrades concern the Mustang's lights. HID headlights are now standard on all models, and are coupled with piercing two-bar LED running lights at the outside of each headlight housing. Out back, the Mustang's popular three-block taillights now use LED center blocks surrounded by an LED ring. The outer rings serve as the taillights, while the inner blocks are used for the brake lights or sequential turn signals. The middle LED block switches to white when reverse is engaged, acting as a "hidden" backup light. Mustang chief engineer Dave Pericak says the new LED array is costlier to produce than the former incandescent setup (it uses 12 unique circuit boards), but was deemed necessary "to show that this is not the Mustang of yesterday." The final lighting trick is the Pony Projector lamp, part of the Comfort package on Premium versions of the Mustang. It uses a small LED underneath each exterior mirror to project the outline of a Mustang logo on the ground when the car is unlocked remotely or a door is opened.

Can You Feel Eight Horsepower?

Pericak said that lessons learned from building the 444-hp Mustang Boss 302 helped his team extract another eight horsepower from the Mustang GT's 5.0-liter V-8 engine, bringing peak power to 420 hp while torque remains unchanged at 390 lb-ft. The secret to extracting the extra power was removing the piston oil squirters and reprogramming the engine-management computer.

Though it's nigh on impossible to discern a two-percent power increase the V-8 engine in a manual-transmission test car was just as strong and flexible as we remembered. The Mustang ripped through each gear with ease, hurtling toward and past the speed limit in seconds -- and frequently triggering the traction-control light on rain-slicked roads outside Portland, Oregon.

Our test car had optional Recaro front seats, which are among the most comfortable and snug bucket seats we have ever sat in. They feel perfectly suited to the Mustang GT, as they keep driver and passenger from sliding around during aggressive driving.

We also drove a convertible equipped with the base 3.7-liter V-6, which is unchanged and continues with ratings of 305 hp and 280 lb-ft. That car had an automatic transmission; notably, the automatic now has a SelectShift mode labeled S that upshifts later and downshifts earlier for sporty driving. A toggle switch on the side of the shift lever allows for manual gear changes, and Ford promises that the transmission won't override the driver's input. On our test loop, the transmission didn't upshift when we hit the engine's rev limiter, nor did it downshift when we stopped at an intersection in third gear.

We asked Pericak why the Mustang doesn't have steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters instead of the toggle switch. He said that he felt any car with paddle shifters ought to have aggressive shifts like one would find in an Italian exotic or a Formula 1 car--and the Mustang's automatic transmission wasn't up the task of such quick gear changes. It's worth noting, though, that both the Ford Taurus SHO and Flex EcoBoost offer paddle shifters.

Trickle-Down Performance

Ford is expanding the availability of high-performance options to more trim levels of the Mustang, even making features from the Shelby GT500 and Boss 302 available on V-6 and GT cars. Part of the reason is to satisfy driving enthusiasts who can't afford the entry price, insurance, or fuel for the more powerful Mustang models. "We thought a lot about...keeping the Mustang affordable to young people," Pericak said.

One of the changes is that the Recaro bucket seats from the Boss and Shelby will now be available on any Mustang coupe. A new GT Track package for models with a manual transmission adds the Torsen limited-slip rear differential, engine oil cooler, larger radiator, Brembo Brake package, and more-aggressive brake pads from the Boss 302. The Brembo Brake package is now available on Mustang GT models with an automatic transmission in addition to those with manuals; the package adds larger brakes, unique stability control programming, and sportier suspension tuning. The V6 Performance package will likewise be made available for cars with automatics; it comprises a strut-tower brace, thicker anti-sway bars, summer tires on 19-inch wheels, and a shorter final-drive ratio.

Premium trim levels of the 2013 Mustang feature a new 4.2-inch LCD screen in the instrument cluster, which can display everything from warning messages to fuel economy, as well as a special Gauge Mode that allows drivers to monitor engine parameters. While some fields, like voltage or intake air temperature, are displayed in numerals that change frequently, oil temperature and pressure were shown only as "Normal" on our test car. Another function of the LCD screen calls up Track Apps, which comprise a visual accelerometer, braking timing, and acceleration timer. The latter can even display on-screen "Christmas tree" lights to emulate the timed starts at a drag strip.

Other upgrades include a hill-hold system for cars with manual transmissions, which applies the brakes automatically for two seconds to make it easier to start up steep hills. There are two new optional sound systems: a 370-watt, eight-speaker Shaker unit, and a Shaker Pro version with 550 watts and nine speakers. Chief engineer Pericak claims the stereos are so loud that the engineering team had to beef up the Mustang's door panels to prevent rattles. Want to Go Faster?

Ford also has revamped the 2013 Mustang Shelby GT500 and Boss 302. The GT500, for its part, has its supercharged V-8 upgraded from 5.4 to 5.8 liters, bringing power to an astounding 650 hp and 600 lb-ft. Ford says the coupe version will top 200 mph, though the convertible is limited to a more reasonable 155 mph. Changes to the 444-hp Boss 302 are more subtle, mostly concerning the car's paint schemes. Body-colored roofs are now available, as are reflective "hockey-stick" decals designed to recall the Trans-Am-winning Boss 302 race cars of 1970.

Still an American Icon

Even if its sales fall behind those of the Chevrolet Camaro, the Ford Mustang remains an American icon. Our fleet of brightly colored test cars drew attracted plenty of attention on the streets around Portland, and Ford hopes the redesigned 2013 models will be equally successful at drawing customers to showrooms.

Specs:

2013 Ford Mustang V6 Convertible Premium
On sale: Now
Base price: $31,200 (including $795 destination charge)
Price as tested: $37,415
Engine: 3.7L V-6, 305 hp and 280 lb-ft
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: Rear-wheel

2013 Ford Mustang GT Coupe Premium
On sale: Now
Base price: $34,300 (including $795 destination charge)
Price as tested: $39,970
Engine: 5.0L V-8, 420 hp and 390 lb-ft
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Drive: Rear-wheel

ColdCougar
ULT ... that sounds pretty boring actually. If you have talked to ANY of the mustang faithful you would realize that most of them love the competition and Grabber colors which (by the way) pay homage to the mustangs roots in the 60's. The gotta have it Green is alot like the Grabber green from 69/70 Comp Orange, Grabber Blue, Grabber orange ... and that isn't even touching on the mystachrome from the cobras so before you speak FOR the mustang owners maybe speak TO the mustang owners ... Roadrunner and shiney ... Maybe it is time for a restyle I just hope that it doesn't end up looking like a probe or an Aston Martin (not that I have anything against AM but that isn't mustang). I also hope that the IRS is executed correctly, if they use it and also wouldn't mind an AWD option. And BTW I like my 70's rear end ...
the_roadrunner
The 2013 Stang is nice as a holding action and to prepare the faithful for the more drastic update that the Camaro has proven is required. What is needed is a Mustang with an independent rear suspension and MODERN styling. Front end ala the new Fusion, updated side profile, and a rear end that doesn't look like its from "That 70s Show". With contemporary styling and independent rear, Ford could take sales from the 3 Series as well as the nice but porky Camaro.
ShinySteelRobot
Solid rear axle = no sale.It may be okay on a flat track, but the real world has bumps.
Ultcritic
Instead of addressing real design issues, Ford insists on taking easy and half-way measures trying to make the Mustang something it is not. One thing it is not, or shouldn't be, is a platform for goofy,"bubblegum" colors. Basic British racing green(a la Bullit), black, red, white with a blue stripe(or without)and the occasional slip into a distinguished silver might be acceptable. Goofy grape and lime green are definitely out. What are these people thinking? Did they rehire the clowns who gave us the Mustang II? People who buy and lust after Mustangs form a distinctive demographic that can't be seduced with cartoon colors. They appreciate sophisticated style with a bit of muscle under the hood. It would only embarrass them to be seen driving a cartoon-colored car. Get back to basics Ford. Where is the hatchback version by the way? It would look great, be practical and sell a ton of cars. Get with it. Please. We're a Mustang family and my son is looking for a real Mustang.

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