2013 Ford Mustang Driving Impressions

We were able to get decent seat time in four Mustang models: a 3.7-liter V6 Premium with manual and automatic transmission and a 5.0-liter V8 GT Premium with manual and automatic.

The Mustang V6 is EPA-rated at 19/31 miles per gallon City/Highway, but we didn't get anywhere near that, running it hard on twisty two-lanes. With 305 horsepower, it's more powerful than the V8 of just a few years ago. It's called TI-VCT, for Twin Independent Variable Camshaft Timing, a system that precisely times the valve openings to increase power, throttle response and fuel mileage, while reducing emissions.

The V6 is fairly high-revving, reaching its horsepower peak at 6500 rpm, while its 280 foot-pounds of torque peak at 4250 rpm, so it's good to play with. The V6 will get you down the road as fast as a driver needs to go, 0 to 60 in the low 5-second range.

Almost as good, there's a new exhaust system that makes it sound like more like a V8. The V8 rumble isn't quite there, but the wimpy whine of a V6 isn't there either. If the V6 is as fast as a driver needs to go, it's not necessarily as fast he or she wants to go.

The Mustang GT with its 5.0-liter engine making 420 horsepower and 390 foot-pounds of torque will do 0 to 60 in the mid 4-second range. But we don't want to quantify the kick-ass acceleration of the Mustang models with numbers. We've got fast (V6), faster (V8 GT), faster-plus (Boss 302), and scary fast (Shelby GT 500).

The Mustang GT, with its smooth, rumbling and growling engine, feels more like an old-school Mustang. And with 420 horsepower and 390 foot-pounds of torque, it snaps your neck right quickly, on the way to a quarter-mile time of about 13 seconds flat. That makes it a couple tenths quicker than the Chevrolet Camaro SS, even with Chevy's big 6.2-liter engine and 426 horsepower. But the Mustang is 230 pounds lighter, and that makes a big difference in acceleration.

Now try 444 horsepower in the Boss 302. But you don't need to. In fact, you can get the Track Package and Recaro Package on the GT, and end up with most of the Boss for a much lower price. Do the math, and it's 95 percent of the horsepower. What you don't get, is the grown-up non-retro instrumentation with the Boss.

We give both the 6-speed manual and 6-speed automatic transmissions the highest marks, but we especially love the manual. It's tight, has a short throw, delivers secure shifts every time, is easy to heel-and-toe, and it's totally tolerant of aggressive downshifts. You'll love shifting this Mustang so we say go for the manual and stay true. The manual comes with Hill Start Assist, which makes choosing it easier. No worries about rolling back when starting off on a steep incline.

And we love and appreciate the pure programming for the 6-speed SelectShift manual automatic. We highly praise Mustang engineers for recognizing that sporty drivers do not like to have their wishes ignored by their manual automatic transmission, nor do they like being told what to do by their manual automatic transmission. The SelectShift is literal; it shifts into the gear you select. It won't downshift in a curve on you, or upshift before you want it to.

However, we hate the ergonomics of the SelectShift. Shifts are made with a button on the lever that's much too hard to reach. Up or down, you shift gears with your right thumb, using one small button on the left side of the shift lever. Your thumb has to find the right spot on the button each time, often quickly, when your hand really needs to be on the steering wheel. But even if your thumb lands on the right spot, your elbow has to be raised and your wrist cocked, to better orient your thumb joint. If only the SelectShift simply worked lever-forward and lever-back, like others, it would be acceptable, although paddles would be even better. This one is a deal breaker. The Camaro has paddle shifters, and the Dodge Challenger shifts by moving the lever from side-to-side, as it has since 1996, when Dodge invented manual-automatic shifting in the Stratus sedan.

Brakes are good. Ford engineers have revised the braking system of the Flex, Taurus, and Mustang, and the feel is powerful without being overly sensitive, for all of them. And with the Boss and Shelby, when you increase the size of the front rotors to 14 inches and add four-piston and six-piston calipers by the Italian company Brembo, you've got the best.

As for ride quality, the chassis on both the V6 and GT is adjustable to Comfort, Standard or Sport, and that pretty much takes care of it. The electronic power steering gets adjusted in the bargain. We ran it in Comfort over patchy two-lanes and in the city, and it was comfortable; we ran it in Sport when we picked up the pace on two-lanes, and were pleased with its steady responsiveness, even on wet corners. There was one IndyCar driver there with the journalists, and in his review he trashed the handling as either pushing at the front wheels or loose at the rear wheels, sometimes both in the same corner; we don't doubt him one bit, but we wonder how hard you have to drive the car to feel that. He added, by the way, that for a car of the Mustang's price, the power and handling were exceptional. And that's what we'll say.

Another thing we liked was the programming of the stability control. It was effective, without being intrusive at any time. We threw the tail out on purpose, a number of times, and hammered the throttle expecting the tires to spin on the wet road, but the gas was not taken away from the driver, just invisibly modulated. Great job, Ford.

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