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The last Mustang Convertible I drove was when on vacation in Arizona in late 2008. I enjoyed the car very much, though I did point out a number of shortcomings and disappointments at the time. Just days later, I attended the 2008 Los Angeles Auto Show, where the 2010 models were unveiled, and a close inspection of these cars suggested that along with what is euphemistically called “freshened” styling, the interior had come in for some significant revisions which made it look rather less low rent. I was, and indeed remain, a huge fan of the styling of the model launched in 2004. For me it perfectly mixes the styling cues of the much loved 1964 original, but in a modern interpretation. I am still not wholly convinced that the 2010 model styling changes improve on that design. Ford will tell you the new frontal treatment evokes memories of the evolution of the first generation car, as it changed during the 1960s. Maybe. In any case, this is still a great looking car from the outside. It is now a better looking car on the inside, too. Open the door in the dark, as i did, and you are greeted with a blue hue to the interior lights and even the word Mustang written on the door kick-plates glows blue. Very cool! When I got in it, and turned the ignition on, the dials glowed blue. Wonderful!
Equally wonderful is the sound from the engine. The test car was, of course, the V6 model, which for 2010 still uses the old – and I do mean very old – 12 valve single overhead cam 4.0 litre engine. It might only develop 210 bhp, but who cares, as when you fire it up, the most wonderful resonance comes from the exhaust system, and although it does not quite emit the burble that you get from a V8, it is just as agreeable a sound. If only the Challenger I tested a few days previously had sounded like this. Equally surprisingly, the Mustang goes quite well. It is notably lighter than the Dodge, which must help, and it certainly felt fleeter of wheel, even though it concedes 40 bhp to the Mopar car. Ultimately, I suspect that it is not that fast, but the interests of avoiding creating undue attention with the CHP when driving something as conspicuous as this, meant that I did not push it that hard. There is another reason, and I will come to that. Nonetheless, flex your right foot just a bit and you can feel a surge of power kick in and the ‘stang lunges forward. It is equally happy being driven in a docile manner around town, or even just pottering around the multi-level hotel underground car park searching desperately for a space! Considering the age of the engine, and its relatively lowly power output, Ford have worked wonders. The test car had a five speed automatic transmission which does its job with no fuss, shifting up and down as required. There are no flappy paddles and no manual-esque functions available. If you want those, you should order the proper manual gearbox car. Fuel consumption, according to the trip computer, averaged out at 21 mpg (US), and it should be noted that not only was a lot of this done on the freeway, but with the roof down. At least that meant the air conditioning was turned off! So that was the good bit. Well, actually the steering is OK, too. Very light around the straight ahead position, there is increasing weight as you turn the wheel that bit more, so what you fear from just travelling on the freeway might be rather vague is actually perfectly OK once you get onto the twisty roads. What is not OK is what the suspension does to this car. Ford have done their best, no doubt, with the live rear axle, and the handling is not the problem so much as the ride. On roads that looked pretty smooth, the Mustang was not particularly comfortable as the car pitches and crashes around far too much. On rougher surfaces – of which there are plenty in Southern California – it really is not that comfortable at all. What makes it worse is that this car suffers terribly from bad scuttle shake. The biggest clue came from noticing how the Hertz Never Lost system, mounted on a bracket clipped in around the stereo jiggled all over the place, but then I spotted the mirrors and in fact just about everything bouncing, too. Convertibles are wonderful things indeed, but there is a price to pay, and this is that price. Nonetheless, I have been in many a drop top which exhibits far less evidence than the Mustang did, so it is possible to keep the car rigid even when the roof has been removed.
Whilst the negatives are coming out, let’s present some more. The new interior. It really still is not that good. Yes, the quality of the materials used is better, and the fit and finish is a step ahead of the previous model, but this is still not a particularly high quality presentation. The dashboard is a lot better, but the door casings are still made of particularly hard plastic. My first gripe was with the steering wheel. The nice feeling leather wrap is ruined by some particularly horrid silver plastic trim on the spokes, which not only looks so obviously plastic, but it extends to the area where your fingers are in contact with it, and it is simply unpleasant to the touch. The dashboard looks little different from the previous model, but it has been altered. There used to be two round air vents in the centre of the dash, but there are now a couple of rectangular units, and everything below this is altered. There is a new integrated stereo system, which was a bit fiddly to use. Under this are new controls for the air conditioning, some of which are all but unreachable when the gear selector is in park. There are two main dials, with four smaller gauges in between them. The rev counter and speedo are marked up in a retro style which I rather liked. A few other ergonomic irritations: even with the seat set low and the wheel set high, the Hertz key fob brushed my knee when the key was in the ignition. The centrally located handbrake, further back than it was in the previous cars, is mounted very close to the driver’s seat, thereby freeing up space for the cup holders alongside it, but it is almost brushes into your right thigh. Most US market cars have some sort of irritating chime that tells you the ignition key is in the car and the door is open. On the Mustang, it was a particularly wearing “boo- be-bong” noise that you got, as was the case if you started the engine without fastening your seatbelt. In contrast, the sound from the indicators is discrete to the point of almost inaudible. It is such a shame that there are quite so many minor annoyances, as the basics are all there.
One of the best things about this car, of course, is the fact that it is a convertible. There is something particularly satisfying about driving with the roof down. Release the two manual catches in the screen header rail, hidden behind the sun visors, and press the central switch and the roof folds down gracefully into a well behind the rear seats. A very simple operation. Driving around with the side windows up, which I did on the freeway, there is no buffeting, and whilst you cannot hear the stereo unless you turn it up very loud indeed, I was perfectly happy to travel like this even early-ish in the morning when the in-car thermometer said it was only 55 degrees. If I owned a car like this, I would want to drive it with the roof down as much as possible. However, it is no real hardship to drive with the roof erected, either. In this mode, the Mustang is refined in the cabin, with no evident wind noise from the clearly well insulated canvas roof. Visibility is not brilliant, with some challenges over your shoulder to contend with, but I have experienced far worse (step forward, Toyota Solara Convertible!).
There are a lot of petty irritations described here, but I think could readily live with them all. I am less convinced that I could live with the scuttle shake and ride though, which is a real shame, as I do still like the car. Earlier this year, Ford announced some more revisions to the Mustang, and these will be available shortly in the 2011 model year cars. The latest updates largely focus on the engine, though. With a new 3.7 litre V6 that offers 100 bhp more power, better refinement and massive gains in economy, the 2011 Mustang is going to be quite some potent car to drive, especially as the new V6 will have almost the same power as the current V8 GT model. However, unless the suspension and chassis can cope with it, I have the feeling that, on balance, in this class, I may still prefer the V6 engined Camaro. Of course, if you want a Convertible, then you don’t have that choice. At least not yet. Whereas Dodge have said that all plans for a convertible Challenger have been scrapped, Chevrolet will have a drop top Camaro with us in 12 months time. That’s for the future. Considering what is available now, and noting that I’ve not driven all the variants and direct rivals yet, it would seem to me that the V6 Mustang beats the Challenger for fun, but the Dodge wins for passenger space and comfort. The Camaro definitely wins for V6 power right now. Based on my experience with the V8 SS Camaro, I suspect it would be my overall pick, too. Some of that is down to personal preference, and there is no way that the Ford fans would ever agree with me. Whatever, there are plenty more variants for me to try yet, including the 2011 Mustang V6, a Camaro LT and a Challenger with a less puny engine. It is sure going to be fun sampling some of these cars in the coming months. Enthusiasts have never had such a range of affordable choice of modern-style psuedo muscle cars for decades, and for that, we certainly have Ford to thank.