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Best Mustang for $30K? New vs. Classic - Video

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2013 Ford Mustang

author photo by Josh Sadlier June 2012

If you're considering spending $30,000 on a 2013 Ford Mustang V6, congratulations: you're already thinking outside the box. While most shoppers are playing it safe with sedans or crossovers, you're willing to sacrifice some practicality for style and performance.

But are you sure you're looking at the right Mustang?

What if we told you that, for the same price, you could get a 1966 Mustang GT Fastback with the 289 HiPo engine? We're talking about a lovingly maintained classic pony car with a straight body, deep red paint, a four-on-the-floor manual shifter and a proper V8 burbling through dual exhaust pipes. It won't be perfect, likely an older restoration. Still, every trip in this car would be like your own personal car show.

We know which one Steve McQueen would choose. Still, a lot of automotive progress has been made in the past 46 years. Is the Fastback worth the compromises it demands? Conversely, is the new Mustang V6 soulful enough, and frankly different enough, to hold your attention year after year?

Read on to find out how each car fares in our head-to-head comparison.

Comfort

Although the 2013 Mustang V6 has the same aggressively angled headrests that plague most modern Fords-a problem the old Fastback neatly solves by not having any at all-it otherwise wins this category in a landslide. Yes, the new Mustang shares the classic's solid rear axle, but its ride quality is night-and-day superior, and aside from those cursed headrests, its seat comfort is much better as well. The 2013 Stang is quieter, too, and our test car's automatic transmission was totally relaxing in traffic, whereas the Fastback's sometimes cranky clutch proved joyless until we hit the open road.

Advantage: 2013 Mustang V6

Technology

Most modern drivers bring personal electronic devices along for the ride, and the Mustang V6 is ready to connect. There's Bluetooth for your phone, an iPod interface for your tunes, and Ford's Sync voice recognition system to simplify operation while driving. The new Mustang's steering-wheel-mounted auxiliary controls give you yet another way to keep your attention on the road. You could add all of the above except Sync to the GT Fastback, but it likely wouldn't be cleanly integrated-and anyway, we're talking about what the cars can do in their present states, not what the aftermarket could help them achieve.

Advantage: 2013 Mustang V6

Style

There's no doubt that the current retro-modern Mustang looks great, and we give Ford props for smartly tweaking the design along the way, keeping it fresh without losing touch with the car's historical roots. Opt for the V6 Pony Package, and you get polished 18-inch wheels, a rear spoiler and some stripes on the side of the car. But let's not kid ourselves: the GT Fastback is basically the granddaddy of them all. It's a timelessly beautiful car, a guaranteed conversation piece for as long as you own it. The similar 1968 Fastback went on to become a Hollywood star as McQueen's ride in Bullitt. Everything on our $30,000 specimen is period perfect, and the beautiful interior harks back to a time when our cars were built with unparalleled craftsmanship and pride. The Fastback is the very American icon that the 2013 Mustang is meant to evoke.

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Advantage: Classic Mustang Fastback

Fun to Drive

A few years ago, this category wouldn't even have been close. The previous Mustang V6 was saddled with an ancient 4.0-liter V6 that also did duty in the Ford Ranger pickup truck, which is to say that it was good for rental lots and not much more. But then Ford treated the base Mustang to a sophisticated 3.7-liter V6 rated at 305 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque, and that changed everything. Even with its automatic shifter, the 2013 Mustang moves out with gusto, responding enthusiastically to stabs at the throttle. It's also the best-handling Mustang V6 ever, providing almost sports-car-like levels of control.

But don't sleep on the '66 Fastback and its rare High Performance 289 V8, which was good for 271 hp and 312 lb-ft back in the day. These numbers may be a little generous by current testing standards, but then, the GT Fastback weighs roughly 900 pounds less than the 2013 Mustang V6, so it doesn't need a full stable to keep up. Plus, there's no substitute for a manual shifter and a big old American V8 when you find a deserted stretch of tarmac. Some might say the Fastback's handling is relatively primitive, but when that 289 is trumpeting its sweet song as you're power-shifting through the gears…who cares?

Advantage: Tie

Cost of Ownership

Given that our 1966 Fastback only cost a few grand new, it's clear that well-preserved old Mustangs aren't just timelessly cool; they're strong investments, too. We can't say the same for the 2013 Mustang V6. Let's be honest: there's little chance that this automatic Mustang will end up in a connoisseur's collection in our lifetimes. It's got neat retro styling, sure, but will it hold its present value? Not for decades, if at all. So if you buy the new Mustang, expect severe depreciation over the course of normal ownership, as with any mass-produced new car. If you buy the old one, there's a chance it might even go up in value while you have it.

On the other hand, the new Mustang comes with a warranty, and cars are generally far more reliable these days than they used to be. The Fastback is likelier to break down, and if it does, you're on your own. Plus, the new Mustang gets an amazing 31 mpg on the highway; you'd be lucky to get half that in the Fastback. In these respects, the 2013 Mustang would probably be easier on your wallet. For us, though, that's not enough to offset the depreciation gap.

Advantage: Classic Mustang Fastback

Overall

Well, that's pretty much a tie, but here's our subjective advice: you only live once, and it's no fun to play it safe all the time. So take the plunge, get the classic Fastback, and even if it runs up some hefty repair bills, you can take comfort in knowing that you're maintaining a true investment, not a depreciating asset. The old Mustang is so simple that most repairs will be somewhat inexpensive, and most local mechanics can handle about any repair that comes up. Just make sure you have a good roadside assistance plan-and don't forget to lay a little rubber every now and then. Steve McQueen would be proud.

Winner: Classic Mustang Fastback

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
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Best Mustang for $30K? New vs. Classic - Video - Autotrader