Pros: Numerous models and options; impressive power and fuel economy from the V6; quality interior and electronics.
Cons: V8 models can be pricey; convertible has noisy interior; rudimentary live rear axle.
What's New: The 2013 Ford Mustang line gets a new look, with revised front and rear styling, new LED taillights, HID headlights and new wheel designs. The GT trim gains more horsepower and the addition of SelectShift to the available automatic transmission, and optional Recaro sport seats in cloth or leather. An optional 4.2-inch LCD screen displays track apps that record g-force, quarter-mile acceleration time and braking times, among other metrics. The Shelby GT500 debuts for 2013 with 650 horsepower, making it the most powerful V8 production car in the world.
If you thought the 2012 Mustang was good, wait until you see the improvements Ford has made to its 2013 Ford Mustang and Mustang GT. With a clear eye on the Chevy Camaro, Ford heats up the muscle car wars with more power, more features and more fun per dollar.
While no one will argue that the Mustang is as refined as the Porsche 911 or BMW M3, it delivers a type of raw driving experience unique to American motoring--one that is more youthful, more edgy and bit more defiant. Of course, the fact that you can climb behind the wheel of a 300 hp muscle car starting under $25,000 is impressive enough, but that you can get into a 650 hp GT500 and still not break the $60,000 mark is downright astonishing.
In all fairness, the Mustang is not for everyone, especially if you require a real back seat. Its handling is good by muscle car standards, but its solid rear axle won't have the Mustang overtaking lighter cars with independent rear suspension, not in the curves at least.
Comfort & Utility
When it comes to passenger comfort, the Mustang fawns over its driver and passenger and has little regard for those in the back seat. That's because the Mustang's short wheelbase and sharply angled roof make for a rear seat that is little more than a leather-covered grocery bag bin. The story changes completely when we move to the front seats, which have just enough side bolstering to give lateral support but are not so confining as to pinch those with American-size frames. For those who like the feeling of being held in place, Recaro sport seats are available. The footwells are a bit cramped, a situation that is exacerbated by the wide console, but the same goes for the Camaro and, to a lesser degree, such cars as the Nissan 370Z and the Dodge Challenger.
Soft-touch materials, detailed door panels and lots of chrome accents on the instruments give the Mustang a clear leg over the Camaro and Challenger interiors. Toss in such features as the MyColor dash, which allows 125 instrument lighting color choices and seven ambient lighting colors, and the Mustang's interior becomes one of a kind.
Beyond the optional leather seating and the colorful light show, the Mustang can be equipped with a fixed glass-panel roof and such exterior enhancements as upgraded wheels, paint and graphics and option packages.
The highlights of the Mustang's technology roster are Ford's SYNC voice-activated control for cell phones and iPods, and the Shaker Pro audio system, which pumps music through nine speakers, including three subwoofers. Ford's voice-activated navigation is also an option. Teamed with SYNC and Sirius Travel Link, it can help you avoid traffic jams, predict the weather, get sports scores, avoid being late for a movie and find the lowest gas prices in your area. The SYNC system also can be used for voice control of driver's-side temperature, to read incoming text messages and to stream mobile apps, such as Pandora and Stitcher.
On the performance side, the Mustang's selectable Electronic Assist Power Steering (EAPS) allows the driver to select the degree of assist, with settings for Standard, Sport and Comfort. To make parking easier, the Mustang can be equipped with ultrasonic rear parking sensors or a backup camera that projects its image onto the rearview mirror or onto the optional navigation screen.
Performance & Fuel Economy
That a V6 engine can produce 305 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque is impressive by anyone's standard, but to have it deliver fuel economy ratings of 19 mpg city and 31 mpg highway is something the original Mustang designers could never have imagined. These figures are for the 6-speed automatic transmission, but the figures for the 6-speed manual are nearly as good, at 19/29 mpg.
Equip the Mustang with the 5.0-liter V8 and horsepower and torque jump to 420 hp and 390 lb-ft of torque (requires premium fuel). But for all its power the V8 returns fuel ratings of 17/26 mpg with the 6-speed manual and 18/25 mpg with the 6-speed automatic. The Mustang's automatic doesn't feature a manual shift mode, but it does incorporate Hill Mode function that extends the time a gear is held on uphill climbs and provides engine braking on steep descents. With the Boss 302 package, the 5.0-liter ups the ante to 444 hp and 380 lb-ft of torque.
In a class of its own, the GT500 is equipped with a supercharged 5.4-liter V8 that generates 650 hp and 600 lb-ft of torque. The only transmission offered is a 6-speed manual that returns fuel economy figures of 15 mpg city and 24 mpg highway.
The Mustang has standard 4-wheel ABS, electronic traction and stability control and integrated blind spot mirrors. The passenger cabin is protected by four airbags, including front and front side airbags.
We spent equal amounts of time in the base Mustang V6 and the V8-powered GT, and came away impressed by both. If you're not all about the muscle and the horsepower bragging rights, the V6 Mustang with the manual transmission is a great driver's car. There's plenty of power and the ride seems more livable, while the interior seems quieter without the rumbling V8. As a daily driver, the V6 Mustang would be our choice, but as a weekend brawler there's no getting around the neck-snapping acceleration of the 5.0-liter V8. The GT has a beefier suspension and bigger wheels and tires, and you'll feel the difference in the improved cornering but also in the rougher ride.
The Mustang corners well, but if you push it hard, that back end, with its live rear axle, will cause the traction control to come online in a hurry. With the traction control shut off, the rear simply breaks free and fishtails like Mustang models of old. But this is half the fun of driving a rear-wheel-drive V8 muscle car.
Convertible models perform pretty much the same, with the exception of added body flex due to the absent hard top. We also found the convertible models rather loud inside, owing to the top's lack of insulation.
Other Cars to Consider
Chevrolet Camaro - The Camaro's exterior design is cleaner than the Mustang's, but its interior can't compare. The Camaro also has a bit more horsepower than the Mustang V6 and V8 GT, and it features an independent rear suspension.
Dodge Challenger - The Challenger R/T can't match the Mustang GT's horsepower ratings, nor can it match its handling. But the Challenger offers a more family friendly back seat, and the SRT8 has more power than the Boss 302. The Mustang, however, costs about $3,000 less than that Dodge.
Hyundai Genesis Coupe - The Genesis Coupe might not have the V8-powered muscle to compete with the GT and the Boss 302, but its turbocharged 4-cylinder and 3.6-liter V6 engines are more than a match for the V6 Mustang, and its more sophisticated suspension delivers better handling. Additionally, the Hyundai's 10-year/100,000-mile warranty trumps the Mustang's warranty by a wide margin.
With 11 Mustang models to choose from, it's hard to say which is the best, so we'll divide it into two camps. The V6 Premium with the Performance package is a perfectly good car, with great looks, performance and ride, and it won't run you more than $30,000. But if you live for the thrill you knew as a youngster (or you just love the sound of a V8), the GT Premium with all the fixings is the route we'd go, although it will likely cost you $10,000 to $15,000 more than the V6.