Sunny California? I must have taken the wrong exit off the I-5. After two weeks of rain, Malibu's beachfront cliffs are melting into the sea. But despite the menacing clouds moving in from off the Pacific, we just can't resist the opportunity to roll back the roof of our new Mustang Convertible.
Ford's retro-styled pony car has been an unabashed smash since its introduction last autumn, the assembly line struggling to keep up with demand. If our brief run through the mountain passes north of Los Angeles is any indication, Ford is in for a full-fledged factory meltdown once the ragtop hits the street.
There's been plenty of press for the all-new Mustang, so we'll just touch on some of the highlights. That sense of d? vu is purely intentional, the '05 update unabashedly lifting its cues from the classic '67 pony car. But under the retro skin, it's all-new, in fact the first completely new platform in the 40-year history of the Mustang.
With both the base and GT versions of the coupe starting at less than $20,000, Ford has turned the new Mustang into an incredible value story - especially when you consider the tremendous improvements that have been made, top-to-bottom, inside and out. At $24,495 for the V-6, and $29,995 for the GT Deluxe, the Mustang Convertible is still a heck of a deal.
Surefooted and solid
Charging through the sharp curves on Mulholland Drive, our bright red 'Stang generally proves as surefooted as the steed it's named for, though a puddle of water briefly sends the live rear axle skittering sideways. But even then, the car is quick to recover. The power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering is tight and precise, while braking is quick and predictable. Slamming the pedal when a stop sign catches us by surprise, the car's ABS system confidently brings us to a halt.
It's all the more impressive, by the way, considering we're in a convertible. There's none of the cowl shake, rattle, and body flexing we'd come to expect of past Mustang ragtops. Ford claims it more than doubled torsional rigidity with the '05, and it shows. But it also got there without bulking the car up. There's extra bracing, of course, but Ford engineers took pains to avoid adding lots of metal. As a result, the 4.6-liter GT, with its five-speed manual, weighs in at a reasonably svelte 3614 pounds. That's only about 130 pounds more than the coupe. Typically, you'd expect a convertible to add 300 pounds or more.
That's good news when you're putting a full 300 horsepower to the pavement. The new three-valve, single-overhead-cam, 4.6-liter powerplant uses variable cam timing to produce 40 percent more horsepower than the previous GT. While Ford isn't releasing official times, it "suggests" that the GT convertible will launch from 0-60 in just 5.1 seconds. The car's standard traction control system can easily be disabled if you want to do a burnout or hang the tail out in a hard turn.
That seat-of-the-pants thrill is matched by what your ears hear. Ford engineers put a tremendous amount of effort into tuning both intake and exhaust, and their work paid off. Tip gently into the throttle and the big V-8 emits a baritone rumble. Slam the pedal to the floor and you're rewarded with a menacing roar that tells everyone around you this is a car to watch out for.
Put the electrically-operated top up and you're likely to be equally impressed. The insulated cloth roof does a good job of diminishing wind and road noise. But it doesn't narrow your field of vision like the previous Mustang - or most other convertibles, for that matter. The rear window is relatively large for a fabric top car, while the new Mustang features full quarter windows, modest-size C-pillars and a full glass backlight, with a standard-equipment defroster.
Like the coupe, the new Mustang convertible features a slick aluminum interior package that compliments the metal trim of the steering wheel, visually one of the nicest touches on the new car. The instrument cluster, meanwhile, uses color-configurable lighting that can be set to reflect a driver's mood and style.
We do have some problems with some of the other interior materials, particularly some of the hard plastic trim surrounding the center stack, and framing the windshield. These pieces are unexpectedly tacky in a cockpit that may otherwise be among the best interiors Ford Motor Co. has ever put on the road.
Along with the anti-lock and traction control systems, the new convertible features a safety cage cabin designed to resist deformation during an impact. The driver and passenger front airbags are dual-stage, while side-impact airbags are available - sadly only as options - for the front seat.
We've always had a soft spot for the Mustang, and the 'Stang Convertible, in particular. With all the improvements made on the '05, it's now a car you'd be hard pressed to ignore. The price is right, the performance is there, and despite a few lackluster details, we expect the new ragtop will be in short supply as we move our way towards warm weather.
2005 Ford Mustang Convertible
Base price: $29,995 GT Convertible Deluxe; $24,495 for V-6 Convertible Deluxe
Engine: 4.6-liter V-8, 300 hp/320 lb-ft; 4.0-liter V-6, 210 hp/240 lb-ft
Transmission: Five-speed manual or five-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Length x width x height: 188.0 x 73.9 x 55.7 in
Curb Weight:3476 lb (V-6 manual) - 3658 lb (GT automatic)
Fuel economy (EPA city/hwy): 19/23 mpg (V-6 manual), 18/23 (GT automatic)
Safety equipment: Front dual-stage airbags, pre-tensioning seat belts, anti-lock brakes, traction control
Major standard equipment:Electronic alarm with anti-tow sensor, cruise control, AM/FM/CD player, trip computer, electrically-operated roof with glass backlight and defrost, tilt steering wheel, power windows, mirrors, and locks
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles