Thumbs Up: Begs to be driven hard, one of the world’s best exhaust notes.
Thumbs Down: No telescoping steering wheel, handbrake designed by Marquis de Sade
Buy This Car If: You want the topless version of the best-handling pony car.
As a journalist, it’s my job to be objective about cars that I drive. Calling something “the best” invariably tells readers that you’ve lost that objectivity, and that a certain make and model has sucked you in with its charms. Such is the case with the Ford Mustang GT, and it’s topless stablemate, the Ford Mustang GT Convertible. There is one reason and one reason only that I don’t have a 2012 Mustang GT parked in my garage by now: it’s more money than I can afford to spend on a car these days.
That’s not to say that the Mustang GT or Mustang GT Convertible are too expensive, because the opposite is true. Both cars, in fact, represent one of the best performance bargains on the market today. Where else can you get a track-ready car that’s also a fine daily driver, packing 412 horsepower and surprisingly predictive handling, for a base price under $31k (coupe) or just over $35k (convertible)?
If your intentions involve track days and drag racing, the Mustang GT Coupe is the car you want. On the other hand, if you want the perfect car to enjoy al fresco motoring in the spring, summer and fall, it’s hard to imagine a better choice than the Mustang GT Convertible. Top up, the cabin is surprisingly quiet for a non-hardtop convertible. Top down, there’s a bit of wind noise, but never as much as in the new Camaro Convertible. Two front-seat passengers can hold a normal-volume conversation, even at highways speeds.
Unless, of course, the driver insists on winding the superb Coyote V-8 out to redline in each gear before upshifting. The exhaust note of the Mustang is addicting, and I have to say that it’s one of the best-sounding engines in the automotive world. Somehow, Ford managed to create an exhaust note that would do Goldilocks proud: it’s not too quiet (like the Camaro SS), and it’s not too loud (like the Challenger 392). Instead, the volume and tone of the exhaust from the Mustang is just right, and I’d advise against spending a lot of money on audio upgrades in the Mustang GT Convertible; if you’re a car person, the exhaust is all the music you’ll need.
In terms of exterior styling, the 2012 Ford Mustang GT Convertible is probably the most conservative of the retro-pony cars. It lacks the show-car looks of the Camaro Convertible, but it’s also a lot easier to get in and out of if you’re over five-foot-ten. The Mustang doesn’t look bad with its top up, but it looks a whole lot sexier with the top down, especially in the white-with-red-leather-interior color combination. To be fair, I’d still have to give the “Best-Looking Pony Car” award to the Dodge Challenger, but you can’t get that in a ragtop version. By default, that gives the victory to the Mustang GT Convertible, which has perhaps the sexiest front three-quarter profile of any car built in America today.
Inside, the cockpit will be familiar to anyone who’s ever owned or driven a 60’s era Mustang. The instruments are as retro as the exterior styling, and I have to say they’re my least favorite feature of the car. They work well enough, although the speedometer is only marked in 20 mph increments, but the modern fuel, water temperature, battery and oil pressure gauges located in the center of the dash clash with the retro speedometer and tachometer. Purists may call this blasphemy, but I’d like to see a more modern design for the speedometer and tach.
The dash of the 2012 Mustang GT Convertible tester I drove was nicer than that of the 2011 Mustang GT Coupe I drove last year, but that may have been just the difference in Base and Premium trim levels. The 2012 Mustang GT Convertible, in Premium trim, features a textured aluminum dash face that really brings an element of style to the interior. The dash top is sculpted, soft-touch vinyl, and combined with the aluminum dash face, adds some elegance to an otherwise plain interior. Ford keeps things interesting with multiple textures and colors, but there’s still a lot of hard. black plastic on the inside (especially on the doors). If that’s the price to pay for keeping the Mustang’s cost down and performance up, so be it.
The seats in the 2012 Mustang GT Premium are the nicest in recent Mustang GT history, and they provide a reasonable amount of lateral support for spirited driving (something most earlier Mustang GT’s lacked). They’re comfortable enough for long trips, with one notable exception: the handbrake lever couldn’t be positioned in a worse location, and it’s not possible to drive the Mustang GT without the handbrake digging into your thigh. Maybe Kate Moss can get away with it, but I can’t, and I even fit comfortably in the Mazda Miata’s narrow seats. I’d gladly take a smaller center console cup holder in exchange for an inch more thigh room.
The Mustang has back seats, but head room is compromised with the top up, and leg room is minimal, top up or down. The seats will haul two adults for short trips, but you’ll want to let rear-seat passengers exit before you put the top up. Rear legroom is no worse than the Chevy Camaro, but it really isn’t any better, either.
The heart of the Mustang GT is the 5.0-liter Coyote V-8 engine, introduced to the Mustang in 2011. The engine is superb, and allows the Mustang to be driven in one of two ways: if you shift at about 3,500 RPM, the Mustang is docile enough for your grandmother to drive, in the rain. On the other hand, if you wind the engine out to take advantage of all 412 ponies (and 390 ft-lb of torque), the Mustang accelerates with surprising authority. Launching the car can take practice, since there’s a relatively fine line between too much wheel spin (or worse, wheel hop) and just enough. Launch it right, and the Mustang will reward you with a zero to sixty time of just under five seconds. If you can manage to control your urge to drop the hammer at every opportunity, the 2012 Mustang GT will return surprising fuel economy, thanks to a tall sixth gear. The EPA rates the 5.0-liter Mustang at 17 mpg city and 26 mpg highway, and I saw an indicated 16.6 mpg in “enthusiastic” city driving.
My 2012 Mustang GT Convertible tester came with Ford’s six-speed manual gearbox, and it worked flawlessly during my time behind the wheel. Clutch effort was surprisingly light, given the car’s horsepower, and shifts we relatively short and crisp. Spacing between gates is narrow, which requires you to pay attention until you get used to the shift pattern. One retro touch I particularly liked was the round aluminum “cue ball” style shifter. It just feels good in your hand, unless the car has been parked in the sun (in which case, Nomex gloves are required). It’s not a big deal, especially if you remember to throw a hat over the shifter when you park.
The latest Mustangs surprise me every time I get behind the wheel. Their handling is superb, yet they deliver a better-than-reasonable ride comfort. The live axle versus independent rear suspension debate is a non-issue with the latest Mustangs, so keep an open mind until you’ve had a chance to drive one. Even pushing the car reasonably hard in corners, the rear-end always feels planted, and the only place I can see the handling as an issue would be on a poorly-paved racetrack (like Louisiana’s “Last Chance” Raceway). In street driving, unless you’re the kind of guy who has a traffic attorney on retainer, I seriously doubt the Mustang’s handling will be objectionable.
Steering and brakes are also top-notch, and the Mustang inspires confidence when driven hard. Ford’s traction control system will allow just a bit of tail-out cornering before stepping in to ensure that you maintain your driver’s license in good standing, and the optional Brembo brake package is a must-order item for serious drivers. I haven’t had the opportunity to track test a Mustang GT, but for street driving the Brembo brakes deliver a solid feel, good stopping distances and zero fade, even when driven at super-legal speeds (in the interest of objective testing, of course).
Sadly, a Mustang GT is out of my budget for now, but at some point I expect my income and the price of the Mustang GT to again converge. When it does, I’ll snap up a Mustang GT in a heartbeat: it’s an amazing performance bargain, and it’s absolutely guaranteed to put a smile on your face every time you get behind the wheel.
My 2012 Mustang GT Premium Convertible tester had a base price of $38,995, including a deliver charge of $850. Options on my press fleet tester included the $395 Premier Trim With Color Accent Interior, the $695 Reverse Sensing Package, the $525 HID / Security Package, the $595 Comfort Package (6-way power passenger seat, heated front seats) and the $1,695 Brembo Brake Package, for a total sticker price of $42,900. A comparably equipped Chevrolet Camaro 2SS Convertible would sticker at $41,880, and a similar Nissan 370Z Convertible would list for $45,790.