Mustang convertible — a cure for anything

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

TAMPA, Fla. — a late-model Mustang convertible appeared in our rearview mirror as we were cruising near the beach in Clearwater. He followed us for more than a mile and as soon as the road became four-lane, he pulled alongside our 2005 Mustang V-6 convertible, sans top. Nice car, he said admiringly.

He followed for a couple more miles and then moved in front of us where, surely to his amazement, there were about four or five ’05 Mustang GT convertibles, tops also down, rumbling down the beach road.
That probably shot some adrenaline into his system as well as a sudden and overwhelming desire to ditch the bright yellow 2003 or 2004 model Mustang he was driving and get behind the wheel of an all-new eye-catching pony car.

Automotive journalists were previewing the new convertible and the parade of about 10 Mustangs, tops down, attracted as much attention in the Tampa area as a similar parade of the coupes did in the Los Angeles area last year.

Looking down from a balcony on the second floor of a beach restaurant that marked our halfway point for the day’s drive, we watched a steady stream of people make their way to the parked Mustangs to get a close-up look, and pepper the Ford guy who was keeping an eye on the cars with questions.

The convertible has magnetic appeal and predictably the high demand for the drop top will keep interest in the Mustang at a fever pitch through 2005. The convertible, which hit dealerships this spring, is arguably even more eye catching than the coupe. Both are setting the sports car world on fire.

“The Mustang has exceeded all our sales expectations,” said David Fee, Mustang marketing manager. “Demand has been extremely high with sales about 50 percent more than last year.”

Fee sees strong interest in the convertible, as well, and predicts that before the year is over, 30 percent of all Mustangs sold will be convertibles.

Ford has ramped up production of the Mustang and now expects to build 192,000 units in 2005. Even so, there are shortages, especially for the GT model.

Fee says they never expected to have such strong demand for the V-8, but then he adds, “I guess when you look at it and you realize that you can get this great sports car with 300 horsepower for around 25 grand, the demand shouldn’t be surprising.”

The Mustang coupe evokes the best of the Mustang’s illustrious, if somewhat occasional checkered past. It carries the good looks of the 1967-69 Mustangs, perhaps the most graceful, stylish and sought after Mustangs in its 40-year history.

The 2005 Mustang coupe captures this look with its slopping nose, round headlights — two of which are set inside the grille on the GT — and the galloping pony racing emblem. The side sculpting and taillights also recall the Mustangs of the late ’60s as does the long-hood and short-deck look that now symbolizes V-8 power.

And the new convertible superbly carries the theme. In fact, as we did a 360-degree walk around, we couldn’t help but think that perhaps the Mustang was designed as a convertible first. It has wonderful convertible lines, especially with the top down. The biggest difference is that the convertible with the top up has a more squared-off look than the fast-back coupe.

The new pony car is not just about style — and it has style written all over — but also about 21st century handling and performance. And it’s those desirable traits that will keep Mustang sales high when the new wears off.

The new Mustang powertrains are superb. The GT edition comes with a 4.6-liter V-8 rated at 300 horsepower, a jump of 40 horsepower from the previous edition. It can be mated to a surprisingly slick-shifting 5-speed manual or a 5-speed automatic.

The V-6 is actually more amazing because it gives the Mustang — and specifically the convertible in this case — solid performance traits.

We drove the five-speed automatic and marveled at its very athletic power band. The 210-horsepower 4.0-liter engine bestows the Mustang with the urgency that it deserves and at a starting price of around $25,000.

Of course, the GT with its 4.6-liter single overhead cam aluminum block
V-8 is the “must have” Mustang. And performance suffers insignificantly in the convertible, which weighs in at just 150 pounds more than the coupe.

Zero to 60 has been measured in 5.2 seconds, just a couple of ticks off the coupe time, and the quarter mile can be polished off 13.8 seconds at 101 miles per hour. That will put real wind in your hair.

And it will put freedom in your soul when, with the top down, you can hear the exquisitely tuned V-8 rumble emitting from the dual pipes.

The five-speed automatic will probably be the transmission of choice for most people, but the relatively easy shifting five-speed manual is fun personified. The clutch is just this side of stiff, but the transmission is easy to shift and the pony car rockets away in second and third gears.

Convertibles of the past are known for their jiggles over rough road patches. And the pervious-edition convertible was plagued with its fair share of cowl shake. There was a lot of quiver over road imperfections and railroad track crossings.

Mustang owners know what we’re talking about. And they may be interested to know that the new edition is rock solid. We purposely found some potholes, but we couldn’t dent the calm demeanor of the Mustang. Ford says a 100 percent increase in torsional stiffness has firmed up the convertible eliminating all those shimmies of the past.

Reaching nirvana on a sunny afternoon can be accomplished in about 15 seconds with a flip of the window headers and the push of a button located near the rearview mirror. The top stores neatly behind the passenger area and can be tidied up with a boot cover. But it’s not necessary, and the cover is a $115 option.

We found wind buffeting well controlled on a 70-mile-per-hour run down an interstate.

Standard equipment on both the V-6 and V-8 editions is generous including air conditioning, power windows and locks, keyless entry, antilock brakes, traction control, cruise control, tilt wheel and an AM-FM stereo with CD player.

Ford gives its buyers the choice of three stereo systems. But if you pick the top-of-the-line 1,000-watt Shaker system, a portion of your small trunk space will be eaten up by a giant subwoofer.

If more safety is desired, front seat side airbags are a modest $370 option.

Ford has given the 2005 Mustang all the right stuff. And people have been responding in huge numbers. The convertible edition adds to the luster of this incredible new sports car.