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2013 Ford Mustang Musings By Carey Russ

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Driving Down The Road
With Carey Russ

2013 Mustang Mania

The original pony car, the car for which the class is named, gets freshened more than a bit for model year 2013. And, although the new grille and splitter, standard HID headlights, and restyled rear panel with LED taillights are the most noticeable aspects, "new" here is more than skin deep.

"New" in the context of 2013 Ford Mustang means More Power! at least for the V8 variants. The V6 "makes do" with merely 305 horsepower -- more than the regular GT made not all that long ago -- while the V8-powered GT is now good for 420 from a 5.0 liter engine. That is most definitely not the 5.0 of the 80s and early 90s -- it's an aluminum alloy, 32-valve dual overhead cam unit that would have been exotic racing technology for most of the Mustang's past.

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If that's not enough, there are a couple of factory tuner jobs: the Boss 302 recycles a name famous from the late 1960s with an upgraded 5.0 engine with 444hp and numerous chassis improvements for serious performance and handling to take advantage of the extra power. Want more? That would be the Shelby GT500 -- which, with a supercharged 5.8-liter variant of the V8 that was in the (recent) Ford GT is about as close to a turn-key, street-legal race car as you can buy. 662 horsepower, 631 lb-ft, wicked huge high-performance tires and an appropriately-tuned suspension to try to keep the thundering herd under control, and huge Brembo brakes (15-inch vented rotors with 6-piston calipers in front) to make it all stop. Want "bang for the buck"? Any Mustang provides that; the GT500 gives supercar performance for the price of the first couple of services for your average supercar.

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The plan was for three different 2013 Mustangs in two weeks. I wasn't about to argue. The weather gods had more fun than I did, though!

First up, the GT500. Coincidentally (hah!) we had the first serious winter storm of the year during that period. The term "atmospheric river" was oft-used for the amount of precipitation coming into Northern California from the mid-Pacific like this was something new and never before seen. It wasn't new, it was just the "Pineapple Express" hosing us monsoon-style. It happens,†and with absurd amounts of horsepower and torque going through the second-stiffest clutch (to a Lamborghini Countach) I've ever driven -- no automatic for this beast -- and on to the pavement via P285/25ZR20 Goodyear Eagle F1 Super Car G dry-weather ultra-performance tires, it was an interesting long weekend. Let's just say the traction control system worked overtime, even though I was babying the car. Full throttle? Not. Even.

After adjusting to the clutch and throttle, driving the beast was actually not at all difficult. "Docile" is not really appropriate, given the power and performance potential (snakebite for the inattentive), but a GT500 could be used for daily transportation even though it's best used for track days.
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Yes, the suspension is stiff -- but it keeps the tires planted well, and while there's still a solid axle in the rear, locating geometry and spring, shock, and bushing rates are all dialed in, with no misbehavior. Shift linkage was commendably smooth and quick, the electrically-assisted power steering transmitted plenty of road information with an appropriate but not excessive amount of effort required. Brakes? Those six-piston Brembos up front stop. NOW!!!

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A large part of what you pay for with this car is under the hood. Atop the engine sits a Roots supercharger that brings to mind an NHRA Funny Car. And on one of the cam covers is a plaque saying "Hand-Built With Pride" and signed by the engine builders. This is likely the least-expensive car you can buy with a hand-built engine.

Downside? MSRP of the GT500 is $54,200, and with all options this one was $65,420. That's a lot for a Mustang, but dirt cheap for a race car. And it is closer to race than street car, capable of rapid, violent changes in acceleration, deceleration, and direction. The engine easily overpowers the audio system.
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As it should. "Economy" is not part of fuel consumption -- babying the car on wet roads around town saw 9.5 mpg maximum. Highway running, rarely above direct-drive fourth gear because of speed limits and conditions, got that up to 11‚€¶ Sixth is an EPA-pleasing 0.50 overdrive, so flat and level highway cruising at maybe 20 mpg is theoretically possible, but entirely misses the point of the car. That also gives a top speed reputedly in excess of 200 mph. Which I missed by 125 mph or so.

The GT500 went away, replaced by a V6 coupe, also a stick. If I had any say in the scheduling, I would have gone progressively up the scale, from V6 to GT to GT500, a Boss 302 being unavailable. Compared to the GT500, the V6 is slow and soft -- but compared to the GT500, just about anything street-legal is slow and soft. The V6 is the Mustang for the masses, and so the suspension compromises more for comfort. But it's still a rear-wheel drive coupe with very good handling characteristics and is more fun to drive than most cars. It's slow only in comparison to its more muscular siblings. The aluminum alloy 3.7-liter, 24-valve, dual overhead cam V6 uses variable phasing on all camshafts for maximum efficiency and power, producing 305 hp at 6500 rpm, with torque peaking at 280 lb-ft at 4250 rpm. Power delivery is linear, making it easy to drive even in the wet on 255/40ZR19 Pirelli PZeros, "summer" tires part of the $1995 V6 Performance Package. And it feeds on 87-octane unleaded regular, to the tune of a 22-mpg average for my time, with 25 or so on the highway. Non-Performance Package cars should do better as they have a longer (numerically smaller) final drive ratio. The shorter ratio of the performance package improves acceleration at the expense of fuel economy. Life is full of compromises.

The six-speed manual gearbox on this one was notchier than the (different) one in the GT500 but still pleasant to use. Interestingly, the V6 does not sound like a V6, but is closer to a lumpy, high-performance four. Or maybe a flat-plane crankshaft V8. There is enough torque that the six-speed automatic wouldn't change performance much, and most sold are so-equipped.

At $26,200 base MSRP, the V6 Mustang is a good value for a performance coupe that's a capable everyday car. With options including the aforementioned Performance Package, the $2340 "Electronics Package with Navigation", and a $695 rear sensor and security system package, plus the $795 destination charge, my test car's price was $32,025.

After the V6 came the V8 GT Coupe. Yes, the first Mustang, in mid-1964, was a six-cylinder, but the V8 debuted shortly thereafter and has been identified with the name ever since. A proper Mustang has a V8. (Apologies to the SVO.) I'd been on a roll, two cars in a row with sticks, so was hopeful. Nope, this one was an automatic. Little matter, the automatic was a six-speed and with the new 5.0-liter engine's 420 hp (at 6500 rpm) and 390 lb-ft of torque (at 4250, with plenty available above 1500) a transmission was hardly necessary, nor was shifting. The chassis was tuned stiffer than the V6, but gentler than the take-no-prisoners GT500. A kinder and gentler beast than the GT500, but a beast nonetheless, with plenty of V8 rumble and quick acceleration.

Using the "SelectShift" rocker switch on the shift lever for manual shifting, it could be run up to redline, at least in lower gears (I like my driver's license¶) but that was hardly necessary. The exhaust note went from a classic V8 growl at low revs to a strident metallic howl up near redline. Automatic shift has regular and sport modes, with sport delaying upshifts, allowing use of more of the engine's power, and as useful on my favorite twisty roads as manual shifting. The solid rear axle is very well controlled, at least for street use. And probably just as good for a club track day.

At a base MSRP of $34,300, the GT Coupe is good value for performance. It's more useable on the street and more comfortable anywhere than the GT500, or the Boss 302, for that matter. It's the best regular production Mustang yet, and unlike its main competitors, the Mustang is still relatively small, for a better fit on a narrow road. That also can make a wide road (or track) wider.¶ †My test car had the "California Special" cosmetic option package (another blast from the past), a "Comfort Package" of heated seats and outside mirrors (with puddle lamps projecting a pony-shaped spot of light on the ground at night:), the automatic transmission, and the "Shaker Pro" sound system for a total of $40,230 including destination. A 17-mpg average for the week put it, unsurprisingly, between the V6 and GT500.

Exterior and Interior Notes: All 2013 Mustangs share basic bodywork, but each model has its own hood. The V6's bulging hood is smooth, with no vents. The GT gets functional cooling vents on the sides its hood, and non-functional faux vents behind the doors. The GT500 has a single transverse intake near the front, all the better to feed the engine's intake. It's been years since I've seen a naked engine under the hood of a new car, as plastic covers help reduce noise. Both the V6 and GT Mustangs have engine covers. The GT500 does not. If you're buying this, you want to hear the engine!

Interiors in all are similar. Recaro seats are standard in the GT500, and optional in the GT. They're wonderful, but the standard seats, as in my test GT and V6, are nothing to complain about. Complaints are more likely to come from the 2+2 rear seat, but nothing new there -- it's a Mustang, not a Flex! Instrumentation is comprehensive, especially with the "Track Apps" electronics, a suite of accelerometers and timers that you do not want The Authorities to see.

There is useful trunk space for the car's intended purpose, but the Shaker Pro audio upgrade uses about a third of that for a subwoofer. Interestingly, both the GT500 and V6 that I had (both with "summer" tires) had a can of sealant instead of a space saver spare. The GT, with all-season 245/45ZR19 Pirelli PZero Neros and subwoofer, had the donut -- awkwardly under the subwoofer.

CONCLUSIONS: The legend lives, and only gets better. The 2013 Mustang is Ford's answer to the old question "How fast do you want to go?"

The answer to that is, of course, "How much do you want to spend?" And in any trim, from base V6 through exotic Shelby GT500, you get your money's worth.

And then some.