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Ford Mustang GT Convertible (2000)

SEE ALSO: Ford Buyer's Guide

by Carey Russ

Summer's finally here and what better way to celebrate than to get into a Mustang GT convertible? I was expecting to get a V6 with an automatic, and was pleasantly surprised to find a V8 GT 5- speed in my driveway - in "Performance Red, " a model-year 2000 featured color.

The Mustang had significant stylistic updates last year, and so is little changed for 2000. But that's no problem. Ford has done a great job keeping the Mustang up to date, and balancing performance with practicality and value. Although some of its competitors are on the endangered species list, Ford's little pony car is healthy, and, in most ways, better than ever. It is offered in coupe and convertible body styles in three levels of performance - with a 3.8-liter V6, the 4.6-liter single overhead cam V8 GT, and the limited-production 4.6-liter twincam V8 Cobra. If they were chili peppers, they'd be Anaheim, jalapeno, and habanero. As it has been since the days of the 5.0 in the 1980s and early 1990s, the Mustang GT is a good combination of style, fun, and performance.

No wonder that few American cars in recent times have made the impression that the Mustang has in the 36 years since its introduction.

APPEARANCE: After its "New Edge" freshening last year, the Mustang is unchanged outside for 2000. The added angularity does wonders for the car's style, giving it much more definition than the overly-rounded 1994 through 1998 styling. It pays homage to the original 1964 Mustang's knife-edged, long-hood, short-deck style. With its wedge profile, hood and side scoops, angular fender flares, and not-quite-a-wing spoiler, the current Mustang has the look of performance. The short front and rear overhangs and reasonable front chin clearance make steep driveways Mustang-friendly, with no ugly scrapes or spoiled spoilers.

COMFORT: No trendy yuppie pretensions inside of a Mustang. Multi-tone interior design and wood trim are not to be found, even on the option list. My test car had a straight black interior, to complement its red exterior. Optional sport buckets with perforated leather upholstery, and power operation of the driver's seat, add comfort and style without pretense. The twin-cockpit instrument panel, thick, leather-wrapped steering wheel, and well-placed shift knob make a good driving environment. The Mustang is a 2+2 - the rear seat is contoured for two medium-sized people only, and has adequate room for short distances. The convertible top operates simply - just set the parking brake, undo two latches above the windshield, and press a button on the console. Reverse the process to put it back up. With the top up, visibility is okay. There are the usual convertible rear-quarter blind spots but visibility is helped by a glass backlight. Top down, visibility is unlimited and the wind and hat-friendliness factors are pleasant thanks to the well-raked windshield. Just bring plenty of sunscreen! Unlike some more expensive convertibles, the Mustang convertible has a functional trunk. It's not as large as that of the coupe, but it is large enough for its purpose.

SAFETY: Four-wheel antilock disc brakes with available all-speed traction control are among the safety features of the 2000 Ford Mustang GT.

ROADABILITY: The Mustang is hardly the last word in sophisticated chassis design, but it works. It has a MacPherson strut front suspension (a Ford invention in the distant past), and a solid axle in the rear. But the rear axle is well-located, and sprung with coil, not leaf springs. It's much, much better-behaved than the previous-generation Mustang 5.0. My test car was equipped with the optional 17-inch, Z-rated wheel and tire package, with fat, sticky tires for maximum roadholding. The ride is very firm, but not too jarring - hey, this is a MUSTANG, not a Crown Victoria, so it goes with the territory. There is, unsurprisingly, some cowl shake in the convertible, but it tracks straight and true. There is a 144-lb weight penalty for the convertible, so total performance fans can opt for the coupe. Sun worshipers with a liking for Ford power can be perfectly happy in a Mustang convertible.

PERFORMANCE: The Mustang GT's 4.6-liter, 16-valve single overhead cam V8 has been steadily developed since its introduction in 1996, and now makes 260 horsepower and 302 lb-ft of torque. Unlike the old 5.0-liter engine, the 4.6 develops its power at relatively high engine speeds, so it doesn't have the 5.0's kick in the backside off the line. The power peak is at 5250 rpm; the torque peak is at 4000. There's good power to 4000 rpm, and then it hits its sweet spot. The ever-present V8 rumble turns to a raucous race- car howl and the pony really gallops. The Mach 460 audio system is nice, but the Mustang GT's real stereo sound comes out of the twin exhausts at the rear. The clutch and steering have relatively heavy action, befitting a fast, powerful car. The five-speed manual gearbox has good ratios for the car's power, and shifts smoothly once it is warmed up.

CONCLUSIONS: The Mustang has not just survived, it has prospered.

SPECIFICATIONS 2000 Ford Mustang GT Convertible Base Price $ 25,270 Price As Tested $ 27,985 Engine Type 16 valve single overhead cam V8 Engine Size 4.6 liters / 280 cu. in. Horsepower 260 @ 5250 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 302 @ 4000 rpm Transmission 5-speed manual Wheelbase / Length 101.3 in. / 183.2 in. Curb Weight 3,386 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 13.0 Fuel Capacity 15.7 gal. Fuel Requirement unleaded regular, 86 octane Tires P245/45 ZR17 Goodyear Eagle ZR45 Brakes, front/rear vented disc / disc Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / solid axle with 4-bar links and coil springs Drivetrain front engine, rear-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed not available 0 to 60 mph 5.8 sec 1/4 mile (E.T.) 14.4 sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES All-speed traction control $ 230 Mach 460 AM/FM/Cassette/CD stereo $ 395 Smoker's package $ 15 17-inch forged aluminum wheels $ 500 Leather sport bucket seats $ 500 Convenience group 60C - includes: front floor mats, power driver's seat, speed control, rear window defroster, $ 550 Destination and delivery $ 525