With its chunky body, powerful stereo, and live rear axle handling, we couldn't help but think of the 2008 Ford Mustang Convertible as a thick, juicy steak of a car. The styling evokes the muscle car era effectively, reason enough to salivate for people in a certain age group. On a hard corner, the car feels as if it has a lot of meat on its rear, making power slides possible, for good or ill. The 500-watt stereo pumps out audio thick enough to satisfy fans of bass-heavy music, although people of more refined appetites should stay away.
Ford Motor has done very well with its retro Mustang , and expanded the model variety for different tastes, even appealing to movie fans with the Bullitt edition. Although Ford based the redesigned 2005 Mustang on the 1967 fastback, we found that it loses nothing when fitted with a convertible top. In its modern form, it gets tech options such as Ford's feature-rich navigation system and iPod integration. But, as of this review, our favorite Ford tech option, Sync, doesn't seem to be available.
Test the tech: Convertible cruising
A lot of the country is still seeing temperatures lower than 50 degrees and even snow, however, mostly sunny skies around San Francisco led us to do some top-down cruising in the Mustang. We wanted to see how comfortable the drive was in our late winter weather. Also, as we noticed a digital signal processing setting marked Convertible on the stereo, we tested the audio quality with the cabin exposed to the open air.
For this test, we cruised from Santa Cruz, Calif., up to San Francisco, driving along Highway 1 along the coast because its vistas make it the perfect road for a convertible. Putting the top down on the Mustang isn't that easy compared with other cars with powered convertible tops. First, we had to undo two latches at the top of the windshield frame. The latches take some strength to turn, but after they were undone, we just held down a button and the top rose up and folded back behind the rear seat. The temperature was in the low 60s and all we had was a sport coat. So far, so good.
Before stomping on the gas and veering onto Highway 1, we had to program the right music. With an MP3 player patched into the car's auxiliary input, hidden down in the center console, we chose classic rock artists such as Heart, Boston, Scorpions, and Rush for our playlist. Ford fits the Mustang with its Shaker brand stereo, 500 watts in the standard configuration or 1,000 watts and 10 speakers if you upgrade. We only had the Shaker 500, but it didn't take much of a twist to the volume knob for us to feel the music reverberating through our body. But the speakers don't hold up, as we noticed a lot of rattle when we turned the volume up while playing music with a particularly heavy bass line. The highs weren't particularly clear and not at all bright at any volume.
We started out with the DSP set to Convertible, which made us feel like the audio was a thick wall wrapped around the cabin area. The head unit also has a speed sensitive volume control, but we didn't notice a huge difference when we had it set half way. As we cruised up the highway, we changed the DSP to the All Seats setting, which made the audio sound as if it were, while still all around us, projecting lower, not rising above the tops of the doors. The final DSP setting was Driver, which balanced the audio for the driver's seat. This last sounded very good with the top down or up. But the Convertible setting had a very noticeable and positive effect with the top down and gave all seats a good listening experience, or at least as good as the speakers would permit.
As for the environmental comfort, the Mustang doesn't have automatic climate control, merely standard dials for heat, fan speed, and vent openings. We started to feel a little bit chilly driving up the highway, so we turned the heat up first to half, then all the way up. The windshield does a great job of counteracting turbulence in the front seat, which made driving at even 70 mph perfectly comfortable. The seat heaters in the car kept out our backside warm, but the air blowing from the vents was uneven. We focused the hot air on our hands and were reasonably comfortable throughout the drive.
For this test, we count the car as a success. Sure, the heating and sound quality could have been better. However, the style of the car made up for a lot, and we can't deny the power of the views afforded to us of cliffs leading down to a wild ocean unimpeded by the car's top.
In the cabin
With the top up, rear visibility looks compromised in the 2008 Ford Mustang Convertible, with a narrow window in back. Our Mustang featured a black interior with leather seats, the driver's seat having had power adjustment fore and aft, and up and down, with a manual recline. We like the three=spoke steering wheel with split, metal-like spokes, a theme continued on the shifter. Nice luxury touches such as the automatic switches for the power windows are something you don't always see on American cars.
Our Mustang came with the navigation option, a system we've seen in many other Ford cars. This touch-screen system has ugly graphics, and we could ask for a few more retail stores in the points of interest, but otherwise it works very well. The address entry interface is straightforward, giving you options including finding the nearest freeway, searching for an intersection, or making a choice directly from the map. The system also makes it easy to put in multiple waypoints and will optimize the route.
Route guidance offers plenty of warning for upcoming turns, and as an advanced feature, it has text-to-speech, where it reads out the name of the next street. This feature can be particularly fun if you're driving streets with difficult names. This system also offers the most settings we've seen, such as even letting you enter the average speed it should expect for different types of streets. For example, it defaults to 60 mph for freeways, but if you live in a particularly congested area, you could set it lower so the system will provide estimates that are more accurate for time of arrival.
The Shaker stereo head unit is part of the navigation system and has satellite radio capability along with an in-dash six-disc changer. The changer can play MP3 CDs and is easy to use. Our big gripe is that the interface can't display a list of all folders on an MP3 CD--instead of choosing from a list, you have to push the Tune button to go through your folders sequentially. The display shows the artist name and title of the track, but won't show other ID3 tag information, such as album or genre.
There is a button labeled Phone to the side of the LCD, but it merely mutes the audio. Ford mentions iPod integration as an option, but we didn't have it on our car. We expect that Ford will eventually offer Sync in the Mustang, which would greatly improve MP3 player integration and add Bluetooth hands-free calling.
Under the hood
The 2008 Ford Mustang Convertible can be had in four trim levels, which encompass two engine choices. The Deluxe and Premium (our review car was a Premium) come with a 4-liter V-6 making 210 horsepower and 240 foot-pounds of torque, while the GT Deluxe and GT Premium Mustangs get a 4.6-liter V-8. Our V-6 didn't feel particularly powerful, although the exhaust system gave it a nice, throaty sound.
Some of what held our V-6 back was the optional five-speed automatic that came with our car. As with many automatics these days, it is calibrated for gas savings, upshifting as soon as the revs are high enough, leading to leisurely acceleration. In a seeming nod to the 1960s, the transmission's fifth gear is referred to as Overdrive, and you can turn it off with a button on the side of the shifter. There is no manual mode, but in lieu of that you get three low ranges. We speculated that, with the Overdrive button and the three low ranges, you can pretty much choose your gears, just by limiting the top gear it will go into. As with most cars, we would save the money and get the standard five-speed manual.
The Mustang's suspension is fairly rigid, leading to a bumpy ride over rough pavement. While the car has an independent front suspension, the rear wheels are connected to a solid axle. Its responsive steering makes the Mustang easy to control at reasonable speeds; however, we found that moderately hard cornering gave the rear an unsettling feeling of coming loose. We were thankful for the optional traction control included on our test car as we snapped it around one quick corner--the rear tires felt on the verge of breaking loose from the asphalt. Another option on our car was antilock brakes, which with traction control should be standard.
The EPA rates the V-6-powered Mustang with 16 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on the highway. During our mixed city and highway driving, we stuck at 18.5 mpg, with a run up to 19 mpg during a long highway drive. Although the fuel economy isn't wonderful, it does earn a ULEV II emissions rating from the California Air Resources Board.
The car we tested was a 2008 Ford Mustang Convertible Premium, which goes for a base price of $25,305. Its major options were the automatic transmission ($995), the safety package ($995) that included traction control and antilock brakes, Sirius satellite radio ($195), high-intensity headlights ($525), and the navigation system ($1,995). Other, mostly cosmetic, options and the $745 delivery charge brought our total up to $33,920.
Although the Mustang was easy to drive, we can only give it an average rating for performance tech. Nothing about its performance really blew us away, and its only high points were the steering response, which felt good, and the emissions rating. Cabin tech, despite some faults, was above average. We like many of the navigation system's features and the pure power of the audio system, if not the overall audio quality. Optional iPod integration is a good thing, but it gets docked for lack of phone support. We hope that will be fixed with the addition of Sync. As for the design, we're very taken with the Mustang's looks , and appreciate that the trunk offers a reasonable amount of storage even when the top is down.