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A 2010 Ford Mustang Convertible arrived in our garage, offering the promise of California cruising in a retro-classic car, open sky views, and fresh air with the top down. We hadn't driven the 2010 Mustang yet, and were looking forward to this one, even though it was only the V-6 with an automatic transmission.
The 2010 Mustang gets Ford's Sync technology, not available on prior versions, so we packed a Zune MP3 player loaded with more than 50 gigabytes of music, along with an iPhone to pair with the car. Our test model Mustang lacked the excellent navigation system that Ford has been including in its cars of late, suggesting we stick to more familiar roads.
With its Sunset Gold Metallic paint job, the Mustang stood out, the body lines for the 2010 update cutting a striking figure. Few four-seater convertibles look good with the top down, but the Mustang maintained its retro styling with the black canvas up or down. The bulky nose of the car with its bulging hood drew most of the visual focus.
Hard plastics used for interior door panels make the Mustang feel cheap.
Sitting in the car, we were let down by hard plastics on the door interiors, even though they were tempered by the soft inserts at the arm rests. Messing around with the settings, we got a kick out of the ambient lighting controls, which let us change color of the gauge dials, the outer dial rings, and the foot wells. After settling on a garish violet, green, and red combination, we noticed the center stack back lighting remained static, in its washed-out blue color.
The hard plastic grilles over the big door speakers gave the audio system a cheap look, but the Shaker brand on the head unit at least let us know this would be a powerful system, with 500 watts of amplification. We had hoped for the new Sony system that Ford has been putting in some of its cars, but that is not an available option in the Mustang.
Pairing the iPhone with Sync was simple and quick, and we liked that it not only asked for approval to import the phone's contact list, it also generated a unique six-digit pairing code, making it unlikely that an interloper could tap that connection. The small radio display, with its ugly little letters, wasn't the ideal way to browse entries in the phone book, but Sync's voice command works so well that we wouldn't have to rely on the manual controls.
Plugging the Zune into the car's USB port was straightforward, but led to an expected delay while Sync indexed all that music and then generated voice commands for each track. With more than 50 gigabytes, it took about 15 minutes, but that is a one-time thing.
The small display and non-intuitive controls make browsing music tedious.
Again, the small radio display was barely adequate for browsing the music library, although Sync does at least break up album and artist lists into three or four chunks based on alphabetical order. More difficult were the controls for browsing the library, a combination of the Menu button and radio tuning knob. We never quite got used to these controls, but didn't really need them, either, as Sync's voice command for music selection is as good as it gets.
Primitive power train The 4-liter V-6 under the hood started up with a roar, and the five-speed automatic made our initial creep through the parking garage simple. But those specs looked archaic in technology terms. While Ford puts twin turbo direct-injected engines in other cars, mating them with six-speed automatics, the Mustang's power train seemed a bit Stone Age. Ford likes this relatively simple engine for the Mustang because it is easily modifiable, letting Mustang fans take advantage of the cottage industry of aftermarket parts.
At cruising speed, some less-than-pleasing aspects of the Mustang became apparent. For one, rather than gracefully absorbing jolts caused by potholes and bumps in the road, the Mustang was intent on feeling out every asphalt imperfection, communicating the ripples in the road to our backsides. The steering, though responsive, felt heavy, making this pony car feel more like a Clydesdale.
The harsh ride was made harsher by the awful din coming out of the Shaker audio system. Even on acoustic tracks, we heard speaker rattle. Mid-ranges came out muffled, and vocals had a hollow quality. Highs were mostly obliterated, and even though this eight-speaker system has a 500 watt amp, the bass was neither strong nor sharp.
The five-speed automatic offers merely a few low ranges, rather than manual gear selection.
Making passing maneuvers on the freeway, the engine felt reasonably powerful and responsive. It only makes 210 horsepower, but its 240 pound-feet of torque give it some thrust. The five-speed downshifted with plenty of drama, leading to big, noticeable power curves as the engine speed went up and down.
Ultimately, the only thing that impressed us about this engine was its fuel economy. Ford gives EPA numbers of 16 mpg city and 24 mpg highway, which sound a bit meager, but in our testing it managed to stick slightly above 21 mpg, not bad considering some of our driving routes.
Out in the twisties, the Mustang's heavy steering didn't give us much confidence, and the automatic transmission was definitely not sport-tuned, offering no aggressive downshifting. Worse, there is no manual shifting option, merely three lower ranges, letting us keep the car in third or below.
But the hardness of the suspension paid off somewhat, as we didn't feel much body roll in the corners. Ford faced some criticism over the Mustang's live rear axle, which doesn't lend itself to serious high-performance driving, so the company packed the suspension with stabilizer bars and antiroll equipment.
With the bad audio system and the brutish handling, we weren't really digging the 2010 Mustang, but then we got to the coast. With clear skies and temperatures in the high 60s on Highway 1, we put the top down and requested Sync play some 1970s rock.
The Mustang Convertible hits its stride on the California coast.
Suddenly, everything came into place. People in other cars, trapped in the confines of Toyotas and Volkswagens, dripped with envy. We could see it in their faces. The Shaker audio system, which had somehow ceased to rattle the speakers, shared tunes such as Hooked on a Feeling and Black Betty with bystanders as we cruised by. The sun felt good on our unprotected heads, the open top offering panoramic views of cliffs and blue ocean water.
Everything was perfect, until we had to put the top up again and get back on a congested freeway for a desultory trip back to the garage, the memories of open-top cruising quickly fading.
Ford has released many good, high-tech models over the last couple of years, but the 2010 Ford Mustang Convertible isn't one of them. It benefits a bit from technologies such as Sync and Sirius Travel Link, but seems resolute in maintaining a primitive feel. Even though our car didn't come with the navigation option, we give it credit for availability, but where other Ford cars with these systems would score higher for cabin electronics, we had to mark it down for the awful audio system.
Performance was fairly average, with a couple of high points tempered by the harsh suspension and the heavy handling. The power train wasn't particularly high-tech compared with other engines and transmissions Ford has available, but it did deliver on fuel economy. The Mustang earns high marks for design, as it remains a distinctive car even in convertible form.
|Model||2010 Ford Mustang Convertible|
|EPA fuel economy||16 mpg city/24 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||21.6 mpg|
|Navigation||Optional hard drive-based with traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Disc player||MP3 compatible single CD|
|MP3 player support||iPod, Zune, and most other brands|
|Other digital audio||Onboard hard drive (with navigation option), satellite radio, Bluetooth streaming, auxiliary input|
|Audio system||Shaker 8 speaker 500 watt system|
|Driver aids||Rear view camera|
|Price as tested||$31,325|