Conventional wisdom says you must trade power for fuel economy, or vice versa. In that case, the 2013 Ford Mustang GT must be either unwise or unconventional.
The newest generation of Ford's pony car, in GT form, sticks with a V-8 engine, displacing a big 5 liters, good for 420 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque. At the same time, the car's EPA numbers reach 18 mpg city and 25 mpg highway. I would have thought Ford had found a way to game the EPA tests, until CNET's review car wound up with an average of 20 mpg over city, freeway, and back-road flogging.
Lacking direct injection, forced induction, or a colony of hamsters helping to spin the crankshaft, how does Ford defy our notions of power and fuel economy? Mostly by letting the engine run very slow in 90 percent of driving situations. Driving the Mustang GT along freeways at 70 mph or in the city at 20 mph, the tach needle stayed resolutely under 2,000rpm, usually hovering just about 1,000. The sweep from 2,000 to redline only feels the needle on those rarer roads when you can keep the gears low and the power up.
Ford also made the Mustang GT's engine more efficient with variable intake on the valves and variable camshaft timing. An electric power-steering unit lessens the load on the engine, yet manages to feel remarkably natural, or at least more like a hydraulic power-steering system. The six-speed automatic transmission helps with a high top gear and programming that looks for the most economical ratio.
As easy as that automatic transmission made driving around San Francisco, with starts on hills that pointed approximately toward Mars, I would not choose it as an option. Beyond the axiom that all sport cars require manual transmissions, I was never comfortable with the rocker switch on the Mustang GT's shifter that activates manual gear selection.
This little switch, with its plus and minus symbols, worked fine when choosing a gear for a long hill descent on a highway, but was too easily missed when going for a downshift approaching a turn. Paddles, which the Mustang GT lacked, are far more tactile.
And where some automatic transmissions show surprising sporting capability with quick shifts, not so the Mustang GT's. Torque converter slushiness was evident at every gear change, a little hesitation before each downshift. However, with 420 horsepower on tap I could leave it in third gear, suitable for all but the sharpest S-curves and switchbacks, when pounding through twisty back roads.
Ford's big claim to tradition with the Mustang comes in sticking with a solid rear axle, which should give at least part of the car the ride quality of a pickup truck. But Ford managed to do some good work on this ancient rear-suspension configuration. The Mustang GT rode comfortably, although with an oddly rubbery sensation. It felt like the car was wearing a wetsuit, with a thick coating of neoprene between road and driver.
When pushing the Mustang GT along a mountain road full of quick turns, the car's heft was noticeable. Setting the wheel back and forth for successive turns made the whole car shift its stance with something less than grace. Even when I didn't push the car particularly hard in a turn, the tires complained in tortured symphony. As for the electric power steering, I had a difficult time telling the difference from hydraulic. The steering wheel showed good resistance when cranked over, although with a bit of loose play at center.
One noteworthy addition to the Mustang GT is a performance computer integrated with the instrument cluster. A nice color LCD between speedo and tach shows lateral g-forces, along with acceleration and braking times. Notably, it does not include a lap timer, suggesting that the car is better suited for drag races than road courses.
In less-than-ideal conditions, meaning not on a closed course and leaving the transmission in its Sport mode, I gave the acceleration timer a try. When I simply mashed the gas pedal, the performance computer rewarded me with a time of 5.1 seconds to 60 mph. Under more controlled circumstances, Edmunds.com reports a time of 4.7 seconds to 60 mph.
CNET's car came minimally optioned in the cabin, although Ford's Sync system is standard in the Mustang GT. As such, I easily paired my iPhone with the car and could make calls using voice command, merely by saying the names of people in my contact list. Sync also reads incoming text messages, but this capability unfortunately only works with a limited number of phones.
Sync also gave me voice command over any music source I plugged into the Mustang GT's USB port, letting me request music by artist or album name, for example. Which was good, because the dashboard interface for selecting music is extremely tedious to use.
As CNET's Mustang GT did not have the navigation option, I was stuck with the two-line radio display. To browse my iPhone's music library, I had to press the Menu button and then turn the tuning dial to find the Play Menu. Push the tuning dial in for OK, then turn it to choose among the different music categories, such as artist or album. Push it in again, then turn it to select the individual track, album, artist, or genre desired. One more push to start playback. Yes, voice command was much easier.
With the iPhone, or just about any Android, I could have also used Bluetooth streaming for audio, but of course there would have been no means of selecting music through the car's stereo interface.
The navigation option would have put an LCD in the dashboard, which would include a better interface for selecting music. I have found Ford's most recent navigation system subpar, most recently in the, as it takes too long for its GPS to find the car's location and the maps take too long to refresh. Luckily, the Mustang GT still uses Ford's older, hard-drive-based navigation system, which works much, much better. It is a worthwhile option, especially considering that the Mustang GT can work as an everyday driver due to its ride comfort and reasonable fuel economy.
Beyond phone and music player support, Sync includes some telematics services, such as 911 Assist. This feature detects if the car has gotten into an accident, and connects an emergency operator with the car through the driver's paired phone. Sync also integrates more than 10 apps with the car, such as NPR, Pandora, and Stitcher, letting the driver access Internet audio content using the car's own voice command and controls. Sync's app support works much better with Android than iOS, due to the fact that an iOS device must be plugged into the car's USB port.
The Mustang GT's real tech showpiece is its Shaker audio system. In CNET's car, that system was upgraded to Shaker Pro, which not only includes two subs in the doors, but another subwoofer in the trunk, making a total of nine speakers. Powered by a 550-watt amp, this system was able to get very loud and output impressive bass. I liked how the system's sound was barely distorted at high volume, and the looks on pedestrians' faces as I rolled by, giving them the thumpety-thump treatment.
However, the system's midrange sounded hollow. All that wattage did not translate into rich vocals or audio in higher frequencies. It was certainly clean-sounding, but I did not derive the same amount of enjoyment from music as I would have from a system with better midrange speakers.
This 2013 Ford Mustang GT came with the California Special package, and looked particularly good. The hood rises up, giving the car a performance stance, but there was a bit of fluff I did not like: the fake brake vents sticking out of the rear fenders. Ford should leave that stuff for the aftermarket decorator crowd. I had more fun with the interior ambient lighting, which could be customized to a ridiculous degree. And even cooler were the Mustang template puddle lights, a must-have on any new Mustang.
|Model||2013 Ford Mustang|
|Power train||5-liter V-8, 6-speed automatic transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||18 mpg city/25 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||20 mpg|
|Navigation||Optional hard-drive-based with traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Digital audio sources||Smartphone apps, onboard hard drive, iPod/iPhone, USB drive, Bluetooth streaming, auxiliary input, satellite radio, HD Radio|
|Audio system||9-speaker, 550-watt Shaker system|
|Price as tested||$40,230|