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2013 Ford Mustang First Drive Review: Old pony, new tricks

By KBB.com Editors on March 19, 2012 4:49 PM
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The Mustang started the pony car segment nearly a half century ago and is still kicking up a storm today. But while this automotive icon continues to battle souped-up rivals like the Chevrolet Camaro and Dodge Challenger on the performance front, it isn't just horsepower that matters in these days of high fuel costs and heightened environmental awareness. 

Ford now boasts as much about the Mustang's motor might (even a base coupe with the 3.7-liter V6 engine makes 305 hp) as its fuel frugality (up to 31 mpg highway). Lest you think the Mustang has gone soft, though, never fear. The 2013 Ford Mustang GT extracts eight more horsepower from its 5.0-liter V8, now rated at 420 hp. For those requiring even more punch, the Boss 302 version puts out 444 horsepower. And then there is the big daddy of them all, the Shelby GT500. The 2013 Ford Shelby is set to answer - and overcome - the new Camaro ZL1 with a supercharged 5.8-liter engine good for 650 hp and 600 lb-ft of torque, making it the most powerful V8 in the world, Ford boasts.

We got a preview of the forthcoming Mustang during a recent test-drive in the frigid Northwest, and for the most part like what we felt and saw from Ford's modestly groomed new steed set to arrive in showrooms this spring. For this drive, Ford opted not to bring the Boss or Shelby versions of the 2013 Mustangs, probably wise considering the rain- and snow-covered roads over which we piloted these rear-wheel-drive sports cars.

Eyeing the sheet metal before jumping into the driver's seat, we notice not much has been altered on the 2013 Mustang's exterior. The most prominent change comes up front, where a revised fascia magnifies the grille. To us it resembles a mouth eager to eat the competition. Also new are standard high-intensity headlights and LED signature lights, while the rear features LED tail lights with smoked lenses. Body-colored rocker panels along the bottom give the refreshed Mustang a more cohesive design. Taking a cue from the Range Rover Evoque, the Mustang gets a gee-whiz feature in its side mirrors, of all places: A light mounted underneath projects an image of a pony on the ground when the car is unlocked.

Inside, the big news is the Track Apps software that allows drivers to view acceleration times, g forces and braking distances, a feature that is - wink, wink - "for track use only." Track Apps is standard on 2013 Mustang coupes and convertibles equipped with a 4.2-inch LCD screen between the speedometer and tach, whether the car has a V6 or V8. When not clocking your 0-60 mph launches guided by the track-inspired starting lights, the screen relays more pragmatic info such as fuel economy and trip distance, with menus easily navigated via steering-wheel-mounted buttons. Also new is an upgraded Shaker audio system that comes in the form of Loud and Louder. When Ford reps said we'd literally feel the music, they weren't kidding. Soft-touch surfaces give the dash a quality feel, but we were let down by its swaths of flat surfaces below and the plastic door panels.

For our test drive, we were handed the keys to a 2013 Mustang with a V6 and 6-speed manual transmission. Though considered the "base" engine, it is still plenty strong. With over 300 horsepower on tap, this 3.7-liter naturally aspirated engine cranks out the kind of power that was reserved for high-end sports cars not that long ago. And here it can be had for a starting price of under $23,000. The short-throw, 6-speed manual transmission felt solid, confidently snicking into each gear. Most appreciated in this drive was not so much the Mustang's power, but the car's ability to firmly put it on the ground despite rain, snow and ice on the roads. The car's traction control kept the all-season tires in check, correcting slip the brief moments we lost grip on winding Oregon roads.

Road noise was quite apparent on rougher roads, and the sound that we did want to hear - the exhaust note - could have been throatier.

Other than those nits, though, we found much driving satisfaction in the 2013 Ford Mustang. Even, nay especially, with a V6 and manual transmission, this pony continues to provide major bang for the buck.

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