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2013 Ford Mustang first impressions

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The Ford Mustang is the kind of car that has etched itself into the very fabric of the American automotive industry. It needs no introduction, and personifies what American automotive design and engineering can achieve. Due in large part to its own success with the Mustang, Ford has helped revitalize the American sports car industry in recent years. So it comes as no surprise that the folks over in Dearborn wanted to build on that success and keep pushing the boundaries of what the Mustang can do with a fresh “new design and a boost to style and performance.” Have they indeed managed to achieve  all of this? Well,  yes and no, but that answer also really depends on how strict your definition of new design is. There’s no denying Ford has improved the Mustang in many key areas, but while Ford has been understandably busy touting the 2013 Mustang’s “aggressive new design”  and inflating the car’s arrival and performance boosts, it’s not quite the radical redesign we would have really liked to see.

Still, the 2013 Ford Mustang comes galloping out of the gate with improvements in almost every category you can imagine. So don’t think for a second it’s a one trick pony — far from it. For the 2013 model, Ford has delivered improvements to the car’s performance, style, and in-car technologies. The changes stay true to the Mustang’s unparalleled history, but still give the new Mustang an intrinsically modern, if not similar, look to last year’s offering.

A newish breed

When it launches this spring, the 2013 Mustang will come in two distinct models: a 3.5-liter V6 and 5.0-liter V8. Ford has priced a base GT at about $39,300, our particular model, however, was equipped with extra goodies that sent its price tag north to roughly $46,055.

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Our rain-soaked spree saw us saddling up a Mustang of our own and tackling some of the Pacific Northwest’s most scenic and winding roads. We were given the reigns to a Mustang GT with a convertible top (which Mother Nature refused to let us enjoy).

Pace setter

For gearheads and automotive purists, the new Mustang delivers impressive improvements to both power and performance through enhancements in the car’s engine and overall design. The 2013 Mustang’s 5.0-liter V8 delivers a slightly improved 420 horsepower and 390 lb-ft of torque, which Ford credits to some nifty refinements adapted from the Boss 302 model, which pumps out 444 horsepower.

If that sounds like a lot galloping stallions — it is. Our drive time with the new Mustang — which didn’t seem nearly as long as it was — was anything but dull and dreary. Thanks to the aforementioned improvements to the Mustang’s mill, the power and throttle response output were both punchy and smooth. In fact, we don’t quite know what was faster: the time it took the smile to form on our face when hitting the gas, or the speed with which we accelerated out of those winding ice- and gravel-filled back roads we drove on.

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On top of responsive acceleration, steering our four-wheeled steed was spot-on. Each bend and turn was handled with relative ease, perhaps made more impressive by our GT convertible’s somewhat hefty 3,792 lb frame (the Coupe weighs in a little less at 3,675 lb). Of course, getting the Mustang to a full gallop is only half the battle — getting it to stop is another. Thankfully, the four-wheel power disc brakes with four-sensor, four-channel ABS provided enough stopping power when called upon, even if overly sensitive at times. It’s a nuisance we’ll happily suffer through over unresponsive brakes any day.

Style and substance

Now for those wishing to satiate their aesthetic needs, the 2013 Mustang receives a facelift to both the front and rear fascia, an imposing grille and splitter, and — our personal favorite — the Mustang’s vivid sequential LED tail lamps. As we mentioned earlier, it’s not radically different from last year’s Mustang, but provides enough refinement to please the eye. Ford also chose to add a new array of finishes on each of the Mustang’s 17-inch, 18-inch, and 19-inch wheel packages — adding even more customization to the steed’s prominent design.

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Finally, the 2013 Mustang comes equipped with a 4.2-inch LCD screen nestled between the Mustang’s speedometer and tachometer. It displays Ford Track Apps, which according to Ford allows drivers to monitor a host of performance metrics such as G-force, and acceleration times in quarter-mile and 0-60 increments. Track Apps also offers drivers detailed information on braking times and automatic countdown starts.

Sadly, we didn’t get a chance to fully test this feature out while on the road (we still had to adhere to local traffics laws). But from what we gathered, it will definitely add to the already prominent track enthusiast culture surrounding the Mustang — or anyone who wishes to see exactly what this car can do.

A sound experience

For those of you who love to crank up the music while cruising the open roads, the 2013 Mustang offers a choice of two new audio systems: the Shaker and Shaker Pro system. Our particular Mustang was outfitted with the nine-speaker Shaker Pro variety, which managed to envelop every inch of our body with booming bass levels and crisp audio fidelity, solidifying an already feature-rich and quality driving experience.

Missing the mark

Of course, the latest pony to emerge from Ford’s stables isn’t perfect. While there’s no denying the 2013 Mustang’s improved performance and sharp exterior, the inside of the vehicle left us scratching our heads due to some questionable design choices. For example, while all the effort was made to implement a comfortable and smooth ride, the odd choice to place the vehicle’s drink holders right below the shifter makes it virtually impossible to rest your arm in a comfortable position when you have a beverage in tow. This wasn’t as big of a deal with our automatic model – although it was annoying – but would certainly prove to be even more awkward and uncomfortable had we driven a manual model.

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Other oversights include not opting for sportier paddle shifters on the 2013 Mustang (a feature Ford included on both 2013 models of the Taurus and Flex) or an inlet for your smartphone device’s cord to run out of in the Mustang’s center console. This is particularly baffling considering Ford was one of the first automakers to provide this option in some of its other vehicles.

Not so in-Sync

Though we think Ford has one of best vehicle integration systems around with its Microsoft-powered Sync and MyFord Touch 2.0 (which isn’t available in the 2013 Mustang), it can feel awfully cumbersome – even distracting — when you’re trying to figure out where to go. In fact, Sync was unable to give us directions – via voice recognition — to all of the addresses we were given during our time with the Mustang, as well as the Flex and Taurus (which utilize Ford’s recently updated My Ford Touch 2.0). And while we expect voice recognition to be a tricky beast even in the best conditions, we didn’t fare any better entering them manually either.

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Another issue we had with Sync (and even MyFord Touch 2.0) was the incessant auditory safety warnings anytime we wanted to operate the in-car entertainment system. Now, we commend Ford for its efforts in wanting to keep drivers safe and not distracted, but it certainly got old during our drive. When we weren’t constantly being harangued by SYNC’s voice system, we were equally annoyed by the fact that Ford’s in-car entertainment system would not allow us to sync a device like our iPhone or iPod while the car was in motion. That goes ditto for someone in the passenger seat. Again, we understand the safety reasons behind such a design, but we think it would be nice to at least allow your co-pilot the ability to mess with all of that while we’re driving.

Finally, there are those who will dig all the touches and refinements made to the 2013 Mustang, but true enthusiasts just might prefer waiting for Ford’s real overhaul of the Mustang in 2014 to commemorate the stallion’s 50th anniversary.

The finish line

Do all the above issues we encountered while driving the 2013 Mustang detract from the overall experience? Sure. Do they detract from the experience enough to send this thoroughbred to an early grave at the glue factory? Not in the slightest.

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For every one thing the Mustang get’s wrong, which isn’t all that much, it gets two things right. From a design and engineering perspective, Ford has done an outstanding job with its latest Mustang. It’s fast, responsive, features powerful design language, and offers a vast array of bells and whistle both inside and outside the car. Distinct features like the Mustang’s high-intensity discharge (HID) headlamps and oh-so-gorgeous rear sequential LED taillamps provides a signature look to one of Ford’s oldest nameplates. And it doesn’t hurt that our 2013 Mustang GT V8 gets pretty decent gas mileage, too – roughly 18 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway.

From what we’ve seen and driven, Ford isn’t resting on its laurels with the 2013 Mustang. Ford has taken the time to deliberately engineer a great pony car that raises the standard for others like the Challenger and Camaro to aspire to. From what we’ve experienced with the 2013 Mustang, Chevrolet and Dodge have their work cut out if they want to catch, let alone tame, the Blue Oval’s stallion come this spring.

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