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Review: Ford’s 2013 Mustang is one smart pony

Like the Dodge Challenger and Chevy Camaro, the 2013 Ford Mustang has been bred for one purpose: provide daily drivers with weekend-racer performance in a comfortable, yet affordable package. As usual, the Mustang is available in a variety of different trims. From the base V6 ($22,000) all the way up to the fire-breathing Boss 302 (42,000); there is a breed of Mustang for all walks (and wallets) of life. Our recent time with the top-shelf GT Premium V8 ($39,750) represents a fine balance of contemporary appointments and retro style, but our main goal was to see if Ford has managed to develop an even smarter pony. Does it succeed?

A muted Mustang

The Mustang’s interior is well appointed, if not a bit barren. Large swathes of dash crash down in front the driver with little imagination or cohesion. Ford’s designers seemed to have glossed over simple ergonomics in place of  a more retro-themed design. Both the tachometer and speedometer are housed in large circular clusters designed to recall images of 1960s ‘Stangs with bell-bottomed drivers, and afro-haired passengers. The seats seem wide enough to fit two, ensuring even the portliest of modern day pilots will rest comfortably. The buttons for the infotainment system rest below the car’s LCD screen (more on that in a bit), however, access to them can be difficult while driving given their position.

One smart pony

Mustang enthusiasts will no doubt appreciate the subdued interior styling – it certainly fits the crowd. But every day consumers might be a little less impressed. The Mustang is a classic car, yes, but it exists in the modern era. Our GT Premium review unit – even with the optioned leather-trimmed sport bucket seats and steering wheel – felt boring. Yes, boring. Some sexy chrome brightwork, carbon-fiber applique, and illuminated Mustang emblazoned door sills certainly help liven up the mood, and the color-changing LED lighting is nothing short of clever, but the interior of the car car still feels overly tame compared to its radical exterior.

… The sounds of its V8 engine can elicit a smile from even the staunchest, most environmentally austere onlooker.

The 2013 Ford Mustang trots along with an impressive array of standard tech features, including Sync with AppLink, hands-free calling via Bluetooth, and a voice-activated music search. An optional electronics package ($2,340) includes voice-activated, hard drive-based navigation, HD Radio, dual-zone automatic temperature control, and Sirius Traffic and Travel Link, which provides various real-time information such as traffic (both on-route and nearby), five-day weather forecasts, fuel prices, and even movie listings. The electronics package also includes a rather novel disc ripping feature called “jukebox.” Simply place place a CD into the disc drive, and you can copy the contents directly onto the Mustang’s hard drive, with room for up to 2,500 songs.

Because of their size and placement, the Mustang’s standard buttons can be  frustrating to operate.  The LCD touchscreen, however, does an admirable job picking up the slack. It’s reasonably responsive to user inputs, and the automatic brightness adjustment ensures it’s readable during the day without being blinding at night.

The Ford Sync graphics don’t dazzle, but there is an option for 3D map viewing  that manages to impress, and little touches like vendor-specific logos for gas stations and fast-food joints help dress it up. Routes can be selected and then streamlined depending on driver preferences. For example, if you want to avoid highways or back roads, you can. Thankfully, the voice-activated navigation feature is solid, recognizing user voice commands and inputs clearly and competently in spite of road noise.

Ford’s Microsoft-sourced AppLink system allows drivers voice control over a number of apps while at the wheel, but has some caveats. iPhone users must have their device plugged into car via USB and have a supported application running in the background before voice commands can take into effect. Android users have it a little easier, and need only connect their phone via Bluetooth, no cable required. Right now, the complete list of compatible apps only includes about a dozen, but you’ll find standbys like Pandora, Rhapsody and Amazon MP3.

2013 Ford Mustang GT review radio

Sadly, a number of safety tech features are absent in the 2013 Ford Mustang we drove, including any sort of lane departure warning system or blind-spot monitoring. For $385, drivers can option a rear-view camera (bundled with a few other security features), which provides trajectory displays to aid in reversing. The rear-view camera is mounted below the decklid spoiler, and only available on models with the aforementioned electronics  package.

For 2013, the Mustang sports a new feature called Track Apps. These supply a wide number of metrics, including fuel economy, but they’re really designed to appeal to the weekend track warriors. The screen – a 4.2-inch LCD located between the speedo and tach cluster – is navigated through a five-way control button located on the steering wheel. It delivers performance metrics such G force, acceleration times (quarter-mile and 0-60 increments), braking times, and automatic countdown starts.

Rounding out the Mustang’s tech suite is a bombastic Shaker audio system. As its name implies, the Shaker will rock you — it will rock you hard. Crank the volume up to crazy, slap on Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, and brace yourself for Freddy Mercury’s four-octave range channeling through its eight speakers: You’ll feel the faintest tickle of the frontman’s majestic mustache as every vibration of his seismic voice spirals down your ear canal. And believe us; you won’t want to break free.

Old-school style, new-school looks

Taking an iconic car like the Mustang and bestowing it with a contemporary design isn’t a task we envy (actually that’s a lie, we envy it big time). But a quick glance at Ford’s latest breed shows a distinctively stylish and well-thought-out look that will appease longtime enthusiast and newcomers alike with its aggressive exterior, and host of retro styling cues.

Up front, a more forward-facing grill drops off slightly at the nose. High intensity discharge (HID) lamps dotted across the front  are smaller and more rounded than in previous years, with distinct horizontal LED strips placed on the outer sides. GT models, like ours, feature large, rounded fog lamps integrated into the grille and functional heat extractors atop the hood.

2013 Ford Mustang GT review front left close

Around back, the taillamps receive an LED upgrade of their own, with blacked-out paneling (rather than body colored) to help give that extra visual pop. By far the coolest feature, however, is the addition of gorgeous (and oh so clever) sequential LEDs that glow when a turn signal is activated. Ford has even implemented a rather neat pony projector option located under the side-view mirrors, which beams a pony emblem on the ground of both the driver and passenger side. Not only do these visual touches look great, but they help lend an original and enthusiast-oriented aesthetic to the Mustang that others in its class don’t possess.

Horse or howitizer?

Powertrain options for front-engine, rear-wheel-drive 2013 Ford Mustang consist of the base model’s 3.7-liter V6 (305 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque) and the Mustang GT’s 5.0-liter V8 (420 hp and 390 lb-ft of torque). Drivers can also pony up for the even beastlier Boss 302, which builds upon the GT’s standard V8’s power output by belting out 444 hp and 380 lb-ft of torque. The option of a standard six-speed manual transmission and a six-speed automatic with manual shift controls ($1,195) exists on all Mustangs save for the Boss 302, but we recommend forgoing the automatic in place of the manual. While the AT option handles well enough, the awkwardly located, shifter-mounted controls feel noticeably out of place, especially when so many cars have adopted more naturally placed paddle shifters. That’s not to even mention the automatic (pun intended) reduction of bad-assery the Mustang undergoes when optioning the lazy man’s transmission.

2013 Ford Mustang GT review engineDespite our personal preference for the manual, when it comes to fuel economy the automatic is king. According to EPA estimates, a V6-strapped 2013 Mustang coupe equipped with the six-speed auto can net 31 mpg on the highway while the manual can only hit 29. That trend continues into the GT model, which the EPA has rated for 18 mpg in the city, 25 on the highway, and 20 combined when optioned with the automatic, or 15/26/19 when mated to the manual. Of course, if you’re purchasing a Mustang for its fuel economy, you might be making a bad decision.

Trained for the track

By all accounts the 2013 Mustang is one helluva ride. The unification of metal, muscle, and maneuverability bestows a driving sensation not often felt outside the pony-car stable.

It’s every bit as iconic now as it was in the 1960s and 1970s…

Of course, these cars are renowned for being straight-line cruisers. You wouldn’t buy a Mustang for canyon carving any sooner than you would climb atop Lou Ferrigno and ask him to navigate a maze; he’d just smash it down (don’t ask how we know). That said, the Mustang’s ability to grip the ground beneath its stampeding wheels is a welcome surprise. A combination of weight and (3,792 pounds with an AT) and soft suspension setup leads to a slightly mushy feeling when cornering, but the Mustang still handles admirably. Credit Ford for sticking with a solid rear axle, which lends the car a comfortable quality during highway and city driving. A finely tuned electric power-steering interface mimics the much-loved hydraulic systems of yore by offering enhanced feedback – this is no stubborn nag.

True to its reputation, the 2013 Mustang’s V8 roars with a sweeping sensation of motoring machismo. And it will put a smile on your face. Every. Single. Time.

Finish line

Despite the weight of its storied past, the 2013 Ford Mustang doesn’t falter under the load as it gallops into the present. It’s every bit as iconic now as it was in the 1960s and 1970s, proving the nameplate can and will persevere into the future. A number of factors contribute to its success: it’s gorgeous; powerful; tech-filled (without being overbearing to purists); comfortable; and the sounds of its V8 engine can elicit a smile from even the staunchest, most environmentally austere onlooker. And at 31 mpg on the highway it gets pretty decent gas mileage to boot.

Still, the Mustang isn’t without its problems. The interior is bereft of a personality befitting a creature this powerful, the rear seats are cramped, and safety tech could be fleshed out a bit more. The exterior is sharp, but we still prefer the Camaro for out and out styling, and Dodge’s Challenger provides the most faithful homage to muscle cars of yesteryear. Even Hyundai deserve credit for spawning its new species of muscular two-door with the Genesis Coupe.

That doesn’t make the Mustang a bad choice, and if you’re a Ford fan, ponying up the $42,000 our GT Coupe Premium cost won’t be an issue. But strong competition from its rivals will surely keep Ford on its toes and newcomers questioning. For fans of Ford’s seminal coupe, however, there is only one breed: The Mustang.

Highs

  • Fierce V8 growls with purpose
  • Exterior is a fine balance of retro and exterior styling cues
  • Surprisingly efficient fuel economy

Lows

  • Cramped rear quarters
  • Interior styling isn’t strong enough
  • Lacking any sort of real safety tech features