FIRST DRIVE: The 2013 Mustang GT Is Ford's Latest Weapon In The Pony Car Wars

2013 Ford Mustang GT Car

Photo: Travis Okulski / Business Insider

Full disclosure: Ford flew me to a damp Portland, OR to drive the 2013 Mustang and covered all expenses. While I was there I also ate the greatest doughnut of my life.Nearly 50 years ago, the iconic Ford Mustang became the first pony car and started an American tradition. For the Mustang’s 49th birthday, Ford decided to celebrate a little early with a facelift and some work under the skin.

The result? We think the 2013 Mustang is getting ready to leave the pony car ranks to become a full-fledged sports car.

Click here for all our impressions >

Increased competition from Chevy’s Camaro and Dodge’s Challenger means that there are more pony cars for consumers to choose from than in a long time. Add in powerful imports like the Nissan 370Z and Hyundai Genesis Coupe, and the Mustang needs to do far more than just look good and go straight.

2013 Ford Mustang GT Car

Photo: Travis Okulski / Business Insider

At Ford’s first-drive event in Portland, we had our pick of the Mustang range. While the track-tuned Boss 302 and 650-horsepower GT500 were not on hand, there were a number of different V6 and GT models to drive for the day.The night before, we compiled a detailed list of features that would make the ideal Mustang tester. Two of them were must haves: It had to be the 5.0 V8 GT and it had to have the six speed manual transmission.

We tackled a number of other journalists and beat them to a beautiful white GT Coupe, complete with the manual transmission, glass roof, and the “California Special” package.

All of these options brought the MSRP up to $42,075.

We drove on roads that ran the gamut from damp to slushy with varying levels of rain and wind for the entire test.

So even though the conditions weren’t close to ideal, how was the 2013 Mustang GT overall?

Driving

The 5.0 V8 in the GT gains a whopping eight horsepower over the 2011 model to bring the total to 420. While it isn't much, it certainly doesn't make the GT any slower.

In reality, the Mustang is stupid fast. The GT will be breaking the speed limit of nearly every road by the time you get into second gear. This is a car that will help you make a lot of friends with local and state law enforcement.

We also rowed the gears of the silky smooth gearbox as much as possible just to hear that throaty rumble out of the dual exhausts. The clutch felt great, but it engaged a little low in the pedal travel for our taste. The clutch also has a hill-start assist, which holds the brakes for two seconds on an incline. We didn't need it, but it's a good feature for inexperienced manual drivers.

The big disc brakes were also awesome. They can make the eyes pop out of your head.

But in a nice twist, the new Mustang doesn't fall on its face when you show it some corners.

The rear of the car is glued on entry which allowed us to really attack the twisty stuff. Steering is communicative and the rack felt very quick.

It also has strong initial bite from the front end which shifts towards understeer in the middle of the corner. We are attributing that part of the handling to the wet roads and the all-season tires that Ford fitted due to the iffy weather conditions.

The 'Stang is one very thirsty ride. We achieved an average of 12 miles per gallon during our 100 mile drive.

Looks

The uninitiated will be hard pressed to notice the changes for the 2013 model. But a number of subtle updates are present that do make a difference.

For those who want to compare it to pop culture, think of the changes as a brow lift and not the full-on Michael Jackson.

Lighting is the biggest update. In the front, Ford has followed industry trends and incorporated LED running lights into the standard HID headlamps. LEDs also take over the new rear lights. We think they look aggressive and are a nice touch.

A cool little extra is the under mirror light. At night, it projects an image of a pony onto the ground. It doesn't help performance at all, but it is a nice little Easter egg.

Interior

Inside the car, the 1960s meet the 2010s. The retro gauges and three-spoke steering wheel are offset by LCD screens and electronics galore.

Ford added new Shaker audio systems with huge power. We're sure some Huey Lewis and The News would sound great, but we preferred to hear that fantastic V8 rumble.

A large 4.2-inch screen between the gauges has normal fare like a trip computer and MPG, but it is highly customisable. It can show oil temperature, cylinder head temperature, and even the air fuel ratio. There is also a suite called 'Track Apps' that measures acceleration times, g-forces, and braking distances.

While the apps were cool, we did find them a bit distracting. If we paid enough attention to the apps, the car would be in a ditch right now.

Probably better to only use them on an actual track.

Dislikes

Our one dislike (other than some plasticky interior bits) is at the rear of the car, and it isn't the way it looks.

Instead of an independent rear suspension, the Mustang uses a solid rear axle. A very simple way to think of it is attaching both rear wheels to a solid steel bar and then mounting it under the car.

For the most part, the engineering Ford has done is truly impressive. In a variety of corners, the solid axle isn't noticeable and we were able to hustle the car through most turns at scary fast speeds.

However, take it into a sharper turn with a noticeable change in grade or bumps and the weakness reveals itself. We got heavily on the power in a number of hairpin bends, and when the tail broke loose we were met with a generous amount of hopping from the rear axle.

You could say it's good that this is a pony car that bucks like a pony. But in another, more accurate way, you could say that for the Mustang to make that final jump to become a full-fledged sports car, it needs an independent rear suspension.

Likes

Despite the rear axle, there is a lot to like about this car.

We cannot get over the engine. The 5.0 never stops pulling. In all honesty, this car does not need more than three gears. That is just how strong this V8 is.

This is also one pony car that can really go around corners. We walked away very impressed with just how composed the Mustang was in nearly every cornering situation. But just imagine how good it could be with an independent rear suspension.

Our tester really looked great. The California Special package added black 19-inch wheels, a billet grill, a rear spoiler, and a few more styling accents.

We also had the glass roof. It looks great and the panoramic views were awesome. We imagine that in the sun it's even better. However, it adds weight and makes the car less stiff. If you are going to a track, stick with the standard roof.

SHOULD YOU BUY IT?

Considering that GT pricing starts at $34,300, this is absolutely a performance bargain.

For V8 powered muscle, buyers now have a lot of choice in this price range. The Chevy Camaro SS, Dodge Challenger R/T, and Mustang GT are all within 50 horsepower and have starting prices within $4,000.

However, the Mustang has a huge advantage in the weight department. At 3,600 pounds, it is 200 pounds lighter than the Camaro and a full 400 lighter than the Challenger. We also prefer the way the Mustang looks to its domestic competitors.

Oh, and did we mention that we love the engine? We did? Just making sure.

We value a nimble, lighter car, so the Mustang is the pony we would add to our stable.

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