- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 3, 2005

You’d buy it for the sound alone.

There’s nothing in the motoring world as musical to the practiced ear as a burbling V-8 engine in a steel-bodied rear-drive car. It’s the epitome of good old Detroit iron.

It gets even better if the car is a Ford Mustang convertible. There’s something about the way the engine noises resonate inside and outside, whether the top is up or down. It sounds so good that Ford should consider Harley-Davidson’s example, and try to patent the exhaust notes.

The Mustang, as almost everybody knows, has been around for more than 40 years and is the original “pony car,” with two doors, seating for four and a solid rear axle to keep the rear tires planted — at least on smooth surfaces.

Over the years, the Mustang had its ups and downs, although it remained perennially popular with its dedicated fans.

For the 2005 model year, the designers put together a completely new car, but with a decided nod to the 1967 model’s styling. The result was, without qualification, the best Mustang ever. It opened to rave reviews and the plaudits — and sales — have not let up.

Naturally, the coupe had to be followed by a convertible, which is the subject here. The test car was the GT, with its 300-horsepower, 4.6-liter V-8 hooked up to a five-speed manual transmission. It was a 2005 model, but the 2006 does not differ substantially.

The Mustang drop-top is an attention-getter, especially with the test car’s bright yellow paint job. People everywhere stopped to look. But it probably was the exhaust sounds as much as anything.

From the driver’s seat, the first thing you notice is how easy this powerful car is to drive. The clutch engagement is progressive and smooth, so there’s no particular finesse needed to move easily off the line. Subsequent shifts come without drama, and the shift linkage, though plenty beefy to handle the engine’s power, moves the gears without protest.

If you push it, acceleration from zero to 60 mph comes up in less than six seconds. Of course, that’s under ideal conditions. The Mustang convertible has a sophisticated rear suspension system, but it’s connected to an old-fashioned solid rear axle, which translates into some skittishness on anything but pool-table-smooth surfaces.

The solid rear axle was part of the plan, which was to keep costs down as well as to satisfy the Mustang traditionalists out there.

There are other cost-cutting measures. Side air bags cost extra, the vanity mirrors are not lighted, and the right front seat does not automatically slide forward to admit a passenger to the back seat. That means it must be manually shoved forward, and the seatback also flipped forward, before anyone can crawl back there.

They’d better be of small stature and have the people up front willing to keep their seats forward. Otherwise, there’s no place for the rear-seat passengers to put their feet or knees.

Another place where costs likely were kept down is in the convertible-top mechanism, which is crude compared to other convertibles — even the lower-priced Chrysler PT Cruiser. Two levers must be released, and then the top raises or lowers in about 15 seconds. On the test car there were creaks and rattles on rough road surfaces with the top up. To provide a better seal, the side windows are programmed to move up and down about an inch when you close and open the door. But on the test car, they were slightly out of sync, causing the window to snap away from the top as the door was opened. That could cause premature wear on the window mechanism.

As on the earlier coupe model, the instruments — they include an oil pressure gauge and an amp meter — are buried in deep pods, making them difficult to see in bright sunshine with the top down. The digital readouts are especially obscure. At the same time, the chrome bezels around the instruments and vents reflect sunlight back at the driver at certain times of the day.

The vents deserve a positive mention, however. They are simply designed and can direct air anywhere in the car.

The rest of the controls also are ergonomically designed and easy to use.

On the road, the GT convertible has a decent ride for a sporty car, with virtually no cowl shake and little wind noise with the top up. Perforated leather upholstery is standard, as are air conditioning, a six-disc in-dash CD player, 17-inch wheels, fog lights, remote locking and power windows and mirrors.

Base price on the tested GT Premium convertible was $31,175. With a few options, including side air bags at $370, the test car topped out at $32,365. For Mustang buyers on a budget, the V- convertible is available starting at $24,615,

But the six doesn’t have the great sounds.

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