2016 Ford Mustang GT Convertible

2016 Ford Mustang GT Convertible

2016 Ford Mustang GT Convertible

In a pony car league of its own

75 degrees. Hardly a cloud in the sky. A bright yellow Mustang GT Convertible. Life doesn’t get much better.

It’s just another beautiful spring day, ideal conditions for one of the most iconic drop-tops in existence. The 5.0-liter V8 reverberates off downtown shop windows, the car’s reflection making almost as much visual noise. It pulls eyeballs as easily as any Ferrari, Lamborghini or McLaren in my town, and turns heads a lot quicker than most Porsches and BMWs. No wonder Ford sells so many Mustangs.

Two-door sport models are at the very best niche players within most brands’ product portfolios, but Mustang remains a critical component to overall blue-oval success. Last year Ford’s pony car outsold the subcompact Fiesta hatch/sedan and Taurus combined, as well as three of the brand’s crossovers/SUVs, with a staggering 122,349 signed, sealed and delivered in the U.S. alone. That represents 48 percent growth from the year prior, by the way, and 2014 numbers were some of the best since 2008. If anyone’s still wondering how the sharp-edged styling and independent rear suspension of this new sixth-generation model is being accepted by the usual Mustang masses as well as converts, I think it’s safe to say it’s a smashing success.

As for direct competitors, it’s as if the others forgot to submit totals for the second half of last year, with 2015’s Chevy Camaro numbers a disappointing 77,502, and that’s after its complete sixth-gen redesign that arrived in May. While new Mustang popularity was surging, the redesigned Camaro was slip slidin’ away in the other direction. It nosedived by 10.2 percent from 2014 to 2015, a shocking divide having formed between the two that seems even more alarming when considering Camaro actually led Mustang sales in that first year. Talk about snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Making matters worse, FCA’s Dodge Challenger enjoyed its best 12 months ever, although it came up 11,137 units short of matching GM’s entry. They’re hardly crying the blues in Auburn Hills, mind you, or at least they’re not gettin’ down to John Lee Hooker’s It Serves Me Right to Suffer with the same self-loathing shuffle as the Atwater, Renaissance and Beaubien headquartered Motown brand, but then again over in Dearborn its Shake it Baby, Boogie Chillen time.

I would’ve loved to hear JLH’s rippin’ live cover of Buster Brown’s Fanny Mae on the GT’s optional 12-speaker Shaker Pro audio upgrade, but Rihanna and Drake’s Work sounded pretty sweet on Sirius XM satellite’s Heart & Soul station. True, the new GT is plenty fine behind closed doors, where the powered soft top provided coupe-like silence, SPF 50 protection and dual-zone auto HVAC cooled comfort away from sun’s rays during peak heat hours, and quickly retracted to hair blowin’ in the wind, freedom from the cares of the world status when sol wasn’t directly overhead.

2016 Ford Mustang GT Convertible

I’ve long said Ford should upgrade the Mustang’s interior to near-premium levels so it could attract those offended by bargain basement cheapness, and the powers that be responded by producing a GT cabin, at least, that’s up to snuff with the luxe crowd. It’s not exactly 4 Series but most of its switchgear is better than a 911, while it’s finished with more pliable plastic surfaces than previous pony cars, particularly over the two protruding dash top segments and some of the instrument panel, not to mention the tops of each door. The padded door inserts are covered in contrast-stitched perforated leatherette to match the sport seats, albeit the latter are real leather and their perforations aid in breathability as well as three-way forced ventilation. They’re three-way heatable too, but with the sun beaming down it wasn’t like adding warmth was a high priority.

2016 Ford Mustang GT Convertible

Ford added some additional wow factor to my tester with optional engine-turned dark aluminum dash inlays, the center portion filled with some fabulous looking chrome-rimmed ancillary meters, while yet more chrome circles around the larger dials in the primary cluster and trims the shifter, cupholders and door detailing while accenting much of the switchgear. Satin-silver is even more prevalent from the steering wheel spokes to the shifter knob and center stack controls in between, the lower portion filled with a fabulous looking row of retro toggles, the right two for selectable-effort steering and selectable drive modes, Sport preferred, these just next to an even more enticing red on white “ENGINE / START-STOP” button.

That button is really what the Mustang GT is all about, or at least it ignites the passion from within both car and driver. The 5.0-liter V8’s loping gurgle makes the GT’s presence immediately known, just like a big Harley roaring to life on a quiet Sunday mornin, and while its guttural tone might be more death metal than uptown funk it’s strapped into a car that crosses otherwise impassable genre boundaries as if it were the Chilis covering Stevie Wonder’s Higher Ground (which sounds brilliant on the Shaker system, BTW). Stab the rightmost aluminum pedal and thoughts of misters Kiedis and Morris will be out of mind, as all 435 horsepower and 400 lb-ft of torque immediately catapult the GT drop-top’s 3,863-lb mass forward, causing fast reactions on the six-speed manual to find second, third, and so fourth.

It shifts ideally, with a nice purposeful heft that’s complemented by a similarly weighty clutch pedal. It’s not as if you’ll need to put in extra time at the gym, as overall operation is easy enough, but there’s a substantive feel to swapping cogs in a Mustang that most imports couldn’t emulate even if they were trying. Just the same its mechanical prowess equals and in some cases surpasses those imports, the Getrag-sourced MT-82 six-speed, that’s been around since 2011, improved for feel and reliability since then, while the sixth-gen Mustang’s move to an independent rear suspension caused Ford to strengthen its 8.8 rear differential to levels of a 9.75, which is why they now call it a “Super 8.8”.

2016 Ford Mustang GT Convertible

The result is instant joy, a car that locks up its big 19-inch Pirelli P-Zeros and hurls itself forward with a mind-numbing rush of thrust, noise and blurred peripheral visuals, while the new integral link IRS keeps the GT flat during fast corners and minimizes the effects of bumps and potholes, this not only eliminating untimely bunny hops from the car’s rear end but improving overall ride comfort. Additionally, aluminum knuckles and H-arms were fitted at back to lower unsprung mass, while FoMoCo engineers claim twice as much anti-squat capability and nearly 10 times the amount of anti-lift for improved pitch control when getting hard on the throttle or deep into the Brembo-supplied brakes.

I could go on at length about how it drives or jabber on more about the GT’s unique features, its optional under-hood strut-tower brace a personal favorite, but anything non-performance related will be about as important to its target market as its claimed 15 mpg city, 25 highway and 19 combined fuel economy. Suffice to say it’s missing nothing most premium-branded sport coupes offer in their top-line trims, except maybe a few electronic nannies to force you back into your lane if you start wandering while tranced out to BPM, although you can opt for blindspot warning with rear cross-traffic alert, or alternatively if you tend to drift off and forget to stop while chilling to Moonbootica, Ford offers forward collision warning to bring you back from bliss.

As it is, Premium is standard trim with the GT so the soft touch door uppers, aluminum pedals, dual-zone auto HVAC, heated/cooled leather seats and selectable steering/drive modes mentioned earlier are included, as are HID headlights, LED DRLs and sequential LED taillights, plus Pony projection lights under the side mirrors, illuminated sill plates, ambient lighting, powered seats, enhanced security and superb Sync 3 infotainment, this year’s big upgrade that singlehandedly reestablishes Ford as an electronics leader thanks in part to Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, loads of downloadable apps and super stylish, quick responding graphics.

2016 Ford Mustang GT Convertible

A $1,795 upgrade adds blindspot warning, seat and mirror memory plus the Shaker stereo, while the $2,495 GT Performance package is responsible for those stunning gloss-black mesh rims plus the 255/40R19 front and 275/40R19 rear summer-performance rubber, as well as the Brembos, strut-tower brace, engine-turned aluminum appliques, oil pressure and vacuum gauges, not to mention a number of items that go unseen such as a larger radiator, a 3.73 TORSEN limited-slip rear axle, some special suspension tuning including heavy-duty front springs, upsized front and rear sway bars and K-braces in back, additional tweaks to the power steering and ABS, reworked stability control, and deletion of the rear spoiler, a minimalist fix I happen to like.

As you may have guessed, forward collision warning was also part of my test car’s upgrades, but it’s the rain-sensing wipers and adaptive cruise control that makes this $1,195 package worthwhile for me, while $795 for navigation is only money well spent because the new Sync 3 system works so well. Considerably more could’ve been added, but as it was my loaner’s $6,775 worth of options, which included $495 for Triple Yellow paint, increased the GT Convertible’s base price of $41,895 to $48,670 before tacking on freight, dealer fees and taxes.

A lot for a Mustang? Hardly. Factor in you’ll need to pay about $25k more for a drop-top BMW capable of keeping up, and that car doesn’t include many of the features just mentioned and arguably won’t garner as many enthusiastic thumbs up from passersby. The M4 Convertible is an excellent car that I happen to really like, but it doesn’t represent 50-plus years of rolling legend. Still, if you’ve got your mind dead set on spending upwards of $60k there’s always the new 529-horsepower Shelby GT350R. Now that’s some forward thrust I’d like to experience, although the 2.3-liter Ecoboost Fastback I drove earlier this year was an altogether different kind of performance revelation. Ford has all of its Mustang bases covered, which means there’s a pony car ideally suited to your personal priorities and budget.

2016 Ford Mustang GT Convertible

Is this the best Mustang ever? Yes, but more so it’s probably the best pony car ever. I know I’m likely to get hate mail from Camaro and Challenger fans, not to mention those who revere classic metal more than anything from today’s more sterile world, but I’ve driven countless classics including early Mustangs, this journo even blessed with an awe-struck stint behind the wheel of a pristine ’68 Shelby GT500KR, and believe me, this latest Mustang is in a league of its own.

Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press; Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press; Copyright: American Auto Press.

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