2013 Ford Mustang First Drive: Ford ponies up – and on

2013 Ford Mustang V6

Ford’s 2013 Mustang V6 enjoys the same profile as its GT sibling – and 30+ miles per gallon.

Portland, OR – If you feel as if you’ve seen this movie before, you’re not alone. Since its complete redesign for the ’05 model year, Ford’s Mustang has received a veritable – and verifiable – number of mods, special editions and tweaks within this one product cycle. Many have been significant, such as the new 3.7 liter V6 delivering both 300+ horsepower and 30+ miles-per-gallon. And some less so; the ‘signature lighting’ on this year’s revamped front fascia comes to mind. But with all of that said, the ‘refresh’ of the 2013 Mustang is as substantive as these initiatives will typically get – and a lot of fun to drive.

Mustang’s performance iterations can – of course – be wild. If you arrive in Portland for a mid-March drive they can be both wild and wet. And while we’d like to suggest wet roads and occasional snow didn’t ‘dampen’ our enthusiasm, any performance evaluation is done with more confidence if the roadway is dry. And most performance evaluations in and around Oregon are more complete if Portland’s International Raceway can be accessed during that event. On this week Portland was anything but dry (see our first drive of the Flex posted on 3/15), and PIR was previously scheduled for police car evaluations. Those assembled for this preview prayed to God, Henry and (even) Bill, but the cold, wet precipitation stuck with the drive route like Portland’s VooDoo donuts will stick to your digestive system; which is to say, forever.

With freezing precip both the forecast and the reality, the V6-equipped Mustang seemed both prudent and – arguably – more recreational on rain-slickened roadways. And while six-cylinder Mustangs have historically been relegated to the parking garages of young secretaries, 305 horsepower from 3.7 liters is more than capable of exciting your boss or mine. This is an all-alloy unit, revving to 7,000 rpm and capable of delivering 31 miles per gallon (EPA Highway) if, of course, you’re not revving it to 7,000 rpm. During those instances when our driving could be called ‘aggressive’, we were seeing between 16 and 18 on the Mustang’s computer.

Of course, there’s more to the 2013 story. Updates to the front fascia provide a more tailored appearance, while HID headlamps are standard on both V6 and GT. In back, the fascia is now body color, flanked by LED taillamps, smoked lenses and gloss black applique. Updated wheel designs, from 17-inch to available 19s, are a mixed bag; we liked several, but thought one or two looked to have been inspired by the design folks at Kia. And while Kia Design is accomplished, we’d prefer a more traditional footprint for this most traditional of American platforms.

Inside, buyers can opt for available Recaro seating, marvel at a new 4.2-inch ‘productivity’ screen, and groove to one of two Shaker audio systems. Our V6/manual had standard – albeit leather-covered – seating, and we found the levels of both comfort and support fully appropriate to the Mustang’s mission. Adjusting the seats into that ‘just right’ position always takes a few moments, but the process was easier than on a Recaro-equipped Boss sampled just a few weeks previously.

On the road we found the V6/manual amazingly easy to drive quickly, even in conditions which cautioned against ‘quickly’. The 3.7 revs easily, while ample torque (280 lb-ft @ 4,250) means you don’t have to stay in the throttle unless you simply want to. The 6-speed linkage is precise and  easy to maneuver, while the clutch engagement is silky smooth, a bit of a surprise within a Dearborn-based envelope. Thankfully, only 6th gear is a real overdrive (.70:1), while 5th provides a more civilized – and tractable – 1:1 overall ratio. Were we to make a change it would be in the exhaust; you can hear the V6, but the ‘V’ should be more visceral.

Our coupe, with a handful of cosmetic upgrades but sitting on box stock suspension, was flickable in a manner that belied the platform’s 9th year of production. The real ticket would be the Performance package, which includes a strut-tower brace, larger front sway bar and SVT rear sway bar, unique front springs and front and rear calipers. You also receive 19-inch rims, 255/40 summer-only tires, the 3.31 rear axle and its own stability control calibration. So, with the base (but well equipped) Mustang, Performance Package and destination you’ve spent but $25,000. Crazy cheap!

We also (briefly) drove the GT/CS and found it much more tractable at in-town speeds than the vaunted Boss. The beauty, of course, of the Mustang menu is its variety. A prospective buyer can have virtually anything on the order sheet he or she wants except, of course, an independent rear suspension. That, we’re guessing, will come with the next iteration. In the interim, love the one you’re with…and hope for sunshine.