Hitting the open road with the top down has been an integral part of the Ford Mustang lifestyle for more than five decades. In fact, the very first Mustang sold to a retail customer was a baby blue convertible that went to Chicago school teacher Gail Wise on April 15, 1964, two days before the official on-sale date. Mustang serial #1 was a white convertible, purchased by a Canadian airline pilot. When the all-new sixth generation Mustang debuted a year ago, it came in two body styles, fastback and convertible and I recently got to spend a week with wind in what remains of my hair to see if it is as good as Ford claims.
When I last drove a new Mustang earlier the fastback GT was powered by the wonderful 5.0-liter Coyote V8 backed by a six-speed manual gearbox. The convertible I picked up from the airport upon my return from a business trip was motivated by the new 2.3-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder with a six-speed automatic.
More than any of the last several generations of Mustang convertibles, the 2015 model was really designed from the beginning of the program as an open-roof edition rather than a coupe with the top sliced off. All of the bodywork between the doors and rear fascia is unique to the convertible. Back when I was still prowling the halls of the Ford product development center, I got a walk-around with the convertible from Joel Piaskowski who was then Ford’s director of exterior design for North America and now leads Ford of Europe design.
As Piaskowski explained it, the design team led by Kemal Curic made numerous subtle changes intended to give the convertible a more integrated appearance. For example the A-pillars of the fastback have more curvature as the outline of the side glass goes from the hood to the rear deck in a single continuous curve. The pillars of the convertible are straighter as they come up to join the header across the top of the windshield.
On the fastback the lower edge of the rear quarter windows sweeps up to meet the curve of the top. The same downward curve toward the front is echoed in the rear fender shoulder line. In the absence of a roof, the door belt-line extends straight back to the rear end of the car. The corresponding rear fender line has been straightened out and runs parallel to the belt line. Similarly the rear deck that sweeps downward on the fastback is lifted up to continue the front to back lines of the convertible. The final touch of the Z-fold top that drops down into a more compact package than before, sitting virtually flush with the surrounding bodywork.
The front section of the top that sits on top of the folded stack has a rigid panel within making it ideal for supporting dignitaries riding in parades. Because it sits almost flush, there is no tonneau to install, just a pair of end caps that snap in place to provide a more finished look. As improved as all of this is compared to previous Mustangs, the new Chevy Camaro will soon one-up its long-time rival with a full hard tonneau cover for an even more upscale look.
Putting the top down on the Mustang is simpler than ever as the two outboard latches of years past have been replaced by single center latch that just requires a 90 degree twist to release. The power top will drop or raise in about 17 seconds, about the same time as the new Camaro convertible. Unfortunately, the Mustang top only operates at speeds below about 4 mph while Chevrolet says the Camaro top can be operated at speeds up to 30 mph.
Ford expended a lot of effort on the aerodynamics of the new Mustang and while the fastback was certainly refined, the convertible was an even bigger surprise. The multi-layer roof has a full insulation pad sandwiched between the complete inner headliner and the outer shell. Driving with the top and windows up, the convertible is nearly as quiet as the fastback and the tightly supported roof doesn’t flap at all at highway speeds.
But who buys a convertible to drive with the top up? Actually, sadly I see far too many convertibles with the top up in even in perfect weather but that’s another story. I have always been of the opinion that convertibles should be driven in open form whenever possible and this is what I did. Ford doesn’t offer any sort of factory optional wind barrier for the new Mustang, but frankly it doesn’t really need it. At 80 mph with the windows up and top down, the Mustang is remarkably free of buffeting and noise. It’s possible to carry on a conversation without shouting and the audio system doesn’t need to be cranked to 11. While you won’t be required to crank the volume of the optional Shaker Pro audio system to hear it at speed, if you do, it sounds really good.
Like the fastback, the subwoofer is now tucked into the cavity in the trunk between the right-rear wheel arch and the rear wall so it’s not taking valuable cargo space. The combination of the lower floor facilitated by the independent rear suspension and the more compact top stack, the trunk now has 11.4 cubic feet of volume, more than enough to absorb the two suitcases and two backpacks my wife and I had when we picked up the car at the airport with plenty of room to spare. For those that still like to ruin a good walk, the Mustang trunk will also easily swallow two large golf bags.
My test car had the premium package which brought with it a cockpit lined in black leather with contrasting stitching. Since this was a 2015 model, it also had the MyFord Touch infotainment system. While MFT has dramatically improved through a series of software updates and never crashed or rebooted on me, but it was still kind of sluggish and many of the touch targets are small which is always problematic for driving. By the time you read this, Ford will only be taking orders for 2016 models which are equipped with the new SYNC 3 system which looks a lot better and should perform better but I’ll come back to that when I have a chance to try it on the road. Since this is a convertible and I like to drive with the top down whenever possible, I realized that the screen quickly becomes unreadable when the sun is behind me, a problem I’ve also experienced in hardtop vehicles with open sunroofs. Hopefully, the lighter-colored interface on SYNC 3 will address this somewhat.
all of today’s Mustangs live up to the SVO ideal far better than the original ever did
all of today’s Mustangs live up to the SVO ideal far better than the original ever did
This is particularly true of the mid-range powerplant, the 2.3-liter EcoBoost. At 310-horsepower and 325 lb.-ft. of torque, this mill has more output than the 4.6-liter V8 that powered the last generation of Mustangs. With direct injection, variable valve timing and a twin-scroll turbocharger, the EcoBoost has no difficulty motivating the roughly 3,700-pound convertible. According to the built in track apps, the run to 60 mph takes exactly 6.0 seconds even with an automatic transmission.
My car had the optional EcoBoost performance pack that comes with glossy-black 19-inch alloy wheels mounted with Pirelli P-Zero summer tires. In addition to revised suspension settings, the performance pack adds a 3.55:1 final drive ratio (in place of the 3.15:1 ratio that’ standard with the four), a uniquely finished aluminum trim panel on the dashboard and the larger front brakes from the base Mustang GT. That means massive 13.9-inch rotors with four-piston calipers. The result is good solid pedal feel with excellent modulation.
In 2015, the EcoBoost was the only convertible available with the performance pack, the GT performance pack was only available on the fastback (aside from a one-off 50 Year Edition convertible that was built for a fundraiser). For 2016, GT convertibles will also be available with the performance pack. While it’s great to have the bigger brakes on the heavier convertibles, the rest of the changes aren’t really as necessary since the lighter stiffer fastback is always going to be a better performer than the droptop and certainly the preferred option for owners interested participating the occasional weekend track day.
Speaking of stiffness, I’ve driven multiple generations of Mustang convertibles over the past 25 years starting with a 1992 Fox-body I rented during an extended layover in Hawaii on the way back from a business trip to Japan. The 2015 Mustang is far and away the most solid-feeling drop-top pony I’ve experienced. However, in the end physics and dynamics will always win out. A fully enclosed structure is going to be more rigid than a cantilevered, partially open structure and rigidity is key to getting optimal utilization of the suspension and tires.
Most of the time, this Mustang felt solid and never exhibited any groans or other undesirable noises. It was only when traversing some of the worst pavement around here that I could detect a slight quiver in the windshield frame. This car makes a great all-around cruiser and will still feel great on a swift run down a winding country lane. In general, even with the stiffer performance pack setup, the Mustang is much more refined and composed than earlier editions. It’s not a track day special nor is it meant to be. The turbo-four is tractable enough for around-town commuting or spirited running but the automatic transmission is less than ideal. Even with the driving mode switched to sport+ tapping the shift paddles on the back of the steering wheel still results in more of a delay than you’ll get with the best dual-clutch transmissions. On the positive side, Ford has integrated the inertial sensors into the transmission control. When driving in automatic mode heading into a corner, the transmission will hold the current gear rather than upshifting and it also blips the throttle as it downshifts during acceleration.
The base V6 is strictly a price leader for the Mustang and V8 sales are always strong early in a new model’s life cycle. Over time, the EcoBoost engine is expected to account the largest share of sales and this car has the sort of sophistication that the SVO engineers of the 1980s could only dream of from a Mustang. Perhaps one of the special edition models that will surely arrive during the course of this car’s lifecycle will be a more powerful Mustang ST with the 350-horsepower EcoBoost from the Focus RS. With less mass than a GT and better front to rear balance, that would be a pretty sweet combination.
The EPA rates the EcoBoost Mustang convertible at 20 mpg city, 30 mpg highway and 24 combined and I managed 21 mpg over my week with the car although a lighter foot on the right pedal could achieve mid-20s without too much difficulty. While base V6 fastbacks are still pretty attainable at about $24,000, stepping up to a relatively loaded convertible can actually elevate the price pretty quickly. As tested, this competition orange premium convertible stickered at $43,290, reasonable compared to say a BMW 4 series or Audi A5 convertible, but almost certainly not something that Chicago schoolteacher fresh out of college and heading into her first job is likely to be able fit into her budget. Despite that, I think this is the car the SVO crew would have built 30 years ago given the chance.