2011 Ford Mustang GT Convertible Review

New drop-top leaves muscle car days behind, for better and for worse

2011 Ford Mustang GT Convertible Review

On a beautiful warm sunny Sunday in July my wife and I got into the 2011 Mustang GT Convertible for a little jaunt from our house in suburban Chicago to the quaint summer resort town of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. The scenic round trip loop is about 150 miles, giving enough space and some decent roads to put the new GT through its paces. It wasn’t long before I was getting flashbacks to a similar trip 23 years ago that we took in my then-new Mustang GT coupe. This new 2011 Mustang made the same trip a much more enjoyable ride.

FAST FACTS

1. 2011 Mustang Convertibles start at $27,145 with the GT drop top at $34,645 – a $5,000 premium over the coupe. Our test car came in at just under $42,000.

2. Like the coupe, the GT Convertible is powered by Ford’s new 5.0L V8 with 412-hp and 390 lb-ft of torque.

3. The Sprint to 60-mph takes roughly 5.0 seconds.

REMEMBER THE OLD 5.0?

That ’87 GT was the first American car I’d owned in over a dozen years, being content to drive small Japanese and European sedans. But a few months earlier I’d seen a review of the new Mustang GT and they raved about how exciting it was to drive with the new 5.0 liter High Output motor. So I ordered one, sight unseen and without a test drive, and I eagerly waited for it to arrive at the dealership.

When I took delivery of the Mustang, with its 5.0-liter fuel injected V8 putting out a whopping (for the times) 225-hp and 300 lb-ft of torque, it was equipped with 15-inch wheels shod with 225/60 tires, a 5-speed manual with overdrive, dual “sport tuned” exhaust, “handling suspension” featuring variable rate springs, gas pressurized struts and shocks and a ‘quadra shock’ rear suspension.

On the trip home from the dealership I leaned two things. First, I loved the power of the 5.0-liter V8, and the booming exhaust note that came from the dual exhaust when I stomped on the gas. But I also learned that the rest of the car was a piece of crap. Oh, it cornered well enough, but it had more squeaks and rattles than a stagecoach. Going over bumps and railroad crossings made me think that all the wheels were going in four different directions, and something would be falling off soon. A few months later, on a cold slick night, my wife wrapped it around a telephone pole. She survived mostly uscathed, but the Mustang was totaled. Talk about a win-win situation!

NEW MUSTANG TOO GOOD?

I have no such feelings for this new GT. Wrapping it around a telephone pole would bring any owner to tears, not cheers. This is an outstanding sports car, and if there is anything to criticize, it would be that it’s almost too good.  Let me explain . . .

This 2011 model is powered by 5.0-liter V8, the first 5.0-liter engine to power a Mustang since 1995. It cranks out 412 horsepower, nearly 100 horses more than last year’s 4.6-liter GT, and 390 lb-ft of torque, which is 65 more than a year ago.

Rather than “good ‘ol American Iron” the new GT is high-tech American aluminum, with sophisticated twin independent variable cam timing (Ti-VCT) which spools up to a redline of 6800 rpm. And even with all this power, the gas mileage is better than last year’s car, and is now rated 17-mpg city and 26-mpg highway, with the new 6-speed manual transmission. By comparison, my old ’87 GT was rated at (but never came close in the real world) 18-city and 27-highway. And that was with nearly 200 fewer horsepower! Expect zero to 60 times in around 5.0 seconds. 

Those are outstanding numbers, but here’s where that “too good” statement comes in.  The power is undeniably strong, but the engine and drivetrain are so smooth, and the exhaust note is so subdued, that the power isn’t as thrilling as those numbers suggest.  With the top down on a deserted road, I expected that when I stomped on the gas, I’d get that visceral sensation of a wild and wooly muscle car rocketing down the road.  Instead, it felt like a well-mannered powerful luxury car, like a BMW M-Series, or AMG Mercedes.

By contrast, when you stomp on the Dodge Challenger SRT8, you know right away you’re opening up a can of whup ass. The engine exhaust roars, and you can feel the violence of those big pistons pumping up and down. The Dodge may not be quicker than the Mustang, but it feels like it is. On the other hand, when you’re not trying to rip the white lines off the pavement, the sophisticated feeling of the GT makes it very friendly in everyday driving. 

SOLID, REFINED AND PRICED TO MATCH

On the road, this GT Convertible feels solid as a bank vault. No squeaks, no rattles, and there is less chassis flex or cowl shake than the new Mercedes E-Class, or BMW convertibles. The 2011 GT has retuned springs and dampers, larger anti-roll bars, and an all-new electric variable rate power steering set-up, so the car feels agile and responsive, and provides excellent feedback to the driver in all driving conditions.

Helping the test car perform is a $1,695 Brembo Brake Package, which buys you larger (14-inch front) vented rotors with 4-piston calipers, not to mention higher-performance stability control tuning and larger 19-inch alloy wheels shod with 255/40 Pirelli tires.  It’s an expensive option but it works. 

The Premium Edition adds $3,200 to the base price of the GT. It also adds a world of nicer interior upgrades. This GT’s cabin is handsome, with lots of soft touch materials throughout and very comfortable leather seats with contrasting striped appointments. The seats are wide, yet supportive. Unfortunately, the safety Nazi’s have forced the automakers into getting the head restraints ever closer to the occupant’s heads, so the headrests are tilted at a curious angle, which limits the driver from tilting his head more than a few degrees back.

The driver’s dash is dominated by two large round dials for tach and speedo, with an LED info screen in between. There is a decided retro look that compliments the exterior styling, with brightwork accenting the gauges, AC vents and center stack. The steering wheel is handsome and wrapped in leather, and Ford has done a nice job of fitting the modern redundant radio controls and cruise controls into it, and yet retaining the proper sporty retro look.

If there is something wrong with the interior, it’s that it lacks some of the amenities one would expect to see on a car with this price tag.  For example, the seats aren’t heated, and only 4-way power adjustable. The seat back release only tilts the seatback forward, not the seat base for easier access to the rear. You can tell the interior was designed for the more basic models that would sell for $25,000, but when you put it in a car that has a bottom line like the GT Convertible, it seems lacking.

The soft convertible top has to be manually latched and unlatched, but it works well, and has a very nice padded headliner and the car is very quiet with the top in place. Even the view out the back glass panel is fairly good. And by using a soft top, instead of a retractable hard top, the Mustang GT retains the proper look and lines of a convertible.  It also leaves a remarkably large trunk when the top is down. Also traditional for convertibles are the rear seats that will only accommodate children with short legs. 

The base GT coupe starts at $29,645, and base GT Convertible at $34,645. The Premium GT starts at $37,845, while the top of the line Shelby GT500 Convertible goes for a whopping $53,645.

My test car had the Brembo Package, the HID Headlamps, Security package, and Premier Trim, bringing the bottom line up to a strong number of $41,705. By contrast my nicely optioned1987 GT Coupe set me back $15,227. The convertible would have been $3,700 more. But there is really no comparison between those two cars. They just don’t make them like they used to . . . Thank God!

THE VERDICT

The Mustang GT Convertible is an outstanding car in every way – powerful, crisp handling, well built, and beautifully styled. The top down driving experience is as enjoyable as almost any other convertible on the market. Plus, this one will fit in nicely at the local Cruise Night down at the Dairy Queen, too.

Ford has done it again with another great car. The only serious critique it is that it lacks some of the thrill that American muscle cars are known for. It’s hard to fault a car for being too good, and perhaps I’m just too old fashioned. Even then, this is a machine I want in my own garage.

RELATED READING

2012 Chevrolet Camaro Convertible Review

2011 Ford Mustang GT: First Drive

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