Friday, July 28, 2017



Sales of the Ford Mustang have hit a dip in the U.S. recently, but the car that inspired the Pony Car craze over a half-century ago may be more popular than it ever has been.

That’s because the demand for it globally continue to rise even as monthly U.S. sales numbers, which are still good enough to lead the segment by a wide margin, by the way, begin to fade just a bit.

According to an Associated Press report this week, the Mustang became the world’s best-selling “sports” car — more on why I put “sports” in quotes later — in 2016 with over 150,000 sold world-wide, even though U.S. sales slipped 13 percent.

Ford actually laid claim to the title last spring after scoping data from IHS Markit, an international company that collects data and information for analysis of various industries around the world. The automaker says that it will ship the iconic vehicle to over 140 countries in 2017 with Germany and China the most popular destinations.

Frankly, as long as they keep shipping them to South Florida I’ll be happy (even though it has been years since I actually owned one).

My recent time spent in a 2017 Ford Mustang convertible confirmed that.

Of course, I may be biased here. I don’t recall ever seeing a convertible I haven’t liked, so the Mustang that was delivered to my driveway one sunny morning (alas, the sun didn’t last all that long) was ahead of the game before I had even gotten behind the wheel and pushed the button down at the bottom of the center stack to start it up.

But my continued time did nothing to dim my original enthusiasm.

My colleagues in the Southern Automotive Media Association chose the Mustang as the winner in its category (full-size) in this summer’s Topless in Miami Presented by Haartz convertible competition, so I am not alone in my enthusiasm. It is also a very popular rental in the Florida Keys where on a drive on U.S. 1 it seems like one passes you every mile whether you are headed north or south.

There likely are many reasons behind its popularity, but I have to think its versatility rates high. It has been offered with a V8, V6 (for this year; it’s to be discontinued for 2018) or even a 4-cylinder engine with either an automatic or a manual transmission, which helps spread out the cost to fit more budgets. 

No matter what powertrain you select, the dual exhausts send forth that special Mustang sound that is a delight to the ears. And you don’t have to go up to the V8 for a fun drive.

The 2.4-liter Ecoboost 4-banger sends 310 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque to the rear wheels, which is actually more than the 300/280 you get with the V6. The 5.0-liter V8 is tuned to 435/400, respectively.

But I think another factor is that unlike with the Thunderbird, which it introduced about a decade before, Ford stuck with the basics with the Mustang. The 2017 Mustang convertible I drove for a week in July 2017 was much like the same droptop I would have driven in July 1967 as far as the fundamentals go.

Obviously, the styling has been updated, and the 2017 model has up-to-date conveniences (like anti-lock brakes and traction control) and technology that we wouldn’t have dreamed of over 50 years ago when FM radio was considered exotic and eight-track stereos were just coming into being. 

And the top opens and closes with the twist of a handle and push of a button and folds neatly into a compartment behind the rear seat without intruding on the trunk space. No awkward opening and close dual clamps.

But it’s still a fresh-air ride for four-passengers (or one, for that matter).

The Thunderbird, on the other hand, morphed into a four-seater in 1958 after just three years as a two-seater and each succeeding generation it seemed to grow and grow and even was targeted as a competitor to Lincoln luxury before it was returned to a two-seater for 2002. It disappeared after 2005 while the Mustang lives on.

The 2.3L Premium edition I had came with a cloth top, HID projector headlights and LED fog lights, dual-zone auto climate control, leather trimmed seats, two Smart charging USB ports, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a rearview camera (especially handy for when the top is up), and selectable drive modes for normal, sport, and eco performance.

All that was included in the $35,695 base MSRP.

Throw in option packages that included Shaker audio to replace the standard premium sound system, a rear deck spoiler, heated and cooled seats, and the automatic transmission and the total MSRP came to $39,585 including the $900 destination and delivery fee.

Coupe Mustangs start at $25,185 and the V6 convertible at $30,685. You get into the low $40K range with the GT Premium convertible and on into the mid-$50K range with the Shelby GT350 Fastback.

Oh, yes. I put the word “sport” in quotes up there somewhere and said I would have more on that later, didn’t I? Well, here is why.

There is no doubt that the Mustang, even with the 4-banger and especially the GT, falls in the category of a performance vehicle. You can get it with a six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic with paddle shifters, and the firm ride certainly is sports-car like. It won’t jar your teeth, but you will know when you go over a bump in the road.

But when I was growing up to me a sports car was a nifty two-seater like a Triumph TR4 or an MG known more for their agility than their brute power. The Mustang with its backseat just didn’t seem to fit in that genre.

Still doesn’t to me, even though the backseat in the convertible is pretty much useless padding unless you move the front seats so far forward you are bumping your nose on the windshield.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

What I liked about the 2017 Ford Mustang convertible: Pretty much everything. Well, maybe not the backseat, but hey! I was driving all the time! It’s a quiet ride with the top up as well.

What I didn’t like about the 2017 Ford Mustang convertible: Ford really ought to take a closer look at how the top is secured. It’s not a major effort to turn the handle at the top of the center windshield to open or secure, but so many other manufacturers have found a way to see that the latches click into place automatically. Those who like to see their cars “glide” may not like the firm suspension, but it is a Muscle Car after all.

Would I buy the 2017 Ford Mustang convertible? Of course!

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