2013 Ford Mustang: First Drive

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The region around Portland, Oregon, offers some truly great backroads for driving enthusiasts; and while they might be perfect for testing out sports cars in the summer and fall months (the dry season), always-gray mid-March perhaps wasn’t the most appropriate place to preview the 2013 Ford Mustang.

We were also surprised when with pouring rain, and temperatures down in the 30s, Ford urged us not to keep to the Interstates and boulevards but to get out and drive a route it had planned on Coast Range roads. But we soon figured out why: Those wet, not-so-ideal conditions, with choppy backroads partially covered with debris and grit, only served to underscore just how surprisingly sophisticated the Mustang is today.

While the underpinnings of the 2013 Ford Mustang have some humble origins and still rely on a solid rear axle, Ford engineers have worked magic in making the Mustang a better driver’s car than quite a few sports coupes or sedans with more sophisticated underpinnings and expensive price tags.

Drives…just as well as last year

For those who are avid readers of this site, followers of the Mustang, or enthusiasts in general, you, there’s really nothing all that new in the ‘driving’ portion of this first drive. In recent years, Ford has stepped up its game with the Mustang and has been introducing a host of serious engineering and feature improvements nearly each model year; while there are plenty of improvements in the 2013 model, performance itself for the V-6 and GT models remains mostly the same as when the Mustang was last extensively improved, for 2011.

There are a few exceptions, but none of them seriously change the feel of the car: The 5.0-liter V-8 in the GT now has 420 horsepower, up from 412 horsepower last year. Also, the automatic transmission now includes full manual control, with a +/- button on the side of the shifter to easily thumb through them, and no forced downshifts or upshifts in manual mode; and manual-gearbox cars get a two-second hill-hold function, for convenient starts when facing uphill. Finally, there are also now three driver-selectable levels of steering effort—Sport, Comfort, and standard.

2013 Mustang V-6 models carry over with Ford’s 3.7-liter V-6, making 305 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. V-8 Mustangs all get that power boost this year, and make 390 pound-feet of torque, but the difference isn’t anything you’re going to be able to feel from behind the wheel—if even see on the stopwatch.

Still a pony car, but with modern, high-revving engines

The Mustang is a pony car, so it’s easy to lapse into thinking that these new versions keep with tradition and have relatively low-revving engines—especially in V-6 form. But it’s quite the opposite. Both engines make their peak horsepower at 6,500 rpm and their peak torque at a rather high 4,250 rpm, so we firmly advise that you get the manual transmission.

We spent the most time with a well-equipped V-6, which especially isn’t very punchy at all below 2,500 rpm but sure is fun if you keep the revs up. The engine seems to really hit its stride approaching 3,500 rpm. So it’s not surprising that the gas mileage we saw over enthusiastic driving in our test loop was lower—a lot lower—than the V-6’s EPA city rating of 19 mpg. If you lug along in sixth and set the cruise you may see the EPA highway of 31 mpg.

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