With its chunky body, powerful stereo, and live rear axle handling, we couldn't help but think of the 2008 Ford Mustang Convertible as a thick, juicy steak of a car. The styling evokes the muscle car era effectively, reason enough to salivate for people in a certain age group. On a hard corner, the car feels as if it has a lot of meat on its rear, making power slides possible, for good or ill. The 500-watt stereo pumps out audio thick enough to satisfy fans of bass-heavy music, although people of more refined appetites should stay away.
Ford Motor has done very well with its retro Mustang , and expanded the model variety for different tastes, even appealing to movie fans with the Bullitt edition. Although Ford based the redesigned 2005 Mustang on the 1967 fastback, we found that it loses nothing when fitted with a convertible top. In its modern form, it gets tech options such as Ford's feature-rich navigation system and iPod integration. But, as of this review, our favorite Ford tech option, Sync, doesn't seem to be available.
Test the tech: Convertible cruising
A lot of the country is still seeing temperatures lower than 50 degrees and even snow, however, mostly sunny skies around San Francisco led us to do some top-down cruising in the Mustang. We wanted to see how comfortable the drive was in our late winter weather. Also, as we noticed a digital signal processing setting marked Convertible on the stereo, we tested the audio quality with the cabin exposed to the open air.
For this test, we cruised from Santa Cruz, Calif., up to San Francisco, driving along Highway 1 along the coast because its vistas make it the perfect road for a convertible. Putting the top down on the Mustang isn't that easy compared with other cars with powered convertible tops. First, we had to undo two latches at the top of the windshield frame. The latches take some strength to turn, but after they were undone, we just held down a button and the top rose up and folded back behind the rear seat. The temperature was in the low 60s and all we had was a sport coat. So far, so good.
Before stomping on the gas and veering onto Highway 1, we had to program the right music. With an MP3 player patched into the car's auxiliary input, hidden down in the center console, we chose classic rock artists such as Heart, Boston, Scorpions, and Rush for our playlist. Ford fits the Mustang with its Shaker brand stereo, 500 watts in the standard configuration or 1,000 watts and 10 speakers if you upgrade. We only had the Shaker 500, but it didn't take much of a twist to the volume knob for us to feel the music reverberating through our body. But the speakers don't hold up, as we noticed a lot of rattle when we turned the volume up while playing music with a particularly heavy bass line. The highs weren't particularly clear and not at all bright at any volume.
We started out with the DSP set to Convertible, which made us feel like the audio was a thick wall wrapped around the cabin area. The head unit also has a speed sensitive volume control, but we didn't notice a huge difference when we had it set half way. As we cruised up the highway, we changed the DSP to the All Seats setting, which made the audio sound as if it were, while still all around us, projecting lower, not rising above the tops of the doors. The final DSP setting was Driver, which balanced the audio for the driver's seat. This last sounded very good with the top down or up. But the Convertible setting had a very noticeable and positive effect with the top down and gave all seats a good listening experience, or at least as good as the speakers would permit.
As for the environmental comfort, the Mustang doesn't have automatic climate control, merely standard dials for heat, fan speed, and vent openings. We started to feel a little bit chilly driving up the highway, so we turned the heat up first to half, then all the way up. The windshield does a great job of counteracting turbulence in the front seat, which made driving at even 70 mph perfectly comfortable. The seat heaters in the car kept out our backside warm, but the air blowing from the vents was uneven. We focused the hot air on our hands and were reasonably comfortable throughout the drive.
For this test, we count the car as a success. Sure, the heating and sound quality could have been better. However, the style of the car made up for a lot, and we can't deny the power of the views afforded to us of cliffs leading down to a wild ocean unimpeded by the car's top.