If you think the newest generation of the Ford Mustang coupe is great, you've gotta love the convertible.

Two models are offered - the V-6, with a base price of $24,660, and the V-8 powered GT, starting at $30,685 (both prices include freight).

Granted, the convertibles are a bit pricier than the coupes, which start under $20,000. But for those who can afford the extra dough, the ragtops are well worth the money. The most expensive version is the GT Premium model, which we tested.

It comes with a base price of $31,840. With a few extras tacked on, our 2006 model's list price totaled $35,415, which arguably is a lot to pay for a Mustang.

Certainly there are luxury cars you can buy for that kind of money, but the Mustang still comes across as a good value because of its originality.

The fact is that there's just nothing else like it, and if you're a longtime Mustang fan, as many of us baby boomers are, then the price is not really an issue. They say that many of us have extra disposable income these days, what with the kids gone and their college paid for.

Ford rolled out the newest Mustang in coupe form first, in August 2004 as an '05 model. Then in spring 2005, the convertible was added to the lineup.

I'm glad the automaker chose to include a V-6 model in the ragtop version so that those of us who don't feel the need for V-8 power can have an affordable alternative. Most of the new Mustangs, and the convertibles in particular, have sold faster than Ford can build them.

That's due in large part to their retro styling, which revived the look of the revered mid-1960s Mustangs, specifically the 1967 fastback model.

Ford reported sales of 160,975 Mustangs during calendar year 2005, with only about 30 percent of those being V-8 models.

Most of the retro styling of the coupes has carried over to the convertibles, including the long hood and three-section taillights.

But the ragtop versions are missing the sloping rear window that created the famous fastback look. That had to give way to the retractable soft top.

Even so, the convertible is stunning in its own right, and brings lots of looks wherever it goes.

My first drive of one was last year in Southern California, and as I drove it along the Pacific Coast Highway, the most-obvious admirers were those driving older Mustangs. And for those who have been longtime Mustang fans, the new ragtop usually inspires a case of love at first sight.

That reaction isn't limited to those folks, however. The new model appeals to a broad range of people from youth to aging baby boomers, male and female alike, one of the few cars on the market that can transcend age and gender barriers.

As I've noted before, nearly everyone has a Mustang story in his or her life - even those who have never owned one.

The cars are revered by many baby boomers who came of age during the mid- to late-1960s, just after the Mustang's 1964 introduction.

Ford has long been credited with a stroke of genius for the creation of the Mustang, and that's certainly true again with this retro-styled new generation.

The big draw of these new models is their retro styling combined with modern drivetrains, suspensions and safety equipment.

Convertibles have made up about a fourth of all Mustang sales in the past, with women the primary buyers and V-6 models the most popular versions. But Ford said the newest Mustang ragtop is designed to have broader appeal, especially among enthusiasts who like the GT versions with their V-8s.

One drawback of the earlier models was the body shake and shimmy that is often associated with convertibles, thanks to the loss of structural support with the removal of the top.

But Ford has worked miracles with the new Mustang convertible - the body seems nearly as rigid as that of the coupe.

While driving the vehicle along some punishing roads, the new convertible showed virtually no signs of shimmying or shaking, even on some rather large bumps.

Ford says it took great pains to keep the convertible's chassis rigid to eliminate body flex that most convertible fans have come to expect as an annoying but unfortunately necessary part of the ragtop driving experience.

Handling is superb, especially with the GT, which comes with 17-inch, W-rated performance tires. Optional are 18-inch wheels and tires, which came on ours.

The new convertible's interior is clean and uncluttered, with a dash that also is a throwback to the '60s.

The premium model we tested came with red leather sport-bucket seats, which were quite comfortable even during sharp cornering.

The power-operated top can be opened in about 20 seconds after releasing the two catches on the top of the windshield and pushing a button on the overhead console above the rearview mirror.

The top has a glass rear window for great rearward visibility; it even includes a rear defroster.

Insulated fabric in the top keeps the interior very quiet for a convertible when it is up. When it is down, even at highway speeds wind intrusion into the cockpit is kept to a minimum, thanks to the steeply-raked windshield and the design of the rear seatbacks, Ford says.

There is little wind noise in the cockpit at highway speeds with the top down, which is remarkable for a ragtop.

Rear quarter windows can be opened or closed by a power switch on the driver's side, but they cannot be open or closed separately - it's both up or both down.

Under the hood of the V-6 model is the same 4.0-liter engine used in the coupe, rated at 210 horsepower and 240 foot-pounds of torque.

I have driven the V-6 version, and found it perfectly adequate for my tastes, particularly with its slightly better EPA fuel-economy ratings (19 miles per gallon city/28 highway with the manual gearbox; 19 city/25 highway with automatic).

But for performance addicts, the GT is the only choice. The convertible comes with the same 4.6-liter V-8 in the GT coupe, rated at 300 horsepower and 320 foot-pounds of torque.

Surprisingly, the highway fuel-economy rating for the GT with the five-speed manual gearbox is 25 mpg, the same as the V-6 with automatic. City mileage is 17 mpg, and for the GT automatic, highway mileage drops to 23 mpg.

Standard features of the V-6 convertibles include a five-speed manual transmission, 16-inch painted cast-aluminum wheels with all-season tires, air conditioning, dual power mirrors, AM/FM stereo with single CD player, four-wheel power disc brakes, power door locks with remote keyless entry, and power windows with driver and passenger door one-touch up/down.

The V-6 Premium model begins at $25,635, and comes with such extras as 16-inch bright aluminum wheels with chrome spinner, Shaker 500 audio system with six-disc CD changer and MP3 capability, and a six-way power adjustable driver's seat.

Options include an exterior sport appearance package ($295), interior upgrade package ($450), five-speed automatic transmission ($995), antilock brakes with all-speed traction control ($775), side air bags ($370), leather seating surfaces ($695), an active anti-theft system ($255) and a convertible soft boot for $195.

GT models come with a five-speed manual transmission, four-wheel antilock power disc brakes with all-speed traction control, sport-tuned stainless steel dual exhaust, front fog lights built into the grille, a rear spoiler and a tilt steering wheel, 17-inch painted aluminum wheels with performance tires, air conditioning, dual power mirrors, AM/FM stereo with single CD player, power door locks with remote keyless entry, and power windows with driver and passenger one-touch up/down.

The GT Premium model includes the Shaker 500 audio system with CD changer and MP3 capability, as well as the leather bucket seats. But our test car came with an even-better stereo - the Shaker 1000 system, a $1,295 option.

Other options on our car included an interior upgrade package ($450), interior color accent package ($175), front-seat side air bags ($370), the 18-inch bright-machined painted aluminum wheels ($825), active anti-theft system ($295), Shaker 1000 audio system ($1,295) and a convertible boot cover ($115).

Ours came with the manual gearbox, but a five-speed automatic is offered for $995 on the GT model as well.

G. Chambers Williams III is staff automotive columnist for the San Antonio Express-News and former transportation writer for the Star-Telegram. His automotive columns have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1995. Contact him at (210) 250-3236; chambers@star-telegram.com.

2006 Ford Mustang convertible
The package: Midsize, two-door, four-passenger, rear-drive, V-6 or V-8 powered convertible.
Highlights: Styling cues from the early Mustangs made this newest generation of Ford's pony car convertible an instant hit when it arrived last spring. The package is part modern, part blast-from-the-past, yet with enough state-of-the-art engineering to make this the best Mustang convertible yet.
Negatives: The base tires on the V-6 model are a bit slippery on tight turns.
Engine: 4.0-liter V-6; 4.6-liter GT V-8.
Transmission: Five-speed manual; Five-speed automatic optional.
Power/torque: 210HP/240 foot-pounds (V-6); 300HP/320 foot-pounds (GT V-8).
Length: 187.6 inches.
Curb weight: 3,373-3,488 pounds.
Trunk capacity: 9.7 cubic feet.
Brakes, front/rear: Disc/disc, antilock optional on V-6, standard on GT.
Fuel capacity/type: 16.0 gallons/unleaded regular.
EPA fuel economy: 19 miles per gallon city/25 highway (V-6, automatic transmission); 19 city/28 highway (V-6, manual); 17 city/25 highway (GT, manual); 17 city/23 highway (GT, automatic).
Major competitors: Toyota Camry Solara convertible, Pontiac G6 convertible, Nissan 350Z roadster, Mitsubishi Eclipse convertible, Saab 9-3 convertible, Volkswagen New Beetle convertible.
Base price: $23,940, plus $695 freight (V-6 model); $29,965, plus freight (GT V-8).
Price as tested: $35,415 (GT Premium model, including freight and options).
On the Road rating: ***** (five stars out of five).