The Morning Call and's view

Some companies revere their heritage, while others refuse to acknowledge it. Take the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro.

GM has invested little time and money into the Camaro and it shows. While still a brawny, sexy machine, the Camaro handles like an aging prizefighter. GM apparently has little knowledge of what this car means to the heart and soul of Chevrolet and its fans. Not surprisingly, sales have been sliding for the last six years, according to Automotive News.

Ford has realized what its pony car means to the soul of its company and has remained committed to it. Therefore, the car has received regular updates. (Heck, the term pony car COMES from the Mustang, a model that created the segment.) The Mustang’s sustained popularity is proof enough. What makes this pony car a runaway success? A recent test drive of a Mustang convertible answers the question.

The Mustang faithful already know the configurations this car comes in — coupe or convertible, Base (with a 3.8-liter V-6) or GT (with a 4.6-liter V-8.)

The styling is fresh and contemporary while staying true to the car’s heritage. Restyled in 1999, the car’s sharp planes and classic side scoop give little doubt as to this car’s identity. There simply isn’t a bad line on this car, especially in the case of the convertible. Ford has done an expert styling job.

The test car’s green color and tan top and saddle-colored interior didn’t exactly hurt. Accented with stripes and the Mustang name running on the lower part of the body, it felt fresh and legendary. A classic chrome pony accents the front end.

Ditto the interior. The dual cockpit dashboard recalls classic interiors of yore, even if material quality is an accountant’s delight. A few more bucks spent here would go miles. But, the interior was refreshing in its uncluttered simplicity. It even has a headlight knob!

Seats are soft and comfy and have decent support, as long you’re not riding for more than a couple hours. Rear seat space and trunk space is typical of the class.

The convertible top has a glass rear window with defroster and is fully lined. The top is easy to operate. Put on the parking brake, flip the top latches open and hold the button. One must lower the windows separately.

The little pony sent from Ford was the low-cal version, with the legendary (aka old) 3.8-liter overhead-valve V-6 doing duty under the hood. While it lacks the V-8’s 260 horsepower, there’s still 193 horsepower on tap. That’s about the same as most higher-end family sedans. Plunked under the hood of the aged chassis, the V-6 lends the car a better balance than the V-8, yet makes for a quick-enough ride. Speed is comparable to other sporty convertibles, such as the Toyota Solara and Chrysler Sebring. This car is just as good looking as either of them.

Handling is about the same. The suspension is softer than the GT and allows for more body lean through corners. But it’s tossab le enough for more modest performance aspirations. Braking is adequate, with some nose-dive. You can feel the age of the chassis, even if Ford has done its best at keeping it up-to-date.

Standard equipment level is good. Power disc brakes, aluminum wheels, power mirrors, windows and locks, tilt wheel and AM/FM cassette are all standard.

Gas mileage was good at 23 mpg. That’s right in the middle of the EPA rating of 17 mpg city, 27 mpg highway.

The test car didn’t have any options. The bottom line? A mere $25,360. That’s a bargain these days next to the V-6-equipped Chrysler Sebring LXI ($26,860) and the Toyota Solara SE ($28,035). Both vehicles have a tad more horsepower, but also a lot more weight.

That makes this pony not only a legend, but a bargain.

Evidently, many agree. That’s why the Mustang has left the Camaro to die in its dust. Too bad.

Ford Mustang Convertible
Engine: 3.8-liter OHV or 4.6-liter OHC V-8
Transmission: 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic
Tires: P205/65R15
Wheelbase: 101.3 inches
Length: 183.2 inches
Width: 73.2 inches
Curb weight: 3,2,54 pounds
Cargo volume: 7.7 cubic feet

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