Review: 2011 Ford Mustang GT 5.0 Convertible
By Chris Haak
How deep does the 2011 Mustang GT Convertible’s beauty go? Hopefully it’s more than just skin deep, but we set out on a week’s worth of using the car for everything from commuting to the office, to running errands, to hours-long drives off the beaten path to definitively find the answer to that question.
Surely, it’s an attractive car. The design improvements made to the 2010 Mustang, which carry over nearly intact in the 2011 model, improved the breed by adding additional contours to the car’s flanks, plus chamfered corners that lend a sleek look to the original pony car, as well as helping the car’s aerodynamics. It retains all of the classic Mustang styling cues, yet manages to look trim and modern as well.
But under the 2011 Mustang GT’s hood lies the most beautiful engine installed in a Ford Motor Company product since the original 3.0 liter Yamaha-sourced DOHC V6 in the original 1989 Taurus SHO. We don’t like to generalize here at Full Metal Autos, but generally, the underhood areas of most Ford vehicles are either just a disorganized-looking series of hoses and wires, or a disorganized-looking series of hoses and wires covered by giant plastic engine shrouds. Even the 2011 Mustang V6 has a similar affliction.
But not the new “Coyote” 5.0 liter V8 in the 2011 Mustang GT. It’s a work of art, from the large 5.0 graphic on its semi-covering engine cover/intake box, to the snake pit of interconnected pipes on the intake plenum that is reminiscent of the previously-mentioned SHO V6 (and that’s probably not a coincidence). And remember, we’re only talking about the way this engine looks on the outside. Fire up the big V8, and its inner beauty almost brings a tear to the eye. It sounds like a V8 is supposed tosound, with perhaps slightly more bass than the 2010 GT’s 4.6 liter V8, but pulls way more strongly. In fact, this engine feels and sounds very much like the excellent 5.0 liter V8 that Lexus installs in the IS-F sedan.
Last year’s 315-horsepower 4.6 liter Mustang GT held its own against the 426-horsepower Camaro SS, in spite of being down more than 100 horsepower and having just five forward speeds in its gearbox, thanks to the Mustang’s lighter weight and, frequently, better gearing. Add another 97 horsepower to the mix, and it’s hard not to giggle like a schoolgirl when in second gear and you stomp on the go-pedal and hear the glorious V8 soundtrack piped into the cabin and feel the car throw you deeper into your seatback. Braaappp-brrrrrraaaaaap-braap. You get the idea, in spite of our terrible onomatopoeia. You’d think that with a soft top on this test car that the V8’s sound effects would be even more pronounced with the roof open, but you’d be wrong. Likely credit goes to the sound induction tube included with the Mustang GT that pipes just the right amount of induction noise into the cabin; some of that escapes before hitting your ears when the roof is open. As a consequence, we found ourselves enjoying top-up motoring as much as top-down motoring, but for different reasons entirely.
We had the opportunity to spend a sunny day away from the keyboard in in the Mustang GT convertible, and during the course of an over 100-mile drive, traversing mainly secondary roads with long sweepers, wide lanes, and plenty of passing zones. Thanks to that last point, plus 412 horsepower and 390 lb-ft of torque, we set a personal record for the number of two-lane road passes in a single day at more than 25. And why not? Drop the short-throw six-speed gearbox down a gear or two (if you want to have fun) – or not, if you’re lazy – and the Mustang just blasts past the car in front of you, completely drama-free. We’ve often believed that the safest way to pass a car is as quickly as possible, to minimize the amount of time that the car is facing oncoming traffic. If that’s to be believed, then the Mustang GT 5.0 is one of the safest cars on the market.
Inside, the Mustang GT with the Premium package adds some nice touches, like real metal trim on the dashboard, better door panel materials, and leather seating surfaces. Switchgear and material quality are far, far better than those used in the previous (2005-2009) Mustang, and in fact are better than those found in the Mustang’s most direct competitors – the Camaro, Challenger, and Genesis Coupe. The front seats are reasonably well-bolstered, and the cashmere stripe down their center helps break the monotony of a nearly completely-dark cabin. If the charcoal interior isn’t your thing, Ford offers some pretty cool alternatives like saddle leather or stone leather to brighten the place up. When the cloth top is closed, the car has a surprisingly nice headliner; it’s not going to be confused with what’s above your head in an Audi convertible, but it’s also not just the underside of the roof’s canvas. And don’t forget, if you want a convertible pony car, the Mustang is the only game in town until next year when the Camaro convertible hits the streets.
Not all is roses with the interior. The steering wheel, while suitably thick and grippy, is a bit large in diameter to allow the driver to see the tach and speedometer within its rim. There’s more hard plastic – for instance, on the door panels and nearly the entire center console – than is found in more expensive cars. There isn’t much room in the two-person back seat, unless the passengers there are children, or the front-seat passenger is short enough to move the seat forward further than normal.
It seems as if most buyers of a 2011 Mustang with the six-speed manual would not need to consider a short-throw shift kit for their ride. The stock shifter – with its attractive polished metal knob on top – stays close to the console and has a very positive shift action. We occasionally found third gear engagement to be a bit tricky, particularly when hurried, but the odd-even shifts (1-2, 3-4, etc.) all clicked into place nicely, and let the Coyote V8 sing its tune in a lower register until revs built back up.
We put a four year old in the back seat (on his booster seat) with the top down for a trip to the mall to pick up a new dehumidifier, and though he was afraid that the wind would blow the cap off his head and it was a little noisy at highway speeds, he was able to have a conversation with the driver. Once we purchased the appliance, it didn’t fit into the Mustang’s small trunk opening, so we took advantage of the convertible’s unlimited headroom and just chucked the box on the back seat next to the child. With SYNC streaming Dora the Explorer songs from the driver’s iPhone via Bluetooth into the Shaker audio system, the brief trip to the mall was quite the thrill for the little guy’s first convertible ride.
Opening the convertible top is simple, but requires old-fashioned manual unlatching at the tops of the A-pillars before it can electrically fold into its well. After just a few seconds, it’s stowed. Ford provides a tonneau cover (which you can see folded in the trunk in the photo above) that we never bothered to install. If you plan on keeping the top down for an extended period, we suppose that it might smooth airflow, or at least the car’s profile, but found it unnecessary in daily use, even at extralegal speeds. At those speeds, however, wind noise grows substantially. Wind noise is not a factor below 60, makes its presence known between 65 and 75, and above 75, sounds like you’re in the middle of a hurricane. Having never been in an actual hurricane, we’re just guessing what one might sound like.
This test car was equipped with the $1,695 Brembo Brake Package, and it’s one we would highlyrecommend for any Mustang GT buyer. The package actually only includes Brembo frontbrakes, but with the engine and tire capabilities present in this car, it’s important that the brakes’ capabilities can more or less keep up with the rest of the performance hardware. This car also had the gray-painted Dark Stainless wheels, which come with the Brembo Brake Package. They’re great for two reasons – they look menacing, and they do a great job of hiding brake dust.
We didn’t encounter any brake fade during our time with this Mustang, and in reality, it’s likely that only track driving would overwhelm the Brembo package’s ability to stop the car quickly. If you plan on doing that, you would probably want to consider further upgrading the brakes, but we’re glad to see that Ford has taken critical assessments of its vehicles’ braking systems to heart and begun to significantly upgrade the hardware. As you can see from the photo above, there’s still more room for even bigger brakes within those 19 inch wheels, so the choice of a “stage 2” brake upgrade would be nice for those who want it. The big 14 inch Brembos did modulate easily, with a nice, firm pedal, and were capable of stopping the fun rapidly when needed.
Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar tires, sized P255/40R19, are the tires of choice with the 19 inch wheels and the Brembo Brake package. These tires made a good showing of themselves by offering great grip, high limits, and very little howling during seven-tenths corner carving on back roads. When asked to tackle downpour conditions, they also handled that very well. Summer tires like these are not capable of driving in the snow, and in fact, their compound loses much of its grip below 45 degrees fahrenheit, so budget for a set of all-seasons or winter tires if you live in colder climates and plan on driving your Brembo-equipped Mustang more than just a few months out of the year.
On our top-secret handling-test roads, the Mustang GT showed excellent steering feedback, with good weighting and a suitably quick ratio. That is still somewhat surprising, since for 2011 Ford went to electric power steering in the Mustang for fuel economy reasons. In essence, Ford has backed up its claims that it has figured out how to tune a good EPAS system to match up with a good hydraulic system, but with better efficiency. Mid-corner direction changes are but a press (or lift) of the gas pedal away, and the car feels well-balanced. The long hood makes it easy to see what’s in front of you and to precisely position your tires. The ride is firm, but not harsh – just the way we like our cars to be dialed-in.
Of course, Mustangs come only with an old fashioned solid rear axle. This setup has some major advantages that make it a good choice in a low-buck performance car: cost and weight. It costs less to make, allowing Ford to sell the Mustang for a competitive price (or to divert that money into the expensive engine or nice interior) and it doesn’t weigh as much as an independent suspension setup would. In several hundred miles with the Mustang, the only time we encountered an issue with the solid axle was during standing-start acceleration on an uneven road surface; in that situation, the Mustang had a little trouble hooking up and getting its power to the pavement. In 99 percent of real-world situations, the solid axle is not an issue whatsoever. Frankly, we prefer the lighter weight and lower cost of this setup to the obese sedan-based chassis found in the Challenger and Camaro.
Part of the feel-good story with the 2011 Mustang is that in spite of significant horsepower gains over the 2010 model, it achieves class-leading fuel-economy figures, at least when equipped with the tall standard gearing. The EPA says that a 2011 Mustang GT 5.0 with the six-speed manual will achieve 17 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway. An automatic 5.0 gets 18/25, and all 5.0s will run happily on regular gas, but will make 402 instead of 412 horsepower. In our time with the car, a heavy foot kept the overall average in the 20 mpg neighborhood, but a highway jaunt that kept the car in sixth with the cruise control engaged returned 25 miles per gallon. This particular car was equipped with the standard 3.31:1 rear axle, but the GT can be had with either a 3.55:1 or a 3.73:1 differential instead, both of which would cost some fuel savings but enhance all but top-speed performance.
The pricing story for the 2011 Mustang is a bit of a mixed bag. It’s possible to get a GT Coupe with the 5.0 for about $30,000, but this car rang up at $44,115 (including destination). Blame the Premium Convertible’s $37,845 base price, plus the $2,340 Electronics Package (navigation, HD radio, and dual-zone climate control), $1,695 Brembo Brake Package, $595 Comfort Group, $395 Security Package, and $395 Rapid Spec 401A Premier Trim Package. This car also had the no-cost Spoiler Delete option, which we’d probably pick on a convertible as well for its cleaner looks. Since the competition doesn’t offer a convertible, we can’t compare prices of the convertible model to other manufacturers’ offerings, but the Mustang GT Coupe is about $500 less expensive than a comparably-equipped Camaro SS, according to TrueDelta.
We love the fact that the Camaro has been resurrected and that Dodge still makes the Challenger; surely, those two cars offering 400-plus horsepower large-displacement V8s had to have influenced Ford’s product planners when they conjured up the 2011 Mustang GT. This car runs like a thoroughbred – not like a roughshod feral horse of Mustangs past. It’s a horse that loves to run, and doesn’t mind being ridden hard and put away wet. The smell of hot Brembos and the ticking cooling of the engine as we landed in our driveway proves that. It really is a heck of a car no matter the price, and given its price, it’s an outstanding performance value.