2013 Ford Mustang Performance

9.0
Performance

The Mustang definitely lives up to its pony-car heritage in appearance—and in layout, with V-6 and V-8 engines, rear-wheel drive, and a simple rear solid-axle layout—but that's about where the retro comparisons end.

The 2013 Mustang V-6s 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.

With strong, high-revving engines, and a surprising level of handling sophistication, the Mustang is a charming, robust performer.

The two engines in the Mustang V-6 and GT (V-8) are by no means lopey, slow-revvers. 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.

There's not as much difference from V-6 to V-8 models as in the past, either, and performance packages don't shave away nearly as much of the decent ride compliance as they would have on the inferior, pre-2005 'Stangs. Given our choice, we'd opt for the coupe, since the convertibles we've sampled haven't had the structural stiffness to match the suspension's upconverted talents.

Despite humble, cost-conscious underpinnings, 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 mechanical layouts and expensive price tags.

There are a few performance-related improvements for 2013, 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.

V-8 models emit a gruff, throaty exhaust note and feel a bit like straight-line exotics. Compared to the V-6 models, they're different beasts altogether and call for more restraint; due to the V-8’s sharper throttle response and here-right-now torque, weight transfers tend to be a little less fluid, too, if you’re not careful with it.

For 2011, the Mustang's rear suspension was massaged, and the 2013 Mustang reaps the benefits of that plus the incremental improvements in handling and refinement that engineers have made since the current generation made its debut in 2005. The current car takes a set in corners much more easily than former Mustangs, and it deals much more swiftly with choppy pavement and uneven surfaces, even though it's still a live-axle design. So even on wet and imperfect surfaces, the the Mustang has surprising tenacity and poise, and a progressive, predictable feel in tight corners.

One major change for this year, which we haven't sampled yet, is a new three-mode electric steering setup; the new system offers comfort, normal and sport modes for varied quickness and heft.

Two other special Mustang performance models inject an added dose of speed to the lineup: The 2013 Ford Mustang Boss 302, with 444 hp and a host of track-ready hardware; and the upcoming 200-mph, 650-plus-horsepower Shelby GT500, which will start at just $54,200.

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