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Convertible (SCI) - May 2005

" PASS THE SUNSCREEN. Ford has shaved the new Mustang of its lid, giving drivers a chance to make their dermatologists yet more money. Most vehicles lose their poise when they lose their tops, but Ford's engineers have delivered a surprising departure from the norm. Unlike years past, when convertible Mustangs demonstrated the structural rigidity of a Radio Flyer wagon, the 2005 version brings never before seen levels of solidity to the pony car genre.

Most convertibles derived from a coupe tend to pack on the pounds in the form of structural reinforcements to compensate for the lack of a roof's rigidity. Traditionally, this adds about 300 pounds [130kg] to the vehicle - decidedly anti-performance. Ford designed the convertible in parallel with the coupe in an effort to maintain common parts commonality. By beefing up the rocker panels and incorporating a clever V-shaped brace to stiffen up the rear structure of the vehicle, the engineers were able to hold the weight increase to 175 pounds - including the power top mechanism - whilst delivering a convertible twice as rigid as the 2004 model.

With a stiff structure, the 2005 convertible Mustang didn't need radically softened springs and shock absorbers to minimise torsional loads on the body. On both V6 and V8-equipped softtops, the rear spring rate is just 15 percent softer than the coupes. While V8-equipped convertibles utilize a 14 percent softer front spring rate, V6s use the same front spring rate on both convertibles and coupes. Suspension bushings and steering are unchanged on the convertible, and the only anti-roll bar difference is a switch on the GT: an 18mm bar replaced the 20mm rear bar.

The result: a ragtop that feels like the coupe 95 percent of the time. Cowl shake, long the bugaboo of the topless set, is noticeably absent. Only when the vehicle is pushed hard on rough surfaces does cowl and steering vibration become an issue. Even when induced, it's severe. Better yet, the coupe's fine handling is preserved: drivers weaned on traditional convertibles will be dumb-struck by the Mustang convertible's responsiveness in the middle of their first spirited turn.

In order to reduce the interior wind turbulence, the Mustang convertible uses a taller windshield and the windshield header has been subtly resurfaced. These, along with the restyled rear seat backs, help keep wind buffetting to a tolerable level.

The rest of the interior is Standard coupe, which is a very good thing. With the lined top up, the convertible's sound levels rivals the hardtop's. A large glass rear window helps to reduce the traditional C-pillar blind spot, while rear-quarter windows are controlled by a single switch. The forward portion of the softtop is rigid, giving the top a smoother appearance when lowered. Covering the stack with the easy-to-install soft boot highlights the ragtop Mustang's handsome silhouette. Trunk space is reduced due to the top's folding mechanism - from the coupe's 12.3 cu. ft [334 litres] to 9.7 cu-ft [272 litres] - but the remaining space is well-shaped.

Under the long hood, there is no difference from the coupe. Base convertible Mustangs use the same SOHC 210-hp V6 as the hardtop, while the GT packs the SOHC 3-valve 300-hp V8. Zero to sixty times in the low 5 second range are the norm for the GT coupe, and the ragtop version will probably pick up just a couple of tenths. Transmission choices are straight-forward: the 5R55S 5-speed automatic used in the Lincoln LS and Thunderbird or one of two 5-speed manuals: Vehicles equipped with a V6 are bolted to a Tremec T-5; GT drivers row through a Tremec 3650.

Either way, the aft end of the two-piece driveshaft connects to the well-engineered solid rear axle. Some complained that the next-generation Mustang should have had independent rear suspension, but the three-link live axle will make converts of many nay-sayers. Predictable, smooth and relatively inexpensive, it shows that good engineering pays off.

Speaking of payment, how much for this newest addition to the Mustang roster? Prices start at $24,495 for the V6; V8s come in at $29,995.

Given its strong performance the Mustang convertible represents a considerable value." [David Newhardt, Sports Car International - May 2005]