By: KELLY TAYLOR on May 20, 2005
Original Article: WINNIPEG FREE PRESS (MB)

New Mustang droptop as impressive as the coupe

The problem with second chances is that they often show you got it wrong the first time around.

When I first drove the 2005 Ford Mustang — the new one — I was impressed at how well the latest generation of pony cars handled despite its yestertech solid rear axle.

Then when I took it on the track at last year’s Canadian Car and Truck of the Year TestFest, where cars are put through an exacting four-day test program and where the Mustang emerged as Canadian Car of the Year, I was further amazed. Solid axles aren’t supposed to work this well.

So when I stepped into the Mustang this week at Le Circuit de Mont Tremblant racetrack northwest of Montreal, I was expecting to find the problems I missed the first time around.

And while I was able to pick a few nits after driving a convertible back to Montreal, I still couldn’t find any reasonable complaints to make about the Mustang and its surprisingly good handling.

I tried. I went around the circuit for at least 15 laps, including three others with Champ Car racing star Alex Tagliani at the wheel, but it proved itself once again as the best sports car bargain on the market today.

You can toss it through corners with near-reckless aplomb. You can try to force its hand by running it over the apex curbs.

As with any car, you can get it out of shape. A grass fire in the driver’s rear wheel after a 445-horsepower Saleen Mustang got loose and found turf proved that. But you really have to be trying to be an idiot for that to happen.

“I want to know how close to the fence you were,” Tagliani said as graciously as possible to the driver who lost it just ahead of Tagliani.

“I was going too fast,” said the driver sheepishly. Hardly the car’s fault.

But even in non-Saleen form, the Mustang acquitted itself very well on the track. Considering you can get in to a Mustang GT for just a hair over $32,000, that’s quite an accomplishment.

While we had seat time in a coupe, the real purpose was to highlight the convertible, which went on sale this spring.

Considering the few visible changes to the body shape from the coupe, the convertible was surprisingly stiff, thanks to an extra 70 kilograms of high-strength steel in strategic locations around the chassis and an extra brace under the hood.

While it wasn’t as stiff as, say, a BMW Z4, the convertible displayed excellent handling overall, navigating the race track as adeptly as the coupe. Wind noise, at highway speed with the top down, was more than manageable, with fellow auto scribe Harry Pegg and I able to carry on a conversation as easily as in a hardtop.

There was some cowl shake on the worst bumps, and Quebec roads are notorious for their condition, but it was certainly not objectionable. Especially considering the price: $27,995 for a V6 base price and $36,795 for the GT.

The bump to the GT gets you a delightfully throaty, powerful V8, delivering 300 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque. The V6 acquits itself nicely at 210 horsepower and 240 pound-feet of torque.

The nits I found to pick had nothing to do with its handling, power or overall performance. Sure, the five-speed gearbox takes a bit of getting used to before third gear engages smoothly, but there’s little else to complain about performance wise.

Complaints instead are generally minor, with one exception: driving a convertible back from Mont Tremblant to Montreal showed the aluminum brightwork across the dash kicks up waaaay too much glare under sunny skies than is tolerable for the passenger, where the aluminum is most expansive, but also for the driver. The flat black is a much better choice.

Some of the finish work is a tad crude: the box housing the overhead lights seems plunked unharmoniously on the headliner, with crude-looking but good-feeling switches for the lights.

The only trunk release other than on the trunk lid itself is on the key fob, which means you have to fumble for the fob if you need to open the trunk but don’t want to take the keys out of the ignition.

Admittedly, minor, but no objective report on the Mustang could exclude them.

Overall the Mustang, in coupe or convertible form, remains a head-turner.

New for 2006 is a Pony Package, which brings to the V6 version the fog lights of the V8, upgraded suspension and some brightwork inside (fine for the coupes, see above), and 17-inch alloy wheels.

Also out now is the Saleen Mustang, which includes a number of upgrades, starting with a new grille, new front fascia, new rear fascia, new exhaust system and upgraded shifter knob. For even more dough, Saleen will bolt on an intercooled supercharger, bringing horsepower up to 445 horsepower as well as a healthy increase in torque.

An upgraded suspension — but still not independent rear — makes the car handle better but also makes it less forgiving to less-skilled hands. Saleen takes the cars from Ford and does their work before selling them, with warranty, to the public. Saleen Canada is working to line up a dealer in Winnipeg — as part of an existing Ford store — soon.


Our trip to Mont Tremblant was also intended to highlight the improvements to the 2005 Focus. And while I was quite impressed with its handling on the track, two of the Focuses were retired. One died, another was losing power, a malady corrected quickly with the scan tool. The problems on the one that died weren’t diagnosed. After lunch, no more Focuses were allowed on the track.

Granted, track time stresses a car much more than street driving, especially when piloted by journalists of varying skill levels.

But while driving the Focus on the street, it proved itself as one of the leading cars in the economy segment. It handles great, it’s comfortable to drive and it comes with the Canadian winter package, which adds heated seats and heated mirrors as well as traction control. Good value on those cold, slippery January days.

Aside from some cosmetic changes, which include stiffening for crash safety and a new interior that replaces the odd-looking creation in the original, the Focus remains on the same platform as before.

Look for the next Focus to ride on a revised version of the wonderful Mazda3 platform.