Back in the halcyon days of the Reagan administration, corporations joined the late capitalist movement of putting the enrichment of the investor class above nearly every other consideration. This involved crushing what was left of industrial unions, stealing the pensions of retired workers through the perversion of bankruptcy laws, and, needless to say, the ruthless looting of public subsidies and tax breaks. Naturally, the public subsidies were delivered, but the promised jobs and prosperity somehow never arrived. GM was simply following the new rules of corporate citizenship when it took the public money, and then walked away when their promises came due. Surprised?
And I absolutely loved it.
The Ford Mustang is a car that has shadowed me my whole life. As I kid, I saw first generation Mustangs all the time. The Mustang was a triumph in marketing and design when it debuted 54 years ago in Queens. It was marketed as the sports coupe for the common man. The Pontiac GTO debuted the same year, and is the granddaddy of muscle cars. But the Mustang endures as the original American compact muscle car. For decades, it has a solid axle in the back, and was designed for drag racing. Not that Ford would ever promote drag racing or street racing by its customers.
The Fox Body Mustang shadowed my teenage years. I saw it in the final two seasons of Spencer for Hire and in a Vanilla Ice video. In its fourth generation, the Mustang regained its muscle car for the common man status. And while the GTO, Challenger, Charger, Chevelle, and Camaro disappeared temporarily or forever, the Mustang has endured.
This third generation of the Mustang brought back the GT trim line after a 15-year hiatus. Back in 1987, the 5-liter V8 in the GT was the old pushrod Windsor (originally known in the late 60s as the 302). Today, the 5.0 Mustang is powered by the third version of the Coyote V8. Same displacement (well, 307 cubic inches, up from 302). About twice the horsepower, torque, and acceleration. And that’s the first Mustang I played with, after all these years.
I did a solo trip to Central California to visit a friend and scout locations for a future Santa Cruz to San Diego road trip with Lady Sterling. I asked the good people at Sixt for a BMW 430i convertible. It’s luxurious and technologically advanced. It has BMW’s ubiquitous 2-liter turbo motor and ZF 8-speed gearbox. I saw myself getting 34 miles per gallon in that, highway coaster that I am.
But Sixt didn’t have a BMW convertible. They didn’t have a Mercedes C Class convertible either. The manager nodded at me and said “I’ll let you take a 5.0, no extra charge.” I got scared. I knew what he just said. I was getting a Mustang GT convertible for three days. So much torque. So much noise. So many ways to wreck a car in three days. I got nervous. But I let him punch in the codes. I signed the contract. And then there it was. A just-washed 2018 Mustang GT with just 636 miles on the clock. Within 30 minutes, I was in the parking lot of 4th Street Bowl, a midcentury style bowling alley with a “W” shaped canopy above the entrance. There were some sketchy men and women hanging out front, but I wanted to get settled with this beast. I put loose items away, put the top down, got my coordinates for Santa Cruz, and hit Route 17 south. It was a fitting introduction to this car. With the top down, I could hear every exhaust note, and the highway is an old 2-lane with lots of curves and elevation changes. It’s a little like the Merritt Parkway in Connecticut, only with many more hills.
The first thing I noticed was how the Mustang is narrow compared to the Challenger. I drove the Challenger 10 years ago, and it remains a 75-inch wide grand touring coupe dressed at a 1970s muscle car (which is fine). The Mustang is far more nimble in its handling, with far less body roll, and far more comfort in a dense, urban setting. I’m sure the latest Camaro is an even better handler, based on lap times and journalist reviews. But the Mustang is a contemporary car now thanks to its independent rear suspension. And man does it look great, fastback or convertible.
There have been enough detailed reviews for the Mustang, so I won’t go into one now after a long introduction. I’ll just list out some things.
Here’s what I loved:
It isn’t too low. Getting into and out of the car was as comfortable as a 1990s Japanese compact sedan (the 1990 Nissan Sentra was intentionally low for its time). It’s low, but not Chevy Corvette low, and certainly not super low like a Lotus. It didn't feel much lower than my Hyundai Elantra, and I found the height to be livable. I drove from Pebble Beach to Big Sur, and I must have stopped to get out and take pictures 20 times along the route. I would have noticed it the car was too low for my taste.
The exhaust note for the 5.0 GT is impressive and somewhat old school. It doesn’t burp and pop like a Jaguar F Type. It doesn’t have the Mad Max thunder of a Chrysler Hemi V8. But in an era in which the sound of the car is a big part of the retail price, $35-$55K for a Mustang GT is a comparatively excellent value for a car that makes this much noise.
And then there’s the bigger value - the torque and acceleration. The Mustang GT can go from 0-60 in 4 seconds. That’s faster than a 1984 Audi Sport Quattro. That’s even faster than a 2010 Audi S8 V8. It’s faster than any Aston Martin from the 1990s, as well as several 1990s Ferraris. Before the Mustang GT, the most powerful and fastest cars I’ve ever driven were the 2003 Lincoln LS V8 and the 2015 Volvo S60 T5. Both had 250 horsepower. Both could do 0-60 in 6 seconds. This thing is a level of fast I’ve never experienced before, and I know full well that it doesn’t impress journalists today since they get to drive 3 and sub-3 second cars.
And that power, while more than one needs, is actually practical. Getting onto a highway was never easier. Cruising in the travel lane was never more fun. Turning left with heavy incoming traffic was incredibly stress-free. The all-season Pirellis never lost grip, except in dirt on the scenic stops I made along California Route 1.
The interior is not as slick as a BMW, but it’s so well put together. Form follows function. The audio system has two big dials that move with a satisfying notchy feel. The interior is ergonomic, comfortable, and is an updated version of the Mustang interior that has been with the car since its inception. The inside of the Mustang has never been better. I could drive for hors and hours in that bolstered seat. The continued availabilty of My Color, used to customize guage and interior ambient light color is a great bonus.
The visibility with the top down rivals almost any non-convertible aside from a Jeep Wrangler with the top down. And surprisingly, visibility with the top up was as good as a compact crossover, like a Jeep Renegade. You don’t ride as high, but you see everything. Having wide-angle blind spot mirrors set inside each side view mirror helped out a great deal. Thank you, Ford.
Suprisingly comfortable. Even with 19-inch wheels, the Mustng didn’t feel like my Elantra Touring with low profile tires. Of course, being in a state with mostly smooth roads helped out a lot. This was not Manhattan. But when driving slow, the ride was classic Ford. It was like a lower Ford Taurus at slow speed. Smooth and comfortable. And at speed, I got almost the ideal amount of road feedback. The Miata and Audi TT are more connected to the road. But this was still very good. The ride was never harsh.
The base brakes are outstanding. A lot of owners would look to Brembo or Stop Tech upgrades. But the brakes out of the factory are fine in the GT. The stopping power was big, like the motor.
The Wet/Snow mode does its job at reducing torque (at least that’s what I think it does). Grip comes down to tires, of course, but for a rear wheel drive muscle car, this is a great feature.
All the exterior lights are LED. Love them.
I fit in the back seat just fine. I am 6’3” 200 pounds.
The trunk is about 4’ x 3’ and fits two rolling bags plus 1-2 carry-on bags just fine. For traveling couples, the Mustang convertible can securely carry your luggage. Nothing remians in the car to blow around when the top is down.
I am very surprised that I got over 21 miles per gallon in nearly 600 miles of driving. And I didn’t go easy on the throttle, like I normally do. I had some fun, and once unintentionally clocked 85 on the highway.
The Ford/GM 10-speed automatic transmission is super smooth and responsive. Like any contemporary gearbox, it is quick to upshift and hold high gears in order to conserve fuel. I caught it going into 10th gear at under 50MPH regularly. But it does not annoy. For someone who will never drive stick, it was great to have a responsive transmission that got the most out of what I wanted from the motor (which was simple, I drive slow).
And here’s what I didn’t like as much:
The volume controls on the steering wheel are too narrow.. You can find them by feel but they are tiny. I need an extra quarter of a second to find the center of each button with what I think are average-sized thumbs.
Android Auto sometimes cut out and returned me to the standard SYNC3 interface. I blamed my extra long, braided USB cable and not the car. But I had no shorter cable to use.
Collission warning and adaptive cruise control were not on my car, but I could have used them in my first hour. There was stop and go traffic leaving San Jose, and I would have appreciated a more active driver aid system. Consumer Reports argues that every new car should have these systems, despite adding at least $500 to the sticker price.
There is no sunroof option, unlike the Dodge Challenger. I take it that the Camaro has no sunroof option either. If you want sunshine, opt for the convertible.
And so far, that’s all I have found that I do not like. This raises a question for me, personally. I am currently shopping for a compact crossover. A Jeep Renegade is my ideal-sized vehicle for New York City. But could the Mustang be the car I am seeking? Probably not, as there is still the Northeast road quality issue. The potholes would still annoy me in a low-riding car. But in every other aspect I can think of, a Mustang would work. It’s the right size. With the 300 horsepower EcoBoost motor, I’d get closer to 30MPG. My wife could sit in the back when driving hose guests to and from the airport. There would be a need to switch to snow tires in November and all-season tires in April. But there are ways to make that work, even without a garage.
What I learned in my four days with the Mustang GT is that it deserves a place in the most iconic American vehicles made today. The Jeep Wrangler, Chevy Corvette, Chevy Camaro, Ford F-150 and Ford Mustang are living icons of the US auto industry. And of those, the Wrangler, Corvette and Mustang are the most iconic. I drove an icon. And now I want one. That’s why it’s easy to rent a Mustang convertible. They help sell Mustangs. I really want a mustang. A red one, with a red exterior, EcoBoost motor and a ragtop.
Ford brought cars to the masses in 1908 with the Model T. It cost about $20,000 in today's dollars ($1,000 back then).
GM perfected the market segmentation with their tree or pyrimid of brands.
Customers would start their car ownership years with a Chevy. Or they could start with an Opel or Saturn back when they were available. Then they could move up to a flagship Chevy (Tahoe, Camaro, or Corvette for example). Or, if they preferred, they could move to an Oldsmobile (Grand touring brand), Pontiac (Muscle car brand) or Buick (quasi luxury for Geezers, now Opels for for the Chinese). They could also switch to a GMC (luxury truck brand). And if they reach the top of the GM pyramid, Cadillac awaited them.
That paradigm seems to be under threat, at least temporarily until every automaker has an entry-level electric car.
Ford has announced that it is going to stop selling four cars in the US and Canada: The Fiesta, Focus, Fusion and Taurus. They are doubling down on crossovers and trucks, where the higher profit margins are. Ford had only recently given the Fusion a makeover, with a new 8-speed transmission, which is coming to the next Focus and Escape.
This means that later this year, the least expensive Ford in the US will be the front wheel drive EcoSport, at $20,000. Currently, the least expensive Ford is the base, manual transmission Fiesta at $15,000.
Gasoline prices will surely rise again. And when they do, Ford will lose market share to GM, Toyota, and Hyundai/Kia. But they have laid out their strategy of profit margins over market share. The Mustang, F-150, Bronco, baby Bronco. EcoSport, Escape, Edge, Explorer and Expedition will drive Ford sales in the US and Canada for the next few years. Plus their commercial vehicles like the Transit can and F-250 truck will continue to sell very well. By the time the Bronco and baby Bronco are released, we'll know if this was a smart strategy.
That is, if General Motors survives Chapter 11 restructuring.
In my opinion, GM kept the Buick brand alive for mainly two reasons. First, the brand was astonishingly popular in China, where Buick was somehow synonymous with the Sino nouveau riche (although the real nouveau riche in China drive British or German automobiles). And second, Tiger Woods had a 10-year endorsement deal with Buick. While Oldsmobile was discontinued, it's virtual corporate twin was kept alive because of China and Tiger.
Tiger and GM have agreed to end the endorsement deal one year early.
GM is well-known for its ladder / caste system of brands. Your first car is a Chevy. You then graduate to a Pontiac coupe (if you are single) or Oldsmobile sedan (if you are a family man). Later you get a second of the middle brands or switch to Buick if you've got gray hairs and/or play golf. And if you one day get that corner office (or make a bundle in an illegitimate business), you can step-up to the Cadillac. It was simple - 5 brands in a soccer-like 1-3-1 formation. In a perfect world, everyone graduates high school with a Chevy and dies with a Cadillac.
Along the way, GM expanded its lineup, and built impressive operations in Europe and Australia to make it sustainable and viable for the future. It founded Opel in Germany 50 years ago. It created Holden in muscle-car crazy Australia over 70 years ago. It bought Saab in 2000. In the last 25 years, it has partnered with Suzuki, Daewoo, Toyota, and Subaru (and even flirted with buying Subaru). And at the peak of the SUV boom in the US, it bought Hummer.
And alas, there's the problem. While it made big sedans for the Australian market and small cars for the Europe market, it continued to feed the US market SUVs well into the 2000s -far past their prime. With the most fuel efficient cars in their 2008 US portfolio limited to a rebranded Daewoo, a rebranded Toyota, two generic Chevy sedans, an Opel 2-seat sports car, an Opel hatchback, and the Saab 9-3, they would soon be in trouble.
So this may be too little too late, but I think the Buick brand is ready to be discontinued. If GM wants to survive, it is one of many steps they are going to have to take between now and March. And while they are at it, they should kill Pontiac as well, since that brand's last rear-wheel-drive cars, the Solstice and the Australian-made G8 are about to disappear from showrooms.