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Auto review: The first convertible of spring: Ford Mustang

Henry Payne, The Detroit News on

Published in Automotive News

SUMMIT POINT, West Virginia — Put the top down. Put on your favorite tunes. It’s time for the first convertible of spring.

Our Payne family of four packed into a 2024 Ford Mustang convertible rental and cruised toward downtown Winchester, Virginia, after a full day at Summit Point Raceway. I took requests for favorite rock ‘n’ road tunes — specifically, favorite instrumental song intros. The requests from all four seats piled up, then we cranked up the volume. Hey, Spotify, play:

"Hell’s Bells" by AC/DC

"Where the Streets Have no Name," U2

"The Final Countdown," Europe

"Life is a Highway," Rascal Flatts

"Crazy Train," Ozzy Osbourne

"Thunderstruck," AC/DC (because every playlist should have more than one AC/DC song)

With the ‘Stang’s 350-horse turbo-four engine beating a steady rhythm in the background, we rolled merrily to dinner over the Virginia hills.

It's been another looooong winter, and there’s no better way to celebrate spring than in a convertible on a country road. Or down Woodward. Or at a drive-in theater.

Mrs. Payne and I picked our convertible Mustang at Enterprise Rental at Dulles Airport on the way to West Virginia’s Summit Point Raceway for the annual Jefferson 500. My two sons and I were competing in Lola sports racers. Since my boys were arriving at the track via, respectively, Uber and a VW Golf GTI, I opted for a fun, drop-top coupe that still offered four seats when needed.

That flexibility makes Ford’s convertible a popular choice among renters as well as buyers. It’s a rare convertible option on today’s car lots.

In this SUV/EV age, convertibles are an endangered species under $50K. Sure, you can go topless in an Audi A5, BMW Z4, Jaguar F-Type, Mercedes-Benz SLC or Corvette C8, but you'd better bring a trunk-full of dough. Affordable convertibles have fallen by the wayside: Chevy Camaro, Fiat 124 Spyder, Toyota Solara, Pontiac Solstice, Chrysler Sebring, VW Beetle.

Want a convertible SUV? Your choices are Jeep Wrangler or Ford Bronco. And as government electric-vehicle mandates squeeze manufacturer bottom lines, niche products like convertibles are harder for automakers to justify. With automakers sounding the alarm bells about global Armageddon, there's not much room for whimsy. Pity.

Convertible coupes are a visceral treat. Feel the wind in your clothes, touch the sky, hear the noise. But options under $50,000 are scarce. Want to go topless in a Bimmer? They start at 60 grand. A Porsche Boxster? Fill your wheelbarrow with $80K. Your choices are few: Mini, Miata, Mustang.

I love the $30,00 Mazda Miata — just reach up and peel back its soft top like taking a blanket off your bed (a more sophisticated hardtop is also available). It’s a treat to drive, but not ideal for long trips with my knees under my chin and my head stuffed into the roof (with top up). Mini steps up with a four-seater, but with just five cubic-feet of cargo space.

For $43,185, Mustang is the convertible sweet spot.

Start with styling. Miata ‘n’ Mini are adorable, Mustang is sinister — even when compared to the last-gen pony. Walking down the Enterprise aisle, I found 2023 and 2024 ‘Stangs side-by-side. I liked the sixth-generation pony; the seventh is heaven.

Evolving from the last-gen coupe’s modern aerodynamic lines, the ‘24 has spent more time in the gym. Its angles are crisp. Thin headlights glow with menace, chiseled taillights are a knockout. And it has 11½ cubic-feet of (suitcase-friendly) cargo room and a backseat.

Sure, it’s one of the smallest backseats in the biz, but it’s useful. We generally took both the Golf and Mustang to the track, with the convertible getting the nod for group trips (arranging the seats to accommodate our 6’5”, 6’3”, 6’1” and 5’5” bodies).

Seating is low because the pony is a lean, mean sporty machine. At the other end of my lead foot was a terrific 2.3-liter turbo-4 engine. With 315 horsepower/355 torque, the ‘Stang’s 4.5-second zero-60 mph sprint beats a $60K BMW 430i convertible’s 255 horse turbo-4 by 0.7 seconds. Buh-bye.

Yet the Ford gives up little to the Bimmer with a refashioned interior that includes a 26.5” dash screen containing twin digital instrument and infotainment displays. Gorgeous graphics are courtesy of Unreal Engine (a gaming company. The kids’ll tell you about them).

 

Ergonomics are first-rate. Slide into the Mustang, poke the ON ignition button — then immediately turn OFF the Stop/Start button next to it. Stop/Start drives enthusiasts nuts and Ford gets it. Designers have made it easy to adjust radio stations, temperature and cruise control as well.

Driving back and forth to Summit over the weekend, I kept Drive Mode in SPORT or TRACK (the latter turning off traction control). Selecting between drive modes never gets old — the instrument display changing depending on mode, including TRACK mode, which mimicked the horizonal digital tachometer of our purpose-built race cars. If you prefer, you can fix the instrument display as a single design, including a special throwback, Fox-body Mustang cluster from the ‘80s.

The engine could use more muscle, though. Not performance ... emotion.

Get the GT convertible, put the top down, and you don’t need AC/DC. The $56k V-8 makes raucous, head-bangin’ rock ‘n’ roll – but is a healthy 13 grand upgrade pushing it close to Bimmer territory. The turbo-4 is a jazz quartet. But the $1,225 Active Exhaust option adds welcome testosterone. Active Exhaust also allows a Quite Mode if you want to turn up the radio.

The race weekend brought inconsistent weather, and our ‘Stang spent as much time with its top up as down. The advantage of topless luxury chariots is you can put their automatic roofs back up without stopping — typically up to 30 mph. Like the Miata, Mustang requires that you pull to the side of the road to put the roof on. It’s a quick process — just remember to manually secure the roof and close all four windows.

On Sunday, the clouds parted and I took the Mustang out between races for photographs. My sons lament that soft-tops look awkward with the roof on. But with the top down, they’re awesome. Raked windshield, seats and screens exposed, muscular rear shoulders flexed.

I turned up “Where the Street Have No Name” and attacked the twisties.

2024 Ford Mustang convertible

Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear-wheel-drive four-passenger sportscar

Price: $43,185, including $1,595 destination fee

Powerplant: 2.3-liter turbocharged, inline-4; 5.0-liter V-8

Power: 315 horsepower, 350 pound-feet of torque (turbo-4); 480 horsepower, 415 pound-feet of torque (V-8)

Transmission: 10-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 4.5 seconds (Car and Driver); Top speed, 155 mph

Fuel economy: EPA, 21 mpg city/29 highway/24 combined (turbo-4 as tested); range, 528 miles

Report card

Highs: Head-turning looks (with top down); quick drivetrains

Lows: Tight backseat; adaptive cruise control standard, please

Overall: 4 stars

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