Aging Gracefully, but Not Quietly
At first glance, it's not obvious that the 2013 Ford Mustang GT has had some work done.
Yet even in the sullen grayness of a rain-soaked Portland, Oregon, we slowly start to pick out the enhancements made to the iconic coupe as it nears its 50th anniversary.
The little nips and tucks haven't rendered the Mustang unrecognizable. Instead, they amount to a few subtle enhancements that freshen up its appearance. Underneath the skin it's much the same story, a few minor upgrades to the proven formula. So this Mustang's soul is still clearly intact, but now it has a little added spring in its step.
What's New, Old Friend?
While the revisions to the 2013 Ford Mustang seem slight, there's actually a long list of changes and additions. Up front, the headlights are flanked by two LED accent strips, and those HID headlights are now standard across the entire Mustang lineup. A new, more pronounced grille that picks up some aggressive cues from the Shelby GT500 is also standard. The upper and lower inlets now appear as one unified grille that is split by the bumper. The hood also sports some new vents, and yes, they do actually help expel heat from the engine bay.
A walk around to the side of the Mustang reveals a few new wheel designs, some painted gloss black with machined alloy accents. The rocker panels are now painted to match the rest of the body, whereas before they were black plastic. Heated mirrors are now available, and get this: new puddle lamps project the pony logo on the ground when the car is unlocked. The Mustang faithful are sure to love them.
The most noticeable styling change for 2013, however, can be seen from behind. The taillights are now made up of three segmented LEDs outlined with smoked centers that illuminate under braking (the center segment switches to bright white in reverse). Between the taillights is a new gloss-black panel to tie it all together. The rear fascia also features more body-colored paint to replace the previous model's black plastic.
You've Been Working Out
The 2013 Ford Mustang boasts a few new features on the inside, too. Most notable is the addition of a 4.2-inch color display between the tach and speedo. As with other Ford vehicles, this sharp screen shows the usual trip information, but this one ups the ante with a new suite of Track Apps that allows you to call up a host of "track-only" performance meters.
Naturally, one app tests your acceleration skills. You can choose either an automatic start (once you start your run) or a nifty drag strip Christmas tree countdown light. Braking times (not distances) are also logged and an accelerometer measures lateral and longitudinal g-loads on a bull's-eye readout.
The 2013 Mustang's cabin can also be upgraded with the Recaro sport seats that were previously only available on the Boss 302 and GT500 variants: either in leather or cloth coverings. Additionally, there are two premium audio upgrades offered: a 370-watt Shaker system and a 550-watt Shaker Pro setup, with eight and nine speakers, respectively. A new Sync AppLink feature also debuts, allowing for smartphone integration with iHeartRadio, Pandora and Twitter.
More Than Just Bells and Whistles
Before you start crying foul that it's all about fashion and features, there are some mechanical upgrades worth mentioning. The 5.0-liter V8 in the GT sees a very modest increase in power, from 412 horsepower to 420 hp, thanks to piston and ring coatings from the Boss 302. More importantly, the six-speed automatic transmission gets Ford's SelectShift control, which allows you to select and hold a gear via a rocker switch located on the side of the shifter.
We still contend that the manual gearbox is the way to go, but certainly understand that the majority of drivers nowadays will gravitate toward the automatic. Fortunately, the SelectShift six-speed manages to deliver enough excitement to warrant the compromise.
In Drive, the shifts are almost undetectably smooth under a conservative right foot. Pushed harder, the shifts are more decisive and well-timed. Drop it into Sport mode and the gears stretch even longer, while the downshifts arrive right where you expect them. Kicking the tail out is understandably harder with the automatic, requiring a very aggressive lift and stomp on the accelerator. Still, it is possible, so the auto isn't all bad.
Using the manual control buttons also demands a bit more delicacy than the typical push/pull shifters. Upshifts need to be requested just a beat earlier than you'd expect, and downshifts require at least a second or two of planning. They're not rev-matched either, but when going from 3rd to 2nd gear were met by a smooth transition rather than an unceremonious lurch forward.
Dynamically, the 2013 Mustang we drove on the rain-slicked roads around Oregon wasn't much different from the current model. There's ample compliance in the suspension to smooth out road imperfections, yet enough athleticism to confidently toss it into the curves. The stability control also carries over, allowing the slightest of slip angles before gently intervening. The cabin is pleasantly quiet in terms of road and wind noise — perhaps too quiet, as we'd prefer to hear more of the V8 burble that we find oh so intoxicating. If you're expecting to feel much of a difference in the way the 2013 model handles compared to the 2012 GT, you're going to have to pay very close attention.
The More Things Change...
All things considered, the 2013 Ford Mustang has received a lot of enhancements that don't get in the way of its core attributes. It's still the same raucous tire-smoking beast that brings a smile to anyone with a pulse. But there's the nagging question that always comes along with a Mustang update: Should you wait for the next redesign?
Well, the Mustang turns 50 years old in the middle of 2014 and Ford design chief J Mays says that it will be a game-changer. Then again, he says that about just about everything.
Speculation aside, there's so much good stuff on this Mustang that waiting for something better seems almost greedy. We're already talking about a Mustang GT with 420 horses, a very capable suspension and every last comfort and convenience feature. Toss in the subtle design upgrades and it doesn't look like there's much room for improvement. We're sure Ford will think of something, but you're not going to feel the slightest bit cheated if you buy this one instead.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored press event to facilitate this report.