When a representative of Ford Canada calls you up and asks you if you would like to spend an afternoon driving every single model of the new 2013 Ford Mustang on the track at Calabogie Motorsports Park the only acceptable answer is "When do you need us to be there?" The 2013 edition of the popular muscle car has introduced a number of improvements across the entire product lineup, which meant that we were eager to get behind the wheel of each flavor of Mustang and push them as hard as we could in order to gain a full estimation of their respective strengths and weaknesses.
While each version of the Mustang was, in its own right, an impressive car, some are better suited for track duty than others. We've organized our impressions of the 2013 Ford Mustang from least to most fun option for turning in hot lap after hot lap. (Each of the vehicles we drove was equipped with a six-speed manual transmission.)
01. 2013 Ford Mustang GT / V6 Convertible
With a few notable roadster exceptions, it’s unlikely that serious enthusiasts would select a convertible as their regular weekend road course toy due to the extra weight and less rigid chassis that are par for the course when a coupe is converted into a topless cruiser. Both the 2013 Ford Mustang GT Convertible and Ford Mustang V6 convertible acquitted themselves reasonably well when flogged through Calabogie's sweeping curves, but fuel economy-oriented rear end gearing limited their acceleration and increased the number of shifts required to get up to speed in the straights. The additional heft of the two vehicles - compared to their fixed-roof siblings - was also apparent, although in combination with the V6's 305 horsepower, 3.7-liter engine it gave the car the ability to rotate more predictably than the quicker GT.
02. 2013 Ford Mustang GT Coupe
The 2013 Ford Mustang GT Coupe presents an excellent, and affordable package those seeking a muscle car that offers good all-around performance. The Ford Mustang GT gains a few extra ponies under the hood for the current model year, with its 5.0-liter V-8 now generating 420 horsepower and 390 lb-ft of torque. This is more than enough grunt to launch the car off the line with authority as well as accelerate rapidly down the straights. Unfortunately, the V-8's output is also capable of unsettling the GT mid-corner, making it necessary to exercise caution when planning one's journey from apex to apex. That Mustang GT is a competent car is unquestionable, but it demands careful attention from its driver in order to post up quick lap times.
03. 2013 Ford Mustang V6 Coupe With Performance Package
The 2013 Ford Mustang V6 Coupe that we drove at Calabogie certainly wasn't faster than its GT sibling, with the model down over 100 horsepower compared to the latter's 5.0-liter mill. The addition of the Performance Package to the Mustang V6, however, transformed the 305 horsepower machine to the point where it plastered a smile on the face of nearly everyone who slipped into the driver's seat. The Performance Package includes a strut tower brace, thicker sway bars from and rear, a more aggressive spring rate, and improved brakes when compared to the standard six-cylinder coupe. In combination, these features significantly tighten up the Mustang V6's handling and help to highlight the fact that the smaller-engine model is less nose-heavy than the Mustang GT.
The V6 with the Performance Package practically begs to brake late, turns in without complaint, and does an excellent job of maintaining its momentum from one corner to another in a more composed fashion than the eight-cylinder edition of the car. Applying the throttle is far less likely to induce the vehicle's rear end to squirm and protest at the limits of tire adhesion, which means that especially for track day beginners the Mustang V6 with the Performance Package is a very forgiving - and quite fun - ride.
04. 2013 Ford Shelby GT500
The 2013 Ford Shelby GT500 is an intimidating beast of a car, 3,871 lbs of American muscle that can blaze through the quarter mile in 11.6 seconds and reach 60-mph in 3.5 seconds thanks to its 5.8-liter, supercharged V-8 engine. This unit produces 662 horsepower and 631 lb-ft of torque, and Ford claims that it is the most powerful production engine ever offered by a Detroit-based automaker.
In addition to the considerable bump in power when compared against the previous model year, the 2013 Ford Shelby GT500 also features a host aerodynamic upgrades, it’s own take on the revised styling that has visited every member of the Mustang lineup, a carbon fiber driveshaft, and the new Track Apps feature. Also available with the Ford Mustang Boss 302, this software package can measure acceleration, braking distance, and even offers a digital drag strip 'tree' to help owners master the vehicle's launch control system.
Like every other Mustang, the Shelby GT500 is built around a live rear axle, which makes for interesting behavior when the full force of its 662 horsepower is unleashed in a track environment. The GT500 was a complete force of nature when accelerating down Calabogie's long straightaway, and its 15-inch front and 13.8-inch rear disc brakes did an excellent job of hauling the automobile down from triple-digit speeds when a bend in the course presented itself far more quickly than one was used to after having driven lesser Mustangs on the same circuit.
Cornering, however, was an exercise in restraint and a test of the reflexes. Lifting off the throttle prior to turn in introduced a heart-fluttering lightness at the rear of the Shelby, induced in no small part by the incredibly high speeds it was capable of reaching before the appearance of each braking zone. Getting back on the throttle after a corner meant carefully monitoring wheel spin and torque delivery so that you found yourself pinned to the coupe's comfortable Recaro seats by forward acceleration and not a tail-sliding, rubber-incinerating drift maneuver. The Shelby GT500 came across as a very point-and-shoot type of car, an explosive automobile that can close the distance between one corner and another in an astonishingly short amount of time before it must be carefully aimed at the next waypoint on the track by an expert driver who is respectful, but unphased by the exceptional power that rests underneath their right foot.
05. 2013 Ford Mustang Boss 302
It might sound unusual, but the 2013 Ford Mustang Boss 302 felt absolutely nothing like any of the other vehicles that share the pony emblem. Whereas in some ways the Shelby GT500 came across as a Mustang with tons more power and a dramatically stiffer suspension system, the Boss 302's personality is one that is closer to a pure sports car than any other Mustang to have come before it.
The 2013 Ford Mustang Boss 302 is motivated by a 444 horsepower edition of the GT's 5.0-liter V-8 that is also capable of delivering 380 lb-ft of torque. The Boss 302 we were driving, however, came with Ford's red TracKey. By activating a second set of engine management protocols, the this special key changes more than 600 different vehicle parameters and reprograms its engine management software to deliver the kind of race-ready performance that defines the Boss as a serious track day player.
A loping idle announces that the TracKey is in use - along with a warning on the Mustang's driver information center that the Boss 302 is now intended to be operated 'off-road only.' Once underway, the Boss' V-8 provides an exceptionally linear powerband that allows drivers to dip into the throttle at almost any rpm in order to benefit from smooth power delivery that nearly erases the thought that a solid axle is riding along out back. The coupe's optional Torsen differential, 14-inch front brakes with four-piston Brembo calipers and adjustable suspension system coalesce into a package that can make almost anyone feel like a hero as they run the Boss 302 up to the redline again and again in search of that perfect lap time.
The twitchiness induced by the Shelby's earth-shattering horsepower is completely absent when driving the 302, as the car willingly rotates on and off-throttle and never feels anything other than fluid and responsive at any point on the track. Very few production automobiles - especially at the Boss' sub-$50k price point - can offer this race-like level of performance and combine it with the confidence-inducing driving ease that the Ford Mustang Boss 302 provides to those lucky enough to find themselves in the left Recaro sport seat.
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