* Model: 2015 Mustang GT Convertible (Premium)
* Exterior color: Race Red
* Interior color: Ebony
* Engine: 5.0-liter, eight-cylinder
* Horsepower: 435
* Transmission: six-speed automatic
* Fuel economy: 24 mpg highway, 15 mpg city
* Dealer: Mountain View Ford
* Price (as tested): $46,900
The new 2015 Mustang GT convertible is the automotive equivalent of the Fountain of Youth. It's impossible to get behind the wheel of this drop-top and not feel like you've shaved years, maybe decades, off your age.
Order a Race Red copy with Ebony leather interior, like this week's tester from Mountain View Ford, and the effect is enhanced. It's as if Ford's design team has found a magic formula to energize baby boomers and others who admire the golden era of muscle cars, basically the 1960s and early 1970s.
Ford publicists call the new Mustang a "love-at-first-sight," "want-you-so-bad," "feels-so-good" kind of car. If this sounds like the language of seduction, that's obviously what they're after. Ford wants you to feel powerless in the presence of the Mustang's charms.
When Ford introduced the all-new Mustang earlier this year, marking 50 years of pony car excellence, we took a look at the nimble four-cylinder, turbocharged model likely to appeal to younger buyers who are conditioned to shop for high-output, small-displacement engines. (There's also a budget, V-6 equipped Mustang available.)
But to buyers of a certain age, the "5.0" badge -- signifying there's a big, 5.0-liter, V-8 engine under the hood -- is a mark of Mustang aristocracy. The V-8 in our tester makes 435 horsepower and can propel the car to 60 miles per hour in 4.5 seconds. It also has a deep exhaust note that evokes an emotional response from muscle car fans. With gas relatively cheap at the moment, the V-8's rather thirsty nature is not a big liability. The government estimates it will average 24 mpg highway and 15 mpg city.
Our favorite part of the test drive this week was realizing that the driver of a six-cylinder Chevrolet Camaro had taken up residence on our right-rear flank while we were driving down Market Street. No matter how slow we went or how many times we tapped the brakes the Camaro wouldn't pass -- a clear sign of deference to the "big dog" 5.0.
The price range for new Mustangs is vast -- from $24,425 to almost twice that. Meanwhile, our tester has a sticker price of $46,900, which seems entirely reasonable for a car with life-altering charisma.
STYLING AND FEATURES
As we've noted before, the new Mustang body design is an inspired blend of retro styling cues and modern design themes. The haunches and rear deck of the GT convertible have distinctive design touches that are different from the fastback's: namely a straighter character line over the rear wheels and a contoured trunk lid.
Mustang purists will appreciate branding details such as a dash badge that commemorates the 50th anniversary of the car and puddle lights that project the image of a galloping pony on the pavement outside your car.
The dash layout is classically simple, with three circular-climate control vents inlaid into a brushed-aluminum panel that runs the entire width of the dash. The three-spoke steering wheel, with a Mustang badge in the center, evokes classic Ford styling. The front buckets are snug and well-bolstered for those times when you'll want to attack twisting roads in the GT.
Retracting the convertible top is a two-step process. You twist an overhead latch to release the roof, and then a single switch drops it snugly into place. The car's aerodynamic architecture and swept windshield keeps wind buffeting to a minimum, and the Mustang's excellent body rigidity keeps it free from squeaks and rattles that are often the bane of convertibles.
The Mustang GT convertible is a strictly four-passenger vehicle -- and that's being generous. While back seat knee room is tight for adults, the top-down experience makes back-seat riding less claustrophobic. If you have children younger than middle-school age, the back seat is probably big enough for short trips.
Standard features on the GT convertible in Premium trim include 18-inch, machined aluminum wheels; leather upholstered seats; Ford's SYNC infotainment interface; and sporty LED tail lamps. Our tester included such options as automatic transmission ($1,195), a 12-speaker Shaker audio system ($1,795), and voice-activated navigation ($795).
After Mountain View Ford sales manager Doug Cawood flipped us the keys to our tester, we headed to the W-Road up Walden's Ridge to see if the new Mustang's handling prowess matches its beauty.
Some automotive journalists have noted that the GT seems to be tuned more for highway comfort than for sharp handling, but we found the GT a willing companion on our mountain roads. Due to its brand-new, fully-independent, rear suspension, the new GT has better road manners than any previous-generation Mustang.
Toque (400 lb.-ft.) is available on demand, and Ford says the V8 has new cylinder heads with revised, high-flow ports for better high-RPM breathing. Translation: The Mustang GT will basically go as fast as you want it to. On a stretch of Highway 127, the big V-8 took a deep breath and then began to sprint to the horizon. You can imagine leaning back in this car and covering vast distances in very short periods of time.
Often our bottom lines in Test Drive are based on practicality: Is the car or truck a good value for the money?
With the Ford GT convertible the bottom line hinges on intangibles.
So, how do you put a price on happiness?
We'd say $46,900 seems about right.
Contact Mark Kennedy at email@example.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.