Combining a love of travel with a passion for cars can mean only one thing: the fulfillment of a ravenous appetite for road trips, especially when one is blessed with an interesting vehicle to do the trip.
With that in mind, and the knowledge that a few buddies were heading south for a week to explore Kentucky’s “Bourbon Tour”, I grabbed the keys to a “Competition Orange” 2015 Mustang GT Convertible and chased my two-wheeling companions south at least for the first part of their trip to West Virginia and North Carolina’s sensational secondary roads.
Turn up the volume, crank up the bass
Aww yeah, Vanilla Ice is in the place
I’m here to tell ya a little story ‘bout my 5.0
“Rollin’ In My 5.0”, Vanilla Ice
Music plays a large part of any good road trip, especially when driving alone as I am doing here following the motorcycles. It serves as the soundtrack to the thoughts rolling through my mind and the scenery flying past the windshield. Mercifully, never did any of Robert Van Winkle’s tracks come through the Mustang’s Shaker sound system on this trip. I understand Mr. Ice’s passion for a convertible five-point-oh, but that old Fox-body car he rapped about was not even in the same universe of performance or refinement as the new generation car I’m driving.
Setting out from Southern Ontario, our convoy of cool machines (the riders are on an interesting mixture of Moto Guzzi, Aprilia and Suzuki machines) captures its fair share of attention from fellow motorists. Just north of Pittsburgh, one particularly enthusiastic Hyundai Tucson driver nearly scared me off the road by driving up fast and honking repeatedly to get my attention just so he could give me a thumbs up. Later in Virginia, I’d allow a friendly young couple to ogle and photograph the ‘Stang at a gas station, having noticed the matching Berettas they wore on their hips.
No matter, I’m on a road trip. Today life is great.
Day one is intended to put as many miles behind us as possible, travelling, unfortunately along Interstates and main arteries. With small fuel tanks (and aging riders), the bikes require stops every 160-180 km or so, which results in a relatively relaxed pace for me in the car. No matter, I’m on a road trip. Today life is great.
It was a beautiful day, the sun beat down
I had the radio on, I was drivin’
Trees flew by, me and Del were singin’ ‘Little Runaway’
I was flyin’
“Runnin’ Down a Dream”, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
By mid day the morning chill was long forgotten and the now-topless Mustang’s interior flooded with UV rays and vitamin D. As temperatures continue to rise, the leather-clad bikers suffer the necessities of safe riding while I simply turn on the cool ventilated leather seats – a feature never dreamed of in the early days of performance pony cars.
The new Mustang is no crude one-trick pony. There is a level of refinement and quality present here that simply eclipses even last year’s Mustang (a car I still covet). Although drawing some design inspiration from the interior shapes of Mustangs of yore – such as the double-hump dashboard – this car is thoroughly modern now, highlighted by the tech of niceties like adaptive cruise control and the Sync infotainment system.
Ford has suffered a lot of grief over Sync, deemed by many to be cantankerous. I’ve never had any major issue with it, and after spending a few thousand kilometres playing with this latest version of the system, find it to be pretty intuitive to operate. That said, on a few occasions, the navigation system had difficulty locating hotels and restaurants programmed into its system and would get us close, but curiously would try to direct us a few hundred metres past our destination.
No matter, road trips are about a bit of adventure and if you don’t make a few wrong turns, you’ll never find the spots that make a trip special. One of those special spots for us is the Morgantown Brewing Co. in Morgantown, West Virginia. With the car and bikes parked for the evening, we ventured in to check out their creative menu and sample some of the craft beers brewed on location. Craft beer aficionados should try the Kettle Bottom Brown Ale – a favourite amongst our group.
Gripping the wheel, his knuckles went white with desire.
The wheels of his Mustang exploding on the highway like a slug from a .45.
True death: 400 horsepower of maximum performance piercing the night…
This is black sunshine.
“Black Sunshine”, White Zombie
It’s possible to do the 600-or-so kilometre drive between Morgantown and Asheville, NC inside a day without too much difficulty. Hop on Interstate 79 and keep heading south. But with the Great Smokey Mountains right at the doorstep of Morgantown, the route we have planned is a far more circuitous one that will require most of the next two days.
Early on a Sunday morning, the dense forests and significant elevation changes just south of Morgantown make for temperatures brisk enough that the Mustang’s top stays up for a while after breakfast. Ford fits the new Mustang with a windshield laminated against sound, and with the lined fabric roof and other considerable sound deadening, do an impressive job of keeping wind and road noise suppressed. The intake noise (piped into the cabin) and burbling V8 exhaust note are now audible too (they get drowned out with wind noise when the top’s down).
It’s finally time to let the Mustang stretch its legs a bit and show off its performance capabilities heading south on Route 119, then over to 219 as they twist and squirm through the rugged countryside. For 2015, Ford offers the GT Performance Package (with its heavy-duty front springs and sway bars, unique chassis tuning and increased bracing) only for Mustang Coupes, not convertibles. If I’m honest, it was missed on my press car.
Although rigid compared to large convertibles of the past, the Mustang does exhibit some cowl shake over railway tracks and pockmarked pavement. Worse though, is the slightly squishy nature of the Pirelli P Zero Nero all-season performance tires and surprisingly aloof steering feel. Justin Pritchard recently raved enthusiastically about the precision with which the EcoBoost Mustang he drove handled corners but I was not feeling the same here.
My own past experience with a GT coupe fitted with the performance goodies had me eagerly anticipating the composed, competent and light-footed (hoofed?) nature of the new Mustang in cornering. This car was capable but not as exciting or lively to drive. The GT Performance Package will be available for 2016 on Convertibles as well, and if you’re planning to explore the Mustang’s considerable performance capabilities, I highly recommend ordering up this option.
Of course even if this had been 2016, my faithful pony companion could not be outfitted with the GT Performance Package since no Mustang with an automatic transmission can be so equipped. That’s right, this macho V8 performance car was saddled, no make that hobbled, with a six-speed automatic transmission.
Ford’s engineers have programmed the automatic to seek fuel efficiency over performance in everyday driving scenarios, but even when “S” mode is selected, the Mustang is reluctant to downshift and gear changes are sluggish when they do happen. Compared to the great seven- and eight-speed automatics and dual-clutch setups on the market today, this ‘box feels a few generations old and completely out of place in a high performance car. A missing or dysfunctional left leg is the only acceptable reason to order a Mustang GT with an automatic. The standard manual transmission has a great clutch and a true and precise shifter and enhances driving enjoyment of this car infinitely.
Almost heaven, West Virginia, Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River.
“Take Me Home, Country Roads”, John Denver
Boy, that John Denver fella’ was right. The scenery driving through this part of the USA is sensational. Where the Rockies are severe and imposing, the green and rounded ancient mountains of the Blue Ridge range is awe inspiring and somehow welcoming. With frequent last-second stops for scenic pull-off spots, not to mention those lightly travelled two-lanes criss-crossing up and down through the mountains, the Mustang’s brakes were put to the test time and again.
After several particularly boisterous miles of downhill switchbacks, I began to wonder if the standard brake package would hold up to the abuse. Impressively, no matter what I threw the car at, the brakes remained powerful with fierce bite, and solid and progressive pedal feel. If you’re going to send your Mustang for track duty, the upgraded Brembos are probably a good idea, but the ‘basic’ brakes do a great job.
Entering North Carolina, our group decided to let the machinery cool down a bit as we cruise the storied Blue Ridge Parkway. However, within about 15 miles of constant Park Ranger presence and Sunday drivers, we had seen enough of the 35-mph speed limit and sought out some more of the roads less travelled giving equally good views and far less traffic.
By the end of two full days of mountain road strafing, the Mustang earned a quiet night parked in the hotel lot while our quartet of road trippers met up with a group of other friends to explore the restaurants, pubs and cafes of Asheville, North Carolina.
Asheville, nestled amidst those green, rolling Appalachian mountains, is appealing to many – including our group – due to its reputation for being the micro-brewery capital of the USA. But it also has one of the best collections of Art Deco architecture throughout its downtown, and an all-round hip, fun and welcoming vibe. If Asheville is anywhere near your future travels, it’s well worth a visit.
This is the longest highway I’ve been on
On the loneliest day you’ve ever known.
“The Longest Highway Home” – The Reason
It took three days to get here, but it’s going to be one long drive home again today. The bikers are heading west into Kentucky to go explore the Bourbon Trail of distilleries but it’s back to the duties of real life for the Mustang and me. No more cheap 93-octane fuel and chicken-fried-everything meals for a while, and it’s a little sad.
Plus it’s raining for the first time this trip. The convertible top is up, therefore, but the driver’s window has developed a hideous squeal from the dampness whenever it’s powered up or down for toll booths.
Electing to put a few miles behind us before breakfast, the Mustang and I set out northbound and reached our third state of the day by 10:30 when we finally had a quick breakfast and fuel stop.
By mid-afternoon with nearly 850 km behind us, we were north of Pittsburgh and I needed to stretch my legs and clear my head for a bit. The Mustang’s seats – aggressively bolstered (though not as much as the optional Recaros), nevertheless prove to be very comfortable even on this 1,200+ km day. The adaptive cruise control is a very welcome feature on the long slogs of Interstate as well. And that Shaker stereo sounds really good when the convertible is all buttoned up.
Reaching home again in Southern Ontario, it was dusk. A full day consumed on the road and the brief daydream several hours ago, imagining a career change to long-haul truck driver, seems woefully lonely and exhausting despite the open-road freedom.
We drove a total of 2,775.5 kilometres in total, the Mustang and me. It ran flawlessly the whole time and delivered a final average fuel consumption rate of 9.9 L/100 km – not bad for a 435-hp V8 that spent a few days being flogged going up and down the Appalachians. Set up as this car is with convertible top, premium features and that automatic transmission, the Mustang GT becomes an impressive grand touring machine and could reasonably be considered instead of a BMW 435i convertible or Audi S5 convertible.
But if I could do the trip again, I’d prefer a Mustang GT Coupe with that Performance Package, and I’ll take it painted black, please.
3 years/60,000 km; 5 years/100,000 km powertrain; 5 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 5 years/100,000 km roadside assistance
Goin’ places that I’ve never been.
Seein’ things that I may never see again
And I can’t wait to get on the road again.
“On The Road Again” – Willie Nelson
Pricing: 2015 Ford Mustang GT Convertible Premium
Base Price: $48,399
Options: 6-Speed Auto Transmission, $1,500; Engine Block Heater, $150; Adaptive Speed Control, $1,600; Reverse Park Assist, $350; Navigation System, $800; 50th Anniversary Package (19” wheels and tires, floor mats, trim), $1,700.
A/C Tax: $100
Price as Tested: $58,249