Smiles Per Gallon
Dropping the top on an S550 in Southern California is good for the soul
By Steve Turner
If you are old enough to drive, odds are you are busy enough that you don’t always have the opportunity to stop and smell the proverbial roses. When the world starts rushing by too fast, it’s good to cut loose a little bit. For your writer there are few better ways to recharge those mental batteries than to take a spin in a great car to an event destination.
Whether it’s a car show, a family vacation, a race, or the chance to see some live rock ’n roll, getting away from familiar surroundings and experiencing a new car will let the hustle fade into the background for a moment like nothing else.
Immediately after driving the 2015 Mustang Fastback on California roads last October, I was compelled to return to the Golden State to drive the convertible version on the Pacific Coast Highway. In my early days writing about cars, I had the good fortune to take a PCH road trip in a 1996 Mustang convertible, and the new car is so great I had that urge to relive the freedom that comes with cruising top down in a Mustang along the coast.
That plan finally came together as I scheduled a trip to Southern California to attend a concert designed to celebrate a bygone era of excess on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip. If you didn’t grow up in the late 1980s, you might not have reverence for the days when the hair was tall and the spandex was tight, but in those days there was a club called the Cathouse, which was started by Riki Rachtman, who would go on to host the MTV show Headbanger’s Ball. Today Riki makes a living doing a NASCAR radio show called Racing Rocks, but he hatched the idea of celebrating his infamous club by putting on a concert called Cathouse Live at the Verizon Wireless amphitheater near Irvine, California.
The show was great, but the particulars aren’t essential to the story. Suffice it to say, having a destination you can look forward to has always made for the best road trips. To ensure we had time to experience the car and the show, my wife and I arrived in Los Angeles a couple of days early. Our first destination on the drive was Malibu. It’s the scene of many media drives I have been on for a reason because the PCH is scenic and there are twisty roads in the nearby hills.
With the top down and the air conditioning cranking through the vents and the seats, we headed from the airport out to the coast. It was warm, but the skies were clear and blue as you would expect in California, and the convertible came off as expected too. It features all the familiar S550 attributes, but it is a bit heavier and more pliable. It still handles great on those twisty roads. However, there’s still a bit of cowl shake over rough surfaces. Yet, when you look up at the sky and over at the ocean, all is forgiven.
From stopping for lunch at the Paradise Cove Beach Cafe in Malibu to cruising down Sunset Boulevard heading for the Rainbow Bar and Grill, the convertible felt right at home. Sure there were plenty of high-end cars rolling around SoCal, but the Mustang is transcendent. It is an attainable car for the everyman, but it still stands out. When you don’t have to show your ticket to the valet and he just looks at you and says “red Mustang,” you know it’s a cool car.
On a trip where you aren’t familiar with the surroundings, the technical tour de force that is a Mustang GT Premium definitely comes in handy. Obviously the on-board navigation makes it must easier to reach your destination, but features like blind spot warning in the mirrors that make surviving the Golden State’s renowned traffic much easier. Fortunately, I didn’t need the collision warning, but boy those air-conditioned seats helped. Cruising with the top down is cool, but when the temps head toward triple digits, cool seats keep you comfortable.
Likewise, despite being a manual-trans car, the convertible proved an easy companion in city traffic. The light clutch effort is a friend in this environment and the torquey 5.0-liter provides the needed propulsion for those last-minute lane-change maneuvers. It’s not as quick or precise as, say, a Performance Pack GT, but the convertible still gets the job done—and in style.
Yes, a convertible is a compromise. You give up a little to get a lot. Optioned to the hilt with adaptive cruise control, voice activated navigation, reverse park assist, and more, our test rang the register at $47,570, but if you want a vehicle that will let the air rush by and blow your cares away for a while, there are few vehicles better suited for a road trip than the latest Mustang convertible.