Ford Mustang V8 GT Convertible & Mazda MX-5 RF
Our two convertibles are worlds apart in so many ways, but they also have a few things in common…
TO THINK OF CONVERTIBLES AS summer vehicles only is to miss out on some of the year’s more beautiful and immersive drives. Restrict top-down driving to the warmer months and you don’t get to experience the hiss of tyres against a damp road surface, the sensation of a cool gust on your face as your toes and hands are smothered in heated air, and the evocative views of a landscape lit all day long by a lowhanging sun.
Our soft-top Mustang might be more appropriate for Route 66 than the A66, but it’s proving far from unpleasant as the autumn colours fade. Part of that is down to the heated seats (they’re cooled too), but the Stang’s big V8 has to take some credit.
It could be the cool ambient temperatures, or maybe it’s the bedding-in effects of our first few thousand miles with the five-point-oh, but our long-termer has perhaps the healthiest-feeling engine of any current Mustang I’ve driven so far: it’s as happy pulling its overdrive sixth gear from 1000rpm as it is brawling its way to the red line in second. The manual gearbox continues to be fantastic, too, with a satisfyingly hefty movement, though sadly the brakes are a bugbear. In the conversion from left- to right-hand drive, great pedal feel has been traded for a grabby, over-servoed action with the sole merit of good stopping power. Coincidentally, my usual long-termer’s brakes aren’t at their best right now either. A summer of trackdays seems to have finally taken its toll, giving the MX-5 RF’S stoppers a slightly mushy feel. The throttle is as snappy as ever, though, and the gearshift has mellowed with miles, making it even more satisfying to use than it was when new.
There are, strangely, other similarities between the Mazda and the Mustang besides their roofless nature and front-engined, reardrive layouts. The first is something that few owners of modern cars are likely to experience elsewhere – ownership camaraderie. Pass a similar model going the other way and you’ll often get a flash of the lights or a thumbs-up. With the Mazda it seems to happen regardless of generation – I’ve had several Mk1 owners raise their pop-ups in greeting – and the Mustang is still a rare enough sight on UK roads that you can be sure that each and every owner is a kindred spirit.
The next is a feeling that neither car is really at its happiest being hustled. And that’s not meant negatively. The most enjoyable driving in each is done a few notches back from maximum attack, where you can enjoy their tactility and sensations of speed without the sweaty palms and heart-in-mouth moments. In the Mustang particularly. While it’s undoubtedly the quicker of the pair, that V8 is an appealing companion even if it’s just rumbling away to itself in a queue of traffic.
And both feel very much like products of their respective countries, which is increasingly attractive as vehicles are pulled towards the homogenous black hole of pseudo-premium crossoverdom. The Ford is big and brash, slightly unsophisticated but bustling with character and open-road vibes; the Mazda is compact and technical, but also ornate in its details and considerately designed.
Given each is priced not a million miles from the dozens of hot hatchbacks you might consider instead, they’re both compelling alternatives to the mainstream performance options. Whatever the weather.