Test driving the Ford Focus Electric



Jerry Edgerton


I hit the accelerator hard and the car jumps ahead, but there is no roar of the engine. This is the new Ford Focus Electric with only a silent electric motor and the tremendous torque that provides for takeoff.


Ford’s entry in the electric car derby goes on sale next month to compete with the Nissan Leaf and the Chevrolet Volt (which also has a backup gasoline engine). Originally it will be sold only in green-car hotbeds of California, New York and New Jersey but will expand to another 16 markets by the end of 2012. I got a chance to test drive the Focus Electric at an event in New


York last week.


The kind of lead-foot acceleration I was trying out is not, however, how Ford or the car itself encourages you to drive. By driving gently and braking carefully, you help preserve and slightly increase the charge you need to get where you are going and back. Executives say the car has a range of 77 miles before needing a plug-in charge. On this day, that would have been no problem. A couple of taps on the navigation screen showed five Manhattan charging stations within a one-mile radius, mostly in parking garages. Here are some other impressions:


The dashboard constantly encourages you to drive for energy efficiency. Once you have set your destination into the navigation system, the car constantly measures how you are doing in keeping up sufficient charge. If you have a surplus, butterfly icons show up on the dashboard. When you brake the car, a battery icon flashes a percentage number to show how much of the energy you captured from the regenerative braking that helps recharge the battery.


It’s not complicated. Those specialized brakes are very sensitive. But after one too-quick stop, it is easy to change to slow, steady braking that gives maximum recharge. The navigation system and the controls for music and cell phone connections are the same as in any well-equipped gasoline Focus.


The car recharges pretty quickly. I didn’t get to try this feature, but Ford executives say a full recharge will take only three to four hours if you have a special 240-volt home charging station or find a similar public station. Ford is boasting that amounts to about half the full-charge time of the Nissan Leaf. On the other hand, if you just plug the Focus Electric into a 110-volt wall socket using the built-in charger, it will take 18 to 20 hours.


Why electrics cost so much


The big issue in selling the Focus, as with all current electric cars, is the high cost. The list price is $39,200 plus $1,499 for the necessary home charger. Against that, you can get a $7,500 federal tax credit and additional tax breaks in some states. One big reason why the price is so high became clearer last week. Ford CEO Alan Mulally said in a California speech that the batteries for the Focus Electric cost between $12,000 and $15,000, a figure not previously released.


The Focus Electric MPG figures are impressive. In a formula the EPA has developed to show numbers equivalent to gas mileage for electrics (expressed as MPGe), the Focus gets ratings of 110 MPGe in city driving, 99 on the highway and 105 MPGe combined. With similar high numbers, a recent study by the Union of Concerned Scientists says that an electric car owner could save between $750 and $1,200 a year compared with buying gas at $3.50 a gallon depending on electricity costs where the owner lived.

But that would take a very, very long time to make up the difference between the cost of a Focus Electric and the well-reviewed gasoline Focus selling for between $17,300 and $24,000, depending on the equipment. Some regular Focus models are rated for 40 MPG in highway driving.


How green are they?


Even the environmental advantage for electrics of emitting fewer climate-changing greenhouse gases isn’t always clear depending on how the electricity for your car’s charge is generated. The same Union of Concerned Scientists study sets out a map of where electrics have an advantage. In Seattle, which has lots of hydroelectric power, an electric car is responsible for only as much carbon dioxide emissions as a hypothetical, not yet in existence gasoline car with combined MPG ratings of 73. But in Colorado, with mostly coal-fired generation, an electric is responsible for more emissions – the equivalent of a gas car with a combined rating of 33 MPG like the current compact Mazda 3.


With Chevrolet Volt just now resuming production after a hiatus because of slow sales, the market for electric cars is unlikely to take off despite government incentives. Michael Omotoso, power train forecaster for LMC Automotive, projects that even by 2017, market share will be only 1.6% for a combination of all-electric cars and plug-ins with a gasoline motor (where he classifies the Volt).


But if you are a well-to-do, environmentally-minded buyer who does mostly short-run commuting and doesn’t mind monitoring your car constantly to make sure your battery is well-charged, the Focus Electric seems like a choice worth considering.


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Ford offering engine cutoff feature in next Fusion


By Chris Woodyard

Ford is going to offer a feature on its next Ford Fusion that will shut the engine off automatically at stoplights to save gas. Ford will charge $295 for the option.
Start-stop is growing in popularity among automakers, but they are hesitant to offer it widely because U.S fuel standards don’t give them credit for it in assessing a car’s gas mileage ratings. Yet the savings for motorists add up:
“We expect the average Fusion driver with the 1.6-liter EcoBoost engine and Auto Start-Stop will save about $1,100 more than other midsize sedan owners during five years of driving,” said Samantha Hoyt, Fusion marketing manager. “That’s cash in their pocket and time saved with fewer trips to the pump.”
Auto Start-Stop saves fuel use when the car is standing and running at idle. Savings vary depending on driving patterns, but owners who spend more time in urban areas and heavy city traffic will benefit the most – up to 10%. On average, Auto Start-Stop improves fuel efficiency by about 3.5%.

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2013 Ford Taurus



Kelsey Mays


The 2013 Ford Taurus boasts refined driving and good fuel efficiency, but two longstanding drawbacks remain — and unfortunately, now there’s a third.


Last redesigned for 2010, the Taurus this year boasts styling tweaks, a new turbo four-cylinder engine and a raft of interior updates. The turbo four is optional on front-wheel-drive SE, SEL and Limited trim levels, which otherwise get a lower-mileage V-6. The Taurus SHO, meanwhile, has last year’s turbocharged V-6 but visually is further differentiated from the base Taurus this year. (Ford markets both turbocharged engines with the EcoBoost name.) All-wheel drive is optional on the V-6 Taurus and standard on the SHO.


I tested a Taurus SHO and an all-wheel-drive SEL at a media preview. Turbo four-cylinders weren’t provided.


V-6, SHO Impressions


Enhanced this year with the same valve technology as the Mustang V-6, the Taurus V-6 has 288 horsepower, which is 25 hp more than the 2012. It moves well enough from a stop and pulls energetically at higher revs, with a muscular exhaust note as you take on more speed. Front-drive cars weigh 227 pounds less than all-wheel-drive versions, which should increase acceleration off the line.

The standard six-speed automatic transmission needs grooming: It holds higher gears coming into corners, delaying needed downshifts until moments too late, and hunts through gears on hilly roads. Step into the gas to pass, and the transmission stair-steps down through multiple gears. A Sport mode does little to change the behavior.


The Taurus SHO automatic’s reactions feel quicker, with faster shifts and less indecision. The turbocharged V-6 scampers from a stop, hustling to higher speeds with the punchiness of a V-8. Indeed, our friends at “MotorWeek” hit 60 mph in just 5.5 seconds in their 2010 SHO. That’s more than half a second quicker than a V-8-powered, all-wheel-drive Chrysler 300C that “MotorWeek” tested. The SHO weighs 4,343 pounds — lighter than the 300C but much heavier than front-drive competitors from Hyundai, Toyota and Nissan. For such a portly car, this Ford flies.


In keeping with other full-size sedans, ride quality is very good. The Taurus SHO’s sport-tuned suspension picks up a little more chop over bumps, but on high-speed stretches it isolates the cabin as well as its comfort-tuned counterpart. An SHO Performance Package adds even firmer shocks and springs, retuned steering, uprated cooling hardware and a 3.16:1 final drive ratio for quicker acceleration but lower gas mileage. Our SHO didn’t have this package — leaving us a 2.77 final drive instead — but Taurus engineer Carl Widmann says the package removes a lot of the SHO’s ride comfort for the sort of buyer “who takes his car to the track every once in a while, or just wants to drive like a maniac all the time.”


With a balanced chassis, good steering feedback and linear brakes, the overall experience suits the base Taurus, though the new electric power steering — included on last year’s SHO and now standard — feels under-assisted at low speeds for a full-size car. The SHO’s wheel takes more effort still, and I’m lukewarm on the payoff. The car is a supreme highway cruiser, but for a performance car, it has too much body roll on curvy roads, and the steering feels a bit slow on initial turn-in — even though Ford quickened the ratio to 15:1 this year, from last year’s 17:1 ratio.


New for this year, the 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder’s mileage beats all comers. The V-6 Chrysler 300 also gets 31 mpg with its eight-speed automatic, but its city mileage gives up 3 mpg to the 2.0-liter Taurus. Others, from the Toyota Avalon to the Hyundai Azera and Chevrolet Impala, come close to the V-6 Taurus’ 19/29 mpg. Unfortunately, Ford recommends premium fuel for both turbo engines. Regular fuel will suffice, but with slight power losses.


Engines Compared

2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder               3.5-liter V-6           3.5-liter turbo

Availability           SE, SEL, Limited FWD only              SE, SEL, Limited FWD or AWD       SHO AWD only

Horsepower (@ rpm)          240 @ 5,500         288 @ 6,500         365 @ 5,500

Torque (lbs.-ft. @ rpm)       270 @ 3,000         254@ 4,000          350 @ 1,500 – 5,000

EPA mileage

(city/highway, mpg)            22/31 (FWD)        19/29 (FWD);

18/26 (AWD)        17/25 (AWD)

Fuel        Premium recommended*  Regular  Premium recommended*

*Regular usable, but produces less power.

Source: automaker and EPA data.

Issues Remain, and a New One Arrives


We’ve harped on the Taurus’ cramped confines, and the problem persists. It’s one of the largest cars in this class, with length and width exceeding even the imposing 300 and its Dodge Charger twin. The Taurus boasts the roomiest trunk in the segment, with a backseat that should suit even long-legged adults. Even so, the Taurus’ overall passenger volume trails all but the undersized Maxima’s, and it’s felt most up front. The seats have generous adjustment range, but the thick doors and massive center console limit hip and knee room. At least Ford added padding along the console.

Visibility’s another problem. Thick pillars, blocky rear head restraints and a low roofline limit the view in all directions. It’s ironic, because this Taurus generation’s predecessor had outstanding sight lines.


The third issue is MyFord Touch. I’m against carmakers replacing physical controls with touch-sensitive panels, whether it’s the Chevrolet Volt or an increasing number of Ford and Lincoln products. The latest version of MyFord Touch gets a few more mechanical controls, like the often-brushed hazards button, and it responds faster than the system’s earliest versions. But I still found myself hitting the wrong buttons, tapping climate controls a half-dozen times to adjust the temperature a few degrees, and waiting for a heated-seat icon to register three bars of heat while I wondered if I should tap it again. Competitors like the Charger and 300 have touch-screens with quicker response, and they retain separate physical knobs. MyFord Touch is better than it used to be, but Ford’s cars that execute it best — the Focus compact, the 2013 Escape and the F-Series— combine the touch-screen with physical controls below.


You can skip MyFord Touch in the Taurus SE and SEL, but pricier trims and top-shelf options require it.


Safety, Features & Pricing


The Taurus scored top marks in Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash tests, earning it a Top Safety Pick designation. It also earned five out of five stars in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s more rigorous side-impact tests. Standard safety features include antilock brakes, head-protecting side airbags and an electronic stability system with Ford’s new Curve Control, which can brake more wheels than the stability system alone to slow things down if you enter a corner too fast. Click here for a full list of safety features.

Safety options include adaptive cruise control with a collision warning system, lane departure and blind spot warning systems and a cross-traffic warning system.


Reliability for the current-generation Taurus has been average for front-wheel-drive cars but subpar for all-wheel-drive models. Take note, however, that MyFord Touch has contributed to steep reliability declines in certain Ford and Lincoln models. Time will tell if a revamped version can improve that.


The Taurus SE starts under $27,000 — far cheaper than every large sedan but the Charger and outgoing Chevrolet Impala. Standard features fall far short of the $30,000-plus cars, but they do include a power driver’s seat, alloy wheels, and a CD stereo with steering-wheel controls. Start adding options, and you can get heated and cooled leather seats, a power passenger seat, navigation, a self-parking system and Ford’s Sync system with USB/iPod connectivity and Bluetooth audio streaming. An optioned-out Taurus SHO can top $45,000.


Taurus in the Market


Sales for full-size sedans slid 5.9 percent in 2011 as shoppers chose family sedans — a segment that improved 7.9 percent — by nearly four to one. In Ford’s stable, shoppers bought more than four-and-a-half Fusions for every Taurus through the first two months of 2012. Why wouldn’t they? Many family cars reach the mid-30s in EPA highway mileage — or  higher still in hybrid versions. A few of them have large enough interiors to squeak into full-size designation. It’s little wonder consumer tastes are shifting — and full-size cars need to be damn good to stay afloat. The Taurus has strengths in terms of ride comfort, trunk space and passing power, but its drawbacks could leave it overrun by the changing tide.


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Ford Transit Custom Hints at F-150 Future


Mark Williams

Ford continues it new van strategy with more new vehicles ready to enter the market. The new Ford Transit Custom just made its global debut at the Birmingham (U.K.) Commercial Van Show this week and, as unlikely as it may seem on the surface, there could be some hints at what’s to come for future light-duty Ford pickup models.

Although the Transit Custom will not be offered for North American markets, it will include some of their latest strategies in strengthening and weight-saving Ford has to offer that could make it vehicles sold in the U.S. As much as 40-percent of the Transit Custom’s body is made from high-strength or ultra-high-strength steels, giving the van body more rigidity and weight savings to help with crash protection and fuel economy. And it should be noted, this new global vehicle (with either a 195-inch or 210-inch wheelbase) can carry loads in excess of 3000 pounds, when configured properly.

Likewise, the coming larger Transit van, the replacement for the aging E-Series body-on-frame work vans, have also used significant amounts of high-strength steel in the chassis and body to stiffen and strengthen the shell. Ford reports they’ve saved hundreds of pounds and improved fuel economy by more than 25-percent when compared with the out-going E-vans.

We’ve reported in the past Ford plans on using more aluminum and magnesium in future products to reduce weight, and there are more recent announcements that Ford is working with DOW Chemical to do more research regarding the developement and use of more carbon fiber materials to save vehicle weight, in some cases as much as 750 pounds per vehicle.

Carbon fiber materials have been used in airplanes, race cars, and the space shuttle for decades, due to it high-strength and low weight. Until recently, the costs have been prohibitive.

Much of this motivation for all the truck manufacturers have to do with the significant bumps in fuel economy requirements in both 2014 and 2016. Ford is uniquely setup to do well with their huge investment in smaller, lighter-weight EcoBoost engines that range in size from a 1.0L I-3 to a 3.5L V-6.

We’d expect all the big pickup makers to make strong investments in weight-saving strategies from here on out. And, in fact, we’ve just seen the 2013 Ram 1500 completely redesign their frame with plenty of high-strength steel, as well as liberal use of aluminum in big pieces like the hood and control, saving almost 100 pounds. And if the new SRT Viper is any indication (more powerful and weighs less), we can expect to see more and more door panel, roofs, beds, and other body parts of trucks to make more use of lighter-weight materials.

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Ford Motor Co. engineers and designers working on the next generation of the Ford Mustang face a tough challenge of how to update the original pony car for the 21st century.

While the current generation of the Mustang remains a strong performer on the street and the sales results, it’s showing its age.


The new Ford Fusion in the United States will become the Ford Mondeo in Europe with only a few tweaks; the Fiesta and Focus are already global travelers, and even Ford’s SUV lineup will turn international with the new Escape.


There are exceptions, such as the F-series that dominates American roads and the Ranger pickup sold outside the United States, but the Mustang is the only rear-wheel-drive coupe left in Ford’s stable worldwide.


The next generation of Mustang will need to have an international touch to merit the hundreds of millions of dollars Ford will need to spend designing and building it.


Ford spokespeople decline to talk about new products, and no one at the company has officially said the Evos previews what the new Mustang will look like. But the Evos was heralded as the new corporate face for Ford worldwide, with its Aston Martin-derived cues already showing up on other models.


Specifically, it’s about the right size — shorter by 10 inches than the current Mustang, but with a wheelbase shrunk only an inch. And the rear fenders have a hint of the vent and kick-up from the original Mustang, which also came as a fastback body style.


Making the Mustang an international player would require Ford to build a smaller, lighter car that could get better fuel economy without compromising performance. Ford’s already expected to put a four-cylinder Ecoboost turbo engine in the Mustang before any new model arrives in 2014.


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Hands On With the Tech-Enhanced Ford Escape


By Mark Hachman

Ford calls the Ford Escape and the Ford Fusion “ground zero for the American household,” with one out of three cars it sells representing either one of those models.

In fact, it’s the best-selling SUV in America, so those looking for a mid-size car or SUV this year will most likely end up test driving one, as PCMag did for most of Monday.

What’s new? Technology innovations include a Microsoft Kinect-like hands-free liftgate, the updated Sync system with MyFord Touch, active park assist, plus the addition of a blind-spot sensor that can detect cross traffic when backing out of a parking spot. Ford has also added a 1.6-liter EcoBoost engine option, trading a bit of power for increased gas mileage.

From a driving perspective, the Escape feels sporty, both in the ride and in the handling. But the Sync voice-recognition system still leaves something to be desired. My ride partner,Time’s Harry McCracken, managed to break it several times.


The base Escape’s MSRP is $23,295 with D&D; upgrading to the Titanium package, where the new power liftgate is included, will cost $36,130.

That might not be worth it for just the liftgate itself, but it’s a nifty little addition. Assuming you have the keyfob in your pocket and the car is unlocked, simply “swiping” your foot under the rear bumper opens the rear gate, lifting it slowly up. (A pair of sensors are mounted in the bumper, one to detect the presence of the driver’s shin, with another to sense the swiping motion.) Swiping again lowers it. It’s just the thing for a family shopping expedition, where a parent’s hands might be holding packages or kids. (If you don’t have the keyfob, though, don’t bother; it won’t work.)

The Titanium package also nets you a passive entry/passive start system, remote start, a Sony stereo, which adds four more speakers, and the reverse sensing system, which sounds an audible alert when a car may potentially hit your vehicle when backing out of a parking space. That sensor is built into the blind-spot sensor (BLIS), which turns on a small yellow light on the side-view mirror when a car or other hazard is detected in the blind spot.

The Ford Escape also includes active parking assist, which I meant to try out, but couldn’t figure out how to operate. Unfortunately, Ford neglected to include a manual in the glove box, and I forgot to ask about it when returning the vehicle.

Ford touted the more aggressive styling of the Escape chassis, with swept-back headlights that tie into the fenders, et cetera. We’re not here to debate the aesthetics. Inside, however, I found the seats to be snug and comfortable, and the ride about what Ford claimed it to be: on the “sporty” edge of the spectrum.

Sync Issues
I’ve played with Ford’s MyFord Touch telematics system before, but the ride served as a nice refresher. Ford’s Sync contains integrated maps and other services, stored on an SD card that plugs into a slot within the center console between the driver and passenger seats. Inside there’s also a pair of USB ports, as well as composite video cables for the in-dash display.

Users can sync their phone via Bluetooth, allowing the phone to serve as a modem to Sync Services, which not only downloads any preferences and phone contacts the driver has stored, but can be used to find local, updated business listings. The updated Sync also allows drivers to simply say “call John,” for example, without having to navigate through a phone menu.

Visually, I like Sync’s layout, with the four corners of the screen being used for navigation. By and large, the menus are intuitive; yes, while the layout may be a bit old-school, compared to today’s modern apps, it’s functional and very satisfactory. Although the navigation still includes the baffling list of traffic incidents that I find confusing and unnecessary, the actual map screen presents information neatly and concisely.

Ford, however, locks out the ability to enter an address manually while the car is in motion, forcing you to use voice recognition, triggered via a paddle on the steering wheel. (Frankly, there are quite a few of these random controls on the steering wheel, not all of them intuitive.)

During his turn at the wheel, McCracken ran Sync through its paces, discovering that it easily recognized Sirius stations. Sirius with a 6-month subscription is available on the second-tier SE package.

But identifying names and places, however, still remains an exercise in frustration. I can excuse not being able to find the North Bay town of “Benicia” (Buh-NEE-sha, not Buh-NISH-a) or the Argonauts Hotel, our final destination. But it even struggled to find a Target near our route. Sync also focuses its attention on the driver, so don’t expect passengers to be able to assist.

While Sync does provide some helpful prompts, it announces outright failure with a spiel that lasts a dozen seconds or so, ending with a support number and even a website to check, something that’s not really allowed at highway speeds. Even the option to spell “Argonaut Hotel” simply opened up 13 points of failure. And unfortunately, audibly entering “ARGONAUT” didn’t always bring up the associated hotel.

Other glitches included the inability to search for music stored on a phone or iPad. The Escape does allow a driver to open Pandora on his or her phone, then play it using the in-car audio system, even displaying the song and artist name on the in-dash display. This didn’t work flawlessly, however.

Probably the most amusing glitch was when I connected my Android phone via the USB cord to try and charge it. Rather than find the admittedly small number of unprotected music files stored on my phone (most are encrypted and tied to a service like MOG or Slacker) it inexplicably played 90 or so navigation prompts tied to Google Maps Navigation: “Turn right on Shattuck Avenue” played while we passed fields of sheep.

Ford’s customer satisfaction ratings fell last year, due to Sync, which Ford tried to address in the most recent update.

Speech recognition remains problematic; even innovations like Apple’s Siri aren’t universally embraced. It’s possible that a driver who takes the time to set up locations like “Grandma,” “Home,” or “Dentist” may have absolutely no problem over time. But venturing off the beaten track is the leitmotif of the Escape. And, for those who view an SUV as a more manly version of a minivan, being able to recognize “Play Wheels on the Bus” while under siege from a screaming toddler is critical to ensuring domestic tranquility.

Physically, I found no fault with the Escape, and quite enjoyed the experience.


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Happy 48th Birthday to the Ford Mustang


By Patrick Rall

On April 17th 1964, Ford Motor Company introduced a small, affordable sports car at the World’s Fair in New York that would revolutionize the American auto industry and an incredible 48 years later, the Ford Mustang has become the longest running and possibly the most well known American car in the history of the industry.

Today, the Ford Mustang officially turns 48 years old. The mighty Mustang debuted on April 17th 1964 at the World’s Fair and that same day, the Mustang was introduced in showrooms around the country. Billed as the everyman’s sports car, the Mustang was named after the P51 Mustang fighter jet and was offered as a coupe or convertible in the first year with the chassis based on the compact Ford Falcon. Ford expected that the Mustang would be successful with first year sales around 100,000 units but they had no idea just how successful it would be – with a whopping 22,000 Mustang sold on the first day of sales en route to selling 418,000 Mustangs in the first year.
Since then, the Ford Mustang has lasted through thick and thin – with some questionable years for a performance car during the fuel crunch of the 1970s – but in the end, the Mustang is the longest-running car in American history. Before any General Motors fans chime in that the Corvette has been around since 1953, let’s keep in mind that production skipped a year in 1983 where the Mustang has been in production for every model year since being introduced. Considering the impressive nature of a car turning 48 years old, we thought that it would be fitting to take a look at today’s Mustang compared to the 1964 Mustang that debuted on this day 48 years ago.

The first Ford Mustang was available with three engine choices; an entry level inline six making 101 horsepower, a 260 cubic inch V8 with 164 horsepower and most powerful option being a 210 horsepower, 289 cubic inch V8. Today, as the Mustang turns 48 years old, the famous Ford pony car still offers three engine options but the 2013 Ford Mustang six cylinder “entry level” model packs 305hp – more than three times the power output of the original base model Mustang. Where the original Mustang that debuted 48 years ago today packed 210 horsepower from the top of the line V8 engine option – today’s premium Mustang GT500 packs a stunning 650 horsepower and a top speed of over 200 miles per hour. That leaves the current Mustang GT as the “mid range” model with the 5.0L V8 churning out 420 horsepower – quite a difference compared to the 164hp offered by the 260 cubic inch mid range V8 in ’64. The 1964 Mustang was available with a 3-speed or 4-speed manual transmission along with a 3-speed automatic whereas today, the 2013 Mustang offers either a 6-speed manual or automatic transmission. Finally, while the Mustang has gotten far more powerful it has also obviously gotten to be far more expensive with a base price starting around $22,200 where the original Mustang 48 years ago started at just $2,300.

The Ford Mustang has truly withstood the test of time – battling endlessly rising fuel prices, strict new emission standards and an influx of new competition to live on as the longest continuously available American car of all time. Today’s Mustang derives its style from the original and as luck would have it, I am currently driving the awesome new 2013 Mustang GT – which leaves to question in mind my why this car has been so popular for so long. We expect to see a new generation of the Mustang for the 50th birthday of the model and based on the moves made by Ford over the past 48 years to help keep their affordable performance car fresh and popular – we expect to see the Mustang around for a very, very long time.

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