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2016 Ford Mustang GT California Special Convertible First Drive Review

The 2016 Ford Mustang GT California Special convertible is the latest addition to the HM Garage. This modern day interpretation is a throwback to the original that first appeared way back in 1968. Fast forward to 2016 and the concept is pretty much the same. Except this time around, you can get the California Special as a coupe or convertible. We couldn’t wait to drop the top and put in some drive time to see what makes the California Special so…umm…special.

California made it happen…that was the marketing slogan crafted by Ford to promote the original 1968 Mustang California Special. Back then, the California Special package got you several pieces of eye candy that made the Mustang really stand out. Today, not much has changed. Checking off the $1,995 California Special on the option sheet gets you a long list of visual styling cues that make the 2016 Mustang GT quite eye-catching. First off, the exterior gets 19-inch Ebony Black painted aluminum wheels, black painted mirror caps and hood vents, and a black raised decklid spoiler. Exterior amenities also include hood and side stripes, performance front splitter, and a tri-bar Mustang logo on the upper grille. Interior appointments include black leather seats with suede inserts and red stitching, carpeted floor mats with red stitching, and red door inserts with red contrast stitching. There’s even a California Special dash plaque to let everyone know this is no ordinary Mustang.

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Under the hood resides a 5.0-liter Coyote V8 good for 435 horsepower and 400 lb-ft of torque. It’s potent and propels the Mustang from 0 to 60 in 4.6 seconds and the runs the quarter mile in 13.3 seconds. Not too shabby considering our Mustang is equipped with the optional 6-speed automatic transmission. Push the start button and you’re greeted by the Mustang’s throaty exhaust. It’s not as potent at idle but sounds pretty commanding once you pump the accelerator. Pop the convertible top and it sounds even better.

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Driving Impressions

One thing really noticeable about the GT California Special is how well the car rides. Thanks to the GT’s independent rear suspension, the ride is more civilized than the previous generation’s solid rear axle setup. Also, the bumps and rough patches in the road aren’t as jarring as before with the independent rear suspension. The electric power steering feels a bit loose at times in Standard mode but that can be remedied by flipping the toggle switch on the dash to Sport mode. There’s also a Comfort setting that’s really good for those long trips out of town or to the beach. There’s also a switch that allows the driver to choose between four different drive modes. Normal is great for commuting and everyday driving. Sport+ adds more aggressive steering and throttle response. Track mode allows the driver to really push the Mustang to its limits out on the track. Snow/Wet comes in handy for when the weather takes a turn for the worst and a little extra traction is needed.

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Inside Information

We still believe the interior of the current generation Mustang is the best yet. It’s tidier without all the buttons and switches that cluttered up the dashboard like before. The retro styling cues on the dashboard and doors are a nice touch and aren’t overdone. Plus with modern technologies such as voice-activated navigation and the 12-speaker Shaker Pro Audio sound system, you get the best of both worlds. There’s plenty of leg and knee room up front but the back seat is another story. It’s practically useless unless you’re around five feet tall.

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Dropping the top is a snap as well. Just pull the locking handle down, give it a twist, and then press the release button. That’s it! The whole process takes less than 20 seconds as long as the engine is running. Now you’re ready to cruise around town or take in a movie at the Starlight Drive-In. Everything tucks in nice and neat behind the rear seat, too.

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Here’s our beef with the California Special. If you order the California Special package, you cannot add the GT Performance Package along with it. Nope, can’t do it. In our opinion, without the GT Performance Package, this wild stallion feels a bit neutered. The oomph we experienced with the 2015 Mustang GT with the package just isn’t there. Part of that lackluster feeling also has to do with our tester’s automatic transmission. It shifts great and never seemed to ever search for the right gear in town or out on the highway. But a V8-powered muscle car like this truly deserves a manual transmission.

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This new sixth generation pony is still the best Mustang we’ve ever driven. That’s not saying it’s perfect but it’s evident Ford put a lot of effort into making this a truly great road car. The fit and finish of the body panels and quality interior materials are on par with many luxury brands from the other side of the pond. And the Mustang beats the Germans hands down when it comes to price as well. Go check out a new Mustang for yourself and we think you’ll be a believer too!

2016 Ford Mustang GT California Special. Base Price: $41,895, As tested: $48,575. Includes Shaker Pro Audio System with 12 speakers, $1,795; 6-speed Automatic Transmission, $1,195; California Special Package, $1,995; Voice-Activated Navigation System, $795; Destination and Delivery, $900.

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