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by: FORD MOTOR COMPNAY - The 2013 Ford Mustang both recalls and continues the Detroit Pony Car Wars.by: FORD MOTOR COMPNAY - The 2013 Ford Mustang both recalls and continues the Detroit Pony Car Wars.I’ve always had a like-dislike relationship with Ford Mustangs.

I’ve never felt strongly enough about the original Pony Car to either love or hate it. The early models from 1964 to 1967 didn’t strike me as particularly sporty. It wasn’t until Steve McQueen drove a 1968 fastback GT version in Bullitt that I gave them a second look. The beefier models that followed struck me as even more serious, but they quickly grew too large and too slow, thanks to emission controls that seriously reduced their horsepower.

The Pinto-based Mustang II that followed in 1974 was obviously somebody’s idea of a joke. I couldn’t track the year-to-year changes that slowly returned the Mustang to respectability over the next three decades.

But I liked the current retro styling when it debuted in 2007, sparking the renewed Pony Car War with the retro Chevy Camaro and Dodge Challenger. It was close to the 1969 fastback body style, when Mustangs competed in the popular SCCA Trans Am series.

Unfortunately, I’ve had a hard time warming up to the newer Mustangs I’ve test driven, for purely personal reasons Both the 3.7-liter V6 and 5.0-liter V8 have plenty of power, making them a lot of fun to drive, at least for a while. But I’m just not built for the ones equipped with manual transmissions, which they’ve all had. I have to move the seat far forward to fully depress the clutch pedal. Because the Mustang doesn’t offer a telescoping steering wheel, I end up practically hugging it — not the most comfortable driving position.

This is not a problem for me with the Camaro or Challenger, however.

Then there’s the suspension. Even the one in the base V6 Mustang is pretty stiff. Firmer ones can be ordered in the V8 version, which is called the GT. All are OK for weekend jaunts but hard to live with on a daily basis in Portland, which has some of the most poorly maintained streets of any major American city.

So I was a little hesitant when offered a 2013 Mustang GT Premium for a test drive. But with rumors swirling that Ford will unveil an entirely new Mustang next year, I figured this could be my last chance to experience the aging legend.

Fortunately, it was equipped with an automatic transmission, allowing me to set the seat at a more comfortable distance from the steering wheel. The difference in my enjoyment was surprisingly significant. Even the suspension didn’t bother me as much. Funny how a slight annoyace can color your entire outlook on life.

Once upon a time, I would have never settled for an automatic in a performance car. Manual shifts are just too much fun, especially in V8s with a lot of torque. But automatics have gotten a lot better over the years and many now shift with authority, even when not using the manual mode.

The six-speed automatic in my test car was very responsive and did not strike me as much of a compromise. At the same time, it allowed the Mustang GT to be driven smoothly at slow speeds, something that takes a lot of practice with the manual transmission to achieve. It also had a manual shift mode, albeit a less-than-satisfying button on the handle. But the 5.0-liter V8 has so much power — 420 horsepower and 390 foot pounds of torque — that it's hardly needed.

The Premium package — which is also available on V6 models — adds a number of desirable features. They include upgraded 17-inch wheels, leather upholstery, a power driver seat, Ford's Sync electronics, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, color-adjustable gauges and ambient lighting, a color information display between the gauges, upgraded interior trim and a premium eight-speaker Shaker sound system with satellite radio and an iPod/USB audio interface.

My test car had a number of other packages on it, too, including a navigation system and confidence-inspiring Brembo brakes. All of this pushed the price from around $30,000 for a base GT to over $42,000. But the additional features added to the entertainment value, which is mostly what the Mustang is good at delivering.

Not that I now consider the Mustang a perfect car. It is still slightly cramped on the inside, with a hard to reach back seat and small trunk. The interior also has too much hard plastic, although I appreciate the simple design of the retro-style dash.

Even more powerful and expensive versions are available, including the Boss 302, rated at 444 horsepower and starting around $38,000, and the Shelby GT500, rated at 662 horsepower and starting at around $55,000.

Frankly, however, I think most buyers would be more than satisfied with a well-equipped V6 version. And the automatic is a reasonable alternative for those with seating problems.

Facts and figures (all models)

• Model tested: Mustang GT Premium.

• Manufacturer: Ford.

• Class: Midsize coupe.

• Layout: Front engine, rear-wheel-drive.

• Style: Two door car.

• Engine: 3.7-liter V 6 (305 hp, 280 lb-ft); GT 5.0-liter V8 (420 hp; 390 lb-ft – as tested); Boss 302 5.0-liter V8 (444 hp, 380 lb-ft).

• Transmission: Six-speed manual; six-speed automatic with manual shift mode (as tested).

• EPA estimated city/highway/mileage: 19/31/23 (V6/auto); 19/29/22 (V6/manual); 18/25/20 (V8/auto); 15/26/19 (manual).

• Price: Beginning at approximately $22,000 ($42,065 as tested).

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