2012 Ford Mustang GT Convertible
Engine: 5.0 liter 8-Cylinder
Power: 402hp, 377 lb-ft.
Fuel Economy: 17 city/26 hwy
Price as tested: $44,490

Even people who aren’t into muscle cars or drop-tops will enjoy the Ford Mustang GT Convertible. The ones who don’t enjoy it will get hung up on the less than luxurious interior and the body structure that shakes a bit over bumps.

But the car’s many virtues far outshine those two flaws, which are the only major drawbacks, as far as I’m concerned. Other aspects that make the car less enjoyable than it could be—like the tight back seat and the small windows—are compromises you have to make to drive sporty coupes like the Mustang. If you want more room and better visibility, get a four-door.

Enough of the negatives. This is one of the best cars on the market in terms of fun per dollar. The GT model comes with a V8 engine that sounds great and makes the car faster than anyone needs on public roads. Take it on a track—as I did at Monticello Motor Club in upstate New York this fall—and the engine shines. It has plenty of torque for accelerating out of corners, and enough top-end power for high-speed runs.

A beautifully balanced chassis complements the potent V8 and makes the car a joy to toss around the track. The one letdown was the brakes. They’re more than adequate for daily driving. But when you’re gunning down Monticello’s back straight at 120 mph headed toward the sharp right-hand turn at the end, they don’t inspire confidence with mushy pedal feel.

Perhaps that’s why Ford will start selling a track-oriented upgrade package on the 2013 Mustang. It’s derived from the awesome Boss 302. It will have beefier brakes and a tighter suspension, which is the only other on-track demerit for the Mustang GT Convertible. While the car handles predictably with the great sense of balance that comes from the front-engine/rear-drive layout, it does pitch and dive a bit through turns and under hard braking.

But that extra compliance in the suspension that slows the car down on the racetrack is a boon on the streets. The Mustang easily soaked up every nasty bump and pothole in New York City, despite having large wheels and low-profile tires. The car’s heft and stout construction make it feel indestructible—something you don’t get in other sport coupes, which feel like they need to be pampered. Case in point is an Audi S5 I recently drove: It got a flat tire right after I picked it up, which I attribute to having a stiffer suspension.

The Mustang is also more comfortable to drive for a long time compared to other sporty two-doors, like the Hyundai Genesis Coupe and Nissan 350Z—again because the ride isn’t as rough.

The Mustang GT we tested had the standard manual transmission, which would be my choice over the optional automatic. It’s not the smoothest shifter I’ve used, but it’s no worse than the one in the Audi S5. The main benefit—besides cost—to going with the manual is that it makes the driving experience so much more enjoyable as you wind the V8 up in each gear. Put the top down to hear that beautiful growl coming from the twin tailpipes. It’s easy: Just undo the two latches at the top of the windshield and press a button. The top powers down in seconds. Reversing the process is just as quick.

I’m not a convertible guy, but I found myself putting the top down on the Mustang GT whenever I could, even when the weather was cold. The front seats are well protected from wind buffeting, even at highway speeds. The rear seats, not so much—but that’s the case with most four-seat convertibles.

We didn’t drive top-down with anyone seated in back, but we did cart around some folks with the top up, and there was enough room to fit a couple of average-sized adults back there. Getting into the rear seat was a bit of a chore that required some contorting. Rounding out the car’s practicality is a decent trunk and respectable gas mileage for such a powerful engine.

With the insulated fabric top up, the interior stays surprisingly quiet. The only negative to removing the roof of the Mustang GT is a loss of some structural rigidity, which manifests itself in mild shaking and shuddering through the body of the car when driving over rough pavement. But it’s not distracting or annoying, and you get used to it quickly.

What does get grating very quickly are the front seats. The head restraints are canted too far forward, so depending on your build, they might protrude uncomfortably into the back of your head. Ford has fixed this problem on some of its new vehicles, like the Explorer, which has head restraints that tilt. Hopefully something similar will be among the improvements coming for the 2013 Mustang.

All things considered, I’d still rather have the Mustang coupe than the convertible, but that’s just personal preference. The harder choice would be between the standard V6 and the V8. On one hand, muscle cars beg for the power and sound of a burly eight-cylinder engine, but on the other, the V6 in the Mustang is pretty sweet. A big plus for the V6 is that it costs less, and that can help convertible lovers justify the added expense of getting the drop-top Mustang instead of the coupe.