2013 Ford Mustang balances high tech with muscle-car 'tude

No one buys a Mustang for its tech, but it's there, including a racing app and awesome pony projection lights.

Putting too much tech in classic American muscle seems almost blasphemous. These cars are for driving, not tweeting and texting, after all. But Ford basically nails the tech situation in its 2013 Mustang. When you jump into the company's latest pony car, you're not overwhelmed with screens, buttons, and ports, though there is a high-tech instrument cluster and SYNC AppLink compatibility.

We reviewed the 2013 Mustang GT Coupe Premium, which has just one screen in the cabin: a 4.2-inch color display nestled between the tachometer and the speedometer. True techies can trick out the Mustang interior with the Electronics package, which includes a head unit screen, built-in navigation, SiriusXM Traffic and Travel Link, and HD radio, but that costs an extra $2,340.

Pony projection lights: low-tech, but still awesome

Our model did come equipped with the $1,950 California Special package and the $650 Comfort package. The California Special package is mostly an exterior mod, while the Comfort package includes six-way power passenger seat and heated mirrors.

This is also is the first model year that the Mustang's Comfort package also includes special "pony projection lights," lights under each side mirror that throw a Mustang logo on the ground beside the car whenever you unlock the doors. Pretty low-tech, but awesome nonetheless. As configured, our review model costs $40,230.

The most obvious tech inside the Mustang is the screen in its instrument cluster. This screen has five different modes on its main menu, controlled by a joypad on the left side of the steering wheel. The screen always shows the odometer at the bottom but otherwise changes depending on the mode.

Gauge Mode is the "main mode" of the instrument cluster screen. This is where you'll see a little pony logo, as well as the estimated distance to empty, which we've seen on other Ford vehicles, such as the Escape Titanium. Move to the right in Gauge Mode, and you can check various stats, such as your air/fuel ratio, oil temperature, and voltage in real time. Trip A/B is the trip odometer, and Fuel Economy gives you an overview of how you're using fuel (on average, and in real time).

Wanna race? There's an app for that

Track Apps is the coolest mode, because it's where you'll find various apps to track the Mustang's performance on a racetrack. Here you'll find the accelerometer app (measures the g-forces the car pulls from left to right), the brake performance app (shows stopping time and distance for speeds of 60 -- 0 mph or 100 -- 0 mph), and an acceleration timer app (lets you track your fastest acceleration time). Track Apps probably won't be too useful for the average driver, though you can check out the accelerometer app on particularly curvy highways.

The last mode in the instrument cluster screen is the Settings mode, where you can adjust various settings in the car. The coolest adjustments you can make are adjustments to the lights: You can change the color of the instrument gauges, as well as the color of ambient lights in the cabin. You can even create up to three custom colors, using an RGB mixer (you get 1 -- 5 for red, green, and blue), so you can create everything from ice blue to hot pink.

SYNC AppLink for running apps through your phone

Though the Mustang--or, at least, our review model--has no fancy head unit touchscreen, it does have some music and app technology built-in. It's equipped with Ford's SYNC AppLink, which is a service that lets you use voice recognition to control some AppLink-compatible apps on your smartphone.

Getting started with AppLink is pretty simple. First, you'll have to connect your smartphone to the car via Bluetooth. SYNC AppLink works with iOS, Android, and BlackBerry, and I had no problem connecting my Samsung Galaxy Note II quickly and easily. Note that you can't connect your phone while the car is in motion. Once your phone is connected, all you have to do is download and launch SYNC AppLink-enabled apps, such as Pandora, Spotify, iHeartRadio, SYNC Destinations, Glympse, USA Today, or MLB.com At Bat.

When you launch a SYNC AppLink-enabled app while you're connected to the Mustang, your phone will display a Ford logo (to prevent you from trying to use your phone while driving), and you'll be able to use the app using the car's voice recognition. For example, if you're using Pandora, you can just tap the car's voice button (located on the right side of the steering wheel) and say the name of an artist or song to get a custom radio station. Or you can say "thumbs-up" when you like a song, and Pandora will add that to your favorites. Similarly, you can ask USA Today to read news headlines, or you can ask MLB.com At Bat to recite baseball game schedules.

Voice recognition is balky

SYNC AppLink is easy enough to use in the Mustang, though the voice recognition isn't quite as smooth as we've seen in other cars (such as Audi's A8. You definitely need to pause before you start voicing a command.

The car also has a decent number of places to plug in gadgets: there's a 12V car outlet on the head unit, and there's also a 12V outlet, a USB plug, and a line-in jack inside the console storage compartment.

Tech is fine, but muscle still rules

There are plenty of reasons to consider the 2013 Mustang that are not tech-related, such as its relatively low price for power, and those awesome pony projection lights. There's also enough tech that you feel like you're living in 2013, but not so much that it distracts from the car's unapologetic muscle-car mojo.

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