Driven: 2016 Ford Mustang GT California Special

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The California Special GT/CS package makes its return on the 2016 Ford Mustang, and we spent this week with it on our favorite back roads having fun, even though we aren’t in California.

Checking the option box for California Special costs you about $2,000 on top of the Mustang GT Premium Coupe or Convertible, the base trim level you get it with. And like back in 1968 has has a lot of little things that add up for a unique look.

Starting with the stripes, you get them down on the lower rockers front to back and on the hood. They’re well done I think but don’t actually say GT/CS in them like they used to. The fake gas cap emblem at the back does say it though, and the rear deck spoiler is finished in gloss black which gives a BOSS 302 kind of vibe.

Up front is a bigger splitter down low, the same as you would have found on the 50th Anniversary Edition. And anchoring the look is an offset Tri-bar Pony emblem set on a unique black grille that has some pretty nice detail in it if you look close.

You get unique 19-inch aluminum wheels, black of course. And the blacked out trims continue with things like the side mirrors and those cool sequential tail lamps out back. Also black are the new for 2016 turn signal hood vents which are a throwback to the 1967 and 68 Mustangs.

I was pretty excited about the hood mounted turn signal indicators until I sat behind the wheel and realized you can’t see them from the driver seat, at least unless you are 5′-9” or taller. Even then the power dome hood hides the passenger side vent no matter now tall you are.

At least sitting behind the wheel is rewarding enough you’ll forget about that in short order. The interior is one of the best of be found in a Mustang yet in terms of materials quality, fit and finish. It still has that dual cowl design the original made famous, only with a modern spin or two.

The instrument cluster still has the same two dial design as the old but has a modern day tech screen in the middle with all manner of customizable displays. The steering wheel too is quite well done with a lot of controls that somehow remain easy to use and navigate.

The California Special package does bring some unique things to the table, namely special black leather seats with GT/CS embossed logos, red accent stitching and some very nice Miko suede inserts. This theme continues to special door panel inserts and carpeted mats. And as you’d expect, there’s a special dash plaque. Mustang people love their dash plaques.

With the Premium GT the chairs are both heated and ventilated, power adjustable and the driver has memory. These are a much better place to sit than the optional Recaros that cause pain and discomfort in about 20 minutes, yet these factory seats hold you just as tight.

Optioned here was the 12-speaker Shaker Audio system which has a nice fat sound, augmented by a huge sub-woofer in the trunk. Sound quality is an 8 on the 10 scale I think, and with the new SYNC3 infotainment system is such a welcome development after the wasted brain cells MyFord Touch used to cause.

16-Mustang-GTCS-int-8SYNC3 is simpler to navigate in its menus, less complicated, and just makes more sense. The hardware backing up the touchscreen system is also faster which means it responds better to your touch. And connecting your phone is much easier and more seamless. Thumbs up.

The remainder of the interior beyond the front seats is cramped and small with little storage space. The back seat is for your insurance rates, not really for people. The trunk is reasonably large for a sports coupe though part of it does get lost with the Shaker sub-woofer.

The one thing I frowned about was the lack of a spare tire. The fix-a-flat and air pump won’t help you when you run over a sharp thing and cut a tire open. If you do long road trips, I suggest optioning a spare tire.

While engine and suspension remain largely the same, popping the hood of the GT/CS will reveal a strut tower brace that says California Special. It frames the 5.0 liter V8 pretty nicely, which has a pretty handsome mug.

16-Mustang-GTCS-Engine-2ttUnder that engine cover is 435 horsepower and 400 pound feet of torque. And while you can get it with a six-speed automatic, our tester here had the manual which made me so very happy because revving it and blipping the throttle is half the fun.

This is because this engine has such a luscious sound when you run it through the gears. It’s happy to do so too with a willing bah-boom every time you drop the pedal. It is thirsty doing so however. The EPA rates it at 15 mpg city, 25 mpg highway and 19 mpg combined.

I was happy that indeed 19 mpg combined is exactly what I achieved in my time with the Mustang. And had I not been romping on it like a bull in a China shop, I would have gotten better. The thing is the engine’s sound and its rip snorting character to me are well worth the price at the pump.

16-Mustang-GTCS-10When it comes to back road romping, the suspension and handling on the new Mustang are near world class thanks to its new independent rear suspension and dual ball-joint front suspension. It has refinement now, as well as a grown-up finesse when tossed around.

Is it a BMW 4-Series? No. It’s still heavy like a Mustang and feels like one, though you can adjust steering feel and other performance feel metrics with the drive mode. One thing still here from the old days is its dive and squat when braking and accelerating.

It’s worth noting the GT/CS does come with the stock GT suspension and brakes which are on the softer side. If you want more in the handling department you’d have to go with the Performance Package instead.

16-Mustang-GTCS-3Standing back and looking at the details, I have been a Ford enthusiast much of my automotive life but even I have to admit their quality, fit and finish are not always all that. And here, it manages to be better than average, particularly in the rattles and squeaks.

There were still some body panel alignment issues here and there they obviously consider normal, that I don’t. This can be seen mostly where panel gaps aren’t consistent from one end to the other, and particularly how the hood lines up to fenders and front fascia. It’s still amateur hour here.

In the final analysts however, this is still the best Mustang ever built. Our tester was priced at $42,275 which few things left to option except for a few stand alones. While that seems spendy, I dare you to find a comparably equipped V8 rear-wheel drive sport coupe with more feature content other than the Camaro and Challenger.

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About the author

Sam Haymart

Smoker of fine tires, eater of natural foods, connoisseur of aromatic leathers, and pusher of limits. Editor at TheMustangNews.com and host at TestDriven.TV. Twitter - Facebook - Google+