The Ford Mustang fit my high school zeitgeist like Friday-night football, Nintendo and Green Day. Kids became expert in cajoling deep-pocketed parents to buy one, and Redmond High's parking lot held dozens of candy-red coupes and shiny yellow convertibles. Kids idolized their Mustangs — most of which had feckless, relic, pushrod V-6 engines.

Fast forward to 2013 and Ford has updated its pony car for the third time in four years, adding a few horses to the 5.0-liter V-8 GT and tweaking the whole lineup's appearance. Meanwhile, the EPA still rates the Mustang coupe's 305-horsepower V-6 at 31 mpg on the highway. Knowing what was to come would have blown our minds faster than an AP Calculus final.

The 2013 Ford Mustang is as raucous as ever, with a gutsy V-6 and a V-8 that pulls like hell.

I'm not sold on all the visual updates, and the interior needs work; so does the coupe's crashworthiness. But the Mustang still combines scrappy fun with everyday livability, and it should draw buyers even as competition heats up not just from Chevy's Camaro, but also from Hyundai and Dodge.

Styling, Mechanical Changes

This year's visual updates look more cohesive, more like last year's V-6 Mustang and shying away from the V-8's maw-like bumper openings. Compare the two here. The grille has migrated farther forward, and body-colored rocker panels (previously black) add some maturity.

The Mustang used to have two headlamp arrangements — iconic outboard halogen lamps or lizard-eye xenons that sat inboard. The inboard xenons are now standard. They still look reptilian, but horizontal LED daytime running lamps now flank them. It's an interesting effect, and the reshaped grille — including a new front air splitter — increases downforce on the Mustang GT, which Ford engineers called "the best V-8 we've had by far" in terms of aerodynamics.

Stick-shift GT coupes add an optional Track Pack, which combines a 3.73:1 rear axle (versus slower, 2.73 to 3.55 axles for other stick-shift Mustangs) with an engine-oil cooler, an upgraded radio and performance Brembo-brand brakes. They also get a limited-slip Torsen differential from the stupid-fun Boss, with better durability in high-performance situations — like racetracks — than the Mustang's standard limited-slip differential.

Upgraded Shaker audio systems, a 4.2-inch LCD between the gauges and wider availability of last year's Recaro sport seats round out the major updates.

Ford offers a litany of variants for the rear-drive Mustang, from V-6 and V-8 (GT) coupes and convertibles to a V-8 Mustang Boss 302 coupe. Compare them here. A 650-horsepower Shelby GT500, available as a coupe or convertible, arrives this summer.

Transmissions include a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic that adds manual shifting for 2013. At a media preview, I drove a stick-shift Mustang V-6 coupe with the 2.73 rear axle and a stick-shift GT coupe with the 3.73.

Behind the wheel

Ford's 3.7-liter V-6 roars like a V-8, and even with the pokiest (but most fuel-efficient) rear axle, the stick-shift Mustang launches strongly enough to spin the rear tires all the way through 1st gear. The 305-hp drivetrain loses steam as the tach needle swings to redline — territory where the 420-hp Mustang GT shoves you back in your seat.

Friction reductions helped Ford eke out another 8 hp from the 2012's 5.0-liter V-8, which should match or beat the quarter-mile times of the last Mustang GT that our friends at "MotorWeek" tested: 13 seconds flat. That's a few tenths of a second faster than a 426-hp Chevrolet Camaro SS.

The Mustang GT needs premium gas to make full power. Ford says it can run on regular gas, but that drops output down to 402 hp.

Ford introduced driver-variable power steering assist last year. Feedback is good in the least-assisted, Sport mode, while Comfort mode makes three-point turns simple to pull off with one palm. (A Normal mode slots between the two.)

The chassis handles tricky terrain changes well, staying grounded enough over broken pavement to make you forget the Mustang has an outdated solid rear axle.

The V-6 coupe's all-season tires yield to mild understeer when turning sharply on wet pavement, but working the tail out only requires easing back on the gas when coming through corners.

Our V-8 tester's optional Brembo brakes (14-inch front discs, versus 13.2-inchers in lesser GTs) hammered the car to a stop with a lot of forward suspension dive — a peculiar sensation because neither this car nor the softer V-6 suspension exhibited much body roll.

Ride quality remains firm but livable, with noticeably more chop in the GT. The Shelby GT500's chassis, meanwhile, got an available Bilstein adaptive suspension this year; I hope it improves ride control over the prior Shelby's skittish, sometimes choppy setup.

EPA gas mileage ranges from an excellent 19/31 mpg city/highway in the V-6 automatic to 15/26 mpg in the V-8 manual. The latter figure recalls many SUVs, but it's comparable to the stick-shift V-8s in the Camaro and Challenger.