Road Trip: San Diego to Joshua Tree National Park (and back) in a rented 2006 V6 Mustang

san diego to joshua tree

Google maps screenshot showing my route from San Diego to Joshua Tree and back

In early September 2006, I decided to rent a Ford Mustang and drive to Joshua Tree National Park. If you have read my review of the Shelby Mustang GT-H, you will remember that I mentioned the fact that the Mustang would be a very bland car without a strong V8. After driving a V6 mustang on a several-hundred mile road trip around southern California, I stand by that statement. Now, I’m not saying the V6 Mustang is a horrible car – as a normal / everyday car, it’s perfectly fine. But as a sporty car…it just lacks soul.

2006 Ford Mustang V6

Before the drive – downtown San Diego was the starting point for this drive

I rented this particular car from Hertz at the San Diego International Airport (SAN) in September 2006. My particular goal for the day was to drive to Joshua Tree, hike around for a bit, and return the car to San Diego later that same evening. Never mind the fact that it was September (probably one of the hottest months of the year in the desert), but dammit – I was going to hike Joshua Tree.

I picked the car up at 7:30am on a typical bright and sunny San Diego morning, and headed north on 1-15 out of San Diego county. With approximately 12000 miles on the clock, this particular Mustang was, in a word, abused. Really, it was trashed and showed signs of hard wear. The exterior was covered in dings and scratches, and had the typical scratched-to-hell rear bumper associated with all rental cars. Lots of luggage had gone in and out of that trunk, I’m sure. And the light tan interior had stained seats and carpets, looking much worse by the fact that the Hertz crew didn’t really do a great job cleaning it up before I got in it. It just felt like I was driving someone else’s personal car.

mustang front view

Front view of the Mustang on the side of the road on the way to Joshua Tree

mustang

The Mustang out in the middle of the California desert

joshua tree south entrance

The south entrance of Joshua Tree National Park is a desolate place

There really isn’t much to say about how the V6 Mustang drives. It’s a just a car. I do particularly like the looks, though it is a bit big for my tastes. The ride is smooth, not jarring at all, and the 200hp engine has adequate power for getting from point A to point B. In this situation, halfway from point A to point B was Hwy 74 – a twisty, turny pass through the rugged mountains of southern California. Traffic was really light on this day, so I feel like I had the chance to fully evaluate the handling characteristics of this thing. I was not impressed. I can honestly say that never in my 34 years have I ever driven a car which made me feel queasy in the turns, but this Mustang did. By the time I reached the end of Hwy 74 and started coming down into Palm Desert, I had to pull over and get some fresh air – it was either that or blowing chunks all over the inside, thus having to answer to an angry Hertz crew.

red mustang

Close up of the brilliant red paint

The car was much better on the straights of the open desert. It cruises well, and is quite comfortable so long as there aren’t any tight corners. The rest of the drive to Joshua Tree was non-eventful, and I made it there by 11am.

Once there, I quickly realized that I was overly-ambitious with my plans to hike around. I arrived at the south entrance just off of I-10, and those of you who have been there will know that there is not much out there. At that location, it’s still just open desert.

fried liver wash

Fried Liver Wash

So yeah – it was hot. Mind-blowingly hot. I won’t give you any of that “dry heat” bullshit – it was hot. My plans for hiking were immediately scrapped. But it was beautiful country, so I decided to just drive around. The speed limits are slow in the park, so I just cruised around the empty two-lanes without any particular destination in mind.

The Mustang did well out there in the heat. The AC was cold, and the car ran like a champ. The only thing to note here is that the Mustang is not an off road vehicle. I nearly got stuck in the sand as I was pulling away from this spot:

mustang in the sand

The spot where I almost got the Mustang stuck

The drive back to San Diego was via route 86 to Hwy 78, which involved more tight mountain roads. Speeds were much slower than Hwy 74, so I didn’t experience any feelings of nausea going that way.

mustang wheel

Mustang wheel close up

Overall, it’s a decent car. Comfortable. Safe. Predictable. Makes for a perfect rental car. But really, I don’t understand why anyone would make a conscious choice to buy a V6 Mustang. For the same price, there are far better and more exciting alternatives. What makes a person buy a V6 Mustang? Perhaps it’s the heritage. It sure as hell isn’t driving excitement. In my opinion, Mustang’s should have V8’s – nothing else.

I’m obviously in the minority, because I see more base-model Mustangs on the road than anything else. Like it or not, Ford has created a hit.