FORD’S latest generation Mustang is both a stayer and a sprinter, a solid workhorse when it comes to performance but a bona fide show pony whenever it is time to glam it up.
LET ME SAY right from the start that I have never been a lover of automotive retro styling.
So happy times for Ford and its latest-generation Mustang sporty Fastback and Convertible pair with design work blowing a kiss to the halcyon days of the iconic pony car but the company staying well away from the nostalgia path.
Yes, all the expected Mustanginess we want is there for all the world to see. The long, long bonnet, close-coupled coupe cabin, the original’s gorgeous hips and short, turned-up tail while the wide, low stance, acknowledges the presence of those features from the original cars of 50 years ago and pays them the respect they deserve without brazenly copying them.
The same goes for the interior. Hints of the twin-cowl dash panel are present but it is all about usefulness rather than dramatic effect, there are two cosy bucket seats up front for those who matter and a vestigial bench seat behind for those who do not. Simple, straightforward and very delicious.
The end result? Design ideals kept, retro gone with only some tiny touches in the execution such as the familiar badging, the trapezoidal grille shape and the “shark-bite” frontal appearance but hey, who can blame Ford for wanting to hold onto a couple of memories?
Ford describes this latest Mustang iteration – which more or less marks the 50th anniversary of that original car – as the next chapter in the life of one of the world’s most iconic cars and while that might sound a bit high falutin’ it is essentially right. Fifty-and-a-bit years on the Big American has uncorked “Essence of Mustang” to dab on the wrists and neck of its newest.
That first car was the one that launched a whole new class (known generally as “pony cars”) and the world as a whole took it to heart, even if its buyers were not all gearheads. Back in 1965 Ford America knew it was doing it right when Lee Iaccoca’s sexy design had spinster school teachers and men of the cloth queuing to buy it.
Since then it has sold more than nine million examples and Mustang has featured in film and on television, in songs and on video games. Yep, Ford was and still is on a winner and we know it every time we watch a “Bullitt” or “Gone In 60 Seconds” rerun.
Now Mustang has gone global and its Flat Rock, Michigan, production plant is turning-out cars for left- and right-hand-drive markets in an effort to get everyone from Russians to Chinese to buy this auto icon. The whole world wants a slice of American automobilia and Australia is well and truly in the mix.
So what do we get to cement our place in the Great Big Book of Mustang?
In a relatively simple game of Mustang mix and match, buyers can have the sexy Fastback coupe or “Gold Coast at sunset” Convertible, both offering a choice of suave, turbocharged 2.3-litre “EcoBoost” inline, four-cylinder engine or hairy-chested 5.0-litre, V8 GT, both featuring blocks and heads cast from alloy and with double overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder and fuel-injection.
Transmissions? Two six-speeders deliver power to the back wheels. The standard gearbox is a manual and the automatic is optional although the manual gearbox ratios are different between four-cylinder and eight-cylinder applications and the same for the differential ratio.
Surprisingly, the manual gearbox and its clutch lack any real heaviness and the shift is positive, fitting somewhere between “hot knife through butter” and “clunky clumsiness”. It is smooth and quick with a light, short-throw clutch and just enough notchiness in its movement to let drivers know when they have snicked each shift home.
With well-spaced ratios and steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters the auto is a bit – no, a lot – of fun too and zapping into a corner running lightning downshifts without moving hands away from the steering wheel is also rewarding.
Both cars are delicious in almost every combination so choice will ultimately come down to dollars. The walk-up start for the Fastback with EcoBoost and manual gearbox is $45,990 while the range-topping GT Convertible with auto means a $66,490 withdrawal from the savings account.
Ford Australia says of the 4000 firm orders it is currently holding, 80 per cent are for V8 engines and the rest for the EcoBoost. The most popular colour, by the way, is red. Even the relatively tiny New Zealand market with its modest 100,000 annual new vehicle turnover is holding-up its hand for 600 ‘stangs. Not bad at all.
To me, the two engines represent the old and the new and if I were spending my hard-earned it would be a difficult choice. Yes, I really enjoyed the visceral feeling of sitting behind that rumbling, growling, grumpy V8 and hearing it roar like an angry bull whenever I opened the throttle. Almost annoyingly, I also enjoyed not only the smoothly linear power delivery of the EcoBoost engine but also its high-tech nature and unfussed manner.
The noise factor of the 2.3? At idle it sounds like grandma’s Corolla but with a few revs on the clock it gets its own unique and quite throaty noise going. Impressive.
Sure, the V8 bends 306 kilowatts of power and 530 Newton metres of torque to its will but the EcoBoost engine, with 233 kilowatts and 432 Newton metres, is not exactly short-changed by comparison and has almost as good a repertoire of aural tones as the V8 when it is pushed.
Acceleration is boosted by engine tune that pulls out 90 percent of the engine’s torque at less than 1800rpm and, as a bonus, its average fuel consumption figure is about two-thirds that of the bent-eight.
Get both engines in the right location and the right mood and both will go harder than a perky party boy on pay day, putting smiles of equal measure on drivers’ faces.
And there is another thing: the EcoBoost engine is around 37 kilograms lighter than the V8 but sits a little differently over the front axle, giving the four-cylinder car more cornering poise and balance, meaning it finesses its way through the twists and turns rather than bulldozing through them.
Overall, the EcoBoost cars are around 75 kilograms lighter than their V8 counterparts.
By the way, a suspension design using independent MacPherson front struts and independent integral rear links is far, far, far more sophisticated than that of the original Mustang’s Falcon-based effort (with rear leaf springs!) and gives this current car impeccable cornering ability without damping-down its inherently comfortable ride qualities.
For ride comfort think “firm” rather than “hard” and more the quality of ride we have come to expect from good European sporty cars than upstart Americans. I reckon this car will surprise a lot of people, even the aficionados.
And just to make sure the ride/handling formula is right, Ford has engineered-in variable damping rates that can be set by the driver with “normal”, “wet/snow”, “sports+” and “track” settings, the last one damping-down some of the chassis electronics and increasing the V8’s aural appeal as a bit of a bonus.
The steering, too, has been engineered for good feel and minimal vagueness but, like the suspension, has also been fitted with a range of settings to suit the moment.
Stopping power? Mustang has heaps of it courtesy of a four-piston, 352mm diameter front disc brake arrangement on EcoBoost cars and six-piston Brembo brakes with 380mm discs for the heavier 5.0 litre GTs. Both cars have 330mm rear discs. Anti-lock braking and the whole suite of chassis electronics is a given, by the way.
If there is any kind of letdown it is the dash and instrument panel. Not because the layout is bad but because it (quite wisely) puts function ahead of form and so lacks the drama that could have been.
Ford calls it “aviation-inspired” and says it is executed “with the highest degree of craftsmanship ever found in a Mustang” (maybe “craftsmanship is Fordspeak for “build quality”) but reality says that it is simply a well laid-out instrument panel with big, clear dials, switches and knobs that have an almost Japanese logic in their placement, a fat and small diameter steering wheel and comfortably supportive bucket seats from which to command the action.
Audio system? Yes, it has a pretty good one but I’d much rather listen to the Turbo Quartet or the full V8 Orchestra playing to me. “Silicone Sally”, the satellite navigation unit, is standard.
The little engraved plaque on the dash saying “Mustang. Since 1964”? Some will love it, some will not. For me it was just a tiny bit OTT.
By the way, the cabin is definitely a 2+2 configuration which makes the back seat somewhere to put any overflow from the 383-litre boot (324-litre for the Convertible) or a nice place for Fido to sit on a road trip.
So think of this latest Mustang as a new classic rather than a retro. Think of it as a badge, a symbol and some good ideas carried over to a new generation of car, a sophisticated machine that hints at the virtues of the old but without the vagaries.
And if its acceptance becomes complete we might just see a couple of interesting model spin-offs. You see Ford still owns a few famous Mustang monikers like “Boss”, “Mach One” and “Bullitt” with equipment packs and increased performance levels to match.
Life could get interesting for anyone wanting a Mustang moment.
In terms of size, Mustang is not a big car, standing 4784mm long on a 2720mm wheelbase. Width is 1916mm and the Coupe stands 1381mm tall (add 13mm for the Convertible). The car weighs between 1666 kilograms for the manual EcoBoost Coupe and 1811 kilograms for the V8-engined Convertible with automatic gearbox.
Fastback (manual): $45,990
Fastback (auto): $48,490
Convertible (auto): $54,990
Fastback (manual): $57,490
Fastback (auto): $59,990
Convertible (auto): $66,490
(Prices do not include dealer charges or on-road costs)