Car reviews - Ford - Mustang - GT Fastback
Design, performance, steering, handling, road-holding, ride, manual shifter, comfort, value, interior space, V8 noise, iconic status
Room for improvement
Fiddly rear-seat access, cheap dash, V8 thirst, no AEB
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8 Apr 2016
Price and equipment
MUSTANG. The name is so powerful and well-known that it almost outshines the Ford mother brand. Immortalised in pop culture as surely as it has come to represent Americana, the badge is right up there with Mini, Corvette, and Golf in the annals of automotive fame.
So it’s hard to believe that, 52 years on from the legendary 1964 original, there has only been six generations of Mustang in all this time.
Australians saw the classic ‘60s beauty first, the truly awful fourth-generation quite late in its life in the early 2000s, and now there’s this: the most international Mustang ever, and the first designed from the outset to be right-hand drive.
Sleek, muscular, and with a commanding presence, the 2016 version has landed in Australia in two body styles (Fastback coupe and Convertible), two engine choices (2.3-litre EcoBoost turbo or 5.0-litre V8 atmo GT), and two six-speed transmission types (manual or auto). Both send their torque rearwards, to a rear axle that – for the first time ever in Mustang history – is independently sprung.
The cheapest coupe is the Fastback EcoBoost manual from $45,990 plus on-road costs, while going V8 (GT) will bump that up to $57,490.
All versions include the usual dual front, dual side, and curtain airbags, as well as dual front knee airbags, a rearview camera, tyre pressure monitoring, alarm, Xenon headlights with daytime running lights, foglights, rain-sensing wipers, satellite navigation and dual-zone climate control.
It also gets keyless entry and start, ambient lighting, auto-dimming rearview mirrors, leather surfacing for the steering wheel, park brake, and electrically adjustable front seats (which are heated and cooled), an 8.0-inch touchscreen, Ford’s SYNC2 multimedia and voice control system with emergency assistance, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, USB and iPod connectivity and 19-inch alloy wheels.
Additionally, there are illuminated sill plates as well as a ‘pony’ projector light that beams the Mustang motif on the ground at night when a door is opened.
Going for the GT V8 scores you bigger brakes (380mm x 34mm ventilated discs and Brembo six-piston 36mm fixed aluminium calipers up front, 330mm x 25mm ventilated discs, single-piston 45mm floating iron calipers out back), different patterned alloys, and wider 275/40R19 rear tyres, as well as one of the sexist exhaust notes known to mankind.
Note, however, that AEB (Autonomous Emergency Braking) is not available as yet on this series.
Swoopy on the outside, the Mustang threatens to be a tight fit inside, especially if previous iteration versions are anything to go by.
But no. Boasting a 2720mm wheelbase, with a gargantuan 1916mm girth on offer, there is space galore for front-seat occupants, sat on low-slung bolstered buckets that hold and caress in all the right places, like a ‘50s Hollywood heartthrob.
The dash, however, is at once on-brand with Mustang as well as shockingly wince-worthy.
Symmetrically presented (for easier left to right-hand drive conversion ex-factory, we wonder?), on the flipside it has a dated, amateurish look that is completely at odds with the sophisticated engineering found elsewhere in this car (and outlined a little later on).
Why, for instance, does Ford feel the need to blight the speedo with a pretentious Ground Speed marking? The engine stop-start button looks like it’s a sticker from a $2 shop, and the ‘Mustang Since 1964’ silver plating appliqué is a bit tacky. Don’t be too tactile with the plastics around the steering column and underside of the dash either. You’ll might break something.
However, along with the aforementioned front seat comfort, the driving position is excellent, aided by a handsome leather-clad steering wheel, clear analogue instruments, excellent ventilation, and sufficient storage.
A note about the dials though: while there are a myriad of analogue-looking digital dials for water temperature, oil temp, vacuum boost, and a host of other minor engine-related readouts, why is there no digital speedo? Also, the driver can change the ‘ambient’ lighting colours, but only one – white – doesn’t clash with the rest of the interior’s illumination system.
As with most contemporary Fords, the centre stack features a Sync2 voice-control touchscreen multimedia system that, with a bit of familiarity, is a cinch to work out.
Rear-seat entry is severely compromised by a seat that won’t tilt and slide in one go. It makes getting to the back difficult, though once there, the cushion is surprisingly well padded, and adults under 180cm could tolerate small length journeys without too much bother (unless the sun is beaming down through the rear glass).
Finally, the boot is relatively long and wide, but shallow, with a high floor hiding a wheel well featuring a tyre-inflation kit (and so no spare wheel). At least the back rest folds to lengthen the loading area into the cabin.
Engine and transmission
This is one of the best-sounding V8s in the world.
It’s also remarkably versatile, in the way you always want an eight-cylinder engine to be, with enough instant, effortless torque (530Nm of the stuff) on tap to make six forward gears feel about four too many around town. Second and fifth is about all you need.
Better still, with the US-optional ‘Performance Pack’ standard on every Oz-bound octagon-potted Pony Car, this 306kW V8 has the pull, muscle and flexibility to reel in any horizon in a hurry, accompanied by a burbling, thunderous soundtrack. Yep, it’s as if every cliché you’ve ever read about this sort of engine was written for this Mustang. It’s worth the price of entry just to experience the noise and acceleration.
And if you’re in the mood and it’s legal, the 5.0-litre will roar beyond the 6500rpm red line to a smidgen under 7000rpm, underlining the free-breathing nature of this naturally aspirated beast. Acceleration is surprisingly rapid for such a large and heavy-feeling coupe, leaping off the line before you even realise how forcefully fast through the gears the Mustang can be. Be aware.
Yet… slotting the ‘stang into sixth, with the engine barely humming above 1600rpm, and you realise that there is a bona fide grand touring character to this car, as it lopes along lazily across the blacktop, as if this was all part of a ‘70s American road movie. What we’re trying to say here is that there is a stoned restfulness to the GT Fastback’s personality.
And the brakes are right up to the task of keeping everything in check too, with just the correct amount of assistance and pedal pressure.
While you’d never call the six-speed manual shifter light and easy, it is probably the best we’ve experienced tied to any American V8 – be it a Ford, GM, or Chrysler – thanks to a hefty yet defined and oiled short-throw action that hardly puts a foot wrong and is always satisfying. Some driveline shunt – especially around town – can be induced even if you’re not particularly ham-fisted, but the fact is, Dearborn’s engineers have clearly tailored the clutch and gearbox for rewarding smoothness. It just feels right.
Fuel economy… don’t ask. Ours rarely dipped below an indicated 12.0L/100km, and enthusiastic driving will probably see that rocket towards the high teens or worse. The official figure is 13.1L/100km (for a 305g/km CO2 rating) for the V8 manual coupe. The six-speed auto is slightly better on paper.
Ride and handling
If you’ve ever experienced the 2000-2002 Fox-bodied Mustang that Ford tried to flog against Holden’s high-flying V2 Monaro CV8, this is absolutely nothing like that live rear-axled show-pony. It’s multi-links and independence all the way back there, and the results aren’t what you might expect.
Conversely, if you’re a fan of the similarly independently sprung FPV Falcon GTs, there is a real genetic similarity to the way the (three-mode) electric rack and pinion steering feels, turns-in, and communicates what’s going on below, meaning the helm – though (happily) hefty in Sport – really does connect driver and car.
There’s no denying the sheer weight of this car – 1739kg in Fastback V8 manual guise – but as the corner approaches, the turn-in is progressively sharp yet completely composed and in control, for handling that is always predictable.
While the Ford never shrinks around you (it’s far too wide for that), you can really scurry around, clipping pretend apexes, in a very Australian super-sedan manner. Have the engineers from Broadmeadows had a helping hand in the Mustang’s impressive dynamic flavour?Go faster, or lift off mid-turn, and the rear end breaks away slowly, but in a way that’s catchable and fun. Turn the tractions off, or push the Drive Mode toggle into Race Track, and sideways shenanigans are there for the taking.
On the flipside, even with quality Pirelli P-Zero 255/40ZR19 rubber up front and 275/40 tyres out back, the Mustang’s suspension discipline and ride absorption are outstanding. Firm but never harsh, with a level of springing you just don’t expect, the Ford walks the fine line between comfort and athleticism – and without the constant droning that blights so many larger German GTs. Or perhaps we were just preoccupied by the rousing V8 soundtrack….
At any rate, the Mustang redefines American sports coupe dynamics for us. We’re deeply relieved, after a succession of world-class fast Falcons. Safety and servicing
No ANCAP crash-rest result has been released for the Mustang at the time of writing.
Ford offers a three-year/100,000km warranty, with intervals at 15,000km or one year. And while there is no fixed-price servicing, a servicing calculator can work estimate the cost on-line, while a free loan car is part of the service at participating dealers.
The Mustang is relaunched in Australia at an emotional time for Ford, with production of the homegrown Falcon about to end.
But fans of the Blue Oval ought to be heartened at how refined yet raw and visceral the 5.0 GT Fastback manual is, combining thunderous performance with true grand-touring capability.
More European in sophistication than we dared hope despite some tacky interior detailing, and just as American in its friendly brashness, this particular version of Mustang has the power to make you move on from – if not forget about – Falcon.
To paraphrase Elvis, it’s a hunk ‘o burning love.
Holden VF II SS V Redline, from $54,490 plus on-road costs
Among the Aussie V8 sedan greats, the VF Series II is a world-class grand tourer at an incredibly low price, considering that you’ll need to spend more than double for a German size and performance equivalent. Just so suited to our conditions.
BMW 228i Coupe, from $59,900 plus on-road costs
Rip-snorting 2.0-litre turbo powertrain, combined with a balanced rear-drive chassis, puts this pint-sized 2 Series coupe in serious driver contention. It may be small compared to the others here, but the Bavarian’s abilities are nothing short of outstanding.
Nissan 370Z, from $56,930 plus on-road costs
The ageing 370Z has a brutish, ballistic attitude, swathed in a veneer of civility, that is remarkably similar to the Mustang GTs, despite the obvious packaging, powertrain, and design differences. Flawed, but still desirable.
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