Car reviews - Ford - Mustang - GT Fastback
Bang for your buck, aggressive styling, impressive digital technologies, delightful top-end performance, obnoxious exhaust, relatively comfortable ride, communicative chassis
Room for improvement
Difficult ingress and egress, bewildering rear seats, cheap cabin plastics, strong thirst, high clutch release point, heavy low-speed steering, twitchy rear end, poor crash safety
Ford keeps RWD V8 muscle car alive with obnoxiously good Mustang GT Fastback
22 Feb 2019
FEW vehicles are so recognisable that they don’t have a badge spelling out their model nameplate, but Ford’s Mustang isn’t like many others.
Spanning across six generations since its inception in April 1964, the Mustang has been a cult classic since day one, joining a very short list of vehicles that can be easily identified by the average punter.
Part of the Mustang’s success has been its eye-catching style, with signature elements retained over the years and evident in the facelifted sixth-generation model currently in showrooms.
While we weren’t initially a fan of the minor tweaks to its front and rear fascias, the facelift has quickly won us over, proving to be every little bit the attention-grabber that its predecessors are.
However, the Mustang’s lineage is relatively easy to maintain from a styling perspective but no so when it comes to its international-combustion engines, which are increasingly under threat by the automotive industry’s ever-tightening emissions standards.
Ford, of course, acknowledged this with confirmation of the latest model’s turbocharged EcoBoost four-cylinder powertrain in December 2013, although the hairy-chested naturally aspirated V8 continues to live on today.
While electrification is likely for its future iterations, the Mustang gained more power and torque, and a rowdier exhaust, in facelifted bent-eight GT form, keeping the muscle car alive for enthusiasts that have long cherished it.
Manual transmissions are also facing the chop, thanks to the inevitability of autonomy, meaning the only purist-friendly way to test the Mustang is with its three-pedal set-up.
It’s no surprise, then, that we tackled the 2018/2019 holiday break with a manual Mustang GT Fastback coupe to see if the Pony car is still worth riding in. Spoiler alert: It sure as hell is.
Price and equipment
Priced from $62,990 before on-road costs when fitted with a six-speed manual transmission, the Mustang GT Fastback is much better equipped than before, justifying the $5500 price rise over its predecessor. In fact, you could safely argue that its bang for your buck is greater than most performance models.
Standard equipment includes dusk-sensing LED headlights, LED daytime running lights, foglights and tail-lights, power-folding side mirrors with heating and Pony puddle lights, rain-sensing windshield wipers and an active exhaust system with straight-cut quad tailpipes.
Inside, an 8.0-inch touchscreen Sync3 infotainment system, satellite navigation with live traffic, voice control, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, Bluetooth connectivity, USB inputs, digital radio, a 12-speaker Shaker Pro sound system, a 12.0-inch digital instrument cluster, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and start, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a heated steering wheel, sports pedals, leather-accented upholstery, LED ambient lighting and illuminated scuff plates feature.
Our test car is finished in Lightning Blue paintwork ($550) and fitted with forged 19-inch alloy wheels wrapped in a mixed set of Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres ($2500), adaptive MagneRide magnetic dampers ($2750) and six-way power-adjustable Recaro front seats ($3000). As such, the price as tested is $71,790, which is not bad, considering what you get.
The Mustang’s American origins become immediately clear when you sit in its rather disappointing cabin for the first time.
A combination of would-be premium materials and shiny, black, scratchy, hard plastics do little to justify its premium positioning, and the cheap-feeling switchgear doesn’t improve matters, either.
That being said, the cabin is better than before, as a hand-stitched vinyl wrap with contrast stitching has been added to the centre console alongside padded knee bolsters, while soft-touch upper door plastics and aluminium trim also help to elevate its ambience.
What has changed, though, is the Mustang’s numerous packaging issues. While the muscle car is now available in factory right-hand drive, that doesn’t mean all of its left-hand-drive parts haven’t made the trip Down Under.
The most obvious issue is the back-to-front centre console, which positions the handbrake on the passenger’s side, while the opposing cupholders (when in use) impact the driver’s operation of the gear selector – a real annoyance in examples fitted with the manual transmission.
Ford markets the Mustang as a four-seater, but in practice, it is anything but. Its sloping roofline ensures headroom is almost non-existent for adults, forcing them to bend over and grab the seat in front, while legroom behind our 184cm driving position is not far behind.
As such, younger children are best-suited to being second-row passengers, although they mightn’t find the rear pews that comfortable due to their heavily sculpted shape that doesn’t allow much wriggle room for bottoms young and old.
Up front, the heavy-bolstered theme continues with the optional but highly appealing Recaro seats fitted to our test car that complement its already great driving position.
In a surprise to no-one, they are wonderfully supportive at all times and surprisingly comfortable on longer journeys, but considering they cost a ludicrous $3000 – and delete heating and ventilation from the list of standard equipment – they’re not really worth it.
If we haven’t convinced yet, these pews make ingress and egress even more difficult in the Mustang. Due to its wide doors that don’t play nicely in shopping-centre carparks – and the Recaro’s high bolsters – the driver often requires a degree in contortionism to move about.
While visibility in the Fastback is relatively good for a coupe, its thick B-pillars compromise the driver’s ability to complete satisfactory head checks on their side of the vehicle, so caution should be exercised.
Cargo capacity is more than acceptable at 408 litres, but the rear compartment’s high sill and narrow aperture can make loading bulkier its more challenging than it needs to be.
Thankfully, Ford’s brilliant Sync3 infotainment system remains with the facelift, projected onto an 8.0-inch touchscreen positioned between the dashboard and centre console.
However, the technological tour de force no longer stops there, with an equally brilliant 12.0-inch digital instrument cluster now residing directly in front of the driver.
With its wide breadth of functionality and sharp display quality, it impresses as one of the better replacements for a traditional tachometer and speedometer, although direct sunlight does unfortunately render it illegible at times.
Engine and transmission
Like all good Mustangs, the GT is motivated by a 5.0-litre Coyote naturally aspirated V8 petrol engine that produces 339kW of power at 7000rpm and 556Nm of torque at 4600rpm.
Output improvements of 33kW/26Nm over the pre-facelift model were achieved via the adoption of dual fuel injection (high-pressure direct and low-pressure port) and an increase in bore size, plus redesigns for the cylinder heads, connecting rod bearings and crankshaft.
As a result, the Mustang can now sprint from standstill to 100km/h in a claimed 4.6 seconds when in 1770kg manual GT Fastback form, partly thanks to the addition of a burnout-friendly Drag Strip mode that mimics launch control.
In the real world, the bent eight’s performance is more than adequate down low, thanks to its sharp throttle response, where it will spend most of its time when commuting in low-speed urban traffic.
However, take the GT out onto an open road and its straight-line ability quickly becomes apparent, with its ominous mid-range leading to a surging top end that delivers time and time again. When it’s up and about, it feels seriously quick.
The V8 addiction that quickly ensues is only enhanced by the Mustang’s active exhaust system that features four modes – Quiet, Normal, Sport and Race Track.
We’re not interested in making friends with our neighbours, so Race Track is the only way to go here, even if the bent eight does sound glorious in all modes except Quiet.
As a result, there will be no mistaking the primal GT, because it is unbelievably loud, so much so that it almost sounds illegal – just the way we like it, then.
Its intoxicating engine note is punctuated by crackles and pops on downshifts and the overrun, while the noise noticeably becomes even more raucous as the V8’s 7000rpm redline approaches. We will miss this dearly when it’s gone.
The Getrag-sourced six-speed manual transmission fitted to our test car now features an upgraded twin-disc clutch and has added a dual-mass flywheel, which Ford says together improve the set-up’s modulation, feel and torque capability.
There is no doubting that it is an improvement, with clutch operation noticeably lighter while still retaining some much-appreciated heft.
However, its high release point requires some getting used to, making smooth gear changes an often-difficult feat to achieve when acclimatising, even if the transmission’s rev-matching functionality tries its hardest.
We feel that a lower release point would be better suited to a sportscar like the Mustang, allowing for quicker shifts and more linear acceleration, although the transmission’s short gate is very much appreciated.
The first three ratios are quite tall, which makes enjoying the exhaust’s theatrics a little more difficult than we would like on public roads.
In fact, the GT very quickly reaches Australia’s maximum speed limit before it even starts to reach the top of its third gear. If you really want to thrash it, you’ll have to head to a racetrack.
Claimed fuel consumption on the combined cycle test is an eye-watering 13.0 litres per 100 kilometres for the manual GT Fastback, while its carbon dioxide emissions have been tested at an also-high 295 grams per kilometre.
To the Mustang’s credit, though, we have been able to nearly match Ford’s claim, averaging 13.1L/100km over 1200km of mixed driving – including some spirited stretches – during a three-week period. Either way, you can expect to be a regular at your local petrol station.
Ride and handling
The Mustang’s independent suspension set-up again consists of MacPherson-strut front and multi-link rear axles with coil springs but now features new shock absorbers and tweaked anti-roll bars, plus a redesigned cross-axis joint up the back.
As mentioned, our test car is fitted with optional adaptive MagneRide magnetic dampers that are expensive, at $2750, but claimed to improve ride comfort and dynamics.
Their impact is noticeable, proving to be relatively plush over smooth roads while remaining composed over speed bumps and quickly rebounding when making contact with potholes.
However, lumps and bumps are still felt when travelling over unsealed and uneven stretches of tarmac, although MagneRide still puts forward a strong case on the options list.
Using electric power steering with a rack-and-pinion set-up, the Mustang delights more than it disappoints, with its meatiness appreciated at higher speeds where it aids stability.
Frustratingly, this heft is also evident at low speed, making slower manoeuvres, such as those required in a tight carpark complex, rather difficult to make.
Measuring in at 4789mm long, 1916mm wide and 1387mm tall with a 2720mm wheelbase, the Fastback feels large to drive, with this reflected by its challenging 12.2m turning circle.
Nonetheless, its steering system is direct, even if it can feel a little slower than desired when quickly changing direction, which can impede driver confidence when driving close to the GT’s limit.
Conversely, the communication afforded by the Mustang’s chassis is flawless, with each movement from the front wheels felt at an instant, making the driver feel one with their Pony.
Six driving modes – Wet/Snow, Normal, MyMode, Sport+, Race Track and Drag Strip – allow the driver to alter steering and suspension settings, among others, while on the move, progressively changing weight and damping respectively.
Handling-wise, the Mustang presents itself as a stereotypical rear-wheel-drive sportscar, exhibiting oversteer when pushed hard through tighter corners.
In fact, small powerslides can be performed safely with the traction control system switched on, thanks to its twitchy rear end. Anything more should, of course, be left to the racetrack.
As such, the GT is one of those sportscars that needs to be managed or it will manage you. After all, there is a lot of power being sent to its rear wheels, even if our test car’s optional Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres offer up a surprising amount of grip.
Furthermore, the Mustang’s limited-slip differential helps to provide additional traction during hard cornering, where it exercises strong body control, although mid-corner bumps can unsettle matters.
The strong performance from the GT’s ventilated discs brakes is therefore naturally appreciated, with the rotors measuring 380x34mm and 330x25mm at the front and rear respectively and clamped by Brembo six- and four-piston fixed aluminium callipers.
Safety and servicing
The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) issued the facelifted Mustang Fastback range with a disappointing three-star safety rating in June 2018, after levelling the pre-facelift model with two stars in January 2017.
The Mustang scored 72 and 32 per cent in the adult and child occupant protection categories respectively in both instances, with the latter’s poor performance due to airbag, seatbelt and structural issues.
However, it should be noted that ANCAP acknowledges Ford has improved the Mustang’s airbags with the facelift, although it has refused to conduct crash testing again.
The facelift’s addition of autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, and lane-keep assist have helped to increase the Mustang’s returns in the pedestrian protection and safety assist categories by 14 and 45 per cent respectively, to 78 and 61 per cent.
Advanced driver-assist systems further extend to adaptive cruise control, a manual speed limiter, high-beam assist, rear parking sensors, a reversing camera and tyre pressure monitoring.
Other safety equipment includes eight airbags (dual front, side, curtain and knee), anti-lock brakes (ABS), and the usual electronic stability and traction control systems.
As with all Ford models, the Mustang now comes with an improved, five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty and up to seven years of roadside assistance if the vehicle is serviced at an authorised dealership.
Service intervals are every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever comes first, although the initial visit is due after two months/3000km. Capped-price servicing is available.
The Mustang GT Fastback is clearly in a class of its own, especially in manual form, with this status reflected by its strong sales from launch.
At this price point, no other sportscar offers its rewarding combination of V8 theatrics, rear-wheel-drive antics and classic looks.
The facelift has only done kind things to the sixth-generation model, which continues to be hampered by some key issues that are, in most cases, forgivable.
In fact, the obnoxious sound generated by its exhaust system alone should be reason enough to keep the Mustang we know and love alive for many more generations to come.
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With its strong V6 engine and superb steering, the 370Z Nismo is another sportscar bargain, although its weight and overly stiff ride compromise its otherwise superb effort.
Chevrolet Camaro 2SS automatic from $85,990 plus on-road costs
A true domestic Mustang GT rival, the locally remanufactured Camaro 2SS stars with its smart-shifting transmission and sharp dynamics, but its visibility is compromised.
BMW M2 Competition manual from $104,900 plus on-road costs
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Model release date: 1 June 2018
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