Car reviews - Ford - Mustang - range
Razor-sharp handling, angel and devil styling, unbelievable price, sensational engines, EcoBoost economy
Room for improvement
No Recaro seat or line-locker option, Convertible scuttle shake, muted EcoBoost sound
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20 Jan 2016
WHEN we first drove the sixth-generation Mustang at the global launch in California in 2014, we came away with a new respect and admiration for one of America's most beloved motoring icons, but 16 months have passed and we were wondering if it really is as good as we recall.
Was the styling as elegant but muscular as we remember? Did the beautiful canyon roads cloud our judgement of its handling and road holding? And could a 2.3-litre four-cylinder under the bonnet of such a quintessential muscle car work as well as we recall?Let's tick off the most unquantifiable box first with the Mustang's looks – yes, beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder, but we challenge anyone who appreciates classic coupe proportions to not feel a little weak when looking at its styling in the flesh.
Even after 60 years, the key Mustang-affirming details are still there, but now packaged in a body more elegant than the pony car has worn since the very first generation. Its aggressive and low stance make performance car promises that the all-new chassis and powertrains honour, but more about that later.
When deciding which features and equipment should be offered in right-hand drive markets, Ford was careful to choose wisely. If the complete list of US options was introduced Down Under, the homologation costs would have blown RHD Mustang prices out of proportion, so Ford wisely chose a simple strategy with a single level of specification for all four variants.
Interiors are not quite as luxurious or photogenic as some American versions, with no option for the fantastic machined aluminium dashboard or pure sports Recaro seats, but the simple brushed aluminium dash and standard black part-leather seats, combined with black roof-lining, creates a cosy and likeable two-plus-two cabin.
Cost-cutting features such as fake French stitching on the dashboard covering are clever touches that keep showroom prices accessible without compromising cabin quality, but the use of some cheaper-feeling plastics and switchgear do diminish the overall finish.
Even with the absence of the excellent German seats, the standard versions provide a good driving position with a deep footwell and vertical steering wheel orientation.
Visibility over the long bonnet is ample, with deep creases like rifle sights pointing at the horizon. It's a shame the US-spec GT bonnet vents do not comply with Australian pedestrian safety standards but we can forgive that.
Our first kilometres of Australian driving in the Mustang entailed a cruise out of Sydney into the country and an opportunity to experience the Mustang's touring potential. Its sporty ride is firm, but even on the poorest concrete and deteriorating surfaces, we were never assaulted.
On the contrary, the stiff springs and sharp steering encouraged us to grab the next exit ramp and find this wild horse's natural habitat.
With a more meandering path ahead, we popped the Convertible GT's top and enjoyed the early morning sun and 25-degree summer air in a way that only a soft-top muscle car can offer. Few things that can make a car-lover smile like a sweeping country road and a topless Mustang for company.
Our Convertible was painted a gorgeous but unapologetically conspicuous yellow that looked great with the black roof, wheels and gloss trims.
Remit of a roof, the rag-top Mustang has the same ultra-pointy front end and responsive handling of the tin-top, but has noticeable scuttle shake through the steering and dashboard.
However, the drop-top is intended as the most relaxing of the range not the performance halo – an intention cemented by its availability only as an automatic.
For a more direct connection to the road and one of the most enjoyable motoring experiences this side of $100,000, Mustang fans should jump into the Fastback coupe, find a section of road not open to the public and slap its rump.
The naturally aspirated 5.0-litre V8 is no ageing iron dinosaur like some from other manufacturers, and produces 306kW/530Nm thanks to all-alloy construction, quad variable overhead camshafts with four-valves per cylinder and advanced emission-reduction technology.
Torque is available from early on in proceedings, but the eight-cylinder has no gaps in power or grunt and pulls exponentially towards the high rev limiter with a befitting soundtrack that is enhanced by ducts that allow under-bonnet sound into the cabin.
Matched with the six-speed Getrag manual gearbox, the Mustang is in pure driver's passion trim and has sold more in this configuration than any other.
We can see why.
Flick the selectable drive mode from Normal, through Wet/Snow and Sport to Track, point the GT's nose at an unblemished section of circuit and it will return one of the more exhilarating driving experiences you will find.
Turn-in is extraordinarily sharp, with excellent chassis response and negligible body-roll, and the delightfully neutral front-to-rear balance inspires confidence through narrow corners at speed.
Even as the limit of adhesion is approached, the Mustang is highly communicative, warning of a tail-end break away, long before it goes. With a long, stable wheelbase, mid-corner oversteer is easy to provoke with a heavy right foot but easily countered.
American GT owners get a line-locker function specifically intended to perform flawless burnouts, but unfortunately, this feature is not legal in Australia. A bit of practice and flight left-foot braking can achieve the same effect – so we are told.
Up front, the massive six-pot brake callipers are a little over-servoed at lower speeds, but when carrying more pace, the anchors are efficient and progressive with good pedal feel. Despite the beefy torque, the Ford engineers have managed to keep the clutch pedal just as delicate, allowing seamless gear-changes at speed or about town.
Getrag's superb gearbox completes the GT driveline with a heavy but smooth operation and a satisfying mechanical kickback in the lower gears, which reminds you the Mustang is built from nuts and bolts, not pixels and silicon.
Customers wanting a slightly less involving experience will be happy with the optional six-speed automatic transmission, which works well with the V8's torque to responds quickly to instructions from the steering wheel paddles.
The GT is an enormously impressive package and true to the Mustang mantra but we were even more impressed after jumping behind the wheel of the four-cylinder EcoBoost.
It might not match the output of the V8, but with 233kW pf power, 423Nm of torque and weighing in at 73kg less than the GT equivalent, the four-cylinder version is instantly more nimble.
The front axle carries the equivalent of almost three bags of cement less, and that translates to an even faster and more responsive front end, and simply outstanding handling.
Acceleration is strong, albeit with some turbo-lag from standstill but none when in gear, and we particularly liked the flexibility of the four-cylinder that allowed strong progress but still managed a fuel consumption figure close to the official 8.5 litres per 100km, even though we were driving at the more enthusiastic end of the spectrum.
Pairing the superb 2.3-litre engine with the auto completely takes the edge from the EcoBoost and simply does not do it justice. If an automatic transmission is a must, then we say so is the V8.
The sound of the EcoBoost does not do the entry-level Mustang justice, even with some noise piped through the stereo system. If it was our money, we might be tempted to experiment with one of the numerous aftermarket exhaust systems available in the US for a more honest report.
It is at about this point we would normally conclude our pleasant second encounter with the Mustang and a summary that mentions impeccable handling, strong engines, divine looks and every-day versatility, but there have been many cars through the GoAuto garage that can be summarised in the same way.
What sets the Mustang apart from everything else on the road is its price. When the next wave of pony cars arrive, the full fat, purist's GT will cost just $57,490 before on-road costs.
What other V8-powered GT coupe with knee-quivering looks, a soundtrack from Hollywood and visceral dynamics can fit that budget? For that matter – what fits that criteria for double the money?And then we look at the cost of the EcoBoost – $45,990. We are not sure how Ford is offering the Mustang for such an unbelievable price, but we are glad they are.
Vehicles that achieve excellence in just one area of styling, performance and value don't come along every day, but cars that manage to excel in all three are rare automotive gems and that's why the Ford Mustang has to be one of the most impressive driver-focused cars we have experienced to date.
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