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First drive: Long wait nearly over for Ford's Mustang

Pony up: Ford's latest Mustang will roll into local showrooms next year in V8 GT guise and with the option of a four-cylinder 2.3-litre EcoBoost turbo-petrol engine.

Ford honours the Mustang mantra with 2015 model and Australia is in for a treat

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Ford logo26 Sep 2014

By DANIEL GARDNER in Los Angeles

UPDATED: 29/09/2014WITH just months to go before Ford’s iconic Mustang arrives on Australian soil, GoAuto got behind the wheel in the pony-car’s homeland for a taste of things to come, but the blue oval says it is not a substitute for the passing Falcon XR8.

When it arrives next year, it will be the first large-scale offering of the Mustang Australia has seen, arriving in two variants - a 2.3-litre EcoBoost entry-level version and halo 5.0-litre V8, but the model is not intended to distract Ford fans form the death of the Falcon nameplate says Ford.

Speaking at the global launch in Los Angeles, Ford Australia communications and public affairs director Wes Sherwood told GoAuto the four-cylinder variants of Ford’s newest model will be the biggest seller locally.

“Mustang is a global icon so it's not a substitute for anything. It is a new opportunity in our lineup,” he said.

“Obviously we have a good base of customers for our performance vehicles so we expect some interest from that, but Mustang is so much more than that with the EcoBoost coming out”.

Mr Sherwood said an initial surge in demand for the top performing V8 powered GT would be followed by volume sales of the more efficient EcoBoost variant.

“People don't realise it but we sell more V6s than we sell GTs in America.

Early on in the launch you'll have a heavy GT number in the mix, but because it is an icon it appeals more to the mainstream,” he said.

“We expect over time to have more of the mainstream, particularly with the EcoBoost offering the fuel-efficiency with the performance that you expect from the Mustang, EcoBoost really resonates with Australians”.

With the Mustang soon to be released in Down Under, Mr Sherwood said that Australians who perhaps hadn’t realised their dream of renting a Mustang and driving America's Route 66 will now have similar ambitions on Australian soil.

“Mustang is about freedom and there aren’t many better places to go out and hit the open roads than Australia. That’s why it has become an icon and not just a car, because it means something to people.”

After our first day piloting the pony-badged coupe through the mountains skirting Los Angeles’ sprawling metropolis, we can safely say Australians should be very excited that the Mustang will reach our shores.

Our day started off in the petrol-head’s pick of the bunch - a 5.0-litre V8 GT Premium with six-speed manual gearbox and option performance pack.

The team of designers worked hard to give the Mustang a look that would appeal to both its loyal American following but also the tastes of new right-hand drive markets too.

In the flesh, the new Mustang has retained its muscular stance but has introduced a new elegance perhaps not seen before in the model.

Convertible and Fastback models don’t just differ in the roof line, they have completely different rear quarter panels from the door back to set the two variants apart.

Ours was dressed up in dark metallic grey Magnetic paint with gloss black 19-inch wheels as part of the GT Performance Package and a deleted boot spoiler for a more minimalist look.

Jumping into the black leather interior revealed a cosy cabin with milled-finish stainless dashboard trim, aluminium toggle-switches and superfluous but charming auxiliary gauges.

We particularly liked the no nonsense approach to the interior and a speedometer that reads ‘Road Speed’, implying some of your time may be spent airborne.

Negotiating the LA traffic was a pleasure peering over the long bonnet and using the driver’s side bonnet fin and vent like a rifle-sight to point the way.

Even thought the LA’s Hollywood suburb has more than its fair share of Mustangs, our test car turned heads everywhere it went. It seems Californians agree with us in thinking this is the prettiest Mustang since the very first of the 1960s.

At low speeds the GT’s tractive V8, manageable clutch and notchy gearbox were easy to use without becoming laborious, but as the traffic cleared the suburban roads made way for more Mustang-friendly pastures.

Under the Mustang GT’s bonnet lies a 5.0-litre normally aspirated V8, which in today’s increasing climate of forced induction engines might seem a bit of a dinosaur, but rest assured, the Ford V8 develops modern performance with an historical soundtrack.

With 320kW and 542Nm the Mustang GT really gallops.

Torque is available from low down in the rev-range but the near square engine rewards the driver for wringing it out to the redline and beyond with the most spine-tingling sounds produced at the 7000rpm cutout.

Its rev-limiter doesn’t aggressively interrupt power but subtly winds the taps off without startling the driver.

The sound of a Mustang is almost half of its appeal and the new version delivers its part of the deal admirably, with the sonorous roar seeming to come through the very panels - not just the exhaust or induction as many brands choose to do.

Equally as accomplished is the six-speed Getrag gearbox that sends the power to the rear wheels via a 3.73 Torsen differential (also part of the Performance Package).

Selecting first and second gears sends back a reassuring clunk as the drivetrain meshes and selections are precise, mechanical and easy to place, even for a driver used to changing with the other hand.

When up and moving the beefy cogs responded well to a heavy hand and smashing through gears was the icing on the V8 cake. We pity anyone who chooses the six-speed automatic transmission.

The manual ratios are very tight which produces an involving drive but the broad power range in the V8 doesn’t necessarily need such tight bunching and a little wider spacing might suit the manual Mustang better.

Attacking corners at speed couldn’t phase the Mustang’s capable road-manner and a planted front-end gave us the confidence to push through winding canyon roads at pace.

As you might expect, the tail is the first end to brake free if provoked but with excellent balance. Backing off the power would bring things back in check and sharpens the turn-in at the other end.

Coasting through corners off-power revealed the Mustang’s excellent front-to-rear balance with weight predictably rolling to the rear axle and staying there if the throttle was buried.

While it feels like a big car, the Mustang resists roll and pitch with infallible stubbornness, but still offers a comfortable ride when on rougher roads.

Its ride is firm and skips a little on concrete freeways, but generally we feel its suspension set-up will suit Australian roads very well.

In the American GT Premium spec, the Mustang gets electric front seats, with effective heating and cooling, a nine speaker sound system, eight-inch touchscreen with Ford's SYNC connectivity system and Bluetooth phone and audio, reversing camera, cabin noise cancellation and a projector that beams an image of a pony onto the floor when the car is unlocked.

Top spec manual versions also get a frivolous line-lock function, which allows only the front brakes to be applied for a more impressive burnout. The feature is a popular drag-racing car modification but this is the first time any production model has featured such a system.

GT versions are identifiable by a pair of bonnet vents – and that soundtrack of course.

Door-mirror field of view will almost certainly need to be improved for the Australian market, with our test car providing an almost letter-box view.

Conversely, the rear view mirror offers a generous look at what is going on behind.

For the afternoon we took the wheel of the 2.3-litre EcoBoost powered Mustang.

Acceleration in the entry-level Mustang was surprisingly good with 228kW and 434Nm of torque allowing very good pace when coupled with the same six-speed manual gearbox.

Turbo-lag was minimal and the four-cylinder engine pulled strongly in all gears, but while a satisfying and obvious whistle was produced by the turbo, we couldn’t help feeling its engine note didn’t fit the look of the Mustang.

Coming from the tailpipe of a hot-hatch the note would be satisfying, but we feel a pony-badged car needs the unmistakable allure of a V8.

Our second test car also had the optional Performance Pack fitted and handling was even more lively that the GT, with 45 fewer kilograms over the front axle.

As a performance car the EcoBoost Mustang is not a compromise when measured against the more powerful GT. It rewards the driver in just the same way but to a lower threshold - and sadly lacking the perfect accompanying noise.

EcoBoost Premium variants don't get quite as much kit as the GT but are still well fitted out with keyless entry and start, six speaker sound system, 4.2-inch information screen, electric seats, reversing camera, LED fog-lights and two USB ports.

Our test car was also fitted with optional Recaro sports seats which looked and felt just right in the Fastback Mustang, but the generous side-bolsters annoyingly obstructed our elbows when steering.

Pricing has yet to be confirmed for Australia but widespread reports predict EcoBoost versions to start at about $50,000 and GT variants nearer the $70,000 mark.

We are delighted the Ford Mustang is finally coming to Australia and have no doubt the latest look will be well received by Australian fans.

The four-cylinder EcoBoost might not appeal to ‘Stang purists (or us) but it is undeniably a very capable and rewarding car wrapped up the same great looking shell of its high-performance twin.

But the last word has to go to the sensational GT, which perfectly honours the Mustang mantra of performance, pace, arresting looks and a captivating soundtrack.

It has taken a long time to come to Australia but after 50 years we are being treated to the best the Mustang badge has to offer.

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