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Ford’s Mustang sleeper

Pony up: It might just have four cylinders, but the 233kW EcoBoost turbo Ford Mustang is muscle car lite.

V8 Mustang GT dominates orders, but Ford expects four-cylinder version to grow

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Ford logo10 Dec 2015

By RON HAMMERTON

ALMOST nine out of 10 of the 4000 Ford Mustang pre-orders in Australia are for the 5.0-litre V8 GT, with traditionalists ruling the pony car renaissance.

But Ford Australia expects the four-cylinder version, with its direct-injected 2.3-litre EcoBoost turbo engine and more affordable price tag, to make greater inroads as more people get to test drive the car now that shipments have started to arrive from the United States.

Company president and CEO Graeme Whickman told GoAuto that over time, four-cylinder Mustang sales could rise from the present 12 per cent to more than 20 per cent, and possibly as high as 25 per cent.

He said the current sales ratio of 88-12 in favour of the V8 GT was in line with Ford Australia’s predictions.

Because orders are being placed months in advance of production, Ford has the luxury of not having to guesstimate stock ratios, at least from the Australian end.

Mr Whickman said it also means customers can pre-order vehicles with full personalisation, straight from the factory.

The problem for Ford Australia is that the first year’s deliveries – 4000 units – are already spoken for, and getting a production increase from the factory is proving difficult.

Orders taken now are not expected to be delivered until 2017, and while the company says it is working on the factory to speed up shipments to Australia, it has nothing to announce on that front.

The first shipments of Australian-spec Mustangs have just arrived from the Flat Rock factory in Michigan, and are being sped to the early adopters at the head of the queue.

The formal Australia media launch for the Mustang will be held in January, with the first local drive of the V8 GT.

However, Australian motoring journalists were given a brief taste-test of the four-cylinder version during 50th anniversary celebrations for Ford Australia’s proving ground at the You Yangs, in Victoria, this week.

The drive comprised a couple of laps of the handling circuit in the EcoBoost coupe and convertible, both equipped with the six-speed automatic transmission.

Although it was hardly a definitive test – the super-smooth circuit has been newly resurfaced – we came away in agreement with Mr Whickman’s assessment that the four-pot version of the sixth-generation Mustang is a real sleeper.

If not for half a century of tradition that dictates V8 power for Mustang, this version would be highly rated in its own right.

Priced from $45,990 plus on-road costs – reflecting a $1000 rise this month – the entry level ‘Stang is, at first blush, cheap enough to attract interest and fast enough to stir the blood.

With 233kW of power and 432Nm of torque under the long and elegant snout, the twin-scroll turbocharged 2.3-litre engine provides performance that, not too many years ago, would not be out of place from a V8.

The smaller engine and related factors make the four-cylinder Mustang about 80kg lighter than the V8 version, further closing the performance gap.

According to Ford, the car can sprint from standstill to 100km/h in a respectable 5.9 seconds or about 1.1 seconds slower that the GT with its normally aspirated 303kW/525Nm 5.0-litre V8.

A glance under the bonnet reveals that the light four-cylinder sits well back in the engine bay, behind the front axle, with the transmission tucked under the car in true rear-wheel-drive style.

The result is a car with superb balance – an attribute that was immediately apparent on our laps of the sinuous Ford handling track with a testing series of right- and left-hand curves of various severities.

Gone is the live rear axle of yore, replaced by an up-to-date independent rear suspension – a so-called integral link design – with twin-tube dampers in the case of the four-cylinder model.

Riding flat and fast, the entry-level Mustang eats up the bitumen with a steering bite that feels more German than Yankee rust belt.

The electric-assisted steering is well weighted, with plenty of feel around the centre.

Despite the sporty handling, the ride seems surprisingly supple, at least on the test road we travelled, which was hardly a pot-holed mess. A proper road test is needed here.

One thing we did notice was the “ding” of stones thrown up under the mudguards, indicating a lack of underbody deadening, but hey, welcome to the world of automotive “light-weighting”.

Mercifully, Ford appears not to have skimped on body strength for the canvass-topped convertible, which is pleasingly free of dreaded scuttle shake.

Unfortunately, we did not get a top-down drive of the convertible (which commands a $6500 premium over the fastback coupe) – or even attempt to see how it folds away, but that just gives us a good excuse to borrow the car again at another date.

A good stomp on the brakes on the test track’s back straight indicated plenty of stopping power from the 352mm four-piston front brakes (the GT gets bigger discs with six-pot Brembos).

All Mustangs ride on black-painted 19-inch alloys with tyre pressure monitoring, but while the GT gets wider 275 tyres at the back, the four-cylinder variants get 255s all round.

The optional six-speed automatic transmission is a conventional torque converter type, and while steering wheel paddle shifters are included, the ‘box is probably best left to its own devices.

Inside, the comfortable leather-bound seats are both heated and cooled, and come with six-way electric adjustment.

Ford’s latest Sync2 connectivity is included, along with an eight-inch touchscreen armed with sat-nav and Bluetooth.

For the brave, there are switches to turn off traction control and ESC.

Interestingly, Ford’s blue oval badge is noticeably absent inside and outside the car, with the famous pony badge taking pride of place, including on the ground outside the driver’s door at night when the logo is beamed down from the exterior mirrors as a puddle illumination.

It helps that this car – the sixth generation of the legendary muscle car – was designed and engineered from the ground up as the first global Mustang.

A couple of small build-quality blemishes – such as an ill-fitting boot lid on the one of the cars we drove – serve to remind us that this is a Detroit car, but by and large, customers patiently waiting in the queue for delivery appear to have plenty to look forward to.

2016 Ford Mustang pricing*
ModelPrice
EcoBoost Fastback$45,990
EcoBoost Fastback (a)$48,490
EcoBoost Convertible (a)$54,990
GT Fastback$57,490
GT Fastback (a)$59,990
GT Convertible (a)$66,490
*Excludes on-road costs

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