Automotive

Wild horses: Coming to grips with the 2016 Mustang range

Wild horses: Coming to grips w...
Ford's new Mustang is a throughly more modern take on the muscle car than its predecessors
Ford's new Mustang is a throughly more modern take on the muscle car than its predecessors
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The Mustang's clear taillights caused a bit of debate among the Australian press at launch
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The Mustang's clear taillights caused a bit of debate among the Australian press at launch
Cars with the V8 get a GT badge, while EcoBoost cars get the pony badge
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Cars with the V8 get a GT badge, while EcoBoost cars get the pony badge
The car rides nicely, but still can boogie in the bends
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The car rides nicely, but still can boogie in the bends
The V8 with a manual gearbox is the ideal configuration for the new Mustang
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The V8 with a manual gearbox is the ideal configuration for the new Mustang
There's a bit of body roll on turn in, but once it's settled you can use the car's rear-drive balance to keep your line tight
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There's a bit of body roll on turn in, but once it's settled you can use the car's rear-drive balance to keep your line tight
The Mustang's stability control is effective, allowing a bit of slip but also keeping things well and truly under control
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The Mustang's stability control is effective, allowing a bit of slip but also keeping things well and truly under control
There's more than just a hint of Aston Martin in the Mustang's windowline
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There's more than just a hint of Aston Martin in the Mustang's windowline
Although it doesn't look massive, the Mustang is a hefty car, with the EcoBoost weighing in at 1,666 kg
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Although it doesn't look massive, the Mustang is a hefty car, with the EcoBoost weighing in at 1,666 kg
Ford has worked hard to make sure the V8 is smooth and free all the way through the rev range
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Ford has worked hard to make sure the V8 is smooth and free all the way through the rev range
The difference between the EcoBoost Mustang and the V8 is massive when you point its nose at a few corners
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The difference between the EcoBoost Mustang and the V8 is massive when you point its nose at a few corners
There's no mistaking the Mustang for anything else, but the design is far more modern than the car's predecessor
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There's no mistaking the Mustang for anything else, but the design is far more modern than the car's predecessor
There's very little to separate the V8 from the EcoBoost Mustang outside
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There's very little to separate the V8 from the EcoBoost Mustang outside
Ford's initial estimates for Mustang demand in Australia turned out to be wildly conservative
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Ford's initial estimates for Mustang demand in Australia turned out to be wildly conservative
There's plenty of space in the boot for road-trip bags, but the rear seat isn't really fit for human use
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There's plenty of space in the boot for road-trip bags, but the rear seat isn't really fit for human use
We think the car's clear taillights look fantastic, even if Australia doesn't get the sequential turn signals
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We think the car's clear taillights look fantastic, even if Australia doesn't get the sequential turn signals
There's nothing quite like a long bonnet to create a bit of presence on the road
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There's nothing quite like a long bonnet to create a bit of presence on the road
The Mustang's automatic gearbox is good, but you'd be mad to turn down the chance to pair a big V8 with a stick
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The Mustang's automatic gearbox is good, but you'd be mad to turn down the chance to pair a big V8 with a stick
Ford's new Mustang is a throughly more modern take on the muscle car than its predecessors
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Ford's new Mustang is a throughly more modern take on the muscle car than its predecessors
The car will still pull smoky burnouts and slides, but we thought it best not to try on the road
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The car will still pull smoky burnouts and slides, but we thought it best not to try on the road
The sleek front end is unique enough to be special, but also does a good job carrying the Mustang's history
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The sleek front end is unique enough to be special, but also does a good job carrying the Mustang's history
We'd choose the V8 over the EcoBoost
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We'd choose the V8 over the EcoBoost
The fastback profile of the 2016 Mustang
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The fastback profile of the 2016 Mustang
The prancing horse is up against a raft of muscle cars in America, but Aussies aren't so spoiled for choice
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The prancing horse is up against a raft of muscle cars in America, but Aussies aren't so spoiled for choice
You notice the car's size when you're on the roads around the city
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You notice the car's size when you're on the roads around the city
Heated and cooled seats are an absolute blessing
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Heated and cooled seats are an absolute blessing
There are a few naff touches around the cabin, like the "ground speed" markings on the speedo
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There are a few naff touches around the cabin, like the "ground speed" markings on the speedo
Ford's Sync 2 system handles infotainment
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Ford's Sync 2 system handles infotainment
The cabin is nicely put together, but there are still some dodgy materials around
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The cabin is nicely put together, but there are still some dodgy materials around
The rear seats are okay for very short people on very short trips.
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The rear seats are okay for very short people on very short trips.
There's no digital speedo, but the Mustang does offer a raft of toys to play with on the track
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There's no digital speedo, but the Mustang does offer a raft of toys to play with on the track
The V8 feels fast, even if we'd like a bit more noise
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The V8 feels fast, even if we'd like a bit more noise
The Mustang would make a great grand tourer
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The Mustang would make a great grand tourer

The Mustang is a motoring icon, but even icons need to change and evolve with the times. For Ford, that meant turning to EcoBoost power and (finally) dropping the live rear end for a fully independent setup. But has it worked, and is it sacrilege to stick a Mustang badge on a turbocharged four-cylinder car? Gizmag spent time driving the whole Mustang range to find out whether the V8 still rules the roost, or if the little turbo is the pick of the bunch.

Initial signs are good for the EcoBoost, which looks almost identical to the V8 save for its wheels and badges. Good thing, too, because the new Mustang looks absolutely fantastic. There's more than a hint of Aston Martin in the windowline, which flows beautifully into a neat bootlid spoiler, and there's nothing quite like a proper long bonnet to create a bit of drama on the road.

Down back, the three slit-like taillight can be had in red or with clear lenses, which was something that caused a bit of debate among journos on launch. We love the look of the clear ones, but others think they look cheap, especially when the car's parked. Everyone has their own opinion, of course, so it's something to keep in mind as you're filling out the order form at the dealership.

The other big question you'll be asking yourself is what your 'Stang should be packing under the hood. After all, in the past the only Pony worth parking in your stable was the V8 – unless your stable was a Hertz parking lot, that is.

The fastback profile of the 2016 Mustang
The fastback profile of the 2016 Mustang

It's not quite as clear cut anymore, because Ford's EcoBoost line of engines is excellent. We loved our time with the punchy little Fiesta ST, and a brief spin in a Focus ST proved the magic has rubbed off on its bigger stablemate. Perhaps the best endorsement of the motor is the fact Ford has reworked it and stuffed it under the Focus RS' hood.

With 233 kW (310 hp) on tap, and a meaty 432 Nm (319 lb-ft) of torque, it's no slouch in a straight line. What's more, 90 percent of peak torque is available from just 1,720 RPM, which means you'll never struggle when it comes to overtaking on the freeway.

From the driver's seat it feels quick, albeit in a very different way to the V8. You get a nice shove in the back through the midrange, but the feel through the seat of the pants is more "hot hatch" than it is throbbing pony car. It's the same story with the engine note, which is well and truly shaded by the RenaultSport Megane we drove last year for four-cylinder fireworks.

If the engine is effective but uninspiring, the EcoBoost well and truly redeems itself in the bends. In the process of cutting the cylinder count in half Ford has also done away with 75 kg (165 lb), which makes a huge difference on turn in. It's not the sort of difference that's only noticeable when you're getting carried away at high speeds either – from the second you take off in the EcoBoost that sense of lightness is clear.

That said, the four-cylinder Mustang isn't a rock-hard, razor-sharp corner-carving machine. There's still an initial bit of bodyroll, as the car's 1,666 kg (3,673 lb) makes itself known. But there's plenty of grip, and any understeer can be easily dealt with by your right foot. After all, the engine might feel a bit hot-hatch, but this is still a proper rear-drive muscle car.

So the EcoBoost is a bit of a surprise package in the corners, but does that mean the V8 is a wallowing mess, not fit for "driving enthusiasts" who use words like "spirited" and "dynamic" to describe their Sunday drives? Er, no.

We'd choose the V8 over the EcoBoost
We'd choose the V8 over the EcoBoost

It's not as fast to turn in, and you are aware of the extra metal hanging over the front end compared to the EcoBoost Mustang, but the difference simply isn't enough to turn us off everything else the V8 has to offer.

Thanks to 306 kW (435 hp) and a chunky 530 Nm (391 lb-ft) of torque, flooring the accelerator will pin you back in the seat, accompanied by a noise that gets better as the revs climb. That said, we'd still prefer a bit more volume. After all, Mustang buyers generally aren't shrinking violets, and there's always the EcoBoost for those people who don't want to ruffle too many feathers.

Noise aside, the V8 revs cleanly all the way from idle to redline thanks to new cylinder heads, intake manifolds and a forged steel crankshaft that cuts down on vibration at high revs. You won't want to spend too much exploring the upper reaches of the rev range on the road though: second gear sees you up around the legal limit in Australia, and the top of third will put you deep into license-losing territory.

The cabin is nicely put together, but there are still some dodgy materials around
The cabin is nicely put together, but there are still some dodgy materials around

Your right foot can also get you into trouble with the police if, like in Australia, they're not particularly keen on tail-out shenanigans. No, we didn't turn off the ESP and try to emulate Ken Block, but we can confirm the car will slide if you want it to. Thankfully for ham-fisted buyers (okay, and ham-fisted Gizmag journos) the stability control will allow a bit of slip in Sport+ mode before neatly trimming the power to tidy everything up for you.

There's a section of petrolhead fandom that hates stability control because it undermines the "purity" of the driving experience, but we'd much rather the system stepped in and prevented a pure, unassisted accident on the road.

Thankfully, if your license is a bit worse for wear you can slot the chunky gearlever into top gear and cruise without the Mustang feeling like it's straining at the leash. In fact once you're done entertaining your Steve McQueen fantasies and trying to drive the doors off it, you could sit back in the fantastic bucket seats and cross a country in perfect comfort.

The rear seats are okay for very short people on very short trips.
The rear seats are okay for very short people on very short trips.

Left in normal mode the suspension won't rattle your teeth out, and the cabin is a nice place to spend time, although there are still some questionable materials scattered around. Also, drivers in right-hand drive markets shouldn't expect to get much use out of the centre cupholders for anything other than phones and wallets, because they sit directly behind the gearlever in manual cars.

And you don't want to get in the way of that gearlever because having a big V8 connected to three pedals and a stick is a privilege that's fast fading from the motoring landscape. If you absolutely must have an automatic, the Mustang's six speeder gets the job done with a minimum of fuss. Downshifts are sharp in track mode, and the paddles generally do what's asked of them, although we did have the car flat out refuse to change down under heavy braking, which was frustrating considering a quick heel-and-toe downshift would've done the job in the manual car.

If two-pedal cruising is your thing, there's heaps of space in the boot, more than enough for two people's bags on a long-haul roadtrip. You'll notice that, despite the 'Stang being a four seater, that's two people's bags. If you've get legs or a head, there's simply no use even trying to squeeze into the rear seats, so any family jaunts cross-country are out of the question unless both the kids are circus-grade contortionists.

Cars with the V8 get a GT badge, while EcoBoost cars get the pony badge
Cars with the V8 get a GT badge, while EcoBoost cars get the pony badge

You might have noticed the Mustang sounds like a bit of an all-rounder. You can forget the last few generations of Mustang, which cashed in on the brand's heritage without ever truly taking the spirit of the original car and making it relevant today. This is a car that, as well as looking fantastic, can play sports coupe, grand tourer or daily driver.

And the equation becomes even more persuasive when you consider the car's rivals. In the USA there's the Chevrolet Camaro and Dodge Challenger, but in Europe, Japan and Australia there's almost nothing that lines up alongside the Mustang. With a starting price of around US$25,500 (AUD$46,000 in Australia), the EcoBoost's price puts it up against hot-hatches like the Golf GTi – and I know which car I'd rather have sitting in my driveway.

Product page: 2016 Mustang

11 comments
owlbeyou
Not my kind of car, but the article is well written. Thx Scott.
Bob
I rented a new 2.3 turbo Mustang last month and was quite impressed. It reminded me of the old big block sedans of the 1960s. Lots of power but not muscle car power or the high fuel consumption. I am looking forward to driving the V8.
Stickmaker
I test drove a turbocharged four-cylinder Mustang pace car in 1980. I wound up buying a 3.8 litre straight-six. That was a surprisingly good engine and would easily chirp the tires in second gear.
CharlieSeattle
I see Ford is shortening the hood and rounding off the front corners even more now. The front looks like a Chevy Vega now! MAKE IT LOOK LIKE A MUSTANG!
POOL PUMPREAPAIR guy longwood
Too small of a motor for the weight, doomed to fail. I like the Chevy Vega. ha
David Griffin
The 4 cylinder version Mustangs have always had visual giveaways in the past. Higher ride height, due to the lighter engine, single exhaust pipe and typically a different lower bumper. It looks like they're finally doing more to blur the visual lines, but honestly, most GT owners are in love with the power and sounds. I've owner an ecoboost f-150 and while powerful, the fuel savings was a joke. This makes me nervous regarding Fords turbocharging capabilities. That being said, my '07 GT has been running a Ford supercharger at 530 crank HP for 70k miles now with no mechanical woes of any kind. So if they can keep improving their engines durability, I'll be a customer for life. Also, the '17 GT-500 is slated to have twin turbos. So even the Mustang's king will soon be turbocharged. This may also improve the atrocious resale value of the non-GT models.
Madlyb
"...and is it sacrilege to stick a Mustang badge on a turbocharged four-cylinder car?" Heck no, one of my favorite Mustangs to drive was the SVO offered in the 80's. The lighter weight, combined with the Koni suspension and the heel and toe friendly pedal arrangement made it a great ride on the curvy roads in my area.
BG59
All of the new Mustangs are great! I love the I4 Ecoboost too, 300+ hp in that small package is amazing and it makes for a better balanced, better handling car.
MD
Why so heavy, at 1666 kg, is that due to modern lightweight materials and manufacturing processes. If a race cage only weighs in the order of 100kg (open to arguments) there is no need for more weight in the interests of safety. Oh the powered seats and air-con weighs a "ton".... wow. Why don't modern cars use more thermoplastic (recyclable) for non-structural panels. Yep I know cost, so they lump the public with crowd-pleasing heavy metal pita-and-circuses, because the good stuff costs more dough.
Florida Rj
I have the Mustang(2012 v6) and I. Just. Absolutely. Love it. It gets great gas mileage on the highway yet still has plenty of punch, looks great, turns heads and still makes me smile when I see it at the end of the day. Life is not just about getting from point A to point B.