Automotive

Review: Ford's Mustang GT is a V8-powered smile generator

On the highway is where the Mustang is most comfortable, although it can handle itself in the twisties as well
On the highway is where the Mustang is most comfortable, although it can handle itself in the twisties as well
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The 'Stang draws plenty of attention to itself, not least in our test car's Race Red finish
1/23
The 'Stang draws plenty of attention to itself, not least in our test car's Race Red finish
With personalised numberplates, the Mustang really stands out in a crowd
2/23
With personalised numberplates, the Mustang really stands out in a crowd
When you open it up, the Mustang will hit 100 km/h in under 5 seconds
3/23
When you open it up, the Mustang will hit 100 km/h in under 5 seconds
Ford's global Mustang hasn't lost its all-American charm
4/23
Ford's global Mustang hasn't lost its all-American charm
With 305 kW, the Mustang has plenty of grunt to move its considerable bulk
5/23
With 305 kW, the Mustang has plenty of grunt to move its considerable bulk
The view from behind the bonnet power bulge is one children dream about having
6/23
The view from behind the bonnet power bulge is one children dream about having
The Mustang is still a bit crude at times, but that doesn't mean it's not an experience worth having
7/23
The Mustang is still a bit crude at times, but that doesn't mean it's not an experience worth having
On the highway is where the Mustang is most comfortable, although it can handle itself in the twisties as well
8/23
On the highway is where the Mustang is most comfortable, although it can handle itself in the twisties as well
At almost 2 meters wide, the Mustang can feel a bit big for narrow country lanes
9/23
At almost 2 meters wide, the Mustang can feel a bit big for narrow country lanes
Ford's classic, three slit taillights look perfectly at home on the modern Mustang
10/23
Ford's classic, three slit taillights look perfectly at home on the modern Mustang
On the highway is where the Mustang is most comfortable, although it can handle itself in the twisties as well
11/23
On the highway is where the Mustang is most comfortable, although it can handle itself in the twisties as well
The black wheels are standard, with a nickel-polished option available
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The black wheels are standard, with a nickel-polished option available
Ford's SYNC touchscreen has been given a makeover to fit into the Mustang
13/23
Ford's SYNC touchscreen has been given a makeover to fit into the Mustang
Those rocker switches look good, but are plasticky to the touch
14/23
Those rocker switches look good, but are plasticky to the touch
The piece of trim running along the center console is real aluminum
15/23
The piece of trim running along the center console is real aluminum
We've decided cooled seats should be standard on every car on sale today after using the Mustang's
16/23
We've decided cooled seats should be standard on every car on sale today after using the Mustang's
The Mustang's interior design is attractive, and feels good to the touch for the most part
17/23
The Mustang's interior design is attractive, and feels good to the touch for the most part
Everything, from the color of the gauges to the ambient lighting, can be tweaked
18/23
Everything, from the color of the gauges to the ambient lighting, can be tweaked
The rear seats are only useful for children or contortionists
19/23
The rear seats are only useful for children or contortionists
The V8 is central to the Mustang's appeal
20/23
The V8 is central to the Mustang's appeal
Ford has given the Mustang a modern suspension setup
21/23
Ford has given the Mustang a modern suspension setup
The Mustang GT is fitted with a 5.0-liter V8 that's charming and powerful
22/23
The Mustang GT is fitted with a 5.0-liter V8 that's charming and powerful
Although there's an EcoBoost available, we're huge fans of the old fashioned V8
23/23
Although there's an EcoBoost available, we're huge fans of the old fashioned V8

Since its launch in 1965, each new Mustang has carried a world of expectation; not just from motoring enthusiasts, but from anyone who's seen one burble past, or been for a ride, or watched Steve McQueen hustle his car around the hilly San Fransisco streets in Bullitt. Even though it's never been a global car, the Mustang is a global icon. Finally though, the rest of the world has a slice of that all-American apple pie, and if our week in a bright red GT Fastback is anything to go by, Ford has managed to instill the latest pony with the same magic that's seen it remain a blue-collar hero for over 50 years.

At the heart of the quintessential Mustang experience is a big, burbling V8 motor, and the 5.0-liter Coyote under the GT's hood doesn't disappoint. With 325 kW (435 hp), and a chunky 542 Nm (400 lb.ft) of torque on tap, the V8 still dominates any Mustang drive. Thumb the start button and it explodes into life with a quick spike of revs before settling into a lazy, offbeat idle – but that doesn't mean there's not a few tricks up its sleeve.

With personalised numberplates, the Mustang really stands out in a crowd
With personalised numberplates, the Mustang really stands out in a crowd

Thanks to a new cylinder head featuring revised, straighter intake ports, Ford says the engine is more willing to chase the redline than the V8s from Mustang's past. It seems to have worked, too, because putting your foot down in any of the bottom three gears sends the rev needle sweeping smoothly and quickly all the way to its 7,000 rpm cutout.

Our only complaint has nothing to do with the engine's cylinder head, or the clever intake manifold designed to smooth the traditionally lumpy V8 idle, or even with the GT's terrifying thirst for premium unleaded. It's the noise. From the outside it sounds properly mean, all growly and grumbly like you've woken it from hibernation, and poking the throttle in neutral is enough to make you weak at the knees. But with the windows up in the cabin the whole experience is a bit too muted for our liking, almost as if the motor is a bit self conscious. Mind you, if we drank 19 l/100km (12 mpg) of BP's finest sitting in traffic, I suppose we'd be a bit sheepish too.

Ford, please let the motor really clear its throat: we love the American stereotype because it's loud, brash and willing to tell you what it really thinks. The opposite end of the scale is polite, neat and British, and god knows we don't want that. There's already a crop of aftermarket options available, but it would be nice if the factory really let that brilliant motor sing.

Still, if the noise isn't enough to stop you in your tracks, Ford's drop-dead gorgeous styling certainly will. Having flown under the radar in the garish Renault Megane R.S, and barely earned a sideways glance in a Tesla Model S capable of scaring McLaren's legendary F1, we were concerned fast cars simply don't excite the public anymore. Boy, did "Pony 26" prove us wrong.

The Mustang GT is fitted with a 5.0-liter V8 that's charming and powerful
The Mustang GT is fitted with a 5.0-liter V8 that's charming and powerful

From the second it arrived at the office, it turned heads like nothing else short of ultra-expensive Italian exotica because no matter where you to look, no matter the light or time of day, there's not a surface on the Mustang that isn't doing a job. The slim front grille is a direct throwback to the original Mustang, as are the triple-slit taillights and Coke-bottle hips, but somehow the design also manages to look thoroughly modern, with a glasshouse that flows into the car's bootlid spoiler so cohesively it could make an Aston Martin blush.

Every set of traffic lights is an exercise is crowd pleasing: some people want a thumbs up, although others are harder to please. To the group of teenagers crammed into a Hyundai Getz who were denied a big, loud rev by the police car sitting behind them, we're sorry. Sometimes you can't make everyone happy.

The crowd of onlookers would be impressed if they could see inside, too, because the interior strikes a neat balance between retro and modern. With a twin-cowl design that evokes the original Mustang's interior and makes it easy for Ford to convert the car from left to right-hand-drive, there's enough retro going on to keep traditionalists happy, but enough technology from the SYNC 2 touchscreen and electronic trip computer to appease millennials.

Beyond the city limits Mustang owners are going to want to open the stable door and let their pony run free, and if that means long-haul cruising they're not going to be disappointed. In our neck of the woods there's not much room to stretch your 'Stang beyond the top of second gear, because pushing the top of third is a surefire way to earn a date with some handcuffs and a bailiff. But load it up with luggage and good company, set the cruise control to 80 mph along a deserted US Interstate with Bruce Springsteen blasting through the Shaker stereo – that's an idea we can get behind.

The 'Stang draws plenty of attention to itself, not least in our test car's Race Red finish
The 'Stang draws plenty of attention to itself, not least in our test car's Race Red finish

Carving Californian canyons is a different prospect. Measuring up at 1916 mm (75.43 in) wide, the 'Stang is comfortably wider than a Land Rover Defender and a Hummer H3, and boy do you feel it on tight, twisty roads. When the tarmac gets properly narrow, keeping it between the white lines is all about crossing your fingers, thinking skinny thoughts and hoping there's not a truck barrelling around the next corner.

At launch, Ford made a big deal of the Mustang's fully independent rear suspension, which replaced the live rear axle made famous on particularly unsophisticated horse-and-carts. Compared to its predecessor, the new GT's fully independent suspension has been tuned to provide twice as much anti-squat, anti-lift and anti-dive on each axle for better body control under heavy throttle or brake inputs.

What's more, the system has been built using aluminum rear knuckles to remove unsprung weight. There's even a clever non-isolated front subframe to increase stiffness and do away with traditional crossmembers.

So, has it changed the character of the quintessential muscle car forever? Not quite, although it has undoubtedly improved. We were impressed by the new 'Stang's composed handling at launch, but having pushed the car on some different roads, we found its body control a bit lacking. Driving at 60 or 70 percent won't cause you any problems, but pushing beyond that to indulge your inner Schumacher can leave the car feeling floaty and loose on bumpy surfaces.

The V8 is central to the Mustang's appeal
The V8 is central to the Mustang's appeal

Instead of trying to drive the doors off it, we found the best way to bring the Mustang to heel was always have its hefty 1,739 kg (3,834 lb) curb weight in the back of your mind. Rather than treating it like a hot hatch or small sports coupe, you've got to get the big Ford turned in and let it settle on its outside tires. Once it's in and balanced, you can make the most of the car's locking rear differential and get on the throttle to tweak your line.

This was easy to do in the stick shift we drove earlier in the year, but slightly more difficult in the automatic we drove this time around. Whereas the stick let you get in the right gear early and balance the car of the throttle, the auto was prone to shifting mid corner, throwing the balance out and making for some uncomfortable situations. The solution? Get busy with the paddles behind the wheel, or stick to open sweeping roads, where the big pony feels right at home.

It is worth keeping in mind, however, this isn't meant to be an out-and-out sportscar, because Ford already has its Focus RS and Fiesta ST to keep the purists happy. This is a big, lumpy dinosaur designed to put a smile on your face, and it delivers on that promise perfectly.

The Mustang's interior design is attractive, and feels good to the touch for the most part
The Mustang's interior design is attractive, and feels good to the touch for the most part

Its appeal is universal, its magnetism almost unmatched in the world of performance cars, and for US$32,395 (or AUD$62,200), you're hard pressed to find anything to match its performance, let alone the badge credibility that little horse on the bonnet brings. Perhaps that's why Ford has just committed to sending another 2000 Mustangs to Australia, having found itself with order wait lists stretching out beyond 12 months.

If I had the money and space to park it, I wouldn't hesitate to drop those dollars on the new Mustang. It's the sort of motoring experience your kids will talk about when we're all whizzing around in homogenised Google pods.

Ford has given the Mustang a modern suspension setup
Ford has given the Mustang a modern suspension setup

9 comments
Robert Walther
An American classic with right hand drive on left hand drive roads. I did not know that the Mustang came in UK drive set-up.
James1298
Looks like Ford fell in love with toggle switches and Chrome plastic. Nice car overall, but their interiors have always looked cheap.
Michael Wilson
this is the first mustang to be offered in rhd and the second to come with an independent rear suspension and optional 4 cyl engine. Ford is really chasing the global market with this one. I rented a 6spd model last year and went on a 300 mile roadtrip. Fun car, but it is best left to highway jaunts with long, sweeping curves and straights. There wasn't too much trunk room and the clutch felt vague. That being said though, the car got marvelous (29 mpg) highway mileage and was a genuine fun drive. It never felt low on power or the torque band far out of place. Also, the IRS really made the ride much more compliant over bumpy surfaces than in the past. The interior also grew on me, and I was very glad ford included an option to turn off the hill assist. The hill start assist is a little aggressive with the brakes IMHO. Both myself and my co-driver....were constantly thwarted on hill starts by it.
EcoLogical
I've owned several muscle cars ('69 Mercury Cougar, '91 Pontiac Firebird Formula) and loved them but Tesla has demonstrated that the future of muscle cars (and indeed all of transportation) is electric. The all-electric Tesla Model S P90DL is the fastest stock sedan in the world ... 0 ~ 60 mph in 2.8 seconds. Ford & GM, if you don't yet see the writing on the wall then you should open your eyes, Tesla has had a waiting list for the Model S & X for years but the Model 3 phenomenon that began March 31, 2016 is unprecedented ... > 276,000 reservations (with a $1,000 deposit) and counting...
Calson
All the horsepower aside the Mustangs have always been tinny cars. I rented one a couple years ago and it creaked as the metal would flex during normal freeway driving. Even a Kia is a better built car. For a coupe my next car is likely to be the new Miata and definitely will not be a Mustang.
JweenyPwee
@EcoLogical The problem with drinking the green coolaid is that it often puts the cart in front of the horse. You are right, electric is the future and Teslas are great cars. But the fact remains, we still depend on liquid fuel. The notion that Ford (or any maker) should stop making gas sports cars is utterly absurd currently. Just absolute fantasy land utopian nonsense. For sake of argument, lets say Ford drops all gas powered vehicles for 2017. Now you have millions upon millions of people unable to commute to work, let alone between cities. The problem is the electric charging technology and infrastructure just is not there yet. 1,000,000 electric cars, 5 quick charging stations...basically. So Ford and most makers are right on the money in 2016. Increasing the efficiency of gasoline engines while steadily producing more electric vehicles as technology progresses. "Stop making gas sports cars" is a valid statement in 2050, not 2016.
Kpar
I found the comment about the automatic transmission interesting. I once had an '85 Ford CVPI- the engine was not much (my '92 and my '03 had much more than twice the power!) but I had a similar problem with downshifts in curves (I am what one might call a "brisk" driver)- as I went deep into the corners, I would set a line and apply power for the exit- and the trans would ALWAYS shift at the most inopportune time- about two or three seconds late. I am sorry that Ford has reintroduced this issue- my '92 and '03 CVPIs worked great...
Scott in California
@JweenyPwee The accelerating pace of change is something you are not feeling. My neighbor now has an electric, and never visited a charging station. Only charges with an extension cord. It used to be, in my youth, that gas stations were on four corners of every other intersection. With anti-leak legislation, those went away. Range anxiety is a bluff by the ICE crowd to keep buyers from finding out that they don't need any commute range that isn't already available with electrics. I have yet to meet an electric car owner (and I have known home builders since 1992) who said, "It's too much hassle. Back to gasoline." This Mustang and all the huge trucks with six-foot-high hoods are all marketing gimmicks to squeeze the last bit of profit out of the ICE Era. Consumers will be left dangling with outmoded stuff (like when leaded gas was outlawed.)
Martin Winlow
@Scott in California You are right (on both counts). Why do we all imagine oil is at a 10 year low? One possibility is that all the major oil producers (except, of course, in the US) have realised that EVs are going to replace the majority of ICEVs in a matter of not 30 or 50 years but within the next 10 to 20. Consequently, they want to get as much oil out of the ground and flog it off as quickly as they can before the price *really* collapses to something like $5/b. When you consider that 30% of oil is destined to road vehicles, if that were to suddenly disappear, a price crash would be a likely eventuality. I absolutely understand the notion of range anxiety - I was once a new EV driver myself. But it is just a question of mental adjustment to a new paradigm. Most car users do the same driving pattern every day and most of those consist of distances well below even todays cheaper EVs (US average, 30 miles). So, once you have done your usual drive 3 or 4 times and realised you have a sizeable margin of charge left when you get home, the range anxiety simply evaporates. Anyway, I appreciate I'm not going to be able to convince people that they should be driving an EV, especially people attracted to the headline of this article! One other thing I would point out, though... whilst I understand the positive emotional effect a V8 engine with a well designed exhaust system can have on one as it passes by, bear in mind that it is something that not everyone (especially if you live near a road) will enjoy, particularly if being used antisocially. This just isn't an issue in an EV.
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