He’s waited a long, long time for some pony rides, but finally Paul Gover, AMC’s newsman, has put the new range of Ford Australia-delivered Mustangs through its paces.
The new Mustang has me at hello. Well, in truth, I’m hit by a muscle car sucker punch even earlier than our formal introduction. Two days before the overdue Australian press preview of the first full factory right-handdrive Mustang in the car’s 50-year history I spot one on the street. It’s rumbling gently down past my favourite fish-and-chips haunt in Burleigh Heads on the Gold Coast.
The black-over-black V8 Hardtop is even more of a standout than I expected, and I just cannot help gawking. I’m not the only one, either.
Two days later I’m sliding behind the wheel of a Mustang and I feel the same excitement I remember from my very first Ford press preview drive, with the XD Falcon in Melbourne, way back in 1979.
“Clearly, it’s not just another car,” says the CEO of Ford Australia, Graeme Whickman, reading my thoughts.
In less than two days I’m going to get a full technical briefing and drive time with all of the Australian Mustang choices – 5-litre V8 and 2.3-litre Ecoboost four, six-speed manual and auto, Hardtop and Convertible bodies – including some closed-road sprinting time.
To cut to the chase, the car looks like a Mustang and sounds like a Mustang and drives like a Mustang. But it’s considerably better than any previous ’Stang and more affordable for Australians, with an official starting price of $45,990 that’s protected
He’s waited a long, long time for some pony rides, but finally Paul Gover, chief reporter, Carsguide and AMC’s newsman has put the new range of Ford Australiadelivered Mustangs through its paces.
for all existing orders despite a recent price rise caused by a drop in the Australian dollar.
The car is exactly what I expect, and a little more, which means it definitely gets The Tick from me. It’s way better than the Tickford Mustang imported in 2001, not as challenging to drive as an HSV Holden, and a long way down the road from the final Falcon.
Complaints? I’ve got a few, but there’s not too much to mention.
There is no digital speedometer, many of the plastic cabin pieces look and feel cheap, and the leather wrapping on the wheel feels like it came from a Minnesota steer that died from old age. Also, you cannot open or close the Convertible roof unless you’re stopped.
It’s not a remote surprise that the car is a sellout, with a waiting list that currently runs all the way through 2016 and will soon stretch well into the first half of 2017.
Ford Australia is predicting sales of between 3000 and 4000 Mustangs this year – around double its original forecast – meaning it could actually top the 2016 total for the Falcon which ends its run in the first week of October.
Whickman is clearly enjoying the Mustang’s arrival but is also using the car to combat more than a year of bad news about Broadmeadows, Falcon and Territory.
“It’s a combination of history and future. It says we’re here for a long time, but also that we can bring the best vehicles from around the world,” he says. “You don’t go through right-hand-drive vehicle programs like this without pretty significant
commitment. It says we can do some good things here with the right type of product.
“But it’s not necessarily the saviour of Ford. I think it’s an iconic vehicle that signals things, but I’m also proud of a lot of our vehicles.”
My preview drive begins just outside Sydney airport and my first sampler ’Stang is a yellow V8 automatic GT Convertible. But the sun is blazing today and the mercury is up, so the roof stays the same way.
My first impression is good. The Mustang looks great, there is a pleasant V8 rumble at idle, the body is taut and the cabin is quiet, and I get my first big smiles inside a kilometre and a wave from a youngster inside 10.
A little later I can feel that there is some scuttle shake on broken bitumen, and some of the cabin pieces look cheap, but then I crack the throttle wide open in second gear and that’s just background buzz. The tail squats down, the nose rears up, and I’m away with all 306 kiloWatts joining the celebration.
The end of Day One is all about facts and figures, history and background. So I learn that the bodyshell is completely new, that this is the first Mustang with independent rear-suspension, that the V8 is just on 100 kilograms heavier than the equivalent EcoBoost car, that the right-drive inlet manifold sucks out six horsepower from the American output, that the V8 gets six-piston front calipers and wider rear tyres than the four, that the EcoBoost is a stroked 2.3-litre version of the engine in the Falcon, and on and on.
“We wanted to create a modern interpretation of the Mustang,” says Carl Widmann, chief engineer of the Mustang. But he’s more of a salesman, since the car was created under the direction of Dave Pericak before he was promoted to world head of Ford Racing.
Widmann rattles through more details, from the split-folding back seat (that’s only suitable for kids) to 324 litres of boot space and all about the twin-scroll turbo on the EcoBoost car before he hits paydirt.
“This isn’t a vehicle that wants to be kept in the garage and only out for the weekends. It’s a daily driver. You can experience it every day of the week with no sacrifices.”
I know he is right the following morning as I jump into an EcoBoost auto coupe for a long thrash up some winding backroads. Only 12 per cent of buyers are currently going for the fourcylinder, although Ford expects this could eventually rise to one-third of Mustang sales, but it’s a sweet package.
It’s quick enough to justify its Mustang looks, has the same light steering as the V8 with suspension that soaks up bumps easily, and the mid-range turbo shove with 432 Newton-metres means it’s great for stop-start work and overtaking. But it’s when I’m chasing a V8 manual, keeping up by shifting early and often with the flappy paddles,
that I really appreciate the basic strengths of the new-age Mustang. I’m sitting down in the car, relaxed as I hustle, easily keeping the car planted, with great front-end grip and that hunkered-down rear-end drive, despite the pace.
If the Falcon had lived, this is exactly what I would have expected from the chassis package. And, finally, it’s a big Ford where you don’t feel like you’re perched up on a bar stool.
Yet the best is just ahead, as we turn into the closed-road course for some no-limits adventures and back-to-back runs in all four driveline combinations.
It’s also where I can clearly see the bigger back tyres of the V8 – 275x19 on 9.5 rims – the six-piston front brakes and their scoops from the front spoiler, as well as the slick six-speed manual shift. But there is no sign of a spare tyre, just a goop kit, although Widmann says one will be available this year on the EcoBoost models.
The new Mustangs all sprint impressively – although the only non-official timing pegs the car at 5.7 seconds to 100km/h when Ford says less than five, perhaps a problem in 38-degree heat – and the steering is just as communicative as I’ve found on the road. With the top down, the sound from the V8 in the convertible has me laughing.
The suspension approach, with soft-ish springs and firm dampers, allows just enough roll for confidence, as well as plenty of grip for cornering and exits. Some drivers punish the front tyres and complain about understeer after arriving too quickly at corners, but if you work with the car instead of fighting it, the result is quick and enjoyable.
It’s much as I’ve found already on the road, but with no limits I can push harder to confirm the car is good. It’s way more impressive than an XR8 in both the chassis and steering, and I’ve never got the nasty fear in the back of my mind – as I sometimes do in a highly-strung HSV car – that it might be about to bite me.
It’s definitely as fast as I want to go, the V8 soundtrack is fantastic, and the Ecoboost engine gives more than enough push for people who are not going to put their ’Stang on a track.
As I’m cooling down from the track action, with a long freeway run, I can appreciate the quiet and comfort of the car. There is no shortage of leg or head space, I can get exactly the driving position I want – something that’s never happened in a Falcon – and I can appreciate the value in pricing which reflects the real cost of a Mustang car and not just a Mustang badge.
And I love that the three air-vents in the centre of the dash pick up their inspiration from gauges in the sixties cars.
In the final rundown I’m only disappointed by the lack of a digital display, and I wonder how my six-year-old will fit in the back seat.
So, over less than two days, my earlier benchmark set by the ordinary and overpriced Tickford ’Stang of 2001-2002 has been scrubbed, and I’m building a fresh bank of memories that’s filled with satisfaction and smiles. This is a big dog – if you’ll excuse the canine analogy for a ponycar – but it’s completely house trained. this is a sports coupe that’s better than just a boulevard cruiser.
My big remaining question is how the Mustang will go in Australia once the’Stang tragics, many with an original in the garage, are satisfied. Can it win people who might be shopping it against a Toyota 86, or perhaps even a Lexus RC coupe?
I’m thinking that, provided the price stays as affordable as it looks, it will do very well. And I’m also thinking again of the impact the car first made on me at home. And how it will drive on roads I know.
This car’s job is to be a Mustang and it does it very, very well.
So, bottom line, would I? Yes.