May the four be with you

You can get al­most the full Mus­tang ex­pe­ri­ence, mi­nus the roar, for about $10K less than the V8

Herald Sun - Motoring - - ROAD TEST - JOSHUA DOWL­ING NA­TIONAL MO­TOR­ING ED­I­TOR joshua.dowl­ing@news.com.au

THE frown comes first, then dis­be­lief. That’s what hap­pens when you tell peo­ple the new Ford Mus­tang they’re ad­mir­ing is a — gasp — four-cylin­der.

To many Amer­i­cans it’s like find­ing out their favourite WWF wrestler lacks the strength to lift a fork, let alone put some­one on the can­vas. Wel­come to the brave new au­to­mo­tive world of down­sized en­gines.

We are still com­ing to terms with the grow­ing num­ber of three-cylin­der hatch­backs and six-cylin­der per­for­mance cars yet the four-cylin­der Mus­tang is the stark­est ex­am­ple of just how far en­gine tech­nol­ogy has come.

Sure, the V8 ac­counts for the ma­jor­ity of the 3000 Mus­tang or­ders al­ready placed by Aus­tralians. But I’ve just cov­ered 3000km be­hind the wheel of the four-cylin­der version in the US and you know what? I’d buy one.

The en­gine is called “Ecoboost” (to avoid the Fword, four) and was pri­mar­ily in­tro­duced to broaden the Mus­tang’s ap­peal in Europe, where cars are taxed ac­cord­ing to their emis­sions.

In Aus­tralia, the four­cylin­der will join the V8 to give buy­ers 90 per cent of the Mus­tang ex­pe­ri­ence for about $10,000 less than the V8’s cost.

The four-cylin­der version starts at about $45,000, which prices the Mus­tang in what was once Toy­ota Cel­ica ter­ri­tory.

V8 purists may have smoke com­ing out their ears at this thought. But with­out the four­cylin­der to boost Mus­tang pro­duc­tion vol­ume there would not be a V8.

The first ever right-hand drive Mus­tangs to roll down a pro­duc­tion line in Detroit are on their way to Aus­tralia by ship as you read this. A ship­ping de­lay in the Panama Canal means the four-cylin­der ver­sions may ar­rive be­fore the V8s, which are now due in show­rooms next month.

The Mus­tang may not ar­rive with a V8 roar af­ter all. The four-cylin­der is as quiet as a Toy­ota Corolla — and to be frank, that’s about the only se­ri­ous crit­i­cism I could level at it. The four-cylin­der doesn’t even sound ap­peal­ing by four­cylin­der stan­dards.

For ex­am­ples of fours with at­ti­tude, look to the VW Golf GTI, Re­nault Me­gane RS and Ford Fo­cus ST.

I’m keen on the four be­cause it’s cheaper to run, bet­ter bal­anced in cor­ners be­cause there’s less weight over the front wheels and — my main rea­son — be­cause there was not one sin­gle time in 3000km of driv­ing that I needed V8 power to get me into or out of trou­ble.

It’s worth not­ing this same en­gine will power the com­ing Fo­cus RS, the fastest hot hatch ever pro­duced by Ford.

The un­trained eye won’t pick the dif­fer­ence be­tween the four-cylin­der and the V8. Both come with dual ex­haust out­lets and the V8 gets a “GT” badge on the boot and “5.0” badges on the front fend­ers. And that’s it. Of course, the Mus­tang’s not per­fect. The driver’s side mir­ror is too small, the door lock switches need a tiny LED to con­firm they are locked and ei­ther I couldn’t find the dig­i­tal speed dis­play or it doesn’t have one.

The au­dio “vol­ume” and “tun­ing” di­als ap­pear to have a but­ton in the mid­dle — when you press the cen­tre they make an aw­ful im­pre­cise click­ing noise with­out achiev­ing any­thing other than caus­ing un­nec­es­sary con­cern that you’ve dam­aged some­thing.

The rear win­dow needs a wiper; it’ll clean it­self with the breeze at free­way speeds, but around town you can’t see what’s be­hind you in a down­pour.

But there was much to like dur­ing this long dis­tance US test.

The boot is much big­ger and more use­ful than ex­pected, ca­pa­ble of tak­ing one large piece of check-in lug­gage and two carry-on size roller bags, with a lit­tle room to spare. Any­one who has rented a Mus­tang in LA for an ad­ven­ture will know most of the lug­gage ends up on the back seat.

The op­tional radar cruise con­trol (which can main­tain the dis­tance to the car in front) took the stress out of long free­way drives.

And the op­tional Brembo rac­ing brakes had su­perb bite and pedal feel, though they squeaked badly when cold.

The ride over sharp bumps was bet­ter than I re­mem­ber from my first ex­pe­ri­ence with Mus­tang, even though the car tested this time was equipped with op­tional sport sus­pen­sion. Ford has clearly made a run­ning change — for the bet­ter.

De­spite spend­ing a fort­night couped up in the coupe, I didn’t feel cramped at all.

But the time I ap­pre­ci­ated the four-cylin­der Mus­tang the most came when least ex­pected.

I was re­fu­elling late one night on my own at a re­mote petrol sta­tion, where the cashier was be­hind a se­cu­rity screen in­side. Two shady-look­ing char­ac­ters ma­te­ri­alised from be­hind the pumps, look­ing me up and down and peer­ing in­side the car, one ask­ing whether this was the “five-point-o”.

When I told them it was “only the four-cylin­der”, they lost in­ter­est in the car and, much to my re­lief, in talk­ing to me. From that mo­ment, I loved it just a lit­tle bit more.

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