FORD MUS­TANG Smooth snout shrouds sharp­ened ’Stang

Smooth new front dis­guises a sharper drive with more brawn

Wheels (Australia) - - Contents - NATHAN PONCHARD

YOU KNOW there’s some­thing in the air when the Ford Mus­tang clocks nearly 10,000 sales in a full year, re­in­forc­ing what we’ve al­ways known – Aussies love mus­cle cars. And if that’s the case with the ex­ist­ing car in 2017, then how is this fresher, classier, bet­ter-equipped and sharper­driv­ing 2018 ver­sion go­ing to fare?

Gone is the al­most un­be­liev­able en­try price of the pre­vi­ous model. To­day’s Mus­tang Ecoboost six-speed man­ual (due here in Septem­ber) with a slightly torquier 224kw/441nm 2.3-litre

turbo-petrol four will set you back $49,990 be­fore on-roads, while the meaty 339kw/556nm V8-en­gined Mus­tang GT (on sale now) kicks off at $62,990. Both MY18 engines are avail­able with a gee-whiz 10-speed au­to­matic (jointly de­vel­oped with GM, but with hard­ware and cal­i­bra­tion unique to Ford) for $3000 ex­tra.

For those slightly el­e­vated stick­ers you get a truck­load of new fea­tures, start­ing with the proper full-led head­light ar­range­ment of the US car (with tri-strip DRLS), styled to mimic the in­tri­cacy of an ac­tual ea­gle’s eye, and a fully dig­i­tal 12.4-inch in­stru­ment pack that turfs the daggy old ana­logue set-up into a dump­ster some­where in the back lots of Detroit.

Yet for all its new­fan­gled glam­our, there’s a dose of her­itage in the three types of gauge styles of­fered in the dig­i­tal screen (see p36) and you can change the am­bi­ent cabin light­ing too, all via the Mus­tang sym­bol on the right­hand wheel spoke. It’s both dead­sim­ple and to­tally on-trend, while leav­ing sat-nav mapping (if not di­rec­tions) solely to SYNC3 in the cen­tre-dash touch­screen.

Soft-feel plas­tics now gar­nish the door trims and stitched trim coats the en­tire cen­tre console. In fact, every­thing you touch, ei­ther via fin­gers or el­bows, has been given the ‘soft-touch’ treat­ment, in­clud­ing a cushy cen­tre arm­rest, plusher door arm­rests with tac­tile stitched-leather trim, and more sup­ple leather on Mus­tang’s car­ry­over three-spoke steer­ing wheel.

Ap­par­ently that’s what Europe and Aus­tralia de­manded, so the best in­te­rior on of­fer in the US is what we get. The pre­vi­ous model shared its in­te­rior plas­tics sup­plier with the F-series truck and, well, we know how that turned out.

Ap­proach­ing the MY18 Mus­tang, it isn’t im­me­di­ately ob­vi­ous that much has changed. Yet there’s ac­tu­ally been quite a lot of vis­ual surgery at the front end. Those head­lights com­bine with hor­i­zon­tal fogs, a 65mm-wider grille and a 25mm-lower bon­net line to make it look sleeker (and marginally more aero­dy­namic), if slightly less in­tim­i­dat­ing. At the rear, new jagged-edge tai­lights, a new lower ap­plique, and quad ex­hausts give this MY18 Pony Car a fresh look to match its su­per­fruity new sound.

And what a sound. Ford’s obe­di­ent Yank en­gi­neers have more than made up for the lack of bent-eight bur­ble in the old model by fil­ter­ing down the Shelby

GT350’S ac­tive-valve ex­haust sys­tem (which opens the pipes at 1750rpm) for a com­par­a­tively ear­shat­ter­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

On the up­per two ex­haust set­tings (Sport and Race­track, not the de­mure Nor­mal or in­sipid Quiet modes, also ac­ces­si­ble via the Mus­tang sym­bol on the right­hand wheel spoke), the MY18 V8 is a bark­ing riot. In­deed, ‘Race­track’ can be too bru­tal for con­sis­tent 110km/h free­way run­ning, though we re­ally shouldn’t be com­plain­ing. This new­found thun­der is just what petrol­heads were beg­ging for.

Me­chan­i­cally, the V8 cops plenty of en­hance­ments. Di­rect and port fuel in­jec­tion, a higher com­pres­sion ra­tio (up from 11.1 to 12.1:1), re­vised heads with larger valves (im­prov­ing flow by four per­cent) and a 93.0mm cylin­der bore from the Shelby GT350 that lifts ca­pac­ity to 5038cc (was 4951cc) – and out­puts to 339kw at 7000rpm (up 33kw) and 556Nm at 4600rpm (up 26Nm) – all make the Mus­tang feel much spright­lier.

She’ll now rev to be­yond 7000rpm (red­line is seven-four; cut-out seven-five), though there’s still lit­tle point go­ing right to the lim­iter. But the GT feels stronger, with a pre­lim­i­nary claim of 4.3sec to 100km/h for the new 10-speed auto with launch con­trol. And what a great auto. Tick­ing along at just un­der 2000rpm at 120km/h in top, it’s ar­guably the only mega­ra­tio self-shifter able to de­ploy its en­tire ra­tio set in a coun­try like ours. Be­sides the odd fluffed shift or dithered kick­down in mod­er­ate-pace driv­ing, it’s just about flaw­less.

At South Aus­tralia’s new Tailem Bend race­track, a sim­ple nudge of the trans­mis­sion lever into ‘S’ al­lowed the auto to choose its ra­tios with per­fect ac­cu­racy, lap af­ter lap. And if you start fid­dling with the shift pad­dles when in Sport mode, it’ll even hold gears at red­line without shift­ing up.

The six-speed man­ual has also been put through a work­out pro­gram. A dual-mass fly­wheel with a twin-disc clutch makes for a lighter shift ac­tion, and ev­ery ra­tio is taller, with sixth be­ing the clos­est to the old car’s gear­ing. The MY18 man­ual is near fool­proof in its op­er­a­tion and now much less re­liant on clutch technique for shift slick­ness.

It’s the MY18 Mus­tang’s vast dy­namic im­prove­ment, how­ever, that makes it feel half a gen­er­a­tion newer than the pre­vi­ous beast when fit­ted with op­tional ‘Mag­ner­ide’ adap­tive mag­netic dampers ($2750). Even Nor­mal mode feels firm, with some knob­bli­ness and no­tice­able tyre noise, yet there’s been a huge im­prove­ment in body con­trol. And the new Miche­lin Pi­lot Sport 4 S tyres – 255/40ZR19 front and 275/40ZR19 rear – are ex­cel­lent. They feel grip­pier than the former Pirelli P Ze­ros and are de­signed to be more ef­fec­tive across a broader tem­per­a­ture range.

Up front, beefier struts with forged-alu­minium knuck­les, plus bear­ings from the Shelby GT350, have sig­nif­i­cantly im­proved cam­ber stiff­ness, mak­ing the Mus­tang feel much tauter, with far su­pe­rior steer­ing re­sponse. In con­junc­tion with re­cal­i­brated elec­tric steer­ing, the vague­ness and on-cen­tre mush of the old car has given way to far more pre­cise di­rec­tion con­trol. It’s as if Ford of Europe (or Aus­tralia) waved a magic wand over the beast and ‘hey presto’, Ford’s global dy­namic DNA is sud­denly front and cen­tre.

What feels firm in Mag­ner­ide’s Nor­mal damp­ing mode be­comes very firm in Sports mode (with bet­ter front-to-rear bal­ance and sharper turn-in) and bil­let firm in Race­track.

That said, the MY18 can cop a rea­son­able pound­ing around a cir­cuit, carry-over Brembo brakes in­cluded, so it’s en­tirely in keep­ing with what buy­ers want. And if it’s the auto-only con­vert­ible you’re af­ter, then a slightly more for­giv­ing ride is a fair trade-off for the bodystyle’s some­what flexy, open-top ex­pe­ri­ence. Ad­di­tional rec­om­pense? The up­rated V8’s new­found ex­haust bur­ble sounds ad­dic­tively de­li­cious.

About the only con­tentious change is the erad­i­ca­tion of the pre­vi­ous Mus­tang’s bon­net bulge. That prom­i­nent vis­ual sig­na­ture was such a large part of the old car’s char­ac­ter that look­ing over the MY18’S rather flat bon­net (with twee bon­net vents) makes it feel like it has a lower cowl. Or that you’re sit­ting higher. Nei­ther of those things are true.

The 2018 Mus­tang GT may not be quite as tough look­ing, yet it has been trans­formed in so many ar­eas. It’s no longer an en­dear­ingly flawed beast that you need to make ex­cuses for. In­stead, it’s a fo­cused, much more Euroflavoured mus­cle car wor­thy of rear-drive, bent-eight ado­ra­tion.

Even the Ecoboost (due here Septem­ber) will get the ac­tive­valve ex­haust – in­tro­duc­ing a ‘snarl’, ac­cord­ing to Global Chief Pro­gram En­gi­neer, Carl Wid­mann – so there won’t be a MY18 Mus­tang in the sta­ble that doesn’t de­liver a good dose of au­ral sex. All launch GTS were fit­ted with lighter, stronger, yet rather plain-look­ing five-spoke forged 19-inch al­loys that are a $2500 op­tion. Stan­dard fare for V8 mod­els are the carry-over black mesh 19s with mixed­width (255/40 front and 275/40 rear) tyres. For the first time, Re­caro leather front seats will be op­tional in Fast­back ver­sions for an ex­tra $3000. They’re even more huggy than the stock seats but you only get elec­tric cush­ion ad­just­ment, while los­ing seat heat­ing and cool­ing.

01 02 BARK­ING MAD SEE­ING STARS 02 01

HUGS UP FRONT 03 03

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