FEA­TURE CAR

New Zealand Classic Car - - FEATURE CAR -

As you fire up the Eco­boost, you’re sud­denly re­minded that this isn’t your typ­i­cal Mus­tang. In­stead of the V8 growl, a small pop and a gen­tle bur­ble re­mind us we live in a time when we’re told to worry about the im­pact our de­ci­sions have on the planet. The Eco­boost Mus­tang is pow­ered by the afore­men­tioned 2.3-litre four-cylin­der tur­bocharged en­gine, which puts out 310hp (231kw) — this car is not to be sniffed at. That’s sev­eral more horses than the orig­i­nal Shelby GT350 and the same as the early fifth-gen­er­a­tion GTS. This is not the Mus­tang’s first foray into four-cylin­der glory. The third-gen­er­a­tion Mus­tang was also re­leased with a 2.3-litre turbo four-pot in the late ’70s (the later ver­sion of which served up a meaty 132hp [98.4kw]) and, even­tu­ally, as the fuel cri­sis took hold, be­came the sole per­for­mance model in the line-up. Al­though it suf­fered many is­sues with re­li­a­bil­ity, Ford per­se­vered with the four-cylin­der / eight­cylin­der line-up un­til the re­lease of the fourth gen­er­a­tion in 1994, when it went back to the tried-and-true six or eight for­mula. This lower emis­sion Eco­boost model is built to at­tract a new au­di­ence to the Mus­tang, in­clud­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists and cy­clists, and opens the door to key mar­kets, es­pe­cially China.

While this is a big car, the con­vert­ible ver­sion ob­vi­ously does away with a sig­nif­i­cant amount of boot space to ac­com­mo­date the roof when it’s down, al­though there is no need to mess around and re­con­fig­ure shelves to bring it down, as the hous­ing is in a sep­a­rate com­part­ment.

Ford has cer­tainly stuck to the mantra that ‘ big is best’ with the Mus­tang. As you jump be­hind the wheel, you no­tice that the nose of the Mus­tang seems to go on for­ever in ev­ery di­rec­tion as a re­minder of what is and what can be un­der the bon­net. While it’s is pitched as a four-seat two-door coupé, I’m not sure who the two peo­ple in the back are in­tended to be, but I would strongly sug­gest this is a car built for the com­fort of the front-seat pas­sen­gers. Once again on the move and get­ting onto some slightly bet­ter roads, the Eco­boost came to life. With muf­fled whizzes and pops, the turbo-four de­manded it be known that it’s not just there as a lit­tle brother to the big V8 — it’s there to dance. Any turbo lag present has been pretty well min­i­mized to the point where, if the Mus­tang had the abil­ity to pipe in fake

noises — as some Euro­pean man­u­fac­tur­ers like to do — you could be for­given for think­ing that you’re in a V8. The Eco­boost cer­tainly has more of a fo­cus on econ­omy, and it al­most feels like the on-board com­put­ers are chal­leng­ing the driver to drive more fru­gally, which does seem odd in what is es­sen­tially a mus­cle car. This is re­in­forced when us­ing the steer­ing wheel–mounted pad­dle shifters and re­al­iz­ing the abil­ity to start off the line in third gear.

Af­ter ar­riv­ing at the photo-shoot lo­ca­tion, we jumped out of the cars to com­pare notes and spend some time eye­ing up both cars, get­ting to know their ins and outs. Ford has gone all out in terms of stan­dard op­tions on both cars with full leather up­hol­stery, an eight-inch touch­screen with re­vers­ing cam­era, and Mykey prox­im­ity key as stan­dard. Both Mus­tangs also of­fer iden­ti­cal driver set-ups called 'Track Apps' fea­tur­ing myr­iad driver op­tions and out­puts — from an ac­celerom­e­ter mea­sur­ing Gs to triple split-lap timers and brake-per­for­mance me­ters. One thing the V8 has that the Eco­boost doesn’t is launch con­trol. We thought it pru­dent not to give this par­tic­u­lar fea­ture a go in the kindly loaned test car, but re­views show that it can be a lot of fun when driv­ing a car that one owns out­right with warranties in place.

There are sev­eral steer­ing set­tings on both cars — Com­fort, Nor­mal, and Sport — and this is good. The Eco­boost’s steer­ing felt too light in Nor­mal and Com­fort modes com­pared with the GT feel­ing a touch heavy in Sport. Also com­mon to both cars are the drive modes: Snow/wet, Nor­mal, Sport, and Track. Once you’ve se­lected what you’re af­ter, driv­ing modes ap­pear in­de­pen­dent of steer­ing mode, so, if you de­cide you want the Track set-up with Com­fort steer­ing (be­cause, per­haps, you’re wildly un­hinged), so be it. This can be some­what con­fus­ing, and the menus stay on screen wher­ever you’ve left them rather than de­fault­ing back to the time or trip com­puter.

Her­itage

Un­der the bon­net, the 410hp (306kw) V8 snugly fills the front of the en­gine bay with enough room to move for burly Ford en­gi­neers’ hands and those armed with su­per­charg­ers (Roush and Ford Rac­ing have a kit on sale push­ing the power to 670hp at the en­gine. The Eco­boost is a lot smaller, and the en­gine bay looks cav­ernous. This is where I be­lieve the smaller car may come into its own. There are al­ready a num­ber of very clued-up oper­a­tors trans­form­ing the Eco­boost into some­thing quite spe­cial.

Now, it must be said that I went into this test pre­fer­ring the Eco­boost. Be­fore I’d driven the GT, I was im­pressed but not quite sold on the idea of the Eco­boost. Our GT V8 test car was the six-speed man­ual, which has proven far less pop­u­lar with Kiwi buy­ers so far (just 15 per cent of the 550 pre-or­ders were man­ual), but it was great for us to get an idea of all op­tions avail­able on the cars.

I now openly ad­mit that there is just some­thing about a Mus­tang that needs to be V8. With 50 years of her­itage steeped in eight-cylin­der noise and fury, it’s hard not to be ex­cited at the prospect of driv­ing the new­est ver­sion, and it didn’t dis­ap­point. The clutch on the GT was heavy, but not to the point of be­ing a bur­den. The steer­ing felt just right to me in Nor­mal drive mode, and the trac­tion-con­trol but­ton stayed firmly on. Fol­low­ing some se­date mo­tor­way kilo­me­tres spent get­ting a feel for the car, we peeled off to see how the GT dealt with some Kiwi back roads. The an­swer was very well in­deed. You don’t feel the need to throw the Mus­tang around as much as you might a smaller car. The gear­box is smooth and short, al­though heel/toe rev-match­ing is dif­fi­cult given the dis­tance be­tween the ac­cel­er­a­tor and brake ped­als. With a bit of pace up, the GT feels planted and sturdy on the road. Through the bends, it feels at home and not as if it’s about to lose rear trac­tion and hur­tle you into the bushes. Of course, as with any man­ual, as soon as you hit traf­fic, things be­come a bit of a pain, and it does re­quire some pa­tience stop­ping and start­ing with­out let­ting the revs drop too low.

Ford has ob­vi­ously worked hard to en­sure that the Mus­tang is pro­vid­ing enough lux­ury and tech­nol­ogy to com­pete with the likes of … well, what ex­actly? Of course, in the States, this is an im­por­tant mar­ket seg­ment with the Dodge Chal­lenger and the Chevro­let Camaro com­pet­ing with the Mus­tang head on. In New Zealand, a sub-$80k big coupé is a bit like no man’s land. So, this begs the ques­tion: is there a mar­ket for the Mus­tang in right-hand drive in New Zealand? The first ship­ment of new Mus­tangs ar­rived on our shores in Novem­ber last year with, as men­tioned, over 550 pre-or­ders made. Per­haps un­sur­pris­ingly, 60 per cent of th­ese were for V8 GTS with 15 per cent of the to­tal be­ing con­vert­ible and 15 per cent be­ing man­ual. Th­ese num­bers would sug­gest that there most cer­tainly is a place in our hearts and on our roads for th­ese icons of mo­tor­ing.

As I men­tioned ear­lier, I re­ally wanted my ver­dict to be in favour of the Eco­boost but per­haps pre­dictably, I fell for the V8 al­though I’d opt to pair it with the auto box and take ad­van­tage of the Line Lock fea­ture (yep, that’s a thing).

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