New Blue Oval mus­cle car as­sessed on road, dyno and drag strip

TICK-TOCK-tick-tock-tick-tock. In­di­ca­tors aren’t usu­ally very in­ter­est­ing. They vary slightly in tone, vol­ume and speed, but in al­most every car they’re as even and steady as a Ringo Starr drum beat. Not so in the 2018 Mus­tang; its in­di­ca­tors shuf­fle like an old-school blues band, im­i­tat­ing the hooves of a gal­lop­ing horse: tick-tock-tick-tock-tick-tock.

This is far from the most im­por­tant change to Ford’s heav­ily re­vised mus­cle car, but it’s an in­di­ca­tion of the thor­ough­ness of the up­date. Pre­sum­ably, you have to go a long way down the pri­or­ity list be­fore you get to “change the in­di­ca­tor tone”.

Few could have pre­dicted just how suc­cess­ful the Mus­tang would be in Aus­tralia. Ford cer­tainly didn’t see it com­ing, the on­slaught of ini­tial or­ders re­sult­ing in year-long wait lists as de­mand vastly out­stripped sup­ply. As of May 2018, 17,779 Mus­tangs have been sold since its Jan­uary 2016 in­tro­duc­tion. This suc­cess only makes the ex­tent of the changes to the lat­est iter­a­tion of Ford’s icon even more sur­pris­ing – why rad­i­cally change a win­ning for­mula?

We cov­ered off these tech­ni­cal changes ex­ten­sively in our June 2018 is­sue, now it’s time to dis­cover what, if any, ef­fect these changes have on the Mus­tang drive ex­pe­ri­ence. Over the next three days, we’ll visit the dyno, the drag strip and cover hun­dreds of kilo­me­tres on road in an ef­fort to defini­tively answer a very sim­ple ques­tion: is this new Mus­tang bet­ter than its pop­u­lar pre­de­ces­sor?

Our story starts at Ford’s Broad­mead­ows HQ, a few weeks ahead of the Mus­tang’s lo­cal launch. A pair of MY2018 cars await eval­u­a­tion: a Kona Blue au­to­matic, fit­ted with op­tional Re­caro seats, Mag­neRide adap­tive dampers and forged al­loys, and an iden­ti­cally-specced Orange Fury man­ual wear­ing black OTT ('Over-The-Top') stripes and a wing spoiler. It’s a cliché, but the new Mus­tang is a much bet­ter look­ing car in the me­tal than the awk­ward ini­tial press pho­tog­ra­phy would sug­gest. Nar­rower LED head­lights are matched with a restyled vented bon­net, new bumpers front and rear, LED tail­lights, new grille and quad ex­haust tips for the V8. Our first stop on this jour­ney is Her­rod Per­for­mance and it’s re­mark­able how dated the 2018 model makes its pre­de­ces­sor look when parked side-by-side.

Her­rod Per­for­mance has been at the fore­front of lo­cal Coy­ote de­vel­op­ment, mak­ing them the per­fect peo­ple to dyno test our 2018 cars. Rob Her­rod and his team have built well over 200 ‘Compliance Pack’ su­per­charged Mus­tangs, Her­rod’s close ties with Ford Per­for­mance in the US en­sur­ing he has as good an un­der­stand­ing as any as to what makes Mus­tang en­gines tick. “We’re a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent to most af­ter­mar­ket peo­ple be­cause I’m deal­ing with cal­i­bra­tion en­gi­neers at Ford Per­for­mance,” ex­plains Rob. “We have these av­enues other peo­ple don’t have. Not that we’re try­ing to keep it all to our­selves, but it’s that

bloody com­pli­cated!”

Ac­cord­ing to Rob’s son Chris, stan­dard 2015-2017 Mus­tangs typ­i­cally pro­duce around 250-260kW on Her­rod’s Main­line hub dyno, used to elim­i­nate vari­ables such as tyre pres­sure, tyre com­pound and strap­ping force. The man­ual is up first, Chris us­ing fourth gear (for its 1:1 ra­tio) with the gi­ant fans en­sur­ing the in­take air and cylin­der head tem­per­a­tures are at 18 and 90 de­grees Cel­sius re­spec­tively. Based on the pre­vi­ous Mus­tang, driv­e­line loss ap­pears to be roughly 50kW, so I’m ex­pect­ing a fig­ure of around 280kW. You can imag­ine the sur­prise, then, when the 2018 man­ual pro­duces 311.6kW at the hubs on its first run. Two runs later that in­creases to 314.8kW and my jaw is firmly on the floor.

It’s no fluke, the auto – run in sev­enth (1:1) with iden­ti­cal tem­per­a­tures – back­ing up the man­ual’s fig­ures with 306.4kW; ei­ther Ford has de­vel­oped the world’s most ef­fi­cient trans­mis­sions or this new 5.0-litre is pump­ing out a lot more than the ad­ver­tised 339kW. The en­tire power curve has shifted, too, a slight loss in low-to-midrange torque com­pen­sated for by a mas­sive in­crease in top-end power. The 2018 Mus­tang might wear the same ‘5.0’ badge as its pre­de­ces­sor on its front guards, but it’s clearly hous­ing a very dif­fer­ent engine un­der that restyled bon­net.

Re­gard­less of whether the Mus­tang needed that ex­tra grunt or not, it now has the sound­track it’s needed since launch. From a deep bark at start-up – un­less the neigh­bour-friendly ‘Quiet’ mode is se­lected – to a steady growl on light throt­tle to a crisp snarl at higher revs, like the LS3-pow­ered VF II Com­modores, it’s dif­fi­cult to imag­ine too many 2018 Mus­tangs sprout­ing af­ter­mar­ket ex­hausts.

The 150km drive to Heath­cote of­fers an op­por­tu­nity to as­sess the car’s cruis­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties. Aussie Mus­tangs now fea­ture the ‘Pre­mium Plus’ in­te­rior as stan­dard, in­clud­ing the snazzy 12-inch dig­i­tal in­stru­ment dis­play, heated steer­ing wheel, hand-stitched cen­tre con­sole and wrapped knee bol­ster. There’s also a new metal­lic starter but­ton; small touches, but they erad­i­cate a lot of the hard, scratchy plas­tic that made the pre­vi­ous Mus­tang’s in­te­rior feel so built to a bud­get.

Fid­dling with the dig­i­tal in­stru­ments, it takes some time to fig­ure out how to nav­i­gate the var­i­ous modes and screens, but there’s plenty of use­ful in­for­ma­tion avail­able if you dig hard enough and the dif­fer­ent screens for each drive mode – Nor­mal, Sport, Track and Drag Mode – are a nice touch. The rest of the but­tons will be fa­mil­iar to cur­rent Mus­tang own­ers, bar the few that have moved to ac­com­mo­date the new ac­tive safety sys­tems – Lane Keep As­sist, Pre-Col­li­sion As­sist, Ac­tive Cruise – vi­tal to im­prov­ing the Mus­tang’s two-star ANCAP rating (it’s now three).

The Re­caros are snug and com­fort­able, though whether they’re worth $3000 is another mat­ter. That money is pos­si­bly bet­ter spent on the $2750 Mag­neRide adap­tive sus­pen­sion. Hav­ing not yet tried a car with­out it, it’s dif­fi­cult to say for cer­tain, how­ever, the 2018 Mus­tang rides with more flu­ency than its pre­de­ces­sor. It’s still firm, but with sen­sors mon­i­tor­ing

ONE In­te­rior is fun­da­men­tally car­ry­over, how­ever, up­graded ma­te­ri­als and more tech­nol­ogy makes it feel a lit­tle more fit­ting for the price tag 01

03 THREE Ex­tra engine power re­quired a brand new six-speed man­ual; the shift is nice but the ra­tios are very long, lim­it­ing cog-swap­ping op­por­tu­ni­ties

02 TWO New-for-2018 Drag Mode the key to the quick­est per­for­mance times, ad­just­ing the sus­pen­sion, engine and gearbox for max­i­mum at­tack

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