No smoking: Philip King test drives the new Mustang.
The nanny state has put burnout-free brakes on Ford’s new Aussie steed
If you search for “Mustang burnout” on YouTube you’ll find a lot of smokin’ videos and at least one with a couple of nerdy-looking Ford engineers explaining a special feature of the new Mustang. It’s Line Lock, which allows the driver to hold the car on the front brakes while flooring the throttle. The result includes rear wheels spinning madly, plenty of noise and clouds of vaporising rubber.
Of course, you don’t actually need something like Line Lock to achieve a burnout but the Ford guys explain they had track days in mind and think it’s perfect for the car.
“I’m convinced people are going to love this feature,” drawls one. “We had a lot of fun of doing this and it matches well to the customer and the vehicle.”
You can probably guess where this is going. For the first time in its 50-year history, Mustangs are being built in right-hand drive and coming straight from the US factory to Ford dealerships in Australia.
And every single one will have the Line Lock feature disabled. The Aussie Mustang doesn’t smoke.
Ford Australia chief Graeme Whickman said he made the decision because of the climate around cars.
“In Australia there are concerns about anti-hoon actions and we felt it was something we needed to steer away from,” he said at the media drive event in the NSW Hunter Valley last week. “It’s a very specific attribute designed for a very specific outcome and it doesn’t play well in this market.”
There are laws against breaking traction in several states but there are laws against a lot of things to do with cars and it’s up to drivers to comply.
So Aussie Mustang owners will have to make do with other ways of breaking the law.
As with most (non-autonomous) cars these days, breaking the speed limit is a cinch. Ford doesn’t quote zero to 100km/h times but the 2.3-litre can do it in around 6 seconds. It’s the entry point for the model at $46k and the engine is a larger capacity version of an Ecoboost unit widely employed by Ford.
In the Mustang it seems burdened by lag — the delay in throttle response typical of turbo units. Once it gets going there’s lot of low-rev torque, making it drivable, but too much artificial noise. And with around 1.7 tonnes to move, more sound than fury. It’s better with the manual than the automatic.
It’s the future for the model, though, when those who want Mustang looks rather than Mustang performance sign up after the enthusiast orders have died away.
Most of the 4000 or so Aussies who have already put down dollars overwhelmingly opted for the V8. It gets a handful fewer kilowatts than the US version due to a unique right-hand drive manifold but with 306kW feels purposefully fast, if not actually ferocious. Throttle response flings you back in the seat and there’s a proper V8 soundtrack. It sings to just above the 6500rpm red-line, when a limiter cuts in. If anything, it could be more raucous.
The V8 coupe, or Fastback, starts at $57,490 with a manual transmission. Gearboxes and clutches can be heavy with powerful engines but the Mustang’s are pleasingly weighted and easy to use.
The V8 also makes more sense with the automatic, which has paddle shifters behind the wheel.
Muscle car detractors often decry the handling of “pony cars” and in this respect the previous Mustang was exhibit A, with antediluvian suspension. The first global Mustang fixes all that, with a strut set-up at the front and integral link independent suspension at the rear.
With the V8 under the bonnet, it’s a sweetly balanced combination. The car rocks back a little under hard acceleration, betraying the weight of engine at the front, but it turns into corners quickly and assur-
edly. Cut-up Australian country roads fail to unsettle it and the car’s body movements are kept on a tight rein.
Other dynamic credentials inspire confidence too, with good bump absorption for a performance car and acceptable levels of tyre noise.
The driving position is fine, with reasonable visibility thanks to judicious application of premium steels where strength is required without bulk, such as the A-pillars.
Control weights are well judged, pedals nicely arranged and the steering feels about as connected as electrically assisted steering ever does. You can adjust its “weight” through different settings but it’s an unnecessary gimmick, along with driving modes that change throttle response and shift points in the automatic. None of these affect the suspension, and they don’t need to.
The brakes feel up to the task, with 380mm disks at the front of the V8, gripped by six Brembo pistons.
If the Mustang betrays its American background it’s inside, where there’s all the ambience of a lowrent motel. The seats, wheel and dials are OK, but lack the design or material quality of an equivalently priced European car.
It’s slightly retro in tone, with a little celebratory plaque in front of the passenger, round vents and shiny metallic highlights. But the real aluminium trim is unconvincing and the leather could have been harvested from sun-dried roadkill.
At least it’s better than the faux hide, which overwhelms the real stuff. The appallingly hard and cheap plastics reach a sort of climax in the moulded dashtop, with its utterly unconvincing stitch pattern.
Taste aside, real missteps here are few. It could do with a digital speed readout between the dials and the seat backrest angle adjuster is dreadful. The worst offence consists of plastic trim that must be fitted by hand in the convertible when the roof is lowered — and stashed somewhere when it’s up.
Practical compromises are to be expected: the rear is a child zone, with no legroom or headroom to speak off and negligible amenities. The boot can be extended by dropping the rear seat backs but the load aperture will make some cargo awkward to load.
The cabin shortcomings probably won’t deter Mustang enthusiasts, who are more likely to rejoice in its authenticity. They are unlikely to bemoan the loss of a few kilowatts in the conversion either. It’s a small price to pay. However, being treated like children by disabling the burnout software — that should be a legitimate cause for dismay.
Perhaps Ford’s move is understandable, given the humourless state of our road regulations. But what a sad commentary it makes on how far from our larrikin self-image we have strayed.