Ford Mustang

Long-awaited pony car is not perfect, but itís surely irresistible

ASH WESTERMAN

FIRSTDRIVES

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

THE only potential problem with a growing wave of anticipation and expectation is the chance it can crash against the rocks of reality, leaving a trail of disappointment and a forlorn chorus of, ďIs that it?Ē

Few cars have risked this as much as the new Mustang, one of the most hyped and anticipated cars in recent years. Weíve cheerfully been a part of that, deeming it cover-worthy on three occasions since January 2014, and devoting some 27 pages to it over the same period.

So now itís here, and weíve driven it on local roads in both body styles and all powertrain configurations. Is it good? Hell, yes. But is it brilliant? A true Blue Oval game-changer? Well, letís not get ahead of ourselvesÖ We learned from Ponchís Stateside drive in late 2014 that itís a car brimming with character and the kind of desirability that only comes when youíve officially hit icon status. What wasnít completely clear was how specifics of suspension tune, wheel and tyre combinations, and right-hook configuration, would translate to Aussie roads. Finally we have those answers.

But first, have a look at the thing. Seriously. If the way to a manís heart is through his stomach, then surely the

thoroughfare to a car enthusiastís main aorta is via the eyeballs.

A performance car needs to seduce you visually before it charms the pants off you with dynamic prowess.

On this score, the Mustang lands a direct hit. This is a brilliant reinterpretation of the originalís design language Ė a squinty-eyed, bulging-haunched head-kicker that creates a sweet harmony out of tension and aggression. The artful sculpting of the bonnet bulge is a thing to behold, both as you approach the driverís door and from inside the car. The tail-lights, comprising vertical LED bars inside slotted perspex blades, are a gorgeous nod to the í68 Fastback. Punters honk, wave and shout approval.

Thatís life in the icon lane.

All Aussie Fastbacks, regardless of engine, roll on vast, staggered 19-inch Pirelli P Zeros: hefty 255/40s up front and whopper 275/40s out back.

Convertibles make do with 255s on all four corners.

Roof up, the Convertible loses the elegant roofline sweep of the coupe, serving up more of a notchback profile that, to my eye, is a lot less desirable.

In the interests of working up the range, we start off in what Iíd respectfully suggest is the least blokey variant, an auto Convertible powered by the engine expected to take only about 10 percent of initial sales, the 2.3-litre Ecoboost four.

Fed by a twin-scroll turbo, it makes a peak of 233kW, with max torque of 432Nm at 3000rpm. But 90 percent of this torque peak is available at just 1720rpm, so itís terrifically eager, not too boostyfeeling if you select the Normal drive mode, and doesnít shy from being worked hard.

In fact, it needs to be whipped along to let you get involved.

Below about 4500rpm, itís too quiet and a bit characterless, despite the (questionable) inclusion of a Ďsound symposerí set-up that pipes engine noise through the audio speakers.

Pull the shifter back into the Sport mode and get stuck in and thereís ample enjoyment to be had; the auto holds the lower of its six ratios right up against the 7000rpm limiter and a rorty sound fills the cabin.

Itís a curious note, not typically turbo four-pot; itís more warbly and slightly out of phase, like someoneís dangled a mic near something with Cosworth on the cam covers.

There are three steering weights to choose from, but no surprises that the middle Normal setting is the most fluid and feelsome. The thin-rimmed wheel connects you to a frontend thatís both responsive and super-grippy but, as will be revealed, noticeably short of the resolution and iron-fisted tenacity possessed by the Coupe.

The Convertible was developed alongside the hardtop, naturally, and gets a decent serve of stiffening additions, but the net result is nothing groundbreaking on Aussie roads.

It should be explained at this point that all Australianspec cars come standard with a variation of the optional Performance Pack offered in the US, part of which includes stiffer springs, firmer dampers and thicker anti-roll bars.

This seems questionable on the Convertible, given the target market, because this combo surely contributes to a slightly too-reactive ride, along with a steady flow of minor tremors that ripple through the body and set the rear-view mirror quivering away busily over anything less than glassy bitumen.

Open-road cruising is perfectly pleasant, though, even if the absence of any wind-management

Punters honk, wave and shout approval. Thatís life in the icon lane

01 BOOT STORE

Boot capacity is 324 litres, which Ford says is good for two golf bags, but a fairly narrow aperture means anything will have to be slotted in, letterbox-style. Itís adequate for a couple of overnight bags, but wonít be much help if youíre at Bunnings. At least the rear seats fold to give a bit of porthole effect for long items.

02 SOUNDING OFF

From the outside, there are no Maserati-style aural fireworks, no flamboyant cracking and popping on lift-off. We would have much preferred a switchable bi-model exhaust over the largely pointless switchable steering weights.

03 TIGHT FIT

Strictly small kids-only in the back, and even then front occupants will have to concede a little travel to allow that to happen. Front seats are heated and ventilated, with generous side support, but may be a little short under-thigh for tall drivers.

system means a fair degree of swirling, disturbed air in the cabin at freeway speeds.

Cruise mode also allows our attention to be drawn to a few misses in the right-hook cabin execution. The indicator stalk has been moved to the right-hand side, but the centre console remains unchanged, so the handbrake is located next to the passenger and the deep bottle-holders leave your beverages sticking up right where your arm needs to be to change gears in manual models.

Better to drink in the mostly agreeable retro ambience, admire the real aluminium that clads the instrument panel and try to ignore some of the cheaper switchgear and hard plastics.

Jumping into a manual V8 Fastback doesnít change any of the ergonomic glitches, but it does let you revel in the full-fat Mustang experience as properly intended. The throttle tips in with total precision, the V8 snarls via proper induction ducting piped from behind the dash (not the aural smoke-and-mirrors of the four-pot), and the mediumweighted clutch bites with mushfree progression.

Only an excess of driveline shunt mars the manual experience. Thereís a dull thud with each first-to-second shift that sounds like a fat man being kicked in the bum, which could get tiresome in traffic. The shift action has a nice mechanical feel and the gates themselves are tightly spaced. And what a pleasure to be connected to a linear, eager, atmo V8.

The manual coupeís 0-100km/h time (4.8sec) is nothing to sneeze at, but on the road the performance feels swift rather than holy-crap fast. Thatís more a product of the twin-turbo gruntmonster world in which we now live than any real shortcoming of the Ford V8, although its quoted outputs are down a bit compared to LHD cars (see sidebar below).

The important thing is thereís ample power to get the most out of a cracking chassis.

The jiggly, lively ride of the Convertible is less of an issue in the coupe, especially when the trade-off is such great body control and general harmony of front and rear ends.

Aim hard at an apex and thereís one small shrug of bodyroll before a generous grip envelope opens up, urging you to push harder. Nudge that limit and the independent rear is instantly involved, blotting up mid-corner bumps, tracing a tight line and, under big throttle inputs, squatting and edging wide with total progression.

We used Race mode on the circuit and found it allowed some slip, though not as much as I imagine many would like. The chassis is sufficiently benign and transparent to allow ESC off without the threat of tankslapper hell being unleashed.

Front brakes on the GT Fastback are whopper Brembos clamped by six-piston calipers, and while the initial pedal action feels too sensitive and over-servoed, they bite hard and feel capable of withstanding a proper pounding.

For many customers, an auto four-pot convertible at $54,990 could be all the Mustang they really need, even if it may not be the Mustang they really want.

The entry-level manual Ecoboost Fastback, at $45,990, is really just dangled as showroom bait, while the value equation of the V8 Convertible (auto-only at $66,490) starts to head south. That leaves the choice between GT Fastback manual ($57,490) and GT Fastback auto ($59,990).

Either way in the Mustangís case, expect that wave to be one of delight, not disappointment.

The V8 snarls, unlike the aural smoke-and-mirrors of the four-pot

PLUS & MINUS

Very firm ride; Convertible rigidity; both engines need to be louder Knockout styling; generous grip; fine dynamics; sane pricing

Who stole our power?

Plenty of you will have noticed the outputs of our Aussie-spec Mustang GTís V8 are down on what weíve previously quoted for US-spec cars.

Aside from differences in measuring methodology between Oz and the US, weíre told that itís primarily due to changes to the manifold needed to package the engine for right-hand drive.

Consequently, our V8 makes 306kW, down 18kW on LHDmarket cars, while torque is down 12Nm to 530Nm.

A raft of upgrades were developed for the 302, which is essentially an upgraded version of the special-edition 2012 Mustang Boss 302. It runs new heads with a straighter flow path to larger intake and exhaust valves, which in turn run stiffer valve springs for more precise closure at high revs. Both camshafts are new, with the variable camshaft timing on the intake side now delivering a greater range of adjustment thanks to midlock phasers. New forged rods are lighter, while redesigned piston tops feature deeper cut-outs to clear the larger valves.

The folding stuff

The convertibleís roof requires you to manually unlatch the leading edge from the header rail, which is no real hardship. An adjacent switch then allows the electric motor to take over, retracting the roof in a swift seven seconds.

Two areas are not well executed, though Ė the roof canít be raised or lowered on the move, and two plastic filler panels have to be manually slotted in to cover the apertures that house the roofís folding mechanism.

These are fiddly to fit, have no designated storage spot and will inevitably be lost or broken. Without them, though, the roof-down appearance is unfinished and the gaps they expose will be prone to filling with leaves and crap.

OR TRY THESE...

Holden Commodore SS-V Redline

$54,490 Mustang GTís nemesis (if you ignore the Falcon XR8), with similarly outstanding rear-end power-down and involvement. The Redline is a ripper car, but familiarity, and four doors, diminish its cool factor.

Volkswagen Scirocco R

$45,990 About as close as spiritually possible to being a rival for the Ecoboost Fastback, even though the Scirocco R is front-drive. Itís no prude though, with lots of sweetly throaty grunt and an entertainingly adjustable tail for handling fun.