Ford invited me to Newcastle in Australia to check out the new Ford Mustang. We would be getting behind the wheel of the entire range, fastbacks and convertibles, Manual and Autos, GT’s and 2.3’s – all the Pony’s in one stable – excellent.
I have to admit that I went there not wanting to like the 2.3L version, Mustangs are V8’s that’s it, end of story, for Ford to put a lesser sized engine in to this iconic muscle car is tantamount to sacrilege isn’t it? Well it is in my mind!
With its 50 years of continuous production and 9.2million customer sales the Mustang has earned its cult status, it’s an emotional experience owning one. The look, the sound, the stories and the movies, the feelings that surround this muscular pony go deep down to your core. Even if you haven’t owned one (neither have I) the Mustang never fails to turn heads. So the Ford designers had quite a task ahead of them, produce a car that sticks to the Mustang heritage and yet make it 2016 desirable – some would say a thankless task.
Our trip to the Hunter Valley was going to include winding roads past some of the area’s finest vineyards, we’d be getting some track time at an undisclosed (and must remain so) residence and a long drive back to Sydney airport – plenty of time to get to know one of Fords beloved legends.
Briefing took place at the Peppers Guest House in Hunters Valley, a quaint place full of character and quite fitting for the Mustang. We were given a history lesson on the car and what made it so instantly recognizable, the Long hood, the Shark nose, the fastback and the V8. We were shown the heroes that have been seen behind the wheel, Steve McQueen, Cage, Bond and Farah Fawcett (hmmm) and then on to the big unveil…
The shark-bite front fascia and trapezoidal grille is still there, now with slim wraparound headlamps. It’s a little wider than previous models which gives it a more athletic stance on its tyres. It widens near rear end and the 3d tri bar tail lamps feature strongly round back with Ford keeping with the ‘stangs ‘Big Boot’ theory – 324 litres of space – enough room for 2 sets of Golf clubs (yeah right, this ain’t no Gentlemans car).
The body is made up from a rainbow of steel, from its Boron Steel cage, through Hot hydroformed, Hot Formed and High strength all merging to make the Mustang’s shell and chassis safe, rigid but relatively light. This I found reassuring since we were going track side on this review!
Enough of the sales spiel, it was dinner and bed – we were going to be on the road early the next morning.
Next day; with the sun already chucking out mid twenties heat, we were allocated our Pony’s for the drive to the track, as luck would have it, I got the V8 GT with Auto Box and paddle gears – in Bright, Police attracting RED.
As you sit in the driver’s seat (which is incredibly cradling) you stare down the cars long nose via a prominent bonnet line (you get the feeling that it should have a target sight fitted at the end). It has an aviation-inspired cockpit the theme being a wing of an airplane, with the double brow carved out of the wing. All the gauges, registers, toggle switches and other design elements are placed into the ‘wing’ and play on this reference – for example the speedo offers up ‘Groundspeed’ rather than just speed. Everything is where it needs to be for usability, just like the cockpit of an airplane. Its instruments are receded slightly down tunnels – a throwback to the original Pony also the steering wheel has hints of the cars ‘funnel’ design heritage. The added width and a new rear suspension contribute to improved packaging and shoulder and hip room for rear-seat passengers but it’s still a 2+2 rather than being anything like a 4 seater.
Push button start ignites the V8 and of course it sounds great! It’s not as hoarse (pardon the pun) as I remember but still unmistakably a V8. The 5.0-litre throws out 306kW and 530Nm of torque and Ford have improved the power-to-weight ratio. They have also messed with the air intakes to help it breathe better, especially at higher engine speeds. With lessons learned from the special-edition 2012 Mustang Boss 302 (basically getting air into the cylinders and exhaust out generating more power and torque from the engine without compromising driveability) the new V8 features larger intake and exhaust valves, revised intake and exhaust camshafts, stiffer valve springs and a new cylinder head casting – don’t act like you care – suffice to say it’s still got the goods.
Time to hit the road.
We followed behind a yellow convertible as we headed for the hills, I appreciate that a yellow convertible Mustang isn’t going to be everyone’s choice or favorite but with the top down, vineyard and mountain background and the 30 degree sunshine it really looked the part.
The Mustang features all-new front and rear suspension systems. At the front, a new perimeter subframe helps to stiffen the structure while reducing mass, providing a better foundation for more predictable wheel control that benefits handling, steering and ride and around the bends and curves of the Aussie countryside the improved handling really shows. It has four Selectable Drive modes, Wet/Snow, Normal, Sport+ and Track and three Selectable steering modes comfort, normal, sport so you can mix and match to suit your own driving preferences. Sports+ mode provides a more responsive steering and throttle response, plus it has different shift points if your Mustang has the SelectShift automatic transmission. Track mode is designed for the motor enthusiast who occasionally hits the track – it’s all in the name! It produces a more powerful engine sound and provides a performance driving experience by allowing the engine to respond directly to the driver. I spent the majority of the drive in Sports+ but using the paddle gears – I think both the ‘stang and I preferred it that way.
Technology wise Ford have continued to keep the car modern and connected – Sync 2 does the majority of the job with Sat Nav, Audio and phone connections – all with voice recognition, but this Pony has another trick, Track apps. Once selected new racing options appear in the centre of the instrument dials, giving you track timer, 0-100 timer, G force’s, Tyre pressure etc
Arriving at our secret track destination it was time to unleash the hounds (horse power) or so I thought.
The first ‘exercise’ was a tight loop with chicane like turns, we were to drive the four power/transmission configurations back to back, a chance to get a real feel for the differences. The Big V8 took off with a hiss and a roar, it loves the track and the track loves it. Manual or Auto it doesn’t really matter, the gear change is quick (slower with me doing manual of course) and the Pony is agile enough around the corners hopping from wheel to wheel.
But… the 2.3L has a lighter front end (less engine weight) and although it lacks the manly roar, it took away the title on the close track.
Okay, so it’s time to talk about the 2.3L engine. It’s a 4 cylinder EcoBoost motor that’s been specifically tuned for the Mustang. It serves up 233kW and 432Nm of Torque – not too shabby but it also delivers this power down low (under 2000 rpm). Now to put this into perspective; when first released in 1965 the top of the line Challenger high performance V8 kicked out 271HP (202kW).
The next ‘exercise’ was 2 laps of the full track with an instructor guiding you all the way. As there were two cars up for grabs (the V8 Auto and V8 Manual) I thought it would be another back to back comparison – unfortunately not. I jumped into the manual and took off. The Manual transmission apparently provides smoother shifting than previous Mustangs; but the automatic transmission features steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters and downshift rev-matching, so again it’s personal choice but you won’t be disappointed with the auto. As I said before, the ‘stang loves the track – it’s quick and noisy and the 6 piston Brembo brakes can pull you up at pull off your face speed. It feels safe and secure without a hint of stepping out (plus we weren’t allowed to get crazy). I had hoped we’d be in track mode but we remained in Sports+, either way the track time was fun, I just wish there was more of it.
The near 2 hour drive back to Sydney reality was done in the V8 again and to be honest I would have liked to have given the 2.3L a go – yes you heard me correctly – purist will be switching off now. It really is a head vs heart type of decision. The manual V8 is the obvious instant choice but once you get over this compelling urge to stay true to the badge and get behind the wheel of the 2.3L I think you’ll have more of an internal dilemma. But whatever wins out; Heart over head; it’s the ‘stangs good looks that will really get the neighbours flocking to your driveway. From its Shark nose and sharp bonnet ridges, along its front to back strong muscle lines and wide rear haunches, the Ford designers have improved on its original distinctive form while keeping true to its heritage; and for that I for one can truly say I’m thankful.
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