What is it? First-ever European variant of iconic Ford Mustang muscle car.
Key features: V8 and four-cylinder engines, hard or soft tops, tempting price.
Our View: The Ford Mustang is an impressive package, with performance, practicality and specification – at a similarly impressive price.
Type of review: First UK drive
On slipping into the cabin of Ford’s new release, the latest variant of a model with half a century of history but for the first time available in Europe, the writer’s colleague comments on the lack of Ford badges – there is not one, on the bonnet, the interior, even the rear flank.
There doesn’t need to be any, however. In their place sits a chromed image of a horse in full flight, leaving no doubt this is an example of one of the few truly iconic model names in the motoring world – Mustang…
As indicative of the US muscle car line as Camaro is to Chevrolet, mention of the name Ford Mustang immediately conjures images – mostly of Hollywood superstar Steve McQueen pulling increasingly sideways slides in the 1968 movie Bullitt, a sequence regarded by many as the greatest celluloid car chase of all time.
Throughout its long history the Mustang has reflected its era, some versions more successfully than others, and now, entering its sixth generation, it benefits from a maker that is very much looking globally, espousing the ‘One Ford’ philosophy.
What this means is that Ford’s icon, previously merely imitated on this side of the Atlantic with models such as the Capri, is now being officially allowed outside its US home. For the first time there is a distinct European model of the Mustang, even extending to right-hand drive versions for UK fans.
Thankfully, Ford is also appreciating the power of motorsport right now, and the Mustang arrives as the middle tier of a Ford Performance sub brand with the RS at the base, the GT supercar at the top.
On offer to those wanting to find out why this name is so special are two body styles, Fastback and Convertible, and two engines. One couldn’t possibly offer a Mustang without a 5-litre V8 engine, but for those who cannot consider the not very eco-credentials of such a powerplant there is also a ‘sensible’ Turbo 2.3-litre Ecoboost unit. Notably, however, off the 1,000-plus Mustang orders taken so far in the UK, around 65 per cent are for the V8…
Ford Mustang body styles have varied over the years from muscle-toned to flabby but thankfully the new one remembers its roots. Even the presence of classic former versions on the launch event – including that Bullitt car – can’t detract from a new model whose profile instantly presents an image of power and purpose. Boasting several vital references to the line throughout its styling, the car looks the part, and our test vehicles certainly turn heads along the Northamptonshire test route.
This is also a big car, especially for a coupe. The new Mustang is more than 4.7 metres long and including the door mirrors two metres wide, with a 2720mm wheelbase. Such dimensions are more akin to large family cars than performance coupes, and one is regularly reminded of this on the Northamptonshire test route, roads that are somewhat less wide than their US counterparts.
Owning a car with such a revered nameplate one needs to feel the effect when slipping inside, and the new Mustang does not disappoint. Whether it’s that chrome stallion on the steering wheel, replicated in a glovebox badge that also bears the simple phrase ‘Since 1964’, or retro references such as the row of toggle switches at the base of the centre console, the cabin delivers the image required.
There are more modern touches of course – anyone who has driven the latest Mondeo will recognise the Sync touchscreen infotainment system for example. And it’s not all positive – for such a special car there is a little too much hard plastic evident in the surfacing, an element that appears to have not transferred well from the US norm to the European…
In a busy day’s driving The Car Expert samples both Convertible and Fastback, 2.3 and 5.0 engines (the V8 variants designated GT), six-speed manual and six-speed auto transmissions, the latter with steering wheel paddles for manual shifts when preferred. While auto might seem anathema to a European performance car, it is far more familiar to American buyers for whom the ‘stick shift’ is much less favoured.
To consider the turbocharged 2.3 unit first – this is a thoroughly competent engine that does not disgrace itself in such surroundings, and makes a nice noise, if artificially enhanced by the audio unit’s electronics. Its 312 horsepower is still plentiful for a coupe – while a bit slow to get going (it is hauling around 1.7 tonnes of muscle car after all) it feels swift enough when at speed to justify the performance coupe credentials. A sub six-second 0-62mph time is enough to keep buyers amused while the 35mpg fuel economy ensures not too close a relationship with the local filling station.
Economy, however, has never been what Pony Cars, as these models were long ago dubbed in the US, are about. Such cars are about putting the 414 horses of a V8 motor through the rear wheels, and listening to the deep-throated rumble that results – it is such elements that ensure that the seemingly outdated concept of NASCAR racing, with its V8 race cars directly evolved from machines such as the Mustang, is by far the most popular form of motorsport Stateside.
So the Ford Mustang needs its V8, and is well suited to it. The 0-62mph time is slashed by a second, making this the fastest coupe Ford has ever offered in Europe, though with the peak power served up at 6,500rpm, the torque of 391lbft coming in at a relatively high 4250rpm, a generous right foot is needed to produce the most effective response.
All of this, of course, only adds to the signature V8 soundtrack. With the Convertible’s hood lowered – this achieved by simply turning a central locking handle and pressing on a button to operate the folding mechanism electronically – the audio sounds particularly good.
However this V8 boasts a wide spread of usable power, and cruising through a village it is smooth, refined and hushed, justifying the Mustang’s credentials as a performance car one can live with. And this versatility is further enhanced by four drive modes, ranging from Normal through Sport, a winter-specific setting and at the other extreme a Track mode with (on V8 versions) such delights as launch control and a line lock enabling one to spin the rear wheels and literally burn rubber from the tyres.
In one area, however, this car does not respect its history. Traditionally US muscle machines are tremendously quick in a straight line, but cannot go around bends, and in this sense the Mustang breaks the mould. Ford has endowed it with all-round independent suspension and with as a result it does handle, the combination of power, weight and an effective chassis planting it into bends and producing confident and enjoyable cornering.
Equipment levels are impressive – all versions come as standard with 19-inch wheels, automatic xenon headlamps, dual-zone climate control, LED tail lamps and a rear diffuser, while inside there is a nine-speaker sound system and that Sync 3 voice-controlled system based around an eight-inch colour touchscreen.
So the Ford Mustang is an impressive package, with performance, practicality and specification – and then one comes to the price. Just under £31,000 for the 2.3 makes it a tempting prospect, but adding just £4,000 to upgrade to V8 power? The Mustang GT costs around £15,000 less than any credible V8-powered rival, and at such a price the fuel ‘economy’ (a mere 20.9mpg on the combined cycle) becomes easier to justify.
As a result, one can understand why those 1,000-plus UK buyers who have already signed up for the Mustang are favouring the GT, and why the throaty growl of a V8 from over there could soon become a rather more familiar sound over here…
Ford Mustang – key specifications
Models tested: Ford Mustang 2.3 Ecoboost Convertible manual, 5.0 V8 GT Fastback Manual, 5.0 V8 Convertible Auto
On Sale: April 2016
Range price: From £30,995 (V8 £34,995)
Insurance groups: From 41E.
Engines: Petrol 2.3, 5.0 V8.
Power (bhp): 312, 414
Torque (lb/ft): 319, 391.
0-62mph (sec): 5.8*, 4.8*.
Top speed (mph): 145, 155.
Fuel economy (combined, mpg): 35.3* (auto 28.8), 20.9* (23.5).
CO2 emissions (g/km): 179** (auto 225), 299** (281).
Key rivals: Porsche Cayman, Vauxhall VXR8.
Test Date: April 2016.
* = manual transmission, fastback.