What is it?
The latest Ford Mustang is a revamp of the sports car with more technology, personalisation and improved safety.
Better safety package, 10-speed auto transmission, digital display.
The swift update of the latest Ford Mustang addresses viable safety concerns with a suite of now standard-fit electronic aids that go some way to meeting the criticisms levelled at it. Added to these are a number of technology updates that are generally positive, though true enthusiasts will likely prefer the directness of a six-speed manual shift over the clever but sometimes easily confused 10-speed auto.
The Mustang remains a car in which the bigger, thirstier V8 is actually the more attractive option, and an affordable way to enjoy such oh-so American eight-cylinder grunt.
It seems only yesterday that we were road testing the sixth-generation Ford Mustang, and the first version of the iconic American muscle car to be officially sold in Europe with a proper right-hand-drive version for us Brits.
In motor industry parlance, it was indeed only yesterday. That launch test was just two years ago, in April 2016. With more than 6,000 UK sales since, a third of them last year, why produce what amounts to a mid-life revamp quite so quickly?
Ford will point to the march in technology and the opportunity to add a swathe of it to the car and up its desirability. These amount to such advances as magnetic dampers to improve the ride and traction, a 10-speed auto gearbox and a ‘drag mode’ to produce the fastest-accelerating Mustangs around. There is also a slight power hike for the V8, conversely a reduction to the 2.3-litre but also a little more torque to increase its fun factor.
What Ford is not saying too loudly, however, is that quite a lot of this update addresses the unwanted headlines earned by the Mustang. Safety body Euro NCAP slammed the car’s crash test standards after giving it a two-star rating, the worst result in a decade for any car from a top-ten manufacturer.
Euro NCAP was scathing of Ford’s decision not to offer safety equipment on European and UK Mustangs that is included or available in American markets. So, unsurprisingly, the updated model gets a host of such tech, including autonomous emergency braking.
Visual changes, meanwhile, encompass a sleeker, lower nose, bigger front splitter, new wheel designs taking the options to four, and LED headlamps with the ‘tri-bar’ signature shape now forming a daytime running light – this we are told was the result of customer feedback.
Also new is a bright ‘Orange Fury’ exterior colour, taking the options to 11 as Ford seeks to evolve the personalisation possibilities – popular in the US where we are told virtually no two Mustangs look alike. They will in the UK as the orange has immediately become the most attractive colour on the new model, attracting one third of the pre-orders.
However, it is under the paintwork where the differences really count – how significant is this upgrade?
Buying and owning a Ford Mustang
The sixth-generation Mustang launched in both fastback and convertible versions, and the revamp has been applied equally across both.
Both remain available with a choice of petrol propulsion – a ‘sensible’ 2.3-litre four-cylinder EcoBoost unit or the 5.0-litre V8 which is, of course, the signature powerplant of the model. This gets an extra 38 ponies, taking it to 450hp. The torque figure remains the same at 529Nm, as does the thirst – between 20 and 23mpg depending on whether one shifts gears or lets the car do it.
Despite this, almost three-quarters of Mustang buyers will choose the V8 over the four-cylinder, especially as this has seen a power reduction – down from 316 to 290hp. However, it is combined with an extra 8Nm of torque helping to improve its usability.
Most significant drivetrain update is the arrival of a 10-speed auto transmission. Complete with steering-wheel paddles, this replaces the previous six-speed unit.
Buyers who want the fastest-accelerating Mustang will need to go the 10-speed route. Combined with a new (strictly for the track) ‘drag mode’ in the suite of driver settings, this makes for impressive getaways – Ford came up with a memorable way of demonstrating this to journalists on the launch event, as we will see shortly.
A significant addition to the options list is Magneride, adaptive suspension that tailors itself to the road conditions and the way the car is being driven. Available with both engines, it adds £1,600 to the cost.
Standard on the 5.0-litre only is an Active Exhaust. Working on the quadruple tailpipes, it allows four different sound formats, from the most ear-pummelling track mode to a ‘quiet’ mode that allows one to pull away from home early in the morning without waking the neighbours…
Ford personnel on the launch event described the stinging criticism of Mustang safety standards as a “sour point,” and argued that sports cars will always suffer in crash test results due to the restricted access to the back seats.
The new Mustang addresses the criticism with a suite of safety technology now standard on UK models. This includes autonomous emergency braking, pre-collision assist with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, a lane-keeping aid and auto high-beam headlamps.
Such tech makes the new Mustang a significantly safer car than previously. However, we are told that only a three-star rating is expected when Euro NCAP next tests the car.
Inside the Ford Mustang
Generally, Ford was considered to have got it right with the interior of the latest Mustang and this is an area generally left alone by the revamp.
Slip behind the wheel and one still gets the impression of an American muscle car. An abundance of chrome is evident, most notably the horsey badge on the steering wheel boss – one badge you won’t find inside the car is ‘Ford’.
One major change is a digital instrument display – using a 12-inch screen and standard across all models. Its graphics change depending on the drive mode selected – the instrument panel graphics alter colour and shape, right up to a massive rev counter in drag mode.
The drive settings are selected from one of a row of chrome switches across the base of the centre console, and alter such aspects as steering, handling and throttle response. The now six options range across normal, wet/snow, sport, track, drag and a ‘my mode’ allowing the driver to personalise their settings – perhaps combining normal steering with sporty acceleration for example.
Other aspects of the interior include the chunky, immersive seats, and of course the availability of somewhat more cost accommodation in the rear. Yes, these seats are small, but not as small as in the handful of 2+2 rivals thanks to the Mustang’s generous wheelbase.
Driving the Ford Mustang
This is a big sports car – much more Mondeo-sized than Focus, and comes with such a history that the immediate question is, why would you choose the 2.3-litre version?
Of course we tried both, and there are some appealing factors to the baby model. Yes, it’s had some of its horses released into the wild, but still matches its predecessor’s 5.8-second 0-62mph time. That’s with the manual transmission – pair it with the 10-speed auto and it is actually three tenths faster.
However for generally satisfying motoring in the lower-powered ‘Stang, manual is definitely the way to go. Downshifting, in particular, the auto is not as swift as a slick human action, and with all those speeds available certain situations can confuse it.
The 2.3-litre is a flexible companion. It both rides and handles with more control than its predecessor thanks to some suspension upgrades, even if one does not choose the optional Magneride system.
What the four-cylinder model lacks, however, is an image that is part of Mustang folklore. Switch to the big engine, and immediately you notice the much more evocative, grunty audio from the exhaust pipes (yes we did try quiet mode, but not for long…).
Accelerating out of corners, there is much more sense of that V8 pushing you on, without the insistence on good behaviour apparently in the smaller engine’s DNA. And all this comes at the price of around 8mpg in fuel economy – not that much of a difference, and a pointer to why almost three-quarters of UK buyers want V8s.
If you are going to pay V8 money – only around £5,000 more – you should also invest in the Magneride. The system definitely improves the manners, poor road surfaces appear better smothered, while when cornering the car feels just a little more planted and predictable.
Ford reckons that the new auto transmission will be chosen by just over half of Mustang buyers, where previously it was just under half. We are less convinced by this one, it somewhat depends on what you want to use your Mustang for. But where it comes into its own is on the drag strip…
The ultimate demonstration of the 10-speed’s qualities saw journalists on the UK launch event let loose on the famed quarter-mile of Santa Pod drag strip. We also got to test the drag mode, which is a form of launch control also encompassing the line lock introduced with the previous model – warming up the rear tyres by basically shredding them without going anywhere…
Launching from Santa Pod’s Christmas tree starting lights and accelerating up the strip certainly shows the qualities of the 10-speed, as it slams each higher gear in swiftly and sharply, giving a noticeable kick in one’s rear but not enough of one to distract from pointing the car at the horizon.
It’s impressive and addictive… While totally irrelevant to this test, your correspondent feels duty bound to report that he set a 12.9 sec quarter-mile, less than a tenth behind his pro-driver instructor, and third quickest amongst the journos on the day. And he immediately wanted to go again…
The Ford Mustang is a car bought primarily for a reason – for what it is, and the image that surrounds it. Therefore a package of updates will likely not make a lot of difference to its desirability.
However, this is a worthy update. Firstly it addresses the major issue of safety standards. This is an area that will likely still be of concern when the car is next crash tested, but should not replicate the stinging criticism of previously.
The rest of the upgrades are generally positive – better tech that improves the car’s dynamics and its attractiveness in the market. The jury remains out on the 10-speed auto – those that really enjoy pitching the car against a challenging series of roads will also likely prefer the directness of a manual shift.
In these days of downsizing and a focus on economy, we should of course recommend the smaller, 2.3-litre model. But the smaller engine does not offer enough of an efficiency gain, or a cost saving, to ensure head wins over heart. And the Ford Mustang is very much a car for the heart…