The Ford Mustang has finally landed in Australia after what has seemed an eternity. The question is whether it can truly live up to the Mustang muscle car legend...
If you order a 2016 Ford Mustang today, you’ll be taking delivery in early 2017 – at the very earliest. Fair to say then that this new Mustang – the first available directly from Ford Australia since the 1960s – has already achieved everything it needed to for fans of a brand soon to be devoid of a local V8.
The Mustang started the ‘pony car’ segment in the United States in 1964 and it went on to become a muscle car legend. Regardless of sales figures then, the true muscle car fan will expect more. The 2016 Ford Mustang needs to ooze muscle car DNA from every pore to truly live up to the galloping horse badge.
How interesting then that the first Mustang offered locally in so long is also the first to be offered with a four-cylinder engine – the efficient and powerful 2.3-litre turbocharged EcoBoost powerplant. We’ll spend time driving both variants here at the Australian launch, but with nine out of ten pre-ordered Mustangs featuring the V8 engine, it’s fair to say my initial gut feel that the V8 would take the lion’s share of sales has come to fruition. In fact, you’d expect nothing less in an enthusiast’s market like Australia.
Read our 2016 Ford Mustang pricing and specification story here.
At launch we get to sample Fastback Coupe and Convertible variants in both auto and manual. In short, there’s a real value story to be told across the Mustang range, with the EcBoost manual starting from $45,990 and the GT Coupe manual starting from $57,490. Both convertible variants are auto only.
The 2.3-litre EcoBoost engine
My first sample of the new Mustang is the effective base model – the EcoBoost Coupe with manual transmission. Working our way out of the Sydney CBD will put the manual through its paces in an environment that it will become familiar with. It’s an interesting experience for me, too, because on face value, I can’t see why you’d want a four-cylinder Mustang, but I’m being proven wrong almost immediately.
The neck craning, thumbs up, waves and mobile phone photos being taken indicate that passersby have no clue we’re behind the wheel of the entry-level Mustang. It’s just as cool to them and the reaction on the street is similar to what we experience when we’re testing supercars. Very clever move by Ford, ensuring that only the wheel design and 5.0 badging tell the two models apart. Most people will be none the wiser if you’re driving the EcoBoost.
The 2.3-litre four punches out a solid 232kW and 432Nm and uses as little as 8.5L/100km on the combined ADR cycle with the manual transmission. To put that in some perspective, that’s more power than the first retro Mustang when it was released – with a V8 engine. Perception aside, the four-cylinder promises to be an engaging option.
The six-speed Getrag gearbox is impressive around town, and is a pleasure to use at any speed. It works beautifully with the willing 2.3-litre engine as well, which won’t ever have the soundtrack to match a V8 engine, but does have that urgency and powerful midrange thrust only a turbocharger can provide. The four-cylinder is crucially almost devoid of lag unless you deliberately chug along in a higher gear than you should be in, and once rolling, surges toward redline cleanly.
There’s a raucous rasp from the tailpipes that we think will polarise some Ford fans. I like the soundtrack’s mechanical harshness that’s in direct contrast to the smoothness of the engine, but some might not enjoy the buzz coming from under the bonnet. Like the shift action itself, the clutch pedal is perfectly weighted and is never a chore in traffic. Its meaty enough without being too heavy – ideal for this type of vehicle.
At highway speeds, the EcoBoost engine propels the Mustang out of freeway on ramps and up to 110km/h without breaking a sweat. Coax the engine to work all the way to redline in low gears and it does so enthusiastically, belying its smaller capacity. At real world speeds, you get the sense that the EcoBoost won’t feel one iota slower than the V8, a fact that won’t be lost on people who put value at the head of any buying proposition. A back-to-back comparison test might be in order then?
Where Ford has possibly delivered its masterstroke is in specifying the four-cylinder cars. The base car especially is the real beneficiary here. While the EcoBoost might get smaller brakes, a different wheel design and no 5.0 badging, it looks otherwise exactly like the V8 both inside and out. The four-cylinder also runs the same size tyres front and rear - still the exceptional Pirelli P Zero Corsa rubber, 255/55/R19 all round.
The 5.0 GT V8 engine
Press the starter button and there’s a muted bent-eight roar from the exhaust pipe that to be honest, isn’t quite as loud as we’d hoped for. It crackles menacingly enough if you work the throttle pedal, but the aftermarket exhaust business will go into overdrive when Mustangs start hitting the streets in large numbers.
The 5.0-litre V8 engine is the power pick of the two obviously with 306kW and 542Nm on offer. According to the ADR claim, the V8 uses a best of 12.6L/100km (Fastback auto version) on the combined cycle. While 300kW-plus is nothing to sneeze at, but Ford fans will already be wondering when we’ll get a supercharged version like the same engine powering the FPV.
The V8 is paired equally well to both manual and automatic gearboxes. The manual shifts just as precisely and snappily as it does behind the EcoBoost engine, while the auto – with paddle shifters should you wish to use them – is fast enough under load but also smooth. Around town, the automatic would be our pick, such is the ease of the cruise. You won’t be unhappy with the manual though but there is a slight shunting at really low speed.
The 5.0-litre engine is powerful, with a raw edge, but delivered the refinement we expect of a modern powerplant. Flick the switch mounted beneath the AC controls into either ‘Sport+’ or ‘Track’ mode and everything sharpens up. The Mustang hold gears longer, revs harder and sounds more menacing doing it. There’s an increased urgency as the revs rise, and the V8 bellows out to its 6500rpm redline with the sort of linear delivery only a large capacity, naturally aspirated engine can deliver. As is the case with any great V8 engine, it’s an intoxicating experience and really seals the deal in favour of the V8 in our mind.
The V8 is a rapid sports coupe with a surprising measure of restraint and refinement. It’s not completely insane, but it’s still fast enough to put a silly grin on your face when you bury the accelerator pedal. Mustang is perhaps best summed up as looking good cruising around town, with enough go to match the show. Standard Pirelli P Zero Corsa tyres are wider on the V8, measuring 275/40/R19 at the rear.
Ride and Handling
The 2016 Ford Mustang is a significant departure from previous models thanks to its vastly superior suspension system and it’s all the better for it. Equipped with an LSD and independent rear suspension, the Mustang is capable of handling the way a muscle car should at the limit. Turn in is sharp – especially in the lighter EcoBoost (approximately 45kg less weight over the front axle) – and you can use the power to steer the rear end through corners if you want to hang the tail out a little, but the chassis is lively and communicative.
The Mustang’s ride errs on the side of firm around town, but it’s ever uncomfortable either. The chassis feels solid and there’s no creaks or groans even when you have to crash over poor surfaces. All export Mustangs get a ‘performance pack’ suspension system, which will better suit our more exacting tastes compared to more cruise happy US buyers. Coupled with the incredible grip offered by the Pirelli P Zero Corsa tyres (standard on both models), the Mustang can handle at the limit more comprehensively than any model before it.
The electrically assisted power steering is excellent. It’s communicative and firm at speed, but light enough around town to ensure you don’t need to be Popeye to execute a reverse park or tight manoeuvre. On track, it’s beautifully linked to the sticky tyres and helps to make precise track work enjoyable. The brakes on both variants are excellent, with the EcoBoost getting 352mm Brembos up front against the V8’s 380mm Brembos (both wear 330mm rears). Following a lengthy track sessions, we didn’t experience any fade, shuddering or uncertainty pulling the Mustang down from speed.
Inside the cabin, even when road surfaces get poorer, the Mustang remains calm and quiet. The ventilated seats make things even more tolerable on a scorching hot day like our launch drive, but the suspension package does a great job of ironing out rubbish urban roads while still being able to handle the way you’d expect on track.
Ford reckons the cabin has been designed to be ‘cockpit like’ and it certainly delivers on that promise. You sit down and into it, tucked in behind the steering wheel with all the major controls right where they should be. Ergonomically, only the cup holders are poorly positioned, right in the way of your forearm in the manual version – but they're ideally positioned for LHD variants.
The seating position is near perfect, visibility excellent and the Mustang affords either an enthusiastic track drive or relaxed cruise, whichever you prefer. The heated and ventilated seats are comfortable, while still holding drivers and passengers in place and Ford’s latest Sync 2 system continues to impress with its ease of use. The back seat is tight – as you’d expect of a fastback coupe – but it will be fine for occasionally duty around town. Long-legged front seat passengers will get a bit squashed in the second row, but the Mustang has never really been about four up touring.
Crucial design elements like the classical Mustang steering wheel, mirrored dash design side to side and genuine alloy dash trim are surprisingly well matched to more modern switchgear and touchscreen infotainment inclusions. Only the hard plastic trim atop the door linings jars, the leather trim and soft touch surfaces where you’ll rest your elbows for example, are well executed.
A 324-litre boot only serves to add to the Mustang’s practicality. In the US and indeed here in Australia, Ford executives are adamant the Mustang needs to be capable of easily tackling the daily grind. Therefore it needs boot space that is usable and it delivers.
Does the 2016 Ford Mustang pass muster as a modern muscle car? It certainly does. The exterior design ensures street cred in spades regardless of which model you’re driving. There’s no doubt that the average punter on the street loves the new Mustang. If you’re on a budget you can have just as many admiring glances as you cruise by behind the wheel of your EcoBoost Mustang, which might become more important to buyers as the model soldiers on.
Opt for the V8 and you get the burger with the lot in current Mustang terms. You can revel in the Mustang as it is stock standard, or tap into the aftermarket and tune it to within and inch of it’s revvy V8 life. I’m looking forward to the CarAdvice team sinking it’s teeth into the new Mustang. The new Mustang really does stay true to the legend, delivering on the promise many who haven’t ever had access to a classic ‘Stang will be hankering for. The only problem if you really want to buy one is going to be the wait…