The iconic Ford Mustang is headed our way, this time as a proper factory-built, right-hand-drive version that will finally see the great American classic geared for Aussie roads.
Set to arrive on local shores around mid-2015, the all-new sixth-generation Mustang range will also receive independent rear suspension for the first time since 1964.
While a 5.0-litre V8 engine option will ensure the Mustang’s muscle-car status is alive and well, Ford will also offer its more frugal four-cylinder Ecoboost engine, as well as a slightly more powerful version of the current 3.7-litre V6 powertrain.
In the meantime, we thought we’d head stateside for a steer of the current All-American pony car on its home soil, in Sweet Home Alabama – famous for Fried Green Tomatoes, as well as the hit movie and soundtrack of the same name.
Our US$26,610 (plus on-road costs) Ford Mustang V6 Premium is one up from entry-level vehicle in what is a ten-car model range in the United States, priced from $22,510 for the standard V6 to US$60,110 for the top-of-the-range V8 Shelby GT500 Convertible.
Straight off, it’s easy to understand why the ‘Stang is such a hot topic among car enthusiasts the world over.
While we might be driving near enough to the base model, let me assure you, to most Americans, the Mustang (and any iteration of) is still a halo car that brings plenty of good-ole-boy adulation down in these parts, and conjures up memories of that epic Steve McQueen car chase movie, Bullitt.
And just like rival muscle-car reincarnations such as the Chevy Camaro and Dodge Charger, the latest Ford Mustang borrows from its classic look of the 1960s, but in a thoroughly contemporary package.
That said, all the important retro styling cues are there, such as the unmistakable blacked-out, Shelby-esque grille with floating Mustang logo and single unit headlamps.
There are also those distinctive triple-strip tail-lights, albeit with LED accents these days.
More importantly, the outgoing Ford Mustang does a decent job of preserving that classic coupe stance and fastback body.
Inside, the Mustang follows a design that clearly nods to the past – marrying old-school instrument dials with modern soft-touch materials (at least for the upper dash) and metallic accents that give the cabin a sporty feel. However, there are also plenty of hard surfaces that tend to take gloss off the overall appeal.
Despite our Mustang’s Premium grade trim, creature comforts are still relatively minimal – though it does get comfortable leather seats with good bolstering, leather-wrapped sports steering wheel, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, ambient lighting and HID headlamps.
There’s also a decent Shaker audio system that produces a quality note via Bluetooth streaming, though the Mustang misses out on features such as a large-size infotainment screen, satellite navigation, parking sensors and rear-view screen – all of which are optional on this variant.
Like its predecessors, the current Ford Mustang remains a relatively compact sports coupe; so don’t count on a lot of cabin space, unless you’re in those comfy front seat buckets.
The 50/50 split-fold rear seats are more 2+2-style kiddie seats than proper adult-size pews and rear legroom is equally tight.
Boot-space isn’t much better; in fact, we struggled to fit two medium-size suitcases in there, due to the ridiculously narrow aperture.
Base-line Mustangs like our V6 Premium use Ford’s 3.7-litre V6, delivering 227kW and 379Nm of torque to the rear wheels – unchanged from the 2013 model year.
By comparison, its US$35,310 GT Premium sibling gets a 5.0-litre V8 engine that develops 320kW and 530Nm of torque.
Ford claims 12.4L/100km/city and 7.5L/100km/highway, though over the week-long test we averaged a combined 14.7L/100km skewed towards a more spirited driving style.
The standard transmission across the entire Mustang range (including the V8s) is a six-speed manual, though ours was equipped with the optional and more common six-speed auto.
It’s not the quickest-shifting unit, and there are no paddleshifters, but even so we managed some impressive performance figures.
Using our own GPS timing system on a closed road with Sport mode engaged, the 0-100km/h sprint took 6.1 seconds. What’s more, it feels quick whenever you nail it, though the slightly bland exhaust note is a bit of a letdown.
The only upside to the Mustang’s sluggish transmission is that its reasonably smooth – a good thing when you are crawling along in stop/start traffic on the I-22 from Atlanta to Birmingham on a Friday night after a long day at the outlet malls...
Back-roads are few and far between in these parts, as almost everywhere you need to go (even over to the local mall) means just a short hop on a butt-smooth Interstate highway – perfect for the Mustang’s aging live-axle rear-suspension layout.
Oddly enough, there’s a high level of compliance built in to this system for such perfectly even roads, so the ride is eminently comfortable, especially riding on the standard 17-inch alloy wheels
The downside to such a cushy ride is there’s a fair bit of body roll on turn-in, as we discovered on a mission up into the hills to find the Moonshine still in the adjacent Coffee County (no such luck).
However, it doesn’t seem to affect the Mustang’s ability to string a few fast corners together, as the chassis remained composed during quick changes of direction.
There’s a feeling that Ford’s engineers have got the most out of this solid rear axle – which does more for straight-line performance than dynamics – before the next-generation moves to a multi-link set-up.
However, those willing to sacrifice ride comfort for sportier handling can option the Performance package – 19-inch alloy wheels with Pirelli P Zero tyres, strut-tower brace, stiffer front springs, uprated brake calipers with performance pads, thicker anti-roll bars and shorter gearing with a limited-slip differential.
The Mustang is also equipped with electric power steering and while steering feedback is rather dull, there’s a four-way steering-wheel mounted switch that allows drivers to adjust the steering weight between Comfort, Standard and Sport settings, though we found the middle setting to be the most effective.
While the current-generation Ford Mustang V6 definitely has its shortcomings, it’s still a great-looking coupe and one that makes you feel a bit like the aforementioned Steve McQueen every time you get in it.
But with the sixth-generation Mustang just around the corner, the ‘Stang is set to get some revolutionary changes that will ensure it remains an icon for years to come.