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Goodbye Falcon, hello Ford Mustang.
Okay, it’s not 2017 yet so we're getting a bit ahead of ourselves, but what you’re looking at here – and what we’ve driven – is the car that will replace the XR8 and GT as Ford Australia’s local halo model.
Once the robots stop rotating and the assembly lines cease rolling at Victoria’s Broadmeadows plant in late 2016, the Mustang will be the only V8-powered Ford you’ll be able to buy in Australia.
Crucially, the famous American muscle car will be more attainable than ever before as a result of the One Ford approach that has made the new, sixth-generation model a global rather than US-only model – also factory-built in right-hand drive.
Apart from a period of official sales in the late 1960s here, Mustangs have otherwise only been available locally as conversions costing from $85,000 to above $100,000.
You can halve that last figure for the new ’Stang, with a starting price potentially just under $50,000 putting it within reach of a far greater number of keen drivers.
There are further benefits for the Mustang’s migration to other markets. Ford has at last ditched the antiquated live rear axle and introduced independent rear suspension.
It’s a vital move if Australian and European tastes for dynamics are to be satisfied.
Our first drive of the new Ford Mustang, though, is a pre-production left-hooker on US soil – around the streets of Los Angeles and up and down curving canyon roads.
The all-new front and rear suspension shines in the hills beyond the City of Angels but the Mustang is no (Sunset) Boulevard cruiser.
Whether on the regular underpinnings or firmer set-up of the Performance Pack, the fastback Ford is frequently bucked out of its stride. It does settle as speeds rise, though.
Chief engineer Dave Pericak told CarAdvice the issue had been acknowledged and says a fix is in place for production cars. He assures us that the tweak won’t affect the way the car currently steers and handles.
And thank goodness, because this is a Mustang that drives like no Pony car before it.
This is a coupe with its front and rear axles working in perfect unison – the newly untied rear wheels obediently following where the fronts have been directed.
There’s mighty grip from the Pirelli P Zero 255/40 19s that were part of the Performance Pack fitted to our first test car, the 2.3-litre four-cylinder turbocharged EcoBoost model, and the steering delights with its precision and the feedback it imparts through the rim of the Mustang’s sporty three-spoke steering wheel.
A Driving Mode toggle offers Comfort, Normal, Sport and Wet/Snow settings for the steering, transmission and stability control, and opting for Sport adds some welcome meatiness to the weighting without becoming artificially heavy like some steering systems from German luxury brands.
It’s the ability to steer the Mustang via the throttle that brings the greatest satisfaction when taking on a long stretch of picture-postcard driver’s roads. Press the pedal harder and the chassis presses harder into the bitumen, with understeer a seemingly distant notion; lift off and the nose tucks in. Beautiful.
Recaro sports seats are likely to be optional in Australia as they are in the US, but we’d recommend paying the extra for them. The side bolstering is more effective than the leather seats we had in the GT, while the springy cushioning guarantees day-long comfort.
The driving position is great, and there’s vastly better vision than in the rival Chevrolet Camaro. The side mirrors on the US-spec cars are tiny, though Ford says taller versions will feature on European and Australian exports.
Our GT test car didn’t have the Performance Park and didn't feel quite as sweetly balanced as the lighter EcoBoost, but while there was noticeably reduced grip from the all-season Pirellis compared with the performance-focused versions, the coupe’s rear end control remained impressive.
The V8, of course, is regarded by many as an essential part of the Mustang experience, and it certainly doesn’t disappoint. The 5.0-litre, carried over with tweaks from the previous generation, fires into life with purpose before burbling away on light to medium throttle.
It revs relatively quickly, building speed as if it’s on a mission as you head towards its 6500rpm peak power point. Ford never provides performance figures but it’s unquestionably quick – and all without the supercharger bolted to the same ‘Coyote’ engine borrowed by FPV.
The six-speed manual isn’t quite as slick as the same Getrag unit mated with the turbo four-cylinder, but a bit more hand power effort isn’t out of place in a muscle car.
We’d take the V8 almost on character rather than speed, though there’s much to like about the ‘entry’ engine, too. While the sound of the EcoBoost engine – despite being amplified (but also refined) through the speakers like the twin-turbo six in the BMW M3 – lacks the aural theatre expected of a sports car, it delivers in other areas.
There’s none of the V8’s low-speed driveline shunt and the turbo four is more tractable at low revs, before it brings strong and flexible performance into play.
Third gear proved to be especially elastic on the windiest section we covered, making second redundant even for hairpins and fourth only required when the road opened and straightened noticeably.
And on the freeway, the engine pulls nicely from 2000rpm in sixth. Based on the US combined fuel cycle, the EcoBoost engine has economy between 9.0 litres per 100 kilometres (manual) and 9.4L/100km against the V8's 12.3L/100km (auto or manual).
If the new Ford Mustang’s ride and handling is a mixed affair, the same can be said about the interior.
The Mustang’s cabin quality and presentation is a clear step up over US rivals such as the Chevrolet Camaro and Dodge Challenger. The 4.2-inch touchscreen is within easy reach, requires limited brain power to operate, and responds quickly to finger presses.
However, rougher, harder plastics on the dash and centre console, and details such as the silver-plastic toggles can’t disguise that the Mustang is still a car Ford has to price from below $30,000 in the US for competition’s sake (it’s been outsold by the Camaro since 2010).
The rear seats are also limited for room, with head space particularly woeful – despite the Mustang’s 4.8-metre length exceeding that of an Audi A5 or BMW 4 Series.
At least the boot is pretty sizeable.
As a sports coupe (or convertible), the Ford Mustang is never going to match the practicality of the V8 Falcons, and its urban ride will need to be fixed to match the Aussie sedans' all-round capabilities.
But it looks great with its classic muscle car proportions, and will help ensure the brand fills a performance gap post 2016, especially in GT form.
And thanks to chassis engineering that makes a bigger break from the Mustang's heritage than the design, the engaging, rear-drive driving experience won’t be so alien to Australians, either.