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It’s a rare privilege, peeking behind the cyclone wire curtain that rings Ford Australia’s Lara proving ground west of Melbourne.
Fortunately, the term ‘rare privilege’ is an apt descriptor for a great number of the things motoring writers get to do for a day job. For instance, driving a 2016 Ford Mustang coupe a month before it launches, at said proving ground.
That’s precisely what we did this week, jumping ever-so-briefly behind the wheel of the American muscle car that has so captivated Australian buyers that the entire 2016 allocation of 4000 cars is sold out already.
Was it a long drive? No, quite the contrary. Can I give you the full rundown? You’re going to have to wait until our first proper Australian experience following the launch in the third week of January.
But even the briefest of steers in the 2016 ‘Stang was enough to inspire the briefest of ‘reviews’. And be honest, you’re as curious as we were.
When we drove the Mustang in the US way back in September 2014, we made a point that this was one US muscle car that was actually rewarding to drive around corners, and not simply while chewing up straight bits of tarmac.
This Mustang handles. At least on a surface level. Our test car was the one that very few people have ordered to date, but the one that’s perhaps the most intriguing — the EcoBoost turbo-four.
To be precise, our luminous yellow steed was the EcoBoost coupe with the six-speed automatic transmission that you can order now for $48,490 plus on-road costs. Perhaps the least desirable of the bunch, but then again, if this one impresses, the others logically must be better still…
Anticipation builds as one approaches the car. In the flesh it looks fantastic. A retro-modern amalgamation, tough as a club bouncer.
The mean headlights, signature honeycomb-style grille, the bulged bonnet and the fastback rear bleeding into a mean tail-light/diffuser ensemble all work. As do those jet black 19-inch rims.
Fun fact: The car is covered in Pony iconography, with only one Ford Oval to be found. It's located in the windscreen header rail above the rear view mirror, which you'll only see from the outside.
You sink into the cabin, ensconced in six-way adjustable (heated and cooled) leather bucket seats with good bolstering. The driving position is ergonomic, unlike some previous-generation aftermarket conversions.
The leather wheel in your lap is very ‘old modern’, with an iconic design that harks to the '60s golden era, though there are a few too many buttons for my taste. A sports car wheel really needs to K.I.S.S.
The gauges, circular vents and the centre stack are, likewise, retro in design. The use of tasteful silver inserts is fantastic, while the aviation chic lower buttons are a great touch as well. A big tick to Ford for relocating the indicator stalk to the right-hand side of the wheel as well.
One thing Ford has banished to yesteryear is its predilection for confusing fascias. The SYNC 2 system with sat-nav on a well-integrated touchscreen is a cinch to use, though it’s identical to the one on a base Focus…
One thing that doesn’t inspire nostalgia is the actual material quality. The plastic that runs down the transmission tunnel, for instance, belongs on a $15k supermini at best.
Meanwhile, calling those rear seats anything other than a soft cushion to throw your stuff on — and by ‘stuff’, we don’t mean people of any age/size — would be too generous.
But enough about the cabin. How does the 2016 Ford Mustang drive?
We’re well past the point where anyone should be surprised that a four-pot turbo gets up and boogies. A 2.3-litre force-fed engine with 233kW/432Nm (more than many V8s of last decade) is nothing to sneeze at.
Indeed, the pick-up is great, with minimal lag and a highly tractable nature, matched to a six-speed auto with paddles that simply didn’t put a proverbial foot wrong — not that we really had the chance to coax a stumble.
But it’s not the speed buyers care about, it’s how visceral the car is. Half the cylinders often equates to half the noise. And if your Mustang dream is to get noticed burning off a set of lights, then the $10,000 extra V8 version is what you’ll buy. About 85 per cent of buyers so far have. Classic 'Straya.
But if you care more about how the car sounds to those inside the car, then the EcoBoost has a party trick.
The pipe that organically channels the engine noise under heavy throttle into the cabin lends a gravelly note to proceedings, and it lacks the artifice of, say, BMW’s speaker-driven system.
Of course, I’d still have a V8, because it’s a bloody Mustang.
Where the EcoBoost has another advantage is its 82kg lighter kerb weight, most of which sits over the V8’s front axle. Any car that’s lighter over the nose is going to turn-in more sharply, and might very well display a predilection for comparable cat-like alacrity.
Yes, alacrity. In a Mustang. Because any RWD muscle car that feels this balanced mid-corner, yet also capable of controlled, predictable lateral body movement with precious little coaxing could be defined as little else.
Couple this with Ford’s typically light yet direct electrically-assisted steering that lets you know precisely what the front of the car is doing, and the very capable brakes (352mm at the front, 330mm at the rear) and you have a dynamic package that feels more classic Euro than Yank Tank.
And as we covered in depth previously, an advanced independent rear suspension setup with integral link (advanced? Yes, for a Mustang) improves your sense of contact with the road.
The pliancy the car showed over the bumpy back straight, without ever devolving into prototypical American ‘floatiness' and wallowing, showed us more than anything that internationalising the Mustang was a masterstroke.
The Proving Ground’s inner road exits for the sole purpose of sorting the wheat from the chaff, dynamically speaking. No run-off, long and sharpening tricky bends and some deliberately rutted surfaces abound.
It’s the classic Aussie B-road, purpose-built for Ford’s A-team engineers and developers. And the way the Mustang handled it, it could have easily been designed for this very track — though it wasn’t.
We’re going to leave it there. We’re not pretending that this brief drive constitutes a full review. We’re going to bring you that in January when we can do the car justice.
But on very brief first impressions, the fact the Mustang ate up the test track that has shaped and honed so many Aussie motoring icons spoke volumes.
Sorry about the LHD cabin shot, we weren't allowed to take pics at the Proving Ground and Ford didn't supply any local cabin images.