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There's been a fair bit of debate in the CarAdvice office lately about which iteration of the all-new 2016 Ford Mustang represents the best bang for your buck. While the 2.3-litre turbo-four is the more economical option, the naturally aspirated 5.0-litre V8 promises to deliver the true spirit of the nameplate.
And that’s just the point. Owning a Ford Mustang is about buying into a legend, one that went mainstream after the 1968 hit movie Bullitt, when the ultra-cool Steve McQueen tore up the screen in his 1968 Ford Mustang 390 GT 2+2.
McQueen’s popularity shot to superstar status overnight, while the Mustang became an American automotive icon.
For me though, the bond with the original 'Pony car' started a couple of years before the movie’s release, the day my old man borrowed his business partner’s 1966 Mustang import for a weekend trip with the family from Sydney to Canberra.
As you might imagine, this was a huge step up from our bog-standard family Falcon, because even before Bullitt, the affordable Ford Mustang had already become a blue-collar hero in the States, especially if it swapped the lazy straight-six for the infinitely more charismatic 289 cubic-inch (4.7-litre) small-block V8 engine, as ours surely did.
And therein lies my position in the 2.3-litre turbo-four v 5.0-litre V8 argument. It’s pretty simple really: if you’re going to drive a Mustang, be sure it makes all the right noises.
And that also seems to be the consensus among the 4000-plus Aussie buyers who have already put down deposits on the new sixth-generation Mustang, with around 80 per cent opting for the V8-powered GT model, and the remaining 20 per cent choosing the four-cylinder version.
Enthusiasts will demand the V8. But for those more frugal buyers, the turbo-four will seem like the perfect package. I get it, I really do. You still get the great looks and decent performance, but above all you get outstanding value for money.
The entry-level EcoBoost Fastback can be had from $45,990 (before on-road costs) - a substantial discount over the $57,490 full-strength GT, by any reckoning.
Underneath, it’s a different story. For argument's sake, let’s leave any discussion around the Mustang's exhaust note aside for the moment and focus on the headline performance figures.
The heavy-hitting V8 makes 306kW of power at 6500rpm and 530Nm of torque at 4250rpm, with combined fuel economy estimated at 12.37 litres per 100km on premium 98 RON for the manual and automatic.
The more frugal four-cylinder version generates a not too shabby 233kW at 5600-5700rpm and 432Nm at 3000rpm, while consuming a claimed 9.04L/100km of standard 91 RON combined for the manual and 9.4L/100km for the automatic.
So on paper, there’s no contest when it comes to engine displacement. The GT has got its four-cylinder sibling well and truly beaten in that department. But what the turbo ‘Stang looses in good ole-fashioned cubic inches, it more than makes up for at the petrol bowser.
Of course, enthusiasts won’t give a hoot about fuel economy when it comes to their new Mustang. For those buyers, it’s all about thunder and lightning - the same as it’s always been with American muscle cars.
Whichever way you look at it, ‘retro’ has played an important role in the new-generation Mustang. It’s about maintaining that critical connection with the marque’s lineage to create genuine aspiration.
The last Mustang I drove, was a 2013 Hertz rental car in Birmingham, Alabama, while visiting old friends. While the vanilla-flavoured Hertz ‘six’ still attracted plenty of encouraging comment from service station attendants and the usual good ole boys at my favourite BBQ haunt, it was too rudimentary to ever be considered a design hit like the original.
The new-generation Mustang, though, totally nails it. All the proportions are right, with homage to the original Pony car being paid in full, with signature Mustang cues like the long bonnet, shark-bite grille and triple-segment taillights.
With pumped-up guards, big wheels and that classic fastback profile, it’s as masculine than ever, but at the same time, it’s a more polished design. After all, this new sixth-generation icon is the culmination of over 50 years of Mustang evolution, only this time, the designers haven’t missed a beat.
There are retro touches inside, too, such as the dual-cowl dashboard, though sadly, we don’t get a contemporary version of the ‘cool’ drilled three-spoke steering wheel that featured in earlier Mustangs.
Despite the leather trim and metallic highlights, there are also plenty of hard plastics in the cabin. Nevertheless, Ford has equipped the new model with all the latest conveniences including the new Sync 2 voice command system, which simplifies phone and audio functionality. It works a treat when you’re on the move, but requires your best enunciation to be properly understood.
With just one specification for Australian delivered cars, the range-topping GT is jam-packed full of creature comforts like keyless entry with push button start, an eight-inch touchscreen with rear-view camera and parking sensors, electrically-controlled heated and cooled leather seats, as well as a host of other tech including rain-sensing wipers, auto headlights, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror and ambient lighting.
Oddly enough, there isn’t a single Ford badge anywhere on the new Mustang, except for the lone decal at the top of the windscreen, behind the rear-view mirror. This time, it seems, it’s all about the galloping stallion...
Rear seat space has always been a bit 'iffy' in Mustangs, and it's still that way in the new model, that is to say, it's a kid-friendly space only.
But that hasn’t affected the hoards of fans keen to show their genuine appreciation for the new 'Stang, with a thumbs-up or a “Cool car, mate” shout out. That’s especially true of our Red GT tester, with its 19-inch gloss-black alloy wheels shod with decently-wide 275/40 Pirelli P Zero rubber down back (255/40s reside up front). It dead-set looks the business, and it clearly demonstrates that Ford is well and truly back on track with its treasured Mustang nameplate.
As good as the nine-speaker Shaker sound system is - and it is excellent - you’ll want to dial it back several clicks, the moment you fire up the V8. This is the sweet sound of modern American muscle – a high-tempo rumble that starts off as a purr at idle, rapidly building to a race car-like roar as the tachometer needle starts to climb beyond 4000rpm.
Would we like more volume out of those dual exhaust tips? Definitely, at least that’s the general consensus, but Ford don’t offer a multi-mode exhaust system. No doubt the aftermarket will be more than happy to sort that out for you though.
Either way, Ford’s sweet-sounding, dual-overhead cam 5.0-litre Coyote V8 is at its songful best when properly unleashed. Mated to either a six-speed manual or automatic transmission ($2500 option), this is a seriously potent bit of kit from Dearborn.
Nail the throttle, and acceleration out of the blocks is downright ferocious. And there isn’t a nanosecond of lag, thanks to its turbo-free 5.0-litre mill. Keep the throttle pinned and speed builds mightily fast. It feels like a genuine 4.6-second car, regardless of which transmission you choose.
The arrival of the new-gen Mustang in 2015 also dispelled the long-held notion that hard charging American muscle cars are built to perform on straightaways only. After all, for 50 years Ford had stuck with a solid rear axle for it’s most famous Pony car. But with independent rear suspension (IRS) now standard across the entire Mustang line-up, there’s no need to quiver every time you approach a corner on a twisty back road.
The Mustang rides on non-adjustable dampers, so even though you can toggle through various drive modes (Normal, Sport+, Track, Snow/Wet) to affect powertrain and chassis calibrations, you can’t firm up roll resistance or alter ride quality. On the road, I found throttle response in Sport+ too sharp for everyday driving. The normal setting is perfect for general duties, but even then, it will still pin you to the seatback under full-throttle prods.
Australian cars also benefit from a Performance Pack as standard equipment (optional in the US), which includes a limited-slip differential, a K-brace, heavy-duty front springs, unique chassis tuning and larger rear sway bar on the Fastback. The end result is a Mustang that properly balances ride and handling. It's still not at European levels yet, but it’s a lot of fun and entirely chuckable, albeit with some predictable lean.
Tap another toggle switch and you can also adjust the steering weight, but this is a fixed ratio setup, so it’s not any quicker. If anything, there’s a tad too much play on-centre, but that’s a minor quibble.
Back to ride comfort. I’ve got no issues whatsoever with the Mustang’s single suspension tune. Yes, it’s reasonably tightly sprung, but there’s also plenty of built-in compliance to iron out speed bumps and endure low-quality roads without any sharp crashes being felt through the cabin.
The big six-piston Brembo brakes up front are reassuringly capable with good pedal feel to boot – something of a requirement for a car with this kind of grunt lurking under the bonnet.
The question is, do you choose the six-speed manual or automatic transmission? The current split with existing orders is 37 per cent for the manual and 63 per cent for auto.
Traditional enthusiasts will choose the stick shift. The stubby, short-throw shifter is perfectly positioned in the centre console for precise gear changes the old-fashioned way, but the clutch is heavy and the accelerator pedal is set too low for easy heel-and-toe shifting, which is a real disappointment.
I drove both, and to be honest, I’d go with the six-speed auto. It makes life so much easier for the daily drive and with a hair-trigger throttle; it feels even quicker out of the blocks.
With a waiting period stretching more twelve months for the GT, it’s no secret that Ford has got a winner on their hands with the latest-generation Mustang.
The 2016 Ford Mustang is not perfect by any standards, but it’s light years ahead of the previous generation in every way. This is a genuinely exciting contemporary American muscle car, which feels every bit as special as the 1966 version I rode in as a kid.
I only wish I could hold on to the keys...
Click on the Photos tab for more 2016 Ford Mustang images by Mitchell Oke.