It’s very easy to dislike and write off the Ford Mustang. After all, until the updated model arrives, the Mustang's two-star ANCAP safety rating is entirely unacceptable and should be reason enough not to go near the iconic nameplate.
But… tell that to your grin as you go from first into second and the back steps out ever so slightly to remind you that life is worth living.
The problem with wanting to hate the Mustang is it’s actually a really, really, enjoyable vehicle to drive. Here, you have a two-door, rear-wheel drive, stylish sports car that packs a mighty 5.0-litre naturally-aspirated V8 with 306kW of power and 530Nm of torque. And, it’s available in a manual at around $60,000. If you can find something that offers a similar package for the money, buy it.
From the outside, the Mustang is unmistakably a modern muscle car. It’s not soft, it’s not brutish, but it’s a very well-styled vehicle that carries the Mustang heritage into a new era.
Considering Ford Australia seems to have sold more Mustangs than half of its other models, the Pony car has lost a bit of its appeal due to its popularity. It was only 12 months ago, a yellow or red Mustang would’ve turned heads anywhere it went. But these days, market saturation has dulled its impact somewhat.
However, much like the Toyota 86 that dominated the affordable sports car market before it, the Mustang's popularity doesn’t detract from the car’s other appealing characteristics, namely the drivetrain and driving dynamics.
Let's be brutally honest, the Ford Mustang is not a very competent car when it comes to sharp dynamics and handling. It will have its rear end handed to it on a race track by half-a-dozen 2.0-litre turbocharged Japanese and European cars. And if that’s what you’re after, you’ve missed the point of Ford’s offering. This is a grand tourer; even the name says it – Mustang GT.
This is the type of car you can drive the kids to school in (so long as you’re aware the rear passenger safety rating is well below par for a modern car), go to work, do the shopping and then take it out for a fast drive on the weekend. It doesn’t do any of those things better than other offerings out on the market, but as a package bringing together a sense of visual, audible and emotional excitement, it’s hard to beat.
We took our red V8 Mustang, with the kids aboard, to the All Ford day at Queensland Raceway. It was a challenge to fit the child seats in the back and the angle of the rear seats makes the legroom pretty poor (and also contributes to the poor safety rating).
Nonetheless, we were utterly surprised by the number of, not just other Fords, but Mustangs on display. There is a genuine sense of community around this car – one which we haven’t experienced on this scale since back at the peak of the Subaru WRX days – both in terms of support from other members, but also the endless list of modifications that are now possible.
You’ll need to replace the exhaust, almost immediately post-purchase, with something that generates a bit more noise because as it stands, the standard exhaust system really mutes the mighty naturally-aspirated V8. Ford offers an option, but we recommend just going for one of the well-established aftermarket offerings.
We walked around the horde of Mustangs on display and were wowed by both the body style modifications and also the mechanical upgrades some owners had managed. Needless to say, no Mustang drove into the crowd, though a few 'Insert Crowd Here' stickers were seen on front bumpers.
Talking to plenty of Mustang owners, the only complaint we heard was how long they had to wait for their car, to begin with. But, this is no longer as much of an issue given the car’s current safety turmoil and age.
Post the all-Ford day, we took the Mustang for a very comprehensive test drive through mountain ranges, city streets and highways and did our very best to dislike the coupe. It’s not one we should ever recommend, purely for its safety rating alone, but hell, if you have the maturity to make a decision to buy this car knowing its safety limitations, then we salute you, because this is a very, very competent package.
The V8 engine revs freely and, given the exhaust notes we heard from more than a dozen modified Mustangs, it's an utterly brutal aural experience once released from its factory restriction, one that will force a smile from any car enthusiast.
We found the manual gearbox very rewarding, and although there is also nothing wrong with the automatic, if you can drive stick, it really adds that extra layer to the Mustang lifestyle.
In terms of dynamics, the Mustang shows a heap of body roll around corners and in general feels its 1701kg (tare) weight. It’s a heavy beast and it doesn’t really like corners. But it’s American and without being clichéd, what else is new?
The upside is, the ride is super comfortable and even on Brisbane’s mostly neglected suburban roads, the Mustang never feels unsettled or jarring.
What we love about the Mustang is its tendency to oversteer. In Sports mode, the throttle becomes more responsive and the traction control a little less, well, controlling. The result, especially when the road surface is even remotely damp, is the backend sliding out at every opportunity. This, despite the massive grip offered by the Pirelli P Zero tyres. If you love the oversteering characteristic of an American muscle car, the Mustang will not disappoint.
In Track mode, everything goes yet another step further and the car behaves like an old school muscle car, caring little for your inability to understand the physics of tyres and weight transfer.
We have to thank Track mode for all the hilarious Ford Mustang crash videos available on the Internet. There is something raw and entertaining about a sports car that hands over full control and lets you have some actual fun. But it will bite you, really, really hard, if it can tell you’re a pretender.
The Brembo brake system does a reasonable job of bringing the Mustang to a stop, but the car’s hefty weight will mean the brakes start to fade if you keep on it.
The overall driving experience of a Mustang is currently second-to-none, for both good and bad. It’s a lazy, manual V8 with a propensity for oversteering that can only make you laugh. It’s a hell of a lot of fun to drive.
What’s not so fun is the interior, which is Spartan at best. It’s full of harsh plastics and poor fit and finishes. The way the buttons operate, the tactility of the cabin surfaces, it’s all pretty nasty, though you can argue it’s keeping in tradition with the American muscle car heritage.
The infotainment system is a tad hopeless, too. Look, it works fine and the stereo system pumps out the beats with vigour, but the user interface makes you wonder how an American company, which has access to the world’s best UX designers, has managed to come up with something so unrefined.
There are other annoying aspects of the car; there are too many beeps and warnings just trying to get in and out of the thing and that can get frustrating over time.
Overall, the Ford Mustang is one hell of a car to drive. It brings constant entertainment and joy behind the wheel. It’s the type of car that we would want to own and experience on a constant basis.
In saying that, we can’t recommend you buy a Ford Mustang because of its abysmal safety rating alone, but if you happen to buy one anyway, we won’t tell anyone.
Click on the Gallery tab for more images of the Ford Mustang GT.