The latest Pony Car adds show and go, but it comes at a premium. Still, affordable V8 muscle cars are thin on the ground these days...
Even Ford must have been a little surprised by how successful the Mustang has been in Australia, since its market launch at the start of 2016.
Our market’s taste for bellowing muscle cars is famous, and the Pony Car tapped into this with vigour. To date, it’s found almost 20,000 local buyers, and regularly commanded market share in the sub-$80,000 sports car segment of 50 per cent.
While the Mustang EcoBoost turbocharged four-cylinder remains, it’s always been the V8 that has owned Australia’s heart. And with that landscape stripped nearly bare since the end of Holden’s local production, Ford’s opportunities remain massive.
Nostalgia junkies will also know the Pony Car is set to enter the Supercars racing championship in 2019.
The updated MY18 Mustang touched down recently, with a host of changes designed to lure new buyers, but also to tempt existing owners into upgrading and trading their pre-updated model.
The car you’re looking at is the heavily revised Mustang GT Fastback priced at $62,990 before on-road costs. That’s $5500 more than the MY17 version, meaning this ’Stang isn’t quite the hardcore performance bargain that it once was.
Our tester also came with a number of options driving the price up further. The new orange paint cost $550, the ‘Over-The-Top’ stripe stickers $650, the 19-inch aluminium alloy wheels $2500, the Recaro leather bucket seats $3000, and the MagneRide adaptive suspension $2750.
That made our test car a $74,440 proposition, pushing it to around $80K once you’ve paid all your on-road costs. Even so, the market isn’t exactly overflowing with V8 muscle cars, and the price-comparative BMW 420i is a wallflower and straight-line slug in comparison. The locally converted HSV Camaro? More expensive again.
So, what’s new inside? It looks overwhelmingly similar for the most part, though Ford cites "improved touchpoints and visual cues for a more premium look and feel".
The centre console gets a hand-stitched wrap with contrast stitching and padded knee bolsters, while the door handles, rings and bezels are finished in aluminium.
That said, the plastic quality is still pretty poor, with particular grievances directed toward the shiny toggle switches on the bottom of the fascia and the flimsy handbrake. It’s all a bit garish and tacky, to be frank.
Saving the day to some degree are those fabulous Recaro buckets, which are supple yet supportive, and unlike any sports cars they are designed for folks with generous proportions. Maybe that’s why Ford put them on the press-fleet car, eh?
There’s also a new 12.4-inch digital instrument cluster behind the wheel, which Ford says draws inspiration from the Le Mans-winning Ford GT. There are Normal, Sport and Track modes that change the layout of your gauges, and the colours.
There is a plethora of submenus to scroll through, but you figure it all out with time. It’s not as sophisticated or clear as VW’s Virtual Cockpit, but it’s nice to have.
As colleague Curt Dupriez put it, in his far more sophisticated vernacular than what I can muster: “... it hasn’t been ‘Euro dipped’ and retains a nice level of Americana-tinged kitsch – a slice of ‘California’ even when you’re stuck in southern Aussie winter gloom”.
One nifty addition is the new ‘Mustang MyMode’ program; an extended memory function saves your favourite drive settings, including suspension and steering preferences.
Partially addressing the old car's substandard two-star ANCAP crash test score, the MY18 model gets autonomous emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian detection as standard, plus adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist.
The familiar Ford Sync 3 onboard software includes Emergency Assist, which automatically calls emergency services for faster response times in the event of a collision and feeds the call centre your GPS location. The 8.0-inch centre screen remains, with Sync 3.
That said, its three-star crash rating is hardly revolutionary. It scored 72 per cent for adult occupant protection, but just 32 per cent for child occupant protection. If you’re using those snug back seats for your stuff, not your kids, then the worry diminishes.
So, to the drive. Under the bonnet, a 5.0-litre naturally aspirated V8 with a lovely 7400rpm redline remains. This is the fastest ‘regular’ Mustang (meaning we’re excluding all the modified ones from Shelby and the like), and the highest-revving GT version to date.
The 0–100km/h time for the manual is 4.5 seconds, with the auto a touch quicker.
Outputs have grown too, from 306kW/530Nm to 339kW (at 7000rpm, meaning you’ll want to rev the hell out of it) and 556Nm (at 4600rpm). Higher compression (11.1 to 12.1), freer-flowing heads, dual fuel injection (port and direct) and that peak RPM lift all play their parts.
However, we’re duty bound to also report that our test car’s engine warning light lit up late in our loan. It turned out to be a glitch rather than a serious mechanical problem, but still a pain…
While not exactly a bastion of new-world tech, there are some cool customisation features. The new active valve exhaust system has Normal, Quiet, Track and Sport modes, changing the way the car sounds. Want the ’Stang to sound as noisy as possible at low speeds? Easy. There’s also a ‘Quiet’ exhaust mode that turns it into a kitten at start-up, so your neighbours don’t hate you if you’re up early.
It’s good to drive a naturally aspirated engine that rewards higher engine speeds, and that makes you work it. It’s more characterful and faster than before (thank the Deity), with a little more attitude and the ability to pin you into that Recaro back bolster if you find the right stretch of tarmac.
The driving modes available also extend to Drag Strip and Winter/Snow modes. The latter dulls the throttle response and fettles the ESC, and may come in handy. The Drag Strip mode fettles the ESC settings and gives you launch control (though the smokey Line Lock isn’t fitted in Australia, still).
The V8's manual gearbox has been "totally redesigned" according to Ford, with a twin-disc clutch and dual-mass flywheel, and its light-ish clutch will surprise you, though its shift is notchy. The auto option is a new 10-speed unit. Manual for me, though, thanks.
On all models, new shock absorbers make for better ride control, while a new cross-axis joint in the rear suspension leads to increased lateral stiffness, and rejigged stabiliser bars yield sharper lateral response and flatter body control.
The wheels are shod with Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres, which are pretty primo.
The MagneRide dampers, once exclusive to the Mustang Shelby GT350, automatically adjust at each corner up to 1000 times per second. These dampers contain magnetised particles in oil controlled by current directed from the car’s onboard brain (ECU).
The long and short of it is that the Mustang is actually more nimble and responsive than the antiquated old versions, though not above stepping out at the back and being steered by throttle inputs, while at the same time capable of being pretty cushy daily drivers over urban roads.
It’s never been a more consummate all-rounder, even with its unrefined edges.
From an ownership angle, Ford gives you a five-year warranty and promises you a service car at every 12-month interval. Each service is reasonably priced and capped at present at $445, then $500, then $495.
So, to sum up the MY18 Mustang GT. If you wanted the pre-update Mustang, you’ll like this one more. Will Ford be able to keep selling these by the thousands? Well, it’s got a bit of Bradbury about it…
It’s not the bargain it once was, but it’s still a hell of a lot of muscle car for the moolah compared to most anything else out there, especially now Holden and Ford’s locally made V8s are gone. Moreover, it has more attitude and a little more sophistication to boot, juggling those sometimes contrasting aims.