This car doesn’t need to exist, it’s as simple as that.
Car brands have so much going on at the moment. It pays to sit back and think about some of the rapid changes in the market that every global brand is having to deal with right now, regardless of the vertical they play in.
Automotive companies need to sell vehicles in a plethora of markets. If we compare Europe to parts of Asia, for example, the standards are widely juxtaposed.
In Europe, the emissions standards are so high that specific, unique hardware must be implemented in all of their vehicles. Brands must achieve this while they also battle to offer them at a competitive cost.
Without getting too technical, the latest regulations over there, in specific Euro 6d-temp, have gone so far as to count the fuel that evaporates from the tank of a vehicle, while it isn’t being driven, as a form of emission.
Now, imagine trying to sell cars, with all of these added hardware costs, in an emerging market where they need to be affordable, and are not bound by such regulation and rules. Also, where such advanced systems do not add any value or achieve any concession, and if anything only result in higher running costs.
Naturally, these two situations manifest another problem – production diversity. Depending on the scenario, it can cost more to make two very similar cars, one with more crude hardware than the other, on the same production line.
To ice the cake, there are places like Australia, too. We’re lagging behind, by about 10 years, in terms of our emissions regulations. We have other hurdles to manage, such as our average fuel quality being poor and high in sulphur, but despite that we’re a very small market that can’t simply repay big R&D bucks due to our lowly sales volume.
It takes guts to get a unique project for our market off the ground. The team at Ford Australia managed to achieve just that with the help of Herrod Performance.
It took years of planning, research and development, alongside blood, sweat and tears, to make the 2020 Ford Mustang R-Spec a reality. The dedicated team at both enterprises worked tirelessly to create a uniquely Australian pony car.
And my, does it deliver.
It makes a statement straight off the bat sitting pretty on a Ford Performance footwork package that consists of lowered suspension with Magneride dampers, larger adjustable swaybars (+5mm front/+3mm rear) and a staggered wheel package. You’ll find the 10-inch-wide rear wheels wearing meaty 275-section Michelin performance tyres.
It looks aggressive. They’ve also peppered the exterior with blacked-out badges alongside a rather nostalgic-looking matte-black stripe kit. It grabbed the attention of many onlookers, and I don’t have enough digits on my hands and feet to count the number of compliments the Mustang received from passers-by.
There’s something nice about a car that brings smiles and joy to random people, who just happen to be in the same place and time as it. Consider yourself doing a great public service by cruising around in your R-Spec, if you will entertain such a notion.
This super-sports theme carries through inside. A wonderfully deep set of well-bolstered Recaro sports seats put to bed any physicality the R-Spec whips up. Good seating is important in any car, but paramount in something with this level of performance.
They do gobble up a bit of the rear leg room, however, which is woeful at the best of times. I managed to squeeze a convertible child seat on the back bench, and just about fit a passenger in the front seat, two in tow.
In this scenario, the front passenger's leg room is slim, as is the child’s space in the rear. However, we embarked on a one-and-a-half-hour drive with decent comfort and zero complaints. It is possible to own one as a young family, if you so desire.
A point to mention to those budding families who like their weekend ride fast – loading a child can be challenging. Once you’ve unlatched the seat’s backrest, you have to slowly slide the seat forward separately using the electric adjustment to create an aperture big enough to pop your offspring in.
The rest of the cabin is typical of a Mustang. Ford’s SYNC 3 infotainment system allows smartphone integration in the form of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It also sends its tunes through a 1000-watt B&O Play stereo system with 12 speakers including a dedicated subwoofer.
In front of the driver is Ford’s 12.0-inch digital gauge cluster, which is configurable in many ways. It’s here, too, where you can adjust the vehicle’s individual driver settings, and even set a time for when the variable exhaust is to start on quiet mode, so as to not piss off your neighbours.
I’m a fan of the Ford Performance gear shifter, too. Its circular shift knob harks back to the days of when enthusiasts used to fit Hurst shifters to their classic Mustangs. It's worth mentioning that the R-Spec was only offered in diehard enthusiast configuration – six-speed manual, with no auto in sight.
Despite the cabin featuring some rather simple materials, the most important touchpoints have been given a once-over with the R-Spec.
But it isn’t inside the cabin where the magic happens. It’s inside the engine bay. Popping the hood reveals what you’re actually paying for.
Instantly noticeable and protruding from the valley of the Coyote V8 is a large, 2.65-litre supercharger. This blower was developed by Ford Performance partner, Roush, and uses Eaton internals to get the job done.
It’s a highly engineered package, with the Roots-type supercharger having undergone severe stress testing. Roush claims it has subjected the componentry to well over 17 million wide-open throttle pulls, where it safely and consistently produced over 700hp when strapped to a Mustang V8.
Naturally, the team at Herrod Performance leant on this already proven package when searching for hardware to create the car. Other parts that’ve been upgraded include the injectors, radiator and airbox, with the latter featuring a neat clear viewing cover.
Just looking at the physicality of the components fills your head with ideas of its performance. It’s almost bulging at the seams with bits of ribbed metal, piping, and other mechanical treats.
As a pleasant reminder of how special your car is, its build number can also be found pride of place on the top of the supercharger.
Ford never released an official power figure for the Mustang R-Spec, but a bit of investigation on the hardware gives you an idea. Expect the motor to be producing in excess of 500kW of power and generating more than 800Nm of torque.
Those figures are absolutely dizzying, especially when you think about the $99,980 list price before on-roads.
Research conducted by myself lends me to come to the conclusion that those figures are not far-fetched. The power comes in strong below 5000rpm. First gear is utterly useless, and provoking the car in second nets the same result – a total blowout of wheel spin, if you’re wondering.
It doesn’t feel like 500kW, though.
The striding horse does not take to being poked and prodded. It does like the 12psi of boost provided by the supercharger to be fed in progressively and kindly. That’s mainly the huge torque figure doing the talking there, however.
Ford Australia did mention that the car employs a boost-by-gear strategy in order to mitigate wheel spin. That means all of the power is not readily available, and you sort of unlock more of it with each upshift.
After a longer fact-finding mission, I managed to find the missing kilowatts, as well as discovering that it doesn't use as much fuel as claimed, ironically.
Above 5000rpm, it absolutely hauls. It doesn’t feel like it suddenly generates a stack more power or anything, just the sheer pace above that RPM becomes much more apparent.
It also turns into a different car and becomes something quite evil. Up at that RPM, your neck is strained, and the speedo begins to become a literal blur as it attempts to climb in 1km/h intervals faster than it can think. As for a 0–100km/h time, there's no official figure. My colleague Joshua Dowling timed the 0–100km/h figure at 4.7 seconds at the track, however.
Due to the type of forced induction used, it doesn’t let up, singing its song right until the redline. Supercharging a V8 is an excellent option to get linear, progressive power that’s in line with the inherent nature of the engine.
It’s just a shame that the Mad Max Interceptor vibes are politely shielded by the airbox cover, however. A bit more supercharger whine wouldn’t go astray in a car like this. It’s worth throwing it out there that the airbox cover looks quite easily detachable.
As for fuel usage, the trip returned 12.5 litres per 100km travelled against an official combined claim of 14.0L/100km. I found that to be quite bizarre, as the car was very much enjoyed during the loan, so a good result there for the R-Spec.
Around town, just breathing on the throttle, it feels much like the regular GT. It’s a super-tractable engine, but in this RPM range, even with a quick stab of the throttle, you don’t find yourself feeling all of its potential. It’s truly one of those cars that needs to be explored in a controlled, safe environment in order to get your money’s worth.
You get value from the exhaust, however. It’s a pretty slick system that sounds like it should drone, but just doesn’t. The frequencies generate in a way that doesn’t irritate the ears, even in 'racetrack' mode.
If you ever find yourself wanting it a bit louder than the utmost setting, just jump outside, stand about 5m away from the back, and get your pal to give it a rev to 7000rpm. You’ll quickly come to realise that it throws so much of its sound far back beyond the ears of its occupants. It’s seriously loud from outside. Any more and you’d just be a really good-sounding pest.
The differences between each mode are quite difficult to discern between, so be prepared for the quietest setting to actually be quite loud. I don’t think that’ll bother the buyers of this car all that much, however.
Something else burdened with too close of a calibration is the MangeRide suspension. On each mode, you’ll be hard-pressed to notice the difference between each setting. It becomes more apparent on a twisty road at pace, but even then I don’t think you’re going fast enough to really take advantage of the system.
On top of that, the R-Spec can become crashy on really harsh bumps. Those uncommon, deeper road divots were sometimes suffixed with a thud as the car tries to manage the forces after its suspension has reached its limits.
It’s a bit simple in terms of its ride and handling package, but then again, it’s a big American muscle car. It feels cumbersome in a way that’s oddly appealing. One thing you get from all of this is feedback.
You get a good sense of the road conditions, and the car clearly communicates to you how it's dealing with them. I never found myself wondering why the car was behaving the way it was, nor did it step out of line without some form of prior acknowledgment via the chassis.
It’s just such an effervescent car. It encourages you to just drive it everywhere, and I responded well by covering many, many kilometres during my time with it.
With each kilometre passed, my respect and understanding grew. I also took the time to do a back-to-back drive with a classic 1965 Mustang Fastback, too, which you can read about here. That comparison also gave me further context and framing on where the car had come from, and where it was now heading, too.
They’re all sold out, but if you really want one, try calling each Ford dealer in your state. You may just strike some luck, and find one parked out back that’s for sale at a premium.
Finally, kudos to Ford Australia for making the program happen. Speaking on behalf of the wider enthusiast marketplace for a second here – we’d like to thank everyone involved in getting this special car off the ground. It didn’t need to exist, but as enthusiasts we’re all better off with cars like the Mustang R-Spec becoming a reality.