Reviews

2016 Ford Mustang: Australian Hands On

The Mustang is an iconic car. In Australia, we’ve rarely seen it outside of films like Bullitt, Gone In 60 Seconds and the new Need For Speed — the last locally delivered model was the relatively unpopular 2001 4.6-litre, and companies like Performax charge upwards of $100,000 for right-hand-drive conversions of US-delivered variants. Now, in 2016, the first made-for-Australia version of the Ford Mustang is here — it’s launching this week, starting at under $46,000.

What Is It?

The 2016 Ford Mustang is in high demand around Australia; dealers and opportunistic order-holders have been selling their confirmed deliveries for upwards of $40,000 over the manufacturer’s recommended retail price, with nearly half a dozen listed online on sites like Carsales from both dealers and private sellers. No cars are in customer hands yet, though — anyone willing to pay that much for an early Mustang will be buying it sight unseen.

Starting at $45,990 (plus on-roads) gets you into the four-cylinder manual coupe, while the V8 is $57,490 before options. $2500 more on both models will get you the 6-speed auto, and a further $6000 chops the roof off and gives you a motorised convertible soft-top. That means you’ll pay $66,490 for the most expensive Mustang, actually making it the cheapest V8 coupe in Australia since the death of the Holden Monaro in 2006. 10 different colour variants are available; my pick is either Magnetic Grey or Competition Orange, both of which are a $500 premium.

The basic Mustang uses the same Ford EcoBoost 2.3-litre four-cylinder used in the Ford Focus RS, with a slightly different tune and hardware setup. Developing 233kW at 5500rpm and 434Nm at 4000rpm, it’s highly turbocharged to deliver that kind of power in a relatively small displacement, but has breathing room — the Focus RS is upwards of 260kW and 475Nm. Step up to the V8, and you’re getting Ford’s all-aluminium Coyote 5.0-litre block, which sports 306kW at 6500rpm and 530Nm at 4250rpm.

Waiting lists are long; if you walk into a dealership now, expect to wait over a year for your top-spec Mustang to be delivered. Over 4000 preorders have been placed for Ford’s new halo car in Australia, with an approximately 80-20 split in favour of the significantly more expensive 5.0-litre GT variant. The 2.3-litre turbocharged four-cylinder EcoBoost is much less popular, but in a few ways I think it’s actually the best car of the pack.

What’s It Like?

It’s good. It’s worthy of the Mustang badge, and it’s a worthy successor to the last Falcon GTs that will soon end local production in Ford’s Broadmeadows plant. It’s not a complex car — there’s only the one interior trim level, and the key exterior difference between the 5.0-litre GT and the Ecoboost is a different set of black multi-spoke 19-inch wheels (the EcoBoost gets 18-inch five-spokes). There are no advanced technological features like automatic emergency braking or adaptive cruise control. But what it does, it does well.

Get in the Mustang and you’ll see the interior is well appointed for a Ford — it’s a huge improvement from even the best Falcon. The black leather seats are smooth and comfortable, with a good amount of bolster without being excessively racey and uncomfortable. The driving position is inviting, behind that big pony-emblazoned steering wheel, with the six-speed shifter on the manual model sitting on top of a modest transmission tunnel and centre console. For the front passenger, there’s a Mustang plate in the centre of that side of the dashboard.

The placement of the cupholders is a genuine problem for Aussie manual drivers, though. You won’t have fun changing gears with one or two 600mL bottles in the spaces; anything taller than a small coffee cup will get in your way. Part of this problem is caused by Ford’s choice not to change the placement of the handbrake, which is closer to the passenger seat and therefore harder to operate.

The dashboard, centred around Ford’s great but also quickly-aging SYNC2 platform — read more about it here — is straightforward and simple from the bottom of the touchscreen upwards. In the lower centre of the dash, though, a cluster of buttons for air conditioning, seat heating and cooling, and the adjustable driving modes and steering weights looks somewhat out of place — the manettino switches, too, only flick upwards rather than both directions, so you’re left tapping three or four times to cycle through menus rather than back and forth.

The rear seats and headroom — or lack thereof on both accounts — are another factor that might turn off local buyers, especially those keen on transporting anyone in the back seats over the age of six or seven. If you’re a tall driver, you’ll have barely a skinny leg’s worth of room behind the seat, especially in the manual which requires two legs’ pedal-pushing. The rear seat seems more suited to a quick cross-city trip with the kids, or for a backpack or bag of groceries after a trip to the shops.

Driving it, though, makes you forget about any small complaints you might have about the interior. It’s not a hugely powerful V8 — no supercharger to give you an excess of power available — and you will have to drop back a gear or two on the highway to overtake — but it’s the overall package — well damped but compliant over small bumps and potholes in the road, with a huge amount of urgent push in the middle of the rev range, and plenty of traction and strong brakes to pull you up — that makes it just fun to drive.

Different driving modes — Normal, Sport+ and Race in the GT, and a few Sport variations in the EcoBoost — tighten up throttle response and stability control, giving you a firmer ride if you want it, and turn off traction control entirely in the Race setting for whenever you intend to get sideways. The same is true of the electronically adjustable steering weight — it feels best in Sport, but Comfort will likely be less fatiguing on a long stretch of unbroken highway at the cost of a little steering feel.

The Mustang is not a sports car in the same vein as the new Mazda MX-5, which I’ve also been driving recently. It’s a GT car, made for spirited driving but not necessarily that corner-to-corner, point-to-point racing that some Mustang buyers might be expecting. You can feel this in the suspension setup, which allows for a small amount of body roll — more in the heavier convertible, which has no overhead brace to keep things stiff. Ford has gone overboard with the excellent standard six-pot Brembo braking package, though, which is excellent and does an incredibly good job of pulling the circa-1700kg 5.0-litre GT up, and are even more effective on the 1600kg EcoBoost.

I will say that the EcoBoost is significantly lighter in the front when you’re pushing it around a corner at speed — on a private road, of course. It feels easier to turn, quicker to respond, and gives you more freedom to play around with confidence. That, and the reduced body roll on the coupe versus the convertible, cements my decision that the entry-level Mustang — EcoBoost 2.3-litre, manual, coupe — is actually the best driver’s car available from the entire Mustang fleet. It just trades that V8 growl for a more muted turbocharger whistle.

Should You Buy It?

You’ll have to wait a while if you want to buy the new Mustang in Australia, especially if you’re keen on the V8. But either model is a legitimately worthwhile purchase, and if you buy soon you’ll be jumping in at the height of renewed Mustang fever in Australia — which should translate into more thumbs-ups and smiles from passersby and passengers alike. It’s a beautiful car from the outside, it’s fun to drive on the inside — you just have to forgive a few small interior quirks along the way.

Here’s my advice: if you’re on the fence between EcoBoost and V8, choose the turbo — you won’t be disappointed. We’ll have a full, more comprehensive review of the new Mustang on Gizmodo in the next couple of weeks, so stay tuned.


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