Ford's new Mustang is finally reaching Australian shores. But what's it actually like?
What Is It?
The 2016 Ford Mustang is the Blue Oval's hero car for Australia for this year, its replacement for the outgoing Falcon and Falcon GT. It's replacing four doors with two, and five seats with (barely) four, but at the same time it's bringing surely its most iconic marque to Australia for the first extended stint in the car's over 50 years of history. The Mustang is the car that a lot of the world associates with the Ford brand.
The Mustang as it's delivered to Australia is a four-seat, two-door coupe offered in both automatic and manual, with two different engine options -- a 2.3-litre turbocharged four-cylinder EcoBoost, and a 5.0-litre V8 'Coyote' in the GT trim. On top of that, you can opt for a convertible roof, although you're only able to select that with the auto transmission. You'll pay roughly $45,990 for the EcoBoost and $57,490 for the V8.
The price of the Mustang itself is a point of contention, really. Plenty of dealers and buyers have been asking a premium for early delivery of the Mustang, and it's also interesting to note that next year's cars have already enjoyed a mid-life refresh -- with the improved Sync3 in-car entertainment system -- before they've even been built and delivered to customers. From around now, all new Mustangs will be built with the updates included.
I spent a week inside probably the least desirable spec of the Mustang, at least from the point of view of many of the list of Australian buyers that have already put down thousands of dollars sight unseen for a Mustang -- an automatic convertible EcoBoost, the turbo four-cylinder and its paired traditional six-speed auto 'box. We'll be testing the manual V8 coupe -- the hero spec -- in the near future, too.
What's It Good At?
From the outside, and as it drives past, the Mustang is a seriously visually imposing car. That bonnet is absolutely massive, and it's a credit to Ford that the impressively masculine design extends right across the range from GT to the base trim. From the outside, in everything from the width and rim size of its wheels to the various colour options on offer -- from what I've seen, Race Red is overwhelmingly the most popular choice -- the Mustang is one of the most beautiful and attractive cars within its price point.
It's also fun to drive, under the right conditions. You can't exactly imagine yourself as Steve McQueen in Bullitt when you're driving a four-cylinder auto convertible, but there's just something about sitting behind the wheel of a Mustang -- even if it's on the wrong side of the cabin for those steep San Francisco streets -- that makes you feel like a racing driver on the loose. I had much the same experience behind the wheel of the Falcon XR8; the car invites you to show off to your mates a bit, I guess.
That EcoBoost engine, by the way, is an absolutely impressive technical achievement. For its small displacement, you get a good deal of get-up-and-go, and while fuel economy isn't exactly diesel-level minimal, you will save a fair whack of fuel versus the V8. There's a goodly amount of turbo whoosh and whine, too. It'd be even more fun as a manual, and there's a huge tuner community around the same engine that lives in the slightly more powerful Focus RS.
Ford's semi-manual convertible mechanism for the Mustang is simple to understand and use. Not being a sun-lover, it was an initially odd but somewhat enjoyable experience for me -- I'm not sure that I'd buy a convertible for long-term use, but on a sunny week during April I did find myself with the top down more often than not. By the way, if you have tall rear passengers, having that roof down is almost a mandatory requirement.
What's It Not Good At?
The interior of the Mustang is a conflicting place to be. It's certainly Mustang -- you get that from the classic-looking shifter, the massive transmission tunnel cutting up the centre of the cabin, the Mustang badge prominently placed in the front passenger's eyeline. But at the same time, the plastics used are basic at best, and the mid-year Sync3 in-car entertainment refresh is very overdue. Visibility is also interesting with a tiny rear window, wide stance and high waistline.
And special mention has to be given to the placement of the two cup-holders sitting in the centre of the Mustang's front cabin, between the driver's and front passenger's seat. Coffee cups are manageable, but forget about carrying a water bottle or Coke bottle if you actually want to shift gears in the manual, or easily reach the handbrake -- the placement makes it genuinely confoundingly difficult to shift gears with one or two bottles in the holders.
The rear seats are not an especially fun place to be. We actually fit three people in the rear pews of the Mustang, designed for only two -- there are relatively deep buckets for each pair of pants -- but it was not a pleasant experience for anyone involved. Consider the rear seats of the Mustang best for exciting your sub-teenage kids and their friends when you take them for spin around the block.
It's also quite a basic car, in its way. Agricultural is probably too harsh a word to describe it, but despite the comparatively modern suspension setup -- versus Mustangs of just a few years ago -- it still feels somewhat antique to drive. There is, at least, the option to adjust the weight of the car's steering between Sport, Normal and Comfort driving modes. It very much wants to get sideways, too -- even on the auto EcoBoost, take care around damp corners on cold tyres.
Should You Buy It?
Do you want an iconic car? Then the Mustang is the car for you. Short of the impssible return of the Falcon or some mythical GTHO rebirth, the Mustang is Ford's most visually recognisable vehicle in Australia at the moment, and people will see you driving it. The prancing bronco on the front grille and rear boot lid are instantly memorable and evocative, and this is what pedestrians and fuel-miserly econobox drivers will see when you rumble (or whoosh) past them.
It's not a high-tech car by any stretch of the imagination. Really, it's probably one of the least complicated large cars that you're able to buy in Australia this year. Sure, it has electronic stability control and adjustable steering weight, and Ford's Sync2 and Sync3 in-car entertainment systems are both good, but you're not buying this car for its navigation system or the fact that it has Bluetooth pairing to your phone -- you're buying it because you want a Mustang, and you (probably) want a manual V8 driving the rear wheels. And that's what you get.
If you're able to somehow secure a test drive of the Mustang -- a task that will become easier as stock floods into Australia in the next few months, and once dealers and Ford clear their backlog of patiently-waiting customers -- then I'd highly recommend you try out the EcoBoost. It's almost sacreligious to suggest a four-cylinder Mustang, but it's really quite a hoot when you put the boot in -- and it's more fuel-efficient at the same time as well.
I actually ran into another Mustang driver, a new and clearly happy owner of the top-spec Race Red V8 GT, on my drives around Sydney. A shout of happy surprise and a thumbs up later, there was a sense of instant community around the car that I'm sure Ford and its Mustang owners are going to enjoy in Australia like they have in the US for decades. The Mustang has been properly introduced to Australian soil now, and it'll be a popular breed.