THE DEFINING moment in the Ford Mustang’s 53-year career – and arguably the car-chase moment of all time – has to be the epic 10-minute sequence in Steve McQueen’s 1968 film Bullitt. Gratuitous oversteer, axle tramp, smoking rubber, jump shots, public endangerment – Bullitt delivers the works.
So it was an interesting exercise putting some of that drama into a modern context. Cue my yellow Mustang GT long-termer in pursuit of AMG’s latest sedan superstar, a Mercedes-Benz E63 S 4matic. Not a fair contest by any means, with an even greater straight-line disparity than there was between McQueen’s ’68 Mustang GT and the brutal 7.2-litre Dodge Charger R/T he was pursuing, but it was a great test of the Mustang’s full-bore dynamic ability.
As could probably be expected of such a value-focused coupe, today’s Mustang GT is no high-tech surgical carving implement. But at times it comes bloody close. There’s so much amusing goodness generated from the superb poise and fluidity of the Mustang’s multi-link rear end that memories of the old live-axle model’s hideous axle tramp and bump steer are but distant nightmares.
Absolutely flat out in an attempt to keep the E63 in sight, the Mustang revealed a few frayed edges. Much as the standard Ford damping doesn’t quite work in day-to-day situations – the Ford Performance set-up fitted to the Herrod Mustang I drove earlier this year (Wheels July) is both more compliant and better controlled – neither does ultimate body and wheel control when bounding through bumpy, snaking corners. But the Mustang’s chassis has rhythm, and there’s an honesty to its grippy and encouraging nature that goes a long way to making up for its lack of ultimate finesse.
Other not-so-slick finer points include Brembo-clamped brakes that pull up well but can feel a little soggy underfoot when worked hard, and the Mustang’s three-mode steering. At slower speeds, there’s a viscosity either side of straight ahead that feels totally unnatural in the context of the chassis’ innate agility, yet if you leave the steering in Normal mode on bumpy roads, there’s enough turn-in bite to join all the dots handling-wise. Chuckable and adjustable, yet also forgiving. Just what you want in a V8 manual fun machine.
You can tell there’s headroom in the engine department too. I love the low- to mid-range induction rumble from the 5.0, but it runs out of puff as it approaches the 7200rpm cut-out and there isn’t enough exhaust entertainment to back up the Mustang’s buff styling.
It’s a sound basis to work with, though. And definitely the fittest, finest Mustang since Bullitt was tearing up cinema screens in a smoke haze.