- Part One: Ride Em Mustang
- Part Two: Stars And Gripes
- Part Three: Meeting The Neighbours
- Part Four: Pony Training
- Part Five: Stang On Track
- Part Six: Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow
Part One: Ride Em Mustang
AN ‘EVERYMAN’S’ car (or ‘every-person’ in 2017) is something that harbours appeal in all sectors of society, oblivious to race, gender, social status or upbringing.
The original Mini was one. The Type 1 Volkswagen was another. And you can add the sixth-generation Ford Mustang to that list.
Even in brash Triple Yellow, beefed up with black multi-spoke 19s, this Ford Mustang GT makes people happy. Kids take photos of it, adults want to talk about it, and other motorists regularly give me the thumbs up when I’m driving it. Hell, it even makes me happy.
There’s something about sitting behind the Mustang GT’s vast, bulging bonnet and hearing the rumble of its enthusiastic V8 that acts as a tonic for a rubbish day.
It’s a good-time companion; a bit rough around the edges, sure, but always up for some fun. And literally impossible to hate.
While this 4784mm-long coupe is the polar opposite of my old Holden Spark long-termer for manoeuvrability – 12.2-metre turning circle anyone? – the Mustang’s size somehow isn’t really an issue.
A wheel-twirling ‘Comfort’ setting for the electric steering certainly helps when trying to wedge it against the gutter (without kerbing rims) in Newtown’s narrow back streets, but its rear wheels are easy to place relative to those chunky muscle-car hips and decent-sized exterior mirrors help, though they don’t auto-fold when the car is locked (via touch points on the handles). \
Unless there’s a setting I’m yet to discover, the mirror-fold switch on the driver’s door needs to be manually pressed every time the Mustang is parked.
You do need to get used to the Mustang’s girth though. Unlike my other Ford – a gargantuan 1963 Galaxie with more glass than Centrepoint’s viewing platform – its proximities are hidden far from the driver’s eye-line, and because you sit deep in the Mustang’s confines, at the mercy of its protruding front end, there’s definitely an initial feeling of intimidation that must be overcome.
But once you learn to trust the Mustang’s agility, and the purchase of its ‘integral link’ independent rear end (providing the 255/40R19 rear tyres are warm), it really does shrink around its driver. It’s a pity the Mustang’s steering wasn’t developed by Ford’s European arm. It has three settings – Comfort, Normal, and Sport – and so far I’ve used all three.
The first suits parking, the second is the most ideal for urban driving, and the third gels best when spanking the Mustang through corners, yet all three deliver a muffled feel that’s weirdly lacking in crispness and proper connection. I have a few other disappointments too.
The ‘Shaker’ stereo sounds a little confused, lacking in clear staging and genuinely meaty bass, and the Mustang’s six-speed Getrag ’box is a gritty, reluctant thing when cold (though quick and positive when primed).
There’s also a fat chance of carrying adult-sized people in the rear ‘seats’ for more than a few minutes. Despite Ford’s claims, the Mustang isn’t a four-seater – it’s a two-plus-two at best – though thankfully the rear backrests fold, usefully extending the Stang’s rather generous boot.
So for two people willing to embrace the Mustang GT’s likeable personality, there’s so much to like here. And in the coming months, perhaps more so when the sports exhaust, short-shift gearchange, and a few other Ford Performance extras now available through Ford dealers get fitted. But we’re off to a good start.
And I don’t even mind the yellow anymore.
Driven to drink
Parsimony is not the Mustang’s forte. A fuel consumption average of 16.5L/100km for its first 1000 kays disguises the fact that its first urban tank yielded a manly 24.8L/100km. Some highway cruising while on holidays brought the next tank down to 13.2L/100km, though I’ve rarely seen the Mustang’s trip computer drop into the 10s.
A smallish 61-litre fuel tank also reduces range, though a very tall sixth gear (not really useable until at least 70km/h) attempts to compensate.
Getting the show rolling
My start-up process in the Mustang is as follows: clutch in (bless her cotton socks, she’s a ‘stick’), depress the start button, electrically unfold the mirrors, flick the Drive Mode toggle to Sport (for superior throttle response), then flick the steering toggle to Normal.
Sounds laborious, and it is compared to simply jumping in and blasting off, but it’s a ritual that has become part of my Mustang experience and will be until this baby goes back in six months time.
Part Two: Stars and Gripes
AS SPRING’S arrival offers salvation from the depressive effects of the cold, and life’s rollercoaster of emotion shows signs of levelling out, this bright-yellow companion has rarely failed to keep my mood cheery.
The colour helps, of course, but approaching the Ford Mustang GT’s handsome face and muscular hips each morning always adds some sunshine to my day. There’s a welcoming familiarity to clasping its door handle and hearing the clack of its slick keyless entry system, followed by the ‘thunk’ of its large frameless door shutting and the rustle of its window re-sealing itself closed.
Indeed, sitting low in the ’Stang is like being bear-hugged by a chunk of metal, reminding me that everything is going to be alright … even if we hit a telegraph pole sideways and test the MY17 Mustang’s 6.88 points (out of eight) for the NCAP pole test.
Despite the media kerfuffle over a door unlatching itself after this severe perpendicular clobber, Euro NCAP offered a slight exoneration in its own words: “protection of the chest was adequate and that of other body regions was good”.
This brings me to the elephant in the room for any current Mustang – its overall NCAP score. Currently, the Aussie MY17 model rates just two stars, while Euro cars ordered from July 2017 get three stars (due to standard AEB, an active bonnet and other passive safety features due here with the Mustang’s 2018 facelift).
Alterations to airbags have reportedly since cured part of the problem and next year’s facelift will sport a lower grille and bonnet line for pedestrian protection. But the main issue is the rear seat for children in booster seats. “If we ripped that thing out of the 2018 car we’d get five stars,” commented a good-humoured source at Ford Australia.
The Mustang is a heavily style-driven coupe and delusions of treating it as an everyday four-seater are pure fantasy, kiddies included.
That said, I endured a stint in the back seat the other day. A life-affirming Sunday cruise to Sydney’s Berowra Waters cafe with a Porsche-owning mate doing the steering was followed by a four-up strafe to test the Mustang’s muscle-car cred.
Wedged into the back-left pew, hands gripping the cushion between my legs, the Euro purists extended the hearty V8 and came away impressed with its chassis’ chuckability. Sitting stooped and hanging on for dear life, I was actually okay; I reckon a sub-180cm adult could endure a back-seat sentence for 20-30 minutes, even while being thrown about like a hacky-sack.
But it was the Mustang GT’s character that ultimately shone through. Even accounting its occasional driveline snatch, muffled steering, and fidgety ride, there’s something deeply likeable about this car – enough to make grey skies turn blue.
Baby’s got yellow eyes
In many other markets, the shark-gill-inspired slashes in the Mustang’s inner headlight sections act as its daytime running lights, but not in Australia. Apparently we have no specific design rules relating to the brightness or location of DRLs, but UK-market models do.
And because Australia’s Mustangs are European-spec, just like the UK’s, our ’Stangs use their yellowy fog lights instead as DRLs, radiating a touch of ironic ’90s car culture in the process. Hopefully, that situation changes with Mustang’s imminent MY18 facelift.
Part Three: Meeting The Neighbours
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 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.
Part Four: Pony Training
IN THE often-subliminal game of life that revolves around ‘mine is bigger than yours’ chest-puffing, the bloke in the white Ford Mustang GT clearly had more sperm in his tank … or whatever competition was playing out at that moment on Sydney’s Elizabeth Street. And definitely more rumble from his rump.
For a split second, I wanted his life. Then I remembered that my manhood was about to be similarly enhanced by the Ford Performance exhaust system waiting to be assembled at Thompson Ford in Parramatta, thereby making AME-495 a bit less L-AME in the noise-output department.
A full peak-hour trawl north, on the Friday before Newcastle’s V8 Supercars extravaganza, provided a superb example of just how tractable and effortless the V8 manual Mustang is in heavy going.
Not once did I wish it was an automatic, but several times I yearned for more exhaust crackle and a better ride – both of which should (or will) be solved by the cache of Ford Performance bits being bolted to its undersides.
Besides a slightly lower, even tougher ride height, the only visual difference will be a pair of black 4.0-inch exhaust tips framing the Mustang’s rear diffuser. And the probability that my Newtown neighbours will be even more thrilled about the 6am wake-up call they get every time I punish myself at the gym before work.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. In its current stock-as-a-rock state, I have developed an almost brotherly bond with this yellow Mustang. I love admiring it, hanging out in it, playing games with it, and even defending it in critical company. Finessed it isn’t but loveable the Mustang GT most certainly is.
Even in heavy traffic, I managed to get the trip-computer average down from 25.2L/100km to low 15s on my slog north, though I suspect the Mustang’s woeful economy is because I can’t help unleashing its guttural induction burble. That means plenty of pedal travel at lower engine revs in this atmo bent-eight.
What won’t be getting fitted, however, is a short-throw gearshift upgrade. Notchy as the regular mechanism can be, if you press from the top of the clutch pedal and time everything perfectly, there’s an underlying slickness to its movement that I really don’t want to lose.
If experience with Rob Herrod’s supercharged Mustang is any guide (featuring a similar Ford Performance suspension package to what will soon feature here), I definitely won’t miss the stock Mustang’s ride.
It’s quite ‘springy’, lacking in compression and rebound control, and that can make the GT’s chunky 19s feel pattery on bad roads. And that can corrupt steering crispness too, or what little there is.
You get used to all of it but there’s promise of much better just around the corner. And my inner bogan is begging for it.
Mustang’s optional FR3-M9 Track Handling Pack ($4130 including fitting) is a comprehensive rethink of its entire suspension set-up. Lowered progressive-rate springs, new front struts, revised upper strut mounts, new anti-roll bars, rear dampers, rear toe links and toe-to-knuckle bearings are the guts of it.
If you option the Track Handling Pack at purchase time, it’s covered by Ford’s normal three-year, 100,000km warranty. But if you add it later via a dealer, as in our case, warranty is 12 months or 20,000km.
Part Five: Stang On Track
FR3-M8 SOUNDS like the sort of made-up name a non-driving, non-car person concocts when attempting to pay-out jargon-talking petrolheads like us, always to zero effect.
All $4130 worth (including fitting) of lowered, progressive-rate springs, new front struts and revised upper strut mounts, new anti-roll bars, rear dampers, rear toe links and toe-to-knuckle bearings have done very good things to the Mustang. Firstly, sitting 25mm lower, it looks bloody tough, even wearing the stock black 19s.
And secondly, its springy ride and pattery wheel control have disappeared in favour of an ultra-disciplined ride reminiscent of something Renault Sport would produce. In other words, uncompromising but not uncomfortable.
As for the Ford Performance exhaust system – a mandrel-bent 2.5-inch stainless steel arrangement from the cat’ back – it probably should be standard on every Mustang GT. A cold start sees a luscious rumble as the 5.0-litre V8 spikes to 1500rpm or so, then as you pull away, the cabin is filled with the bassy exhaust meat the regular car’s rich induction noise has been crying out for in accompaniment.
Beyond 6000rpm, the difference between stock and souped-up is much less noticeable, the bigger rear pipes failing to free up much in the Mustang V8’s upper reaches.
But given I drive AME-495 predominantly in the city, low- to mid-range muscle is what I’m all about. There’s little in the way of overrun crackle, though given there’s no tricky flap work, I can live with that.
The reworked suspension brings a significant reduction in bodyroll, though I don’t think the Mustang’s transition into oversteer is quite as friendly as it used to be. And while the steering has gained some firmness, it still lacks crisp feel to bolster this bruiser coupe’s dynamic credentials.
On an efficiency high note, sluggish holiday traffic and multiple roadworks on the Sydney-Newcastle M1 saw the Mustang’s trip computer display an all-time low of 9.6L/100km over the double-demerit holiday break. That’s what a lazy 80-90km/h in sixth gear will do to a V8.
The full tank ended up averaging 12.8L/100km (thanks to much blatting during Sydney’s blissful every-bastard-is-up-the-coast new-year period), and it’s unlikely the new exhaust will realise any worthwhile reduction in fuel thirst. But I no longer have to drive the Mustang as hard to gain some aural pleasure from it, and that’s surely going to make some level of difference.
What’s looming, though, is the return date for AME-495. And a long, indulgent farewell drive over the Blue Mountains to NSW’s western plains, perhaps with a Mount Panorama vista thrown in for good bogan measure.
My seven-year-old niece is in love. She asks me if I’m bringing the Mustang from Sydney, always comes out to greet it, and has even had a steer in it, of sorts.
Riding in the back on her booster seat to Caves Beach, oblivious to the two-star ANCAP rating (due to poor head protection in side impacts for kids in the rear on booster seats…), her giggles as I chirped the rear tyres on 1-2 and 2-3 shifts warmed my heart. As for my 10-year-old nephew riding shotgun; he couldn’t care less. Maybe you’re born with it.
Part Six: Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow
FINESSE isn’t what you buy a Mustang for. In fact, finesse isn’t something you’d associate with any generation of Mustang, including this fifth-gen example. Yet Ford’s loveably flawed, feel-good two-door somehow gets away with it. Call it deployment of the character card, and a shopfront window reflection to show just how damn ballin’ you look in a muscle car like this.
Eight months in, I still feel slightly warm and fuzzy clasping the Mustang’s chunky door handle and lowering myself into its broad, heated-and-cooled perforated-leather seats.
Long gone is the slight intimidation I first felt staring over its double-humped dashboard and bulging bonnet, unaware of its extremities and worried I was going to kerb its multi-spoke black 19s. Instead, a level of trust was quickly built, along with an unwavering admiration for the many things this now-departed Mustang V8 manual Fastback coupe does well.
A meaty induction growl, well-defined and mostly slick gearshift quality, brilliant air-con, reliable voice recognition, an easy-to-master control layout and the unexpected versatility of a big boot with a split-fold rear backrest make for a grand coupe that doesn’t demand too many compromises for its fast roofline.
And it is quick, this 306kW/530Nm Mustang GT, even though the Ford Performance exhaust system that arrived not long before Christmas failed to give the overdriven sixth gear any real backbone, or indeed any noticeable increase in oomph, let alone a reduction in its prodigious fuel thirst thrusting from one traffic light to the next.
Merely the bassy rumble at low-to-mid revs a bent-eight like this deserves.
What about the not-so-special parts of Mustang ownership? Well, the fact the ‘built with pride in Flat Rock, Michigan’ sticker on the left rear window always looked slightly askew speaks volumes for the Mustang’s solid, if far from sophisticated, construction.
Both the front fogs and rear light lenses would fill with water vapour every time I washed it, and the money saved on carpet meant it never reached far enough up the toeboard to completely cover the blue sound deadening underneath. But nothing fell off or failed to work, and even the American (read budget) cabin plastics failed to really bother me after a while.
From day one, my main gripe was the Mustang’s steering, though the full FR3-M8 Ford Performance suspension fitted alongside the fat exhaust did slightly improve its connection while enhancing its response. Weirdly, it feels most crisp in Comfort mode. Normal is slightly muddy much of the time, while Sport can make your thumbs ache, as it did on my farewell fling over the Blue Mountains and through the Megalong Valley.
For all its ham-fisted reputation and meathead connotations, this tweaked Mustang is anything but. With far superior wheel control and much less vertical bounce through bumpy corners than a stocker, this yellow GT is now much easier to pedal quickly. It sets itself up beautifully when turning in to corners, pointing its long nose at the apex while hunkering down in the rear.
There’s a really nice balance between power, grip and handling poise that makes this bent-eight Mustang by far the best of its breed. You need to be subtle when applying opposite lock though, given there ain’t a heap of feedback coming through its dished three-spoke wheel, and the widely spaced pedals make it difficult to heel-and-toe on downshifts if you’re only a size 10.
Having seen the facelifted Mustang in the flesh, I already know I’m gonna miss the super-tough front of this pedestrian-busting original. And it’ll be slightly weird not seeing a bright-yellow Fastback looking super-tough out on the concrete divide of my challenging neighbourhood streets.
Hell, I didn’t even mind parking it, and if that doesn’t prove our relationship had progressed to a more intimate level, then I don’t know what would.
Ford Mustang GT
Date acquired: July 2017
Price as tested: $65,704
This month: 402km @ 15.6L/100km
Overall: 3167km @ 17.8L/100km