FORD MUSTANG

COOL RIDE; DOESN’T GET TO SADDLE UP FOR ROUND TWO

NATHAN PONCHARD

AUSTRALIA has so much residual love for the Ford Mustang that this ballsy two-door coupe/ convertible was never going to fail in our market.

Not at prices beginning in the mid-40s for a manual Ecoboost Fastback and stretching to a stillmodest $66K for the flagship V8 rag-top. Nothing can match the traffic-stopping wow factor of a new Mustang for anything close to its price.

That’s a huge part of this car’s appeal – its egalitarian pricing strategy, hence why it’s been such a massive sales hit (see sidebar) – but there’s also an unexpected serving of substance to accompany the Mustang’s retro-modern styling.

And as last year’s winner (the Mazda MX-5) proved, there’s nothing stopping a sports car from claiming a COTY award.

Mustang functions pretty well as an everyman’s muscle machine, starting with a long, low driving position and the sort of screen-filling bonnet presence that surely goes with the territory. But then there’s the stuff we’d prefer not to have, like plenty of driveline snatch in the manual V8, a handbrake mounted on the wrong (left) side, lots of not-so-special switchgear and, dare I say it, an American feel to its el-cheapo plastics that must really grate (or amuse) the Germans. Rear-seat space is at a premium, too, despite Mustang’s external size, though the coupe offers a decent 383-litre boot.

There’s some cringeworthy heritage like ‘Ground Speed’ emblazoned in the over-crowded instrument dials (with mph as well as km/h markings), and some ironic heritage, too, like the protruding structural lumps of the convertible’s roof frame harking back to the Model T. But the new Mustang is such a likeable beast – even the Ecoboost auto convertible – that many of those issues can be overlooked in the real world … just not Car of the Year.

The revvy V8 performs strongly when pushed hard but it doesn’t have a whole lot of low-down grunt, and we wish it sounded meatier more of the time. Ditto the turbo-petrol four (where’s the Focus RS-style induction fizz?), though it teams well with Ford’s six-speed automatic and punches the boulevarde-cruiser convertible along with ample urge and decent economy (if you believe the figures), accompanied by a tad too much scuttle shake.

The driver’s Mustang is clearly the V8 manual Fastback. On the dirt handling circuit at You Yangs, it was an absolute riot (because dirt drifting is so important to Mustang owners…), combining innate chassis purchase with progressive dynamic response and great brakes. It continued this precise, poised, grip-laden display on bitumen, though wet-surface braking isn’t the Mustang’s forte, and it fails to build on the safety score of dual front knee airbags with any driverassist technology.

What’s ultimately missing, though, is finesse.

Great to look at, fun to drive and relatively attainable as the Mustang is, there’s a distinct lack of rough-road ride quality, not to mention interior finish. Personality goes a long way in life, but not far enough to book the Mustang a Round Two berth.

SPECS

BODY Type 2-door coupe, 2+2 seats Boot capacity 324 – 383 litres Weight 1664 – 1811kg DRIVETRAIN Layout front engine (north-south), RWD Engines 2261cc 4cyl turbo (233kW/432Nm); 4951cc V8 (306kW/530Nm) Transmissions 6-speed manual; 6-speed automatic CHASSIS Tyres 255/40R19 – 275/40R19 ADR81 fuel consumption 8.5 – 13.1L/100km CO2 emissions 199 – 306g/km Collision mitigation Crash rating 5-star (US NHTSA) Prices $45,990 – $66,490

HOT HORSE; NO OZ COURSE

Following its launch last January, the Ford Mustang absolutely annihilated the sports-car segment in 2016. It finished the year with 6208 sales, miles ahead of Hyundai Veloster (2232), Toyota 86 (2068) and Mazda MX-5 (1577). Model-year ’17 variants have just arrived, including new SYNC3 multimedia and some colour changes. But the smokin’-hot 5.2-litre Mustang Shelby GT350 (pictured), complete with 8250rpm redline, won’t be part of the mix.

“SUCH A BIG, FRIENDLY BEAST OF A THING, AND AWESOME FUN ON GRAVEL...”

BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

“CONVERTIBLE FEELS CRUDE; BUILT TO THE KIND OF PRICE TIGHTWAD AMERICANS WILL PAY”

JOHN CAREY