Y’all come back now, ya hear

Ponch puts the chaps back in the closet as his pony car sets off into the sunset

NATHAN PONCHARD

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-tomid 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.

NATHAN PONCHARD

Tough too much?

Despite other journos’ pre-conceived ideas of how the Mustang is viewed by Aussie society, only once did I cop any bullying for my chosen ride (despite the fact it ain’t mine!). A teenage girl at a bus stop in the Blue Mountains gave me the ‘little dick’ pinky gesture as I casually turned right onto the Great Western Highway, making me wonder whether I should tell her mother. As for the rest of ’Straya, the Mustang received pretty much universal admiration, or at least interest. Even in yellow.

Slip-sliding away

For all its Pirelli P Zero tyre purchase, the Mustang loves to oversteer on cold rubber, even more so now that its suspension has been sharpened up. There’s a surprising amount of leeway in Ford US’s stability-control tune, though I have solely driven the GT in Sport+ drive mode, not the doughy (and perhaps more conservative) normal setting. Without Sport+ sharpening its throttle response, the V8 Mustang feels like it’s just awoken from a booze-filled bender, proving easier to stall and a bit too lazy.