FORD Mustang. It's the car that sells itself.
Before the first Mustang even rolled off the boat here, we Australians had pre-ordered over 4000 right-hand-drive versions of Ford's iconic pony car. The first year's allocation sold out in no time and waiting lists are now nudging into 2018. The Mustang mystique is strong in these parts.
With thousands buying the things before they ever got the chance to see one in the metal, let alone actually drive one, you don't need reviewers like me to tell you whether to buy one or not.
Shoppers are following their hearts. "I just want a Mustang...please take my money!" And isn't that why we are car enthusiasts in the first place? Machines arousing such passion are rare and appreciated treats indeed.
A few months ago I sampled the soft side of the new Mustang. It was a convertible, had the four-cylinder EcoBoost engine and an auto gearbox. The mid-strength low carb in the line-up if you will. Well, I wanted the double shot tequila slammer. With fiery chilli flakes.
The performance choice
Good news is, Australia wants the hairy chested one too.
This is the GT Fastback version featuring an old-fashioned non-turbo 5.0-litre V8, six-speed manual gearbox and a tin-top. And the dealership kind enough (or brave enough) to loan me it reported 95% of its Mustang sales thus far were with the V8 engine. Well done Australia, you have done yourself proud.
It's a tired cliche that Aussies love a rear-wheel-drive V8. I'd argue everyone loves a rear-drive V8. It's why Americans have bought tens of millions of them over the decades and these new Mustangs have cracked Europe too: it's been the best selling sports car in Germany, while UK Mustang waiting lists can nearly rival Australia's.
Is the hype justified? Yes. And double yes. Its retro looks with sharp modern cues make it unmistakably Mustang but also bang up to date, and thanks to 306kW going through the rear wheels and an impressive chassis (including independent suspension all round), it's a beguiling mix of muscle and playfulness.
It cracks 100kmh in under five seconds, seats four (at a push) and costs under $60,000. The temptation to slap down your deposit here and now is strong.
Living with the V8
Fun. It's something that's all too often missing in modern cars. Well, the Mustang GT remedies that. No, you don't score a suite of active safety kit nor fuel saving measures like auto stop/start (would be sacrilege, right?) but money has instead been spent on that delicious combination of large displacement engine up front, a manual shifter to control it, and a rear-wheel-drive with limited slip differential drivetrain.
Selectable drive modes are Normal, Sport+, Track and Snow, with Sport+ being the pick for those fun-filled Sunday drives. Whereas Track mode kills all your driver aids, Sport+ gives you a safety net should your talent run out, yet still allows the tail to come out in a predictable and easy to control slide; that big V8 offering up its power in a very smooth manner to assist.
It's an old school V8 that only really comes alive in the higher rev range. On start-up and around town the 5.0-litre's rumble is perhaps a bit too suppressed by the exhaust system (your neighbours will be grateful), but reveals its aural muscle when playing closer to the redline.
We're so used to modern performance turbo engines offering incredible grunt and torque from near idle, but here you need to work the V8, keeping revs up and stirring the manual gearbox for the correct cog. Get the mix right and the Mustang flies; there really is nothing like the endless creamy pull from a big non-turbo engine. You'll be praising the gods of muscle that these engines still exist.
Back road hero
The gear knob is a stubby little thing with a short throw, and a gem when playing on the twisties. The gear change is a bit notchy and heavy at low speeds around town, and expect a few bunny hops while getting used to the thing at low speeds. Basically, the higher your revs, the smoother your gear changes.
Leave the Mustang in Normal mode and things get easier: the drive settings alter your throttle, steering and stability control tolerances. It makes it a reasonably easy thing to live with if the majority of your journeys are town and highway, and despite being quite stiffly sprung the Mustang GT actually does a fine job of absorbing imperfections.
Find some proper driver's roads and the chassis impresses further. Well balanced and predictable, it inspires confidence and you actively promote a bit of rear tail wagging such is the faith the car instils. It's a grin inducer, be in no doubt, but you need to rein in your right foot or your inner hoon will emerge.
The steering feedback isn't a match for most performance Europeans or another Ford I recently sampled - the incredible Focus RS - and thanks to the Mustang's high and bulging bonnet placing it accurately in corners takes some practice.
Into the cockpit
As a relative performance bargain, expectedly the cabin isn't the plushest. Positively, seats are electric and heated leather, there's dual zone climate control, an 8-inch touchscreen, decent SYNC2 phone connectivity which works well, sat nav, rear view camera and ambient lighting. The pony-badged dished steering wheel is also a pleasing thing in the hands.
The dash top and door centres are all soft touch, but the door tops and centre console are hard plastic, while switchgear does feel a tad plasticky.
You take your choice though really. For this sort of money do you favour a fancy piano black finish cabin, soft touch everywhere and a suite of safety gear, or that brute of a V8? By way of comparison, just look up how much premium offerings with over 300kW will set you back.
One for the weekend
For me, the Mustang GT is more a weekend plaything than everyday car.
Its 98 octane consumption (I returned 14.1L/100km) will make fuel bills painful, while rear seat space is certainly tight. Its two bucket seats have Isofix points for the kiddie seats, but as a six-footer, clambering into the back and then having my head squeezed into the low roof line makes them real occasional seats only. Boot space is also a bit stingy, but hey, it's a muscle car.
Good job the Mustang is a car you can forgive many things. Its V8 is a raucous treat that only needs an aftermarket exhaust to really unleash the muscle sound, its chassis is surprisingly talented around town and on your favourite back road, and the (these days) rare feeling of control by having a six-speed manual makes the drive an intoxicating experience. And isn't that the point of owning a Mustang?
There will always be buyers who favour balls-out performance over the latest safety, tech and cabin plushness, so these Mustangs are to be embraced. And we have done so. The Mustang is Australia's runaway best-selling sports car this year, and happily, it's the V8 ruling the roost.
What matters most
What we liked: Old school muscle performance, impressive chassis, bargain price, those looks.
What we'd like to see: Better cabin finish, bit less thirsty, more steering feel.
Warranty and servicing: Three years/100,000km. Servicing is every 15,000km/12 months.
Driving experience 18/20
Features and equipment 12/20
Functionality and comfort 14/20
Value for money 18/20
Style and design 18/20
Model: Ford Mustang GT Fastback.
Details: Two-door rear-wheel-drive 2+2 seater sports coupe.
Engine: 5.0-litre V8 generating maximum power of 306kW @ 6500rpm and peak torque of 530Nm @ 4250rpm.
Transmission: Six-speed manual (six-speed auto is optional).
Performance: 0-100kmh in 4.8-seconds.
Consumption: 14.1-litres/100km (as tested).
Bottom line plus on-roads: $57,490 (Ruby red paint adds $500, Nickel finish wheels adds $500).
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