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The Mustang needs no introduction, and that’s all the introduction this story needs. You’d have to be living in a hole for the past fifty years to not have heard about the Mustang – it’s the most iconic sports car out of America and, for the first time in its 52 year history, it has the steering wheel where the Queen likes it. What’s it like then to drive at the BIC?
Line-lock was disabled
Boo-freaking-hoo! It, quite possibly, is the biggest trick in the Mustang’s repertoire; the most childish too but aren’t we all eight year olds at heart? What it does is lock the front wheels, release the rear brakes and, after you activate all the electronics properly in the Track Apps menu and step on the gas, set the rear tyres on fire in a big stationary burnout. Without question it will destroy rear tyres and that’s why all the cars on the launch drives had this feature disabled, but it will be standard on the India-spec Mustangs and is such a cool thing to fool around with. It is also a very American thing to have on a sports car – a country where the roads are straight, where drag racing down the quarter miles is a massive sport. Line-lock is derived straight from drag racing, competitors spinning up the rear tyres to get more heat in it and thus get more grip off the line when the lights go green. The obvious question then is how quick is the Mustang down the drag strip?
Even Americans have discovered turbo-charging and the champion of freedom-and-the-open-road, the Ford F150 pickup, now gets a downsized turbo-charged motor. In keeping with the times, the Mustang too gets a turbo-charged four-cylinder but not in India. Here we get all the bells and whistles – that means the big ol’ five-litre, naturally-aspirated V8 that makes lovely, grumbly, burbly sounds and is so fitting to the image of the American sports car. The turbo-four would be cheaper, nearly as quick and more efficient but really, who cares? You want your American car to have a V8! With an optional sports exhaust I would add.
Except don’t expect AMG-levels of performance. It makes 420 horsepower but for India it is detuned to make 396bhp and 515Nm of torque. Ford engineers claim it can even run on even 87 octane fuel that you get in Tier III Indian towns which will come as a relief to enthusiasts in those areas.
Does it slap you in the face with vicious acceleration? Not really. It is quick, of that there’s no question, but it doesn’t feel as quick as 396bhp or even the claimed ‘under 5 seconds’ 0-100kmph would suggest. And I think the biggest culprit is the 6-speed automatic gearbox, a regular torque converter at that and not a twin-clutch unit. It doesn’t have the urgency that you’ve come to expect of DSG’s, even the ubiquitous ZF 8-speeder, and it takes its time to downshift which can get very frustrating when you have fallen out of the sweet spot in the middle of a corner. Weirdly if you upshift just shy of the redline, there’s a great big lag as the next cog is engaged. Upshift at 6500rpm and it’s quick(ish) but I can only imagine how much better a manual gearbox would be.
Independent rear suspension
Believe it or not, for half a century, the Mustang stuck with a live rear axle! That’s even more amazing than the Bullet continuing with a push-rod engine. But with this generation, Ford have dragged the Mustang into the something resembling the modern era with fully independent rear suspension. And this V8 that we get in India also comes with a limited-slip rear diff as standard. All of which makes it great fun on the track!
The Mustang’s biggest characteristic is predictability. It is very easy to drive close to the limit, the handling is very progressive, and though there isn’t much feedback from the electrically-assisted steering, you can feel the pony dance. It is also a safe car – and I don’t mean in terms of the number of airbags (of which there are plenty) but the way it defaults to understeer at anything approaching the limit. Turn in too aggressively and with too much speed and it will just understeer heavily, helped in no small measure by (relatively high) 40-profile 19-inch tyres. It doesn’t surprise or bite you but the understeer is also frustrating and after a while you tend to give up on the Mustang. In any case the screech and howl you get from understeering tyres are among the worst sounds an automobile can make.
Slow in, drift out: that’s the way to drive it. Brake a little earlier than you would in, say, a German sports car; turn in; ride out that initial understeer (basically stay off the gas); and then give the throttle a hard kick to get the tail out and power out with a smidge of oversteer. Looks great, feels great, and works well on the slower corners like the hairpin that leads on to the main straight of the BIC.
Where the Mustang can become a bagful of fun is in the faster corners like the penultimate negative camber right that leads into the left and the main straight. Trail brake to scrub off the understeer and you can bring the rear into play early, get the car to rotate on its axis, and set it up to neatly exit in a nice four-wheel drift with just a touch of corrective lock. You get the drift… it is a lot of fun.
But this is not a car for the race track
Fact, and that’s not to take anything away from the Mustang. Thanks to the new independent rear the Mustang isn’t an arrow-straight-road-special; it can corner and it can involve you. But the real strength of the Mustang is that it is a Grand Tourer. If you look closely at the pictures you will notice a fair bit of body roll – not so great on a race track but great when you are out on a Sunday drive with your mates (mate actually, the rear seats are for children). There is enough give in the suspension and that makes it surprisingly comfortable. Of course the race track is no place to gauge ride quality but on the cool-down lap I rode all the kerbs and hit everything there was to hit and I can say with (strong) conviction that it will ride comfortably on typical Indian roads. Also notice the ground clearance – no worries of grounding out on any speedbreakers.
To add to the mix are the seats that are supportive as a sports cars’ should but are also soft and cushy which makes it less than ideal on a track but will be awesome on the road. Even the rear seats, that offer barely any headroom, are actually quite soft and cushy, even supportive.
And oh, did I mention the brakes – high-performance Brembos with great stopping power and bite – but begin to fade after three laps of hard use.
65 lakh rupees
At that price you get a four-cylinder Audi TT and the supercharged V6 S5. Little north of 70 lakh you get the four-cylinder CLA 45 and GLA 45 AMG. All four have all-wheel drive, and all will lap the BIC very many seconds quicker than the Mustang. Objectively they are better, but objectivity can take a back seat for now.
The Mustang has five litres of American muscle – a V8! There’s history behind that badge – it’s in all those movies and songs we’ve grown up with. It looks awesome, really f*cking awesome. Park it next to any of the German cars, even the TT I suspect, and people will take selfies with the Mustang. The interiors are a let-down, too cheap and plasticky, but it’s no deal breaker. There’s genuine comfort, a rare GT character, so that you can use it more often than not. And it has enough performance to startle your passenger and get the tail swinging out. I’d get a sports exhaust pronto, and as for the automatic, well, you will learn to live with it.
Ford has always been a one-hit-one-miss company but this is a change. The Figo and Aspire are among the nicer cars in their segments to drive, the new Endeavour is two generations better than the old one and now there’s the Mustang that has hasn’t been priced stupidly – three launches, and all three on the money. I suspect Ford will have to very quickly rework their strategy of only offering the Mustang through the Mumbai and Delhi dealers – there will be a whole bunch of pissed-off customers and dealers who want but won’t be able to get their hands on it. Think about it, when was the last time you had a V8 draped in such killer bodywork for this money?
Plus there is line lock.