Ford Mustang GT review

Words: David Vivian

Photography: Charlie Magee

United Airlines flight 935 from London to Los Angeles, four hours in. Window blinds drawn, the movie choices include Bullitt, owner of the most talked about car chase ever committed to celluloid. I’m momentarily taunted by the thought that a film featuring Steve McQueen driving the wheels off a Ford Mustang 390 GT is a plant by Ford
aiming, mid-Atlantic, to subliminally snag the semi-comatose attention of journalists on their way to the international launch of the 2015 Mustang reboot. But what the hell. I watch it one more time through half-closed eyes.                                                                                                                                                                                                      The fascinating thing about Bullitt is the casting of the Mustang. Hopelessly outmatched by the bad guys’ Dodge Charger before veteran racer Max Balchowsky evened things up with a few mods prior to filming, it was chosen as the kind of fast car a meagrely paid cop like Frank Bullitt, clearly something of a wheelman, might reasonably own. Apparently it was McQueen’s idea to have a conspicuous dent in the bumper that his character couldn’t afford to repair. The Mustang’s image as a performance car for the common man couldn’t have had a bigger endorsement. From there to iconic status is achieved in just over seven mesmerising minutes as the simple, beam-axled but muscular Ford, driven by the world’s coolest actor, finally dispatches the menacing black Charger.

Intentionally or not, Bullitt presents the Mustang as the American Dream on wheels: power, glamour and success set within the financial grasp of ordinary Joes. Forty-six years on, and with the Mustang in its 50th year of
production (9.2 million sold and counting), that image still projects a halo over what, until now, has been the rather prosaic reality. Over the years, through lazily adhering to the same old script, the Mustang had become lost in its own mythology, beyond the reach of constructive criticism. To dismiss the Mustang for not being as good to drive as a BMW was much the same as a dietician taking a poke at McDonald’s.

It isn’t that American institutions don’t travel, of course. But if Europe is going to embrace the Mustang – and, according to Ford, the goodwill this side of the Pond is strong – it will want it to be the iconic, affordable, horny-looking ‘muscle car’ idealised in Bullitt, not the tired, overweight, modestly powered coupe it has become in recent times.
So, to the good news. The new sixth generation ‘global’ Mustang, the first to go on sale in right-hand-drive form, gets quite a lot of things dead right and only a few mystifyingly wrong. The fact that it now looks like a perfectly resolved modern take on the classic Mustang shape from the 60s is an obvious hook. Thank Brit and Ford’s new design boss Moray Callum for that. With prices starting from around 30 lakh when it arrives in Europe, the prospect of a supersized bang for your buck is another.

What’s significant is that this doesn’t depend on having a walloping V8 in the nose. Ford’s 306bhp/435Nm 2.3-litre four-cylinder turbocharged EcoBoost engine promises proper heft with half-decent economy, though buyers will still be able to choose the 420bhp/542Nm 5-litre V8 for a reasonable enough Rs 4 lakh premium. Both come with a manual six-speed Getrag ’box, but only the V8 is available with a six-speed auto with paddles. Gone is the crude
beam rear axle, replaced by a fully independent set-up, and at least some effort has been made to trim weight with aluminium wings and bonnet.

For European markets, Ford’s Performance Pack is standard. Nothing too tricksy here: stiffer suspension, wider wheels and tyres and selectable modes for steering response, stability control and the auto transmission if fitted. Eurobound Mustangs also get a standard plate-style limited-slip differential and, for the V8, a ‘line lock’, which disables the rear brakes should you be overcome by a McQueen moment and need to gratuitously smoke the rear tyres.

Inside, everything looks and, to some extent, feels better than before, the traditional big, butch, chrome-rimmed dials sitting in a much more modern context, with a large multifunction touchscreen and mostly intuitive
switchgear, some of which has a rather dubious faux aluminium finish, while too many of the plastics are of the hard, scratchy variety. A fine driving position, though, and the optional Recaro front seats are very comfy and supportive. As for those in the rear, they’re small and space is cramped to say the least.

We set off from Sunset Boulevard in the 2.3-litre EcoBoost-engined GT and first impressions aren’t too encouraging. The engine note has obviously been tuned to comply with a Mustang mindset and, at moderate revs on part throttle, it sounds appropriately gruff and growly. But there’s a rather grey, industrial edge to its work that’s vaguely off-putting and makes me wonder what awaits us in the hills when we shake off LA’s morning commuter crawl. In the
meantime, the chunky, short-throw gearshift feels good and, well, everyone seems to be looking at us and mouthing ‘2015’. They know their Mustangs in this town. Then there’s the low-speed ride. Firm, yes, but unremittingly
jiggly on what looks to be a reasonably wellsurfaced road. It may seem premature, but a few doubts are beginning to bubble up.

Half an hour later most, if not all, have vanished along with the hazy LA smog. Now the terrain is streaming smooth, grippy, well cambered curves of varying constant radii and suddenly the ’Stang is a different car, with what appears to be a superstar chassis. It feels amazingly planted and settled with exceptional, and wholly unexpected, reserves of grip evenly balanced front to rear. The electric steering isn’t as feel-less as some but it does lack precision off- centre, so although the front end turns in well, a second stab of lock is sometimes required to finesse the course.
The final transition to sliding, usually all-ofa- piece, is so benign, gradual and transparent, the car bids you to constantly nibble at the limit while adjusting the angle of attack with the throttle. Merely lifting off tucks the nose towards the apex with a measured consistency that engenders huge confidence. True, midbend bumps can cause a rocking motion as the dampers try to control the body but, overall, the Mustang’s chassis dynamics are a revelation. Fine brakes, too, with a lovely progressive pedal feel.

Regrettably, it’s harder to like the EcoBoost motor. It’s a sturdy enough mid-range performer but hopelessly breathless at the top end and too noisy when fully exercised. It wouldn’t be so bad if the engine note had a more appealing quality, but it’s a joyless thing. A legitimate riposte might be ‘it’s the economy, stupid’. Not really. At one point the average readout dipped to 3.3kmpl. Later, in the V8, on the same roads, going just as fast but with less effort, the lowest reading we saw was 3.8kmpl. Draw your own conclusion. Then there’s the gloriously resonant, guttural, free revving Bullitt-lite soundtrack, the altogether more convincing push in the back and, despite the extra weight in the nose, an entertaining handling balance. I think I know which one Steve McQueen would have chosen.

Source: evo UK

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