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Ford's Mustang gets serious in this sixth generation guise. What hasn't changed is this model's mantra of plenty of power at an affordable price. Jonathan Crouch reckons that there's nothing quite like it.
It's almost a national pastime to take pot shots at American sports coupes. The specialist magazines tend to dismiss them as crude, lumbering fuel hogs that couldn't get out of their own way if they tried. Historically, some of that has been down to jealousy. Traditionally after all, many US sportscars haven't been sold here in right-hand drive form, leaving the 'experts' yet another reason to bitterly snipe away at Corvettes, Camaros, Mustangs and Vipers to their hearts' content. And then, a few years back, Ford announced it was going to make the Mustang in right-hand drive and offer it for sale in the UK, which meant that the same dealer selling Fiestas could also, rather incredibly, offer you a 5.0-litre V8 Mustang. Suddenly American sports coupes didn't seem so stupid any longer. Sales since have been strong, so much so that Ford has moved to further 'Europeanise' this car. But will that dilute it's appeal? Let's see.
The Mustang is now only available with Ford's classic 5.0-litre V8 petrol powerplant with 450PS and conformity is something it doesn't hold with. In the modern era, almost any other engine of this size would be turbocharged and it certainly wouldn't be available with manual transmission. Here, the normally aspirated stick shift formula feels deliciously old-school, though does require a fair bit of effort on your part if rapid progress is to be maintained. Not a lot happens below 3,500rpm and if you prod the throttle in too high a gear, there's no low-end turbo torque to help you out, so you'll have to click back through the 'box and find a smaller cog to spin. Fortunately, that's something you might want to do anyway, thanks to a solidly slick gearshift improved by a redesigned two-part flywheel. And embellished with rev-matching technology that delivers smoother, faster downshifts accompanied by an emotive 'blip' of the powerful engine. There's an automatic gearbox option of course - and a much better one using the 10-speed auto that Ford uses in its gigantic F-150 Raptor US-market monster truck. This transmission hasn't got its head around modern dual-clutch technology but it works reasonably well, happy to quickly drop down a couple of ratios when prompted to by the steering wheel paddleshifters for easier overtaking. Ah yes, overtaking - you'll enjoy that. Keep the revs buoyant and power builds instantly in company with a crescendo of noise, hurling you towards the horizon and a top speed artificially limited to 155mph. Activate the standard Launch Control system and powering away from rest is as quick as you'd manage in a Porsche 911 Carrera costing twice as much: 62mph flashes by in 4.6s in a manual Fastback V8 - or 4.8s in an auto, the latter aided by a 'Drag Strip mode' which irons out the torque and power drop-off you'd normally get between gear shifts so it's just one seamless burst of acceleration. Even better though - and most brilliant of all if you're of a 'Max Power' mind set - there's what Ford calls 'Line Lock', there to help you do burn-outs and developed out of US Mustang owners' love of drag racing. 'Line Out' uses electronics that'll let you jam on the front brakes and spin the rear wheels at the same time, shredding your tyres for up to 15 seconds, as you would do if you were warming them for ultimate grip on a drag strip. It's probably best not to try that on the high street..
Buyers continue to choose between fixed-top or Convertible bodystyles. Either way, you don't have to be a committed petrol head to know what this car is. In fact, Ford is so confident in the global recognition this model enjoys that the word 'Mustang' doesn't appear anywhere on the bodywork. It helps of course that this iconic shape has been seen in so many films and TV shows, most memorably of course the 'Bullitt' movie and that car chase with Steve McQueen. This kind of instant recognition is priceless, explaining why Ford has been so careful to keep the shape and style of the original 1960s model, while bringing it right up to date in this improved sixth generation guise. The heritage here might be more than 50 years old, but this modern Mustang looks as fresh as this morning's coffee. If you're a potential Mustang buyer, you'll probably be someone who quite likes the cabin's rather old-school feel. The pre-facelift model's deeply cowled dials used to add to that, but in the 2018 update, these were replaced by the customisable all-digital 12-inch LCD instrument cluster you view through the classic, dished three-spoke sports wheel. Getting into the back is awkward and once you are in place, despite the fact that this car is about the same length as a Ford Mondeo, you'll find that there's virtually no leg room at all, unless the person is front of you is less than averagely tall. Out back, there's a 408-litre boot in the Fastback, which also has a rear bench with a 50-50 split rear seat so longer items like skis can be accommodated - though unfortunately, to release the seat back, you have to go round and awkwardly reach into the car, as no catches or pull ties are provided in the boot area for that purpose. The Convertible model won't give you this option, but it can swallow 332-litres of cargo, roof up or down. That's 20% more than a rival Audi TTS Roadster for example.
Prices are mainly pitched in the £50,000 to £60,000 bracket - that's for the GT, which can be had in either 'Fastback' coupe or Convertible bodystyles, but only now featuring 5.0-litre V8 GT power with either six-speed manual or six-speed auto transmission. From the £50,000 starting point for the GT V8 Coupe, it's around £3,500 more to get the alternative Convertible. And with either bodystyle, it's £2,000 more to get auto transmission. If you've more to spend, the Convertible can be had in 'GT California Special'-spec (from around £55,000). And the Coupe can be had in 'Mach-1' guise (from around £60,000). Both this specials come in manual or auto forms. Across the range in recent times, safety's been improved, this model featuring autonomous braking - Ford calls it 'Pre-Collision Assist with Pedestrian Detection'. The Mustang is also offered with Adaptive Cruise Control and Distance Alert technologies that help drivers maintain an appropriate distance to the vehicle ahead, as well as Lane Departure Warning that can warn when drivers unintentionally drift out of lane, plus a Lane Keeping Aid that can apply torque to the steering wheel to steer the vehicle back into lane. In addition, the car also has a 'Good Neighbour Mode' that can be programmed to automatically limit the exhaust's noise output at pre-programmed times of the day to avoid disturbing your neighbours, not least when firing up the legendary 5.0-litre V8 early in the morning.
If you hold great store in miles per gallon figures, don't ever, ever take a test drive in the 5.0-litre V8 Mustang. For this model's heavy hitting V8, the official emissions stats say that you'll chug out 268g/km. The official WLTP combined consumption figure is 23.9mpg, but if you can get the fuel meter to average into the twenties, you have more restraint than we could manage. It's 256g/km and 25.2mpg for the auto Fastback version. There's also the annoyance of frequent fuel station visits too; the 5.0-litre model's 61-litre fuel tank gives you a driving range of no more than about 270 miles between fill-ups. On to residual values. You might expect a big, expensive V8-engined Ford-badged sportscar to shed its value like autumn falling leaves. Not a bit of it. Thanks to buoyant demand and relative rarity value, independent industry experts expect a 5.0-litre V8 Fastback model to still be worth 45% of its original asking price after the usual three year / 60,000 mile ownership period. To offer some perspective, a comparable rival like an Audi TTS would retain just 36% of its value. Didn't expect that did you?
'I know you're no good for me' sung Martha Reeves and the Vandellas from the back of a Mustang Convertible on the Dearborn production line back in 1965. And a Mustang may not be. But if you yearn for the days when affordable sportscars were all about power, thunder and tyre-smoking machismo, you're going to want one of these just the same. If the sales figures are anything to go by, this car's certainly struck a chord - to the point where Ford must wondering why it took so long to launch it globally. It seems that a certain kind of sportscar buyer simply doesn't care about the fact that premium rivals are more agile, efficient and better finished inside. Future Mustangs will improve in all these areas and may gain a wider audience as a result. But if and when that happens, people like us will always have a soft spot for this one. A BMW or Audi coupe is a very nice thing to have but it'll never be the model you always promised yourself - in the way a Mustang can be. This is, after all, more than just a sportscar. It's the heart and soul of Ford.