WHEN IT COMES TO VEHICULAR ICONS, FEW EVOKE THE EMOTIONAL RESPONSE OF THE FORD MUSTANG.
Everyone knows it; it's been sung about in songs, they’ve seen it in films, and on posters, or caught a classic burbling past on Aussie streets - not bad for a product that has had a very limited ‘official’ importation history here.
There’s a look, a particular style that is quintessentially American, muscular, unapologetic, and, well, Mustang.
And now you can park one in your driveway, built right-hand-drive in the factory, and without the crazy expense of a small-scale right-hook conversion.
Vehicle Style: Two-door performance coupe
Price: $48,490 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 233kW/432Nm 2.3 4cyl turbo petrol | 6sp automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 9.3 l/100km | tested: 10.8 l/100km
While the Mustang nameplate is beyond merely 'familiar', this version, the 2.3 litre four-cylinder turbo, confounds a lot of people. “Aren’t Mustangs supposed to be V8s?” was the usual response.
Well, yes, they are - but while THE Mustang to own has traditionally been the hulking V8 version, there’s a long history of six and four-cylinder versions too. Some of them weren’t too bad... but some were bloody terrible.
Good thing then that the latest generation - Ford’s first ever global Mustang - falls on the ‘not too bad’ side of the spectrum. Better still, when equipped with a turbocharged four-cylinder engine and priced under $50k, you’d almost be inclined to call it decent value.
This one here is a coupe, but you can get a convertible if you’d rather. It’s also a six-speed auto, but purists can opt for a manual in the coupe.
We hit every stretch of road we could find in the quest to discover what Mustang means away from the romance of the nameplate.
- Standard equipment: Leather seat trim, partial electric front seats with heating and cooling, dual-zone climate control, proximity key with push-button start, cruise control, customisable LED ambient lighting, auto lights and wipers, ‘Pony’ puddle lamps, HID headlights, aluminium pedals and sill plates, 19-inch alloy wheels
- Infotainment: 8.0-inch Sync 2 touchscreen with voice activation, CD/AM/FM/DAB+ playback, USB input with iPod integration, Bluetooth audio and phone connectivity, satellite navigation, nine-speaker Shaker audio.
- Cargo volume: 383 litres minimum expandable via 50:50 folding rear seat
Keeping in mind that it starts well under $50k, the interior has a few lowlights like hard plastic door trims (it’s a Mustang, so you’re going to want to cruise around fat-arming) and a few minor gaps around the dual-cowl dash.
Some ergonomics don’t make sense, like the toggles at the bottom of the centre stack that you have to lift, rather than push to operate - and that whole switch panel feels a bit flexy and light-duty.
But, who cares, right? The seating position is low and sporty, and despite an armchair-like look to the front seats, they’re plenty grippy, but adaptable enough to fit a variety of shapes and sizes.
There’s a deeply sculpted two-person rear seat as well. It’s a little pinched, but have you seen the sexy rake on that rear glass! The kids will fit fine, but adults might complain - leave them at home if they do.
There’s no padding for arms or elbows in the back either, and with rear glass that stretches well over the rear seat, it’s a pretty warm place to perch on a sunny day.
It would’ve been nice if Ford had engineered a more user-friendly flip mechanism for the front seats that included sliding the base forward, but it is what it is.
Drop into the driver’s seat, take the retro-styled, thin-rimmed steering wheel in hand, and peer over that monstrous bonnet and the Mustang oozes American muscle.
Despite the retro feel there’s configurable instrument and ambient illumination, as well as Ford’s Sync 2 touchscreen and voice-command infotainment.
There’s also a suite of fun-to-use track apps offering lap timers, 0-100 km/h and 0-400m timers, and other goodies for track-day forays.
Dual-zone climate control, push-button start, heated and cooled front seats - there’s plenty of kit stacked into the EcoBoost Mustang as standard, making the base package a fairly impressive value-oriented purchase… If that’s how you’d like to rationalise it.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 233kW/432Nm 2.3 litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol
- Transmission: Six-speed automatic, rear wheel drive
- Suspension: Front MacPherson struts, multi-link independent rear
- Brakes: Front 352x32mm ventilated discs with four-piston calipers, rear 330x25mm ventilated discs with single-piston calipers
- Steering: Electrically assisted, turning circle: 12.2m
Get used to it, the Mustang catches attention everywhere. Being bright 'Triple Yellow' certainly helps, but while it’s fresh on Aussie roads people stop, stare, take photos, and throw thumbs up everywhere.
And then they wait, they pause with ears pricked, waiting for the silken V8 rumble... but it's something that the EcoBoost Mustang just can’t deliver.
While there’s plenty of angry sounding turbo four-cylinder cars (the Mercedes-AMG takes the cake, but even Ford’s own Focus RS sounds furious) the EcoBoost Mustang fails to deliver the requisite muscle car soundtrack.
In the cabin, there’s a simulated engine sound delivered by the audio system speakers. It’s convincing enough, and mostly unobtrusive, but it doesn’t come close to the joy of real mechanical noise.
You can forgive it slightly once you open the taps on the 2.3 litre turbocharged engine, which musters 233kW of power at 5700rpm, backed up by 432Nm of torque at a highish 3000rpm. Well, high for a modern turbo, at least.
The result is an engine feel that delivers the linearity you’d expect from an atmo engine, with enough tyre-frying shove to do the Mustang badge proud. It has a 'Grand Tourer' ability to cover ground very quickly.
The weak link in the chain appears to be the six-speed auto, which operates like a much older transmission. Soft, slow shifts, lazy kickdown response, and the occasional clunky shift make the EcoBoost Mustang more of a cruiser than an outright sports car.
Lift the pace though, pedal harder, and select either the Sport+ or Race driving mode (the latter loosens the stability controls) and the Mustang makes more sense. While the transmission is still sleepy the handling is anything but.
A light feeling front-end showcases the EcoBoost’s weight savings compared to the V8, and the front wheels respond with crisp immediacy to steering wheel inputs. However, front wheel feedback is almost non existent, so while you can make quick line changes, there’s no sensory smorgasbord to assist you.
The handling offers tenacious grip, but never feels properly accurate.
With stability control either on or off the Mustang EcoBoost will hold on soundly, but at the most crucial moments the rear end will buck wildly, offering hair-raising oversteer with little warning.
For this reason corners are best approached with a slow entry, and quick exit. Feed in plenty of throttle, kick the rear out wildly and recover directional stability before the next corner - on the racetrack only, of course.
The EcoBoost brake package is slightly smaller at the front than the V8 powered Mustang GT, however push as we might over our favourite hard-braking mountain pass we couldn’t get the brakes to fade - a promising sign.
ANCAP rating: The Ford Mustang has yet to be tested by ANCAP
Safety features: Eight airbags (dual front, dual knee, front side, and front curtain), ABS brakes, multi-mode stability control, tyre pressure monitoring, rear park sensors and a reversing camera are all part of the standard spec.
The Mustang also comes with MyKey, allowing the owner to set maximum speed and volume settings, should the car be borrowed by an enthusiastic mate, or shared by a less experienced driver.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
One of the Mustang’s own rivals sits alongside it in the Ford showroom, the Falcon XR6 Sprint delivers an impressive 325kW, but is more pricey at $54,990, and has the lure of becoming a future classic.
Otherwise the EcoBoost Mustang is a little bit lonely in its market segment. Toyota offers the 86 GTS, less powerful, but cheaper, offering engaging driver thrills, but a no-frills interior. There’s also the Nissan 370Z, which is showing it’s age slightly, but still provides a zinging V6, and a racy feel behind the wheel.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The Mustang EcoBoost is, at a glance, Mustang through-and-through - but instead of appealing to Mustang loyalists, for whom the rumble of a big, effortless V8 is irreplaceable, the EcoBoost opens up the Mustang experience to a new breed of buyers.
Unfortunately for those buyers, potentially more accustomed to edgy Japanese or Euro offerings, the new Mustang doesn’t quite hit the mark.
While the basic elements are there: engine, suspension, styling - the 2.3 litre Ecoboost Mustang 'just misses' where it matters. Especially in the auto tested here.
Worst of all, the exterior of the car we tested featured some of the most approximate panel fit of any car we’ve tested. Misaligned panels, and larger-than-tolerable gap variances aren’t what you’d hope to find, particularly if you're sitting at the end of Ford’s 12-or-more-month waiting list.
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