Despite not being on-sale here for fifty years – or more likely because of it – the Mustang jumped to the best-selling sports car when it finally went on sale locally in 2016.
But if we’re being completely honest, America’s most iconic pony car only really looked the part. When you kicked your heels into it, the Mustang didn’t bolt like a thoroughbred. The engine didn’t feel as strong as the number suggested and the handling may have been sufficient for the American audience, but Australian muscle car buyers, spoiled by recent home-made sports sedans, expected more.
But lucky for us, Ford listened.
Using the feedback from the new global audience for the Mustang, the engineers and designers at Ford have fine-tuned the looks, technology and driving experience for the 2018-model.
The most notable change to the looks are at the front, where a new bonnet gets rid of the bulge and instead has a pair of functional vents. Thanks to lessons learnt on the Shelby GT350 the bonnet is 25mm lower than the outgoing model so forward visibility is improved.
There are also new LED headlights and taillights as well as revised bumpers that include four exhaust tips for the V8.
Ford has also tried to improve safety after the Mustang scored a poor two-star ANCAP crash rating. Autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning with lane keeping assist and adaptive cruise control are all now standard. However, it only makes a small difference and the new model has a three-star ANCAP rating.
One of the biggest areas for criticism with the outgoing model was the interior, and with some justification too as it was dominated by hard plastics that looked and felt cheap. So Ford has added more soft-touch plastic on the main touch points in the car, noticeably the steering wheel and the door trims. There’s also a new softer and stitched layer over the centre console where your knee can touch. The brushed aluminium trim has also been improved and extended across the cabin.
Another major new addition is the 12.4-inch digital dashboard, which replaces the old model’s twin retro dials. You can cycle through three modes - Normal, Sport and Race Track - that each have a different look. You can also adjust the colours of the display to suit your taste.
Recaro sports seats are a new option that lift the presentation of the cabin and are comfortable and supportive - but they will add $3000 to the price.
These changes haven’t turned the Mustang into a luxury car but they have raised the level of quality you feel when sitting inside. There’s still some hard plastic but the key areas all feel nicer, particularly the little details like the new aluminium starter button.
The digital dashboard is a big step forward too, offering a huge variety of personalisation while still keeping the key information clearly in front of you.
ON THE ROAD
There have been some significant mechanical changes too and the V8 engine has been tweaked to improve performance and generate a better soundtrack.
It’s still a 5.0-litre on the badge but it now has slightly larger capacity, from 4951cc to 5038cc. It also gets direct injection and a revised compression ratio. The result is more power, with its peak output raised by 33kW to 339kW while maximum torque is lifted by 26Nm to 556Nm.
It will also come standard with a new active exhaust system first developed for the Shelby GT350. It has been upgraded for the GT and includes four modes - Quiet, Normal, Sport and Race Track. The names are self-explanatory but Quiet mode has a really clever function in that it can be scheduled to activate at a certain time. For example, if you don’t want to disturb your neighbours when you leave for work in the morning, you can set the exhaust to be quiet between 6am and 9am everyday.
The handling package has also been overhauled with revised suspension and steering settings and new Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres developed specifically for the Mustang now standard on V8, replacing the previous Pirelli P Zeros.
There’s also the optional MagnaRide adjustable dampers, which cost $2750, and improve the handling and comfort of the Mustang in some areas. Larger bumps are more quickly settled, for instance, but the ride is still too uncompromising for Australia’s back roads. The Normal, Sport and Race Track settings could more accurately be described as stiff, stiffer and stiffest.
There’s no doubt, however, that the changes have sharpened up the Mustang on the road. Where the old model was a blunt instrument, the 2018 version has sharper steering and feels more stable in high speed corners.
Ford let us have a blast around the new Tailem Bend racetrack in the car, unleashing the full potential of the V8 and pushing the handling to its limits. The upgraded engine feels like it pulls harder all the way up to 7400rpm redline and makes a more raspy noise than before, but still misses the evocative crackles and pops from the exhaust when you decelerate.
The steering feels more precise at the limit and the vague off-centre feeling from the old model has been eradicated.
Australian Mustangs will also come equipped with the premium Brembo brake package which felt strong during both road and track use.
To accommodate the bigger stoppers all Australian models will also come with 19-inch wheels. The multi-spoke black rims from the old model will carry over but there’s also a new optional five-spoke forged alloy for $2500.
Perhaps the most impressive element of the new Mustang though is the 10-speed automatic transmission. On paper it looks like too many gears, and given how clunky some nine-speed autos can be it seems like an overly complex solution for a muscle car. But Ford’s engineers have done an excellent job tuning it to match the V8.
Across both road and track driving it never got confused by which gear to be in and when, seamlessly slotting between the ratios; save for a single harsh change. It uses all 10 gears too, quietly cruising at 110km/h with the engine ticking over at 1800rpm. If you need a surge of acceleration it can drop from 10th to 3rd in a fraction of a second.
It doesn’t have a dramatic improvement on fuel economy though, reducing the manual’s 13-litres per 100km average to a still thirsty 12.7L/100km.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Rational concerns like fuel economy don’t have much place when buying the Mustang. This is a car steeped in history and, as its immediate popularity down under has proven, it’s a car you buy with your heart. The upgrades to the 2018 model though do improve the Mustang in every area to make it more appealing to your head.
- Interested in buying Ford Mustang? Visit our Ford showroom for more information.