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Test driving a Mustang

Test driving a Mustang

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Ross Kiddie drives the exciting North American muscle car.

Even though my first Ford Mustang drive was 45 years ago, it was an experience I’ll never forget, and it reinforced my enthusiasm and desire for the quintessential North American muscle car.

That Mustang was a 1970 Boss 302, and it belonged to my sister’s boyfriend, who was based in Christchurch as part of the United States’ Operation Deep Freeze programme. It was left-hand-drive, and I was fortunate enough to take it south for a few miles and return to my rural home near Rolleston.

I’ve had a few Mustang drives since, all courtesy of Ford New Zealand, as right-hand-drive cars have become available on the local market. My latest experience was in the sixth-generation model just launched here, and it was as if nothing has changed, the newcomer epitomises the early cars wearing that badge – design, concept, and performance.

When you study the new pony car in depth, it has all of the characteristics of the past; it has been deliberately designed to encapsulate retrospective looks, and the detailing is most certainly traditional. Mechanically, it carries familiarity as well, although the engineering is most definitely state-of-the-art. There is just a little bit of a raw, aggressive edge, which, as a driver, makes you relate to its predecessors. The newcomer even has a 5-litre (302 cubic inch) V8 engine.

However, it can also be purchased with a turbocharged, 2.3-litre unit, which, from my experience with the Ecoboost four-cylinder series, would certainly be up to the task with its 233kW and 432Nm outputs. Nevertheless, it’s the V8 that appeals to me, and I wasn’t disappointed. It pumps out a hefty 306kW along with 530Nm of torque. In true V8 fashion, it works away with a tantalising growl and bark out the exhaust pipes.

There is the choice of a six-speed automatic transmission or sixspeed manual through to the rear wheels, and there are no surprises there, but what the Mustang does deliver is an involving driving experience. It is responsive and eager, and has electronic modes which the driver can set to personal preference, and there’s even a track mode if you want to go drifting at Ruapuna in the weekend.

Therein lies a little secret; the Mustang in this form is quite lively at the rear, it’s easy to test tyre grip with power on, and although the traction control systems are there to intervene they are non-invasive, and you can initiate oversteer to a certain level. It’s easy to see why that is obtainable. With those healthy power outputs, the ingredients are in place for spirited motoring.

And the newcomer handles expertly; there is a lot of rubber on the road with its 19in Pirelli tyres and grip is adequate, unless vigorous throttle application is requested. Up front the turn-in is direct, and accuracy into a corner is decisive.

I took the test car on a State Highway 72 run from Loburn to the Malvern Hills. It was the first week of winter, and a frost made me very wary of ice on the shaded corners. I needn’t have worried as the Mustang is directional and controllable, there is just enough mechanical sophistication within the suspension and chassis design so that the driver can push hard with confidence.

Incidentally, the suspension is a fully independent set-up, long gone is the Mustang’s live rear axle. The combination of power and handling is enticing. I left the normal drive setting active for most of my time in the test car; I didn’t feel it needed anything more spirited. I pushed fairly hard during testing time.

The sound of that big V8 is glorious, yet the fuel usage wasn’t excessive, I took the test car back showing a 14l/100km (20mpg) average. That fits well with Ford’s 12.6l100km (22mpg) claim. At 100km/h it sips away at around 8l/100km (35mpg) with the rev counter showing just 1800rpm in sixth gear.

The new range starts in New Zealand at $59,880 for the 2.3-litre, bearing in mind there is also a convertible option that adds around $5000 for each engine variant. The V8 GT fastback lands at $77,880 for both the manual and automatic gearbox options.

It is fully specced with Ford’s most up-to-date technology. And while it has a good specification, it’s a car only two occupants can enjoy. Ford market the Mustang as a 2+2, and effectively that is what it is; two youngsters could be seated comfortably in the rear, but it is not an area in which adults would enjoy being.

Up front, though, it’s a different story. The seats are glorious and the suspension absorbent even over Christchurch’s broken roads. But its on the highway where the Mustang excels; it is a purposeful and capable high-country charger, and it has just so much appeal it captures attention everywhere.

Ford in the United States is on a campaign to relaunch retrospective concepts. With the new Mustang being so incredibly successful, it’s only a matter of time before other icons of the muscle car age roll off the production line.

The Specs

Price: Ford Mustang GT, $77,880.
Dimensions: Length, 4784mm; width, 1916mm; height, 1391mm.
Configuration: V8 longitudinal, rear-wheel-drive, 4951cc, 306kW, 530Nm, six-speed automatic.
Performance: 0-100km/h, 6sec. fuel usage: 12.6l/100km.

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