Ford Mustang (2016) First Drive

Mustang 0006 1800x1800

It's finally here! The Ford Mustang is an American icon and for too long South Africans have only been to able to dream of owning one. But the wait is over. We drive the new Pony at its launch in Cape Town.

The iconic Ford Mustang has been produced consistently for 50 years, but right-hand drive markets have had to wait until now to get in on the action. What’s more, South Africa is the first country to receive its allocation of right-hand drive units. Notwithstanding this historical "absence", the Mustang has quite a serious following locally and everything we have written about it during the past year has attracted huge attention. So when the day finally arrived to get behind the wheel at the local launch in Cape Town, we were really hoping that the Mustang would live up to the hype.

Americana your way

The premise behind this new Mustang is very different to what Ford has done with its previous ponies. As part of the One Ford global strategy, the Blue Oval decided that this new Mustang would be sold in more markets, hence the right-hand drive models. In doing that Ford realised it would probably have to make a Mustang that could turn corners and do dynamic things, too.

The previous generations of Mustangs have often been criticised for being straight-line specialists that were left floundering in the bendy bits. This new focus means that the new version has features like independent rear suspension, aluminium body panels and some hardcore stopping power. Mustang has had to adapt to European expectations while still appearing to be the ultimate slice of Americana that we’ve seen in the movies like Bullitt and Gone in 60 Seconds.

Ponies under the bonnet

The Mustang that’s going to get all the attention is the 5.0 V8, so we'll start with that derivative. The headline figures for this model are 306 kW, 530 Nm of torque and a 0-100kph sprint time of 4.8 seconds. The Mustang V8 is naturally aspirated so the power delivery is smooth the whole way through the rev range up to the redline mark at around 7 000rpm. As far as my expectations of a Mustang V8 go, we were expecting a heavy dose of loud and brash, with a slice of bouncy and grumbling V8 tremor.

Instead it’s a bit restrained, to be honest, even when you hammer it. There’s just not enough excitement from the engine or exhaust note. Maybe this is what it was meant to sound like or maybe we have just become accustomed to the likes of brash Mercedes-AMG and Audi RS trumpets. So, in short, we were left a little underwhelmed in the aural entertainment department.

The V8 can be ordered paired with either a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic, but the manual would be my pick. The stubby gear lever with its direct action makes the whole experience more engaging. Plus, the manual 5.0 is the only model with a launch control mode; you set the revs at wherever you want, and the electronics will hold it there until you drop the clutch.

There’s also a childish, but entirely necessary application called line lock. What it does is hold the brake on the front wheels while allowing you to light up the rear tyres, effectively performing a burnout. Yee-ha! Now we're talking...

The other engine

If you knew absolutely nothing about the Mustang and its ancestry and just want to buy one because of the way it looks, the 2.3-Litre Ecoboost would be the one you should get. It makes a decent sound from both the exhaust and the engine, has enough shove with 233 kW and 430 Nm and does a decent sprint to 100kph in 5.8 seconds. It can also be had in manual, doesn’t look all that dissimilar and costs R120 000 less than the V8.

Coastal Cruising

Turning the Mustang into a global car and adding bits like independent rear suspension has stiffened up the ride considerably. This Mustang handles well indeed. Even in tight and twisty mountain pass style roads, the Mustang has good front-end grip and doesn’t roll from side to side when you ask quick direction changes of it. The steering has multiple modes so you can adjust the weighting to your liking, but it feels properly connected to the front wheels and gives good confidence when pushing on.

The V8 model gets a performance pack, which adds Brembo brakes to the deal and they have amazing initial bite and superb feel through the pedal. Overall, I was quite impressed with the sportiness of the new Mustang, although for those who just want to cruise slowly around the coastline it might actually be a little too stiff.

From the front seat

Looking at the interior, Ford has continued the double-brow style dashboard layout from the original models, but with a modern take. The seats in the Mustang are a highlight, they are both supportive and comfortable. The rest of the materials used felt a little plasticy for a car of this calibre. We expected brushed aluminium for the driving mode toggle switches rather than plastic.

The latest tech installed, however, with Ford’s Sync 2 that will connect to your phone, control everything with voice inputs, has dual USB slots and a reverse camera being present. The convertible makes do with a multilayer insulated cloth top for those who wish to experience topless American muscle motoring. There's room in the back too as Ford claims the new Mustang is a 2+2 seater. Whether there's legroom for a full-sized adult is another story, but we're happy to see a reasonably spacious boot thrown in as well.

Pricing and competitors

We don’t see many competitors for the Mustang; you either want one or you don’t. It’s unlike anything from the Germans and offers an enticing cocktail of history, fastback design and cult status. We first estimated the V8 would come in around a million Rand, but Ford has managed to keep it below that, in spite of our unstable currency. It’s certainly going to attract attention on the roads. If you're a fan of the Mustang brand, this design will be almost impossible to resist. And there seem to be many of those fans out there, because Ford reckons there’s a two-year waiting list for a Mustang. Hope you're already in the queue!

Ford Mustang Price in South Africa

Mustang 2.3 EcoBoost Fastback Manual                  R699 900
Mustang 2.3 EcoBoost Fastback Auto                      R719 900
Mustang 2.3 EcoBoost Convertible Auto                   R779 900
Mustang 5.0 GT Fastback Manual                            R819 900
Mustang 5.0 GT Fastback Auto                                R839 900
Mustang 5.0 GT Convertible Auto                             R899 900