The updated Ford Mustang has now arrived in South Africa and we've had a chance to drive the newcomer. Also added to the mix is the fearsome Mustang Bullitt – a limited-edition muscle car that tugs at your heartstrings. Is the facelifted Ford Mustang worthy of your attention or should you seek your performance thrills elsewhere?
The Mustang is one of the world's most famous vehicle nameplates, an icon of the North American auto industry that's woven into popular culture. Ford's muscle car has been around since the Sixties, but it took some time to make its way to South Africa, at least in an official capacity... We had to wait until 2016 before the Mustang, in right-hand-drive guise, appeared on Mzansi's new vehicle price lists. Dripping in character and charm, the Mustang represents an emotional (and, for some buyers, a nostalgic) purchasing proposition and we can fully understand why petrolheads quickly snapped up the first consignment of units delivered to South Africa. A Mustang with a growling V8 under its "hood" represents a champion of the blue-collar brigade – "a working-class hero", to quote John Lennon. It had a few build-quality issues, but we were prepared to cut it some slack.
Now, for 2019, the Ford Mustang has been revised. As before, it's available as a "Fastback" coupe and convertible and powered by either a 2.3-litre Ecoboost or 5.0-litre V8 petrol engine. Now we've grown accustomed to its presence in our market, does it still enthral us in the way it did in 2016?
The sharper looking Ford Mustang is joined by the limited edition Bullitt
Just look at it. We imagine the brief to Ford's designers for the 2019 car was straightforward: "Just make it look more badass". In fact, Ford South Africa unapologetically claimed the new car's face was inspired by none other than Darth Vader! The 2019 version boasts new headlamp clusters, a revised grille and an awesome sloping (and vented) bonnet. Under the sheet metal, there's some smart tech in the way of adaptive damping, a revised chassis, semi-autonomous safety systems, as well as selectable driving modes. Ford has stiffened the Mustang's rear suspension to reduce body flex and fitted thicker anti-roll bars to sharpen up the handling. The V8 version gains quad exhaust pipes and they're not just for show...
An all-new instrument cluster is the first thing you'll see when you step inside
Inside, the first thing you'll notice is the all-digital instrument cluster, which complements the touchscreen infotainment system in the fascia. Not only does it look crisp and smart, but its layout changes completely when you toggle between the car's driving modes. If you select Race Track mode, for example, the rev counter becomes a horizontal band – a tribute to classic '60s Mustangs and the coolest retro touch ever! The newcomer is also well-specced... Luxury features include heated/cooled leather seats, adaptive cruise control, SYNC3 infotainment with 2 USB ports, Apple Carplay and Android Auto compatibility, as well as a B&O audio system. Ford further claims that it has improved the quality of some of the cabin materials.
Such retro goodness!
Both the 2.3-litre 4-cylinder Ecoboost turbopetrol and naturally-aspirated 5.0-litre V8 have been tweaked for 2019. With peak outputs of 213 kW and 441 Nm of torque, the 2.3-litre EcoBoost motor produces 20 kW less, but 11 Nm more than its predecessor. The 5.0-litre V8, in turn, produces an additional 25 kW but 1 Nm less than before (for 331 kW and 529 Nm). Both engines are now exclusively mated with the new 10-speed automatic transmission, because derivatives with a 6-speed manual gearbox are no longer offered in South Africa, well, apart from the limited-edition Bullitt.
The Ford Mustang is available in both Convertible and Fastback coupe body styles
We're glad you asked. Detractors may sneer at the 2.3-litre EcoBoost motor because "it's missing 4 cylinders" (or something to that effect), but with a claimed 0-to-100 kph time of 5.8 seconds, it may not sound like a classic Mustang, but it surely performs better than its entry-level predecessors. As for the crowd-pleasing V8, Ford claims 5.0-litre derivatives can hit 100 kph from a standstill in just 4.8 seconds. Both versions have fair top-end claims too; the 2.3-litre Ecoboost has a stated Vmax of 233 kph, while its V8-powered sibling has an electronically-limited top speed of 250 kph.
Quad exhausts sing the magical V8 song
What's it like to drive?
Our launch route comprised vast swathes of open tarmac, including remote roads and serpentine mountain passes – they were ideal to test the cruising and dynamic abilities of the Mustang. First up I drove a 2.3 Convertible. It's difficult to take a liking to the 4 cylinder because the V8 is such a charismatic powerplant, but we understand the Ecoboost's role in the line-up. It delivers decent mid-range punch and credible in-gear acceleration, but while the 10-speed transmission does an admirable job of swapping cogs, the Ecoboost-engined derivative does not score highly in terms of driver engagement. For that, we'd recommend switching to a sportier driving mode and utilising the 'wheel-mounted shift paddles.
It's comfortable on the open road, but it does lack the precision offered by benchmark performers
It's near impossible not be blinded by the allure of the Mustang badge, but the car does have its shortcomings. The Convertible, for example, suffers from a common affliction of ragtop vehicles – it tends to shimmy and wobble when it traverses uneven road surfaces, including bumps and dips. Scuttle shake is not unique to the Mustang (the phenomenon is caused by a loss of rigidity due to the lack of a solid roof), but it's still disappointing. The steering has some heft to it, but lacks feedback when you're pressing on (we'd say it's acceptable considering Ford isn't marketing its Mustang as an out-and-out sportscar). The ride quality is not up to sportscar standards either; Ford chose to focus on comfort rather than overt sportiness.
But then we had the chance to sample a 5.0 GT Fastback! With middling peak torque of 529 Nm (by modern V8-engined sportscar standards) at its disposal, one could be forgiven for thinking the Mustang's transmission has 2 (or even 3) ratios too many, but somehow the powertrain works well. Irrespective of whether it is installed in the 2.3 or 5.0, the transmission is well calibrated to cleverly select the right ratios for virtually every driving situation, and despite the fact that is not a dual-clutch unit, the 'box is quite responsive and quick-changing in its more aggressive driving modes.
Another benefit of the 10-speed 'box is better-than-expected fuel economy. On our return leg, which admittedly consisted of open road cruising, the trip computer in the 5.0-litre Fastback returned a figure of 10 L/100 km. We reckon if you drove really conservatively, 9 L/100 km is achievable.
The Mustang in its natural territory: open road cruising
The respective driving modes make quite a difference to the Mustang's demeanour. The efficiency-minded Normal mode is ideal for the daily commute, but when you select Sport or Sport+, the exhaust valves open and you're treated to a delightful mechanical soundtrack. Not only does the V8 rumble at idle, but it emits a grin-inducing howl at high revs that can be heard from some distance away. It's a good thing Ford has created a startup sequence named "Good Neighbour" mode, which fires up the motor in the quietest way possible. Or, you could be like us and start the morning with the Ford in Race Track mode (and its exhaust in full voice), just to remind everyone in the neighbourhood the Mustang is around!
Is the 2019 Mustang the most precise performance vehicle we've ever sampled? No. At a similar price for the 5.0 GT Fastback, you can jump into a Porsche 718 Cayman S, which will run rings around the Ford. But then you don't have to thrash the Mustang to gain maximum enjoyment from it –that's why so many people would love to park one in their garage. It's happy to cruise through traffic with its V8 lazily burbling away, but always at the ready to deliver delicious shove when you need to overtake. Also, few cars this side of a Lamborghini attract as much attention. The launch took place in and around Montagu in the Western Cape and the townsfolk may indeed be talking about "the week the Mustangs came" for years to come.
It's Bullitt time!
What an instant classic the Bullitt will turn out to be!
We also had an all-too-brief stint in the Ford Mustang Bullitt. Built to celebrate that iconic car chase scene featuring a 1968 Ford Mustang Fastback GT 390 in the film of the same name, this limited-edition Mustang is only available with a 6-speed manual gearbox, delivers a few extra horses, has a bespoke exhaust setup and a higher top speed. It's only available in a green or black finish and features unique touches, such as black wheels with red callipers, while the cabin gains a Bullitt-branded steering wheel, sportier seats and bespoke graphics on the instrument cluster.
Green lighting and a Bullitt steering wheel add to the cool factor
As few as 50 units of the Mustang Bullitt have been earmarked for South Africa and the chances are that most (if not all) have been snapped up. What's it like to drive? Well, compared with the 5.0 GT Fastback, this is an animal! In the age of digitally-assisted launch starts and lightning-fast dual-clutch gearboxes, the Bullitt reminded us of what it's like to drive properly. It demands your full attention and makes you work hard for your driving thrills. There's no such thing as a relaxing cruise in the Bullitt and it requires real effort to get the best from it. The clutch pedal travel is long, as is the throw of the gear lever. In its most aggressive driving mode, the Bullitt has a cacophonous exhaust note that's bound to upset the snooty neighbours! It has a B&O audio system, but who cares when you have such a majestic orchestra emanating from the Ford's quad-tip exhausts?
Dripping in old school charm, the Ford Mustang is a must-have in our dream garages
It's sad, in a way, that we live in a world dominated by stats and data. The outright engine outputs and performance figures of the respective derivatives in the 2019 Mustang line-up are likely to be lambasted and derided by motoring enthusiasts who are traditionally fans of German performance- or sportscars. Granted, products that fall into the latter grouping are comparatively faster and more sophisticated, but they cannot match the magnetic charm and easygoing character of the Ford. There's nothing quite like it and the gentle rumble of the 5.0-litre V8 has such a magical ability to bring smiles to onlookers' faces. Its build quality and finishes still aren't great, but the range is competitively priced. It's a real challenge to dislike the Mustang because of the way it makes you feel. We're delighted it exists, even though muscle cars are on borrowed time.
Should you buy one? If you're looking for a new car priced under a million Rand that can effectively announce to the world that all your blood, sweat and tears have finally paid off, this would be it. The Mustang is one of a few cars equally adored by princes and paupers. Just go for broke and get the V8 for the most authentic Mustang experience, you won't regret it. It's not perfect, but we won't care. Any colour will do, as long as it's the V8.
Ford Mustang Price in South Africa (August 2019)
In terms of options, there are some alloy wheels to choose from as well as adaptive damping for the 5.0 GT. The pricing below includes VAT and emissions tax.
Ford Mustang 2.3 Fastback R768 000
Ford Mustang 2.3 Convertible R831 000
Ford Mustang 5.0 GT Fastback R915 800
Ford Mustang 5.0 GT Convertible R978 400
Ford Mustang Bullitt 5.0 V8 GT Fastback R995 400