Car review: Ford Mustang put to the test on Irish roads

The new Mustang may not be the sensible coupé choice but it makes rivals seem incredibly dull

A movie star in its own right, the world famous Ford Mustang is now available in Ireland but is it worth the outlay? We take it for a test drive. Video: Michael McAleer

Make: Ford

Model: Mustang

Year: 2016

Fuel: Petrol

Date Reviewed: February 1, 2016

Mon, Feb 1, 2016, 10:30

   

Cars are driven with prejudice. There is always a pre-conceived notion of the owner behind the wheel. A middle-aged man in a 2005 Merc suggests a one-time senior manager, riding high until the recession hit. A property play in Bulgaria likely did for his plans for an S-Class upgrade years ago. A people carrier points to a parent whose personal dreams have taken a back seat to family practicality. The road trip to India has certainly been shelved.

So what prejudice does an Irish-reg Ford Mustang evoke? Is this blue-collar hero in bright yellow evoking the supercool persona of Steve McQueen? Or is its affecting the Irish country phenomena of Brendan Shine or Crystal Swing?

Not everyone would be delighted to think their new Mustang suggested they were more Big Tom than Bullitt. That’s not to knock the big man from Co Monaghan and his fan base, but I’m not sure that Four Country Roads is the soundtrack I would want associated with my €62,000 V8 Mustang.

That said, this Pony certainly grabs attention. The first right-hand drive models are now on the island and having spent four days with one I can admit to a strange sense of trepidation as the Mustang and I headed out of Cork. They always suggest you stay clear of film stars, particularly ones you like. Invariably the cool, heroic figure turns out to be a complete arse in real life.

Americana

The Mustang is part of our cultural iconography. Growing up on a diet of US movies and TV shows, it’s a bit like that first time you encounter the Manhattan skyline after years of seeing it on the big and small screens. Finally, you’re there. Or in the case of the Mustang, it’s here. I’ve driven Mustangs before, but it’s a bit like Star Wars in the Skellig Michaels; you don’t expect to encounter Hollywood on a wet and wild Thursday in Cork.

The lure of its looks and that galloping pony logo needs little discussion. Drive a Mustang and it will be the focal point for every conversation. Ford has played around with the styling of the car since its inception in 1964. Rooted as a blue collar muscle car it completely lost its way in the third and fourth generations. Thankfully it got back on track by 2005 and this sixth generation can sit proudly next to the 1960s and 1970s versions.

Two flavours for Ireland

Up front you have a choice of two engines in Ireland: this V8 419bhp 5-litre or a 2.3-litre Ecoboost 310 bhp turbocharged four-cylinder. The V8 is the natural powertrain for this car, but at €62,000, you may want to opt for the smaller engine at €46,000.

If you do, you should not be disappointed. For short spurts of power it offers all the fun of the V8 - just one second slower from standing to 100km/h - while Ford has augmented the car’s sound to resemble the V8’s rumble.

The real difference is in running costs. The Ecoboost has an official fuel economy of 8-litre per 100km (35mpg) while the V8 claims an average of 13.5 l/100km (20.9mpg). And for motor tax its €750 for the Ecoboost a year, or an eye-watering €2,350 for the V8.

That said, I managed to match the official fuel figures for the V8 over four days of driving on all types of roads.

For those who prefer originals to cover bands the V8 is always going to be the preferred option. As good as the acoustics are on the Ecoboost, you don’t have to be an audio technician to tell the difference between it and the real thing.

V8 or EcoBoost?

The choice between engines will always be an open debate. The Mustang is always going to appeal more to the inner child in us, but Ford has increased the rational side of the equation by making it a right-hand drive and fitting the more sensibly economical EcoBoost engine. The Ecoboost is great fun to drive, has the Mustang’s lure and is a better balance of head and heart, but I can understand why those with the financial wherewithal will want the V8.

And at €62,000, it packs a punch you wouldn’t normally get for under €100,000 with any premium brand. And you certainly wouldn’t turn as many heads behind the wheel of a German rival. The same can be said of the €46,000 2.3-litre, up against similarly powered premium coupes. In fact you’d have to wonder if the 2.3-litre is the natural inheritor of the space once occupied by the Ford Capri.

Back to the car’s underpinnings and the six-speed manual box is wonderfully mechanical. You can nearly feel the teeth of the cogs disengage and then grip again as you lodge the short-throw gearstick into its new gate. The clutch is perfectly weighted. There is an auto version for an extra €3,000, but why would you?

Full gallop on Irish roads

Cruising along in sixth gear on the way up from Cork to Dublin and, even in the midst of storm Gertrude the Mustang felt rooted to the road. It was as meek as a school pony.

Drop down a gear or two and things change dramatically. A gentle canter becomes a panting gallop. The growl rises. The Mustang offers a variety of driving modes, from normal to race track, while steering weight can be adjusted as well. However even in normal mode it’s easy to reach past the traction control and get a little tail flicker. The beauty of the Mustang is that it cloaks itself in the machismo of a muscle car but it’s always acquiescent. It’s one of those cars that make an average driver look better than they actually are. Traction control off and amid a flurry of wheelspin any rear-end sliding is always well signposted and easily balanced.

That said, there are rivals with better dynamics - some built by Ford. The Mustang loses a lot of its composure on more challenging back roads. It can get a little sloppy at speed in tight corners, while the car bounces between the bumps and undulations rather than staying rooted to the road when you go heavy on the throttle.

We’ve driven this car on the long straight stretches of US highways and on the smoother surfaces of German roads. At most you had a little loss of traction when it struggled to lay down all its power onto the smooth tarmac. On badly surfaced Irish roads, it did struggle at times to cope with the constant changes in surface conditions. At times it felt like we were driving across a ploughed field coated with a thin layer in tarmac; which is probably a true reflection of the roads. Certainly many of its German rivals have coped far better with these surfaces in previous tests.

And my colleagues are raving about the new Focus RS, for example, as a new benchmark in performance handling. So Ford can and has delivered better handling cars for European roads. That’s perhaps where the premium German brands really have the beating of the Pony car.

Yet none of them have the character of this car and a quick blip of the throttle to provoke that intoxicating growl reminds you why the Mustang is still such a tempting purchase.

Launch control

Let us not kid ourselves: owning a Mustang is also about impressing your friends and family. And for that you may need a little movie-style magic. That’s where the car’s Launch Control system comes into play. Safety first of course: only try this on a private stretch of road with a bit of run-off space. Ideally your own race track would suffice. Or maybe rent Mondello for the day.

So with the health and safety warning duly noted, a few clicks of the toggle switches engages the system that lets you hurtle off from a standing start with all the noise and commotion of a drag race.

Time for some cold-headed car truths. At the end of the day I’m driving around Ireland in an overstretched Ford in eye-bleeding yellow with an enormous petrol engine up front. It should be the silliest thing to take to Irish roads since the DeLorean plant shut.

Interior trim

Inside the switchgear is not on a par with European rivals. Ford has more work to do on its interiors across the range; at present they offer a confusing mismatch of switches, buttons, touchscreens and toggle controls. The Mustang suffers the same fate, designed by a committee. The back seats are a joke, particularly when you consider the length of this car.

Take all the badges off, turn your back on Americana and the schmaltz and it’s evidently not as sophisticated as the coupes from premium European brands, nor as dynamic. You’ll be hard pushed, however, to find a car in this price bracket - particularly the EcoBoost version - that can match it for smile-inducing fun or character.

And that’s when you return to the heritage of the Mustang. It’s pointless to look at this car so clinically when it’s got such a rich narrative. Other car firms would kill to have this depth of evocative brand awareness for any model. I have had the pleasure of meeting some wonderful petrolheads around the world and whether scraping by or stupidly rich, the Mustang holds a place in their hearts.

To buy or not

Then again, the beauty of the Mustang is that it lets you temper the image to fit your lifestyle. In the US it’s as popular with women as men. It’s a feature of the streets of New York as much as the highways of Houston. A black Mustang could sit proudly on my driveway and I’d be happy to drive it every day. At a time when the template for premium cars seems increasingly monochromatic and formulaic, there’s something wonderfully alternative about the Mustang. It makes its rivals blend into the background.

It’s certainly not the sensible choice and has its flaws, but Ford is pitching a strong case for the Mustang with the EcoBooster version’s attractive price point and affordable running costs. It makes its rivals look terribly dull. You have to take one for a gallop before you opt for a rival coupe.

Lowdown: Ford Mustang GT 5.0 V8 fastback

Engine: 5-litre V8 putting out 410bhp at 6,500rpm and 530Nm of torque

CO2 emissions: 299 g/km (

Official fuel economy: 13.5 l/100km (20.9 mpg)

0-100km/h: 4.8 seconds

Price: €46,000 for Ecoboost; €62,000 for 5-litre V8

Verdict: Certainly not the sensible choice but it makes its rivals seem terribly dull.

Our rating: 4/5