First drive: Ford’s Mustang will entertain when it hits Irish roads

Proper americana muscle now with an engine that won’t quite break the bank for Irish buyers - its an alluring proposition

Ford’s new Mustang fastback - the raucous noise and taut chassis made it incredible fun to drive on German roads

Michael McAleer, Motoring editor

Jim Farley, Ford's boss in Europe tells the tale of a teenage summer spent working in a factory in California that rebuilt Ford engines. He bought his first car there: a black 1966 Mustang hardtop. He then drove it cross-country in two days to a family vacation home in Michigan - without a driver's license or insurance. An American road trip in a piece of pure Americana.

Years later while working in Europe he and Bill Ford, the scion of the blue oval family brand and at the time managing director for Ford in Switzerland, threw about the idea of bringing the American icon to Europe. Aside from a few grey imports driven by avid collectors the plan got stuck down a cul-de-sac. Until now.

The Mustang has been let loose on Europe at a time when Ford is busy “tilting the brand towards more emotional speciality sub-brands”, says Farley. It’s fitting he sees the potential for such sub-brands, given that he led the creation of Toyota’s Scion sub-brand at the turn of the century, which went on to have something of a cult following stateside.

READ MORE

Before I launch into a 10,000-word cultural essay on the Mustang’s relationship with the US, let’s take it we are all aware of the car’s popularity on the silver screen and TV chase scenes.

Let’s stay focussed on the new Mustang. The positives are pretty evident: this Mustang oozes muscular menace in the metal, taps into that incredibly rich vein of Americana culture. But the point at which it became more than a pipe dream was the advent of a new deep-throated raspy 2.3-litre 312bhp petrol engine that’s certainly an aural match for many V6s out there.

The first time you take the Mustang on the road it’s hard not to fall for its raw charm. There’s nothing subtle about this car, from the wide haunches to its sweeping front nose. It’s an imposing sight in the rearview mirror - and I was behind the wheel of one Mustang when another bore down on me.

The ride, transmission and even the steering when in Sport mode, feels wonderfully mechanical. You get a real sense of cogs engaging every time you flick the stubby short-throw gear lever, metal teeth engaging each other in synchronicity. Admittedly the ride is choppy at time but it isn’t unpleasant, rather it underlines the impression of a tightly screwed, powerful racer.

Top marks go to the powertrain engineers who have created a real star with this 2.3-litre engine block. Of course there’s the throaty Stars and Stripes 5-litre V8 petrol, but that’s not the big story for Irish buyers, considering it starts with a price tag of €62,000. Instead the focus is on this inspiring new 2.3-litre priced at €46,000.

“When we made the decision to globalise the Mustang we knew we had to have a powertrain other than the 5-litre V8. But even in the US, more than 50 per cent of Mustangs sold are not V8s,” says Farley.

The little powerhouse is really impressive: it carries a rich vein of torque from remarkably low revs while holding onto the higher revs momentarily even when you lift off, in the way that the great Alfa Romeos of old used to do. It’s all the more remarkable when you consider that it’s a revamp of the more lacklustre 2-litre petrol engine that currently features in other Ford models including the new Mondeo.

This engine is similar to the one that powers the new Focus RS, albeit with a different turbo configuration and set-up for the front-wheel drive hatchback rather than this rear wheel drive muscle car.

The 6-speed manual seems the best option given its lovely notchy, mechanical feel, though the Mustang is also offered with a six-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifts on the steering wheel.

Kudos as well to the Mustang’s suspension team. It’s certainly firm but at the same time lovely and taut when sweeping through bends or slotting in and out of traffic during overtaking manoeuvres. However all that was on smooth, well-cambered rural mountain roads south of Munich. What that taut suspension might be like on a Monaghan back road.

The Mustang shares some rear suspension technology with the new Mondeo but otherwise the platform is a further revision of the old Mustang underpinnings. US models features a softer suspension, with the option a harder performance set-up. However in Europe the performance suspension pack with 19-inch alloys is the standard fit.

As with most electrically assisted power steering these days, it comes with the option of three settings: normal, sport, or comfort. These don’t actually change anything other than the weighting of the steering wheel and it’s hard to understand why they bother with anything other than sport setting: who wants spongy steering on a Mustang?

Then there are the four driving modes: normal, sport +, track, and snow/wet. Again none of these change the suspension settings. The differences are in steering feel and throttle response, holding the higher revs a little longer in sport and track modes. The differences are noticeable if perhaps not quite as material as you might think from behind the wheel.

And this brings us to the interior, where the Mustang starts to lose some of its lustre. The switches for these modes are garish mock-metal plastic affairs and along with other plastic controls all feed into a general sense that while the engineers were busy creating a car that comfortably cuts corners, the interior designers were cutting corners to save cash. It’s a real shame and a relatively easy fix: Ford bigwigs please take note.

Admittedly living with a Mustang is not going to be as easy as with similarly priced premium coupes from European rivals. Starting at €46,000 when it arrives in November, the Mustang is up against BMW 4-Series coupes and its ilk. For some the Mustang will be a little too wild and raucous, even too red-neck. Yet there’s a huge following for Americana, particularly in northern Europe, and there’s more heritage in the Mustang’s front grille than in the entire Audi fleet.

It’s not as raw or sophisticated as the Focus ST or as full-blooded as its sibling the RS. Yet what it lacks in sophistication it makes up for in honest red-blooded charm.

“Mustang isn’t logical,” says Farley. “There is no focus group that’s going to tell you that you need to build a Mustang. But the attribute that the company needs to continue to nurture here in Europe is the emotion.”

I approached the Mustang with a good deal of cynicism about its attempt drape a pretty average US muscle car with big-screen marketing schmaltz. Yet after a few miles of open road I fell for the mechanical charm of this car.

The Mustang taps into something that people love about cars - a mix of heritage, nostalgia and a good soundtrack of petrol engine growl. While Farley says they have already secured 20,000 Mustang orders in Europe even before its arrival, logic suggests a €46,000 American muscle car is unlikely to sell in big numbers in Ireland. Yet emotional appeal is always hard to gauge and with the new 2.3-litre bred for Europe I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a surprising cohort of Mustang owners on Irish roads this time next year.

Lowdown: Ford Mustang

Powertrain: Rear-wheel drive with limited-slip differential

Engines:

- 2,300cc putting out 312bhp @ 5,500rpm with 432Nm of torque @ 3,000rpm

- 4,951cc V8 putting out 415bhp @ 6,500rpm with 530Nm of torque @ 4,250rpm

Official fuel consumption (for manual Fastbacks): 8.0 l/100km (35.3 mpg) for 2.3-litre; 13.5 l/100km (20.9 mpg) for 5-litre V8

Emissions (annual motor tax): 2.3-litre - 179 g/km (€750); 5-litre V8 - 299 g/km (€2,350)

Transmission: Six-speed manual with hill start assist or six-speed automatic with paddle shifters

Prices: €46,000 for 2.3-litre fastback (€52,000 for convertible; €62,000 for 5-litre V8 (€70,000 for convertible)