Ford's first right-hand drive Mustang is brutishly brilliant, so could this £35,000 V8 icon be the best-value sports car of the year? We spend a week with it
- We spent a week with the new right-hand drive 5.0 litre V8 Ford Mustang
- At £35,000, the V8 Mustang Fastback is £22,000 less than BMW M4 Coupe
- Interior revamp and suspension improvements are small highlights, but the 415bhp 5.0-litre V8 is the party piece
- We also tried the smaller 2.3-litre EcoBoost Mustang - will the four-cylinder engine impress us as much?
American muscle car - three words that when used together tend to translate into catastrophic disappointment for us Britons.
It might be because, as European buyers, we've expected too much. It's fair to say TV and the big screen could have overly glorified the credentials of cars like the Chevrolet Corvette and Camaro, Dodge Charger and Pontiac GTO in the past.
But whatever the reason for our American-muscle dismay, any US import has a big task convincing UK buyers that their money is better spent away from the European elite. But that's just what Ford is attempting to do with arguably the most iconic of them all, the Mustang.
It has now offered the Mustang as a fully-fledged right-hand-drive UK car for the first time in its 50 year history, meaning you can test drive it instead of a 1.0-litre EcoBoost Fiesta. So that's what we did...
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American muscle: With V8 engines slowly disappearing from the market due to stricter emissions standards, the 5.0-litre Mustang might just be one of the motor's last great swansong for the UK market
What you need to know about the Ford Mustang?
It's now officially a UK-ready model. That means the steering wheel is - for the first time in the 'Stang's half century existence - on the correct side of the car (though the handbrake isn't).
It also means added peace of mind for buyers who'll get the same warranty and after-sale treatment from a dealer as they would if they left the showroom in a Focus diesel.
These customers also get a choice in terms of engines. The full-fat 5.0 litre V8 or a more sensible but still powerful four-cylinder engine.
That all-new 2.3-litre four-pot EcoBoost version is a dialled-back - almost Britified - alternative to the traditional V-slung eight-cylinder. It produces a credible 313bhp but with a more wallet-friendly fuel economy return of around 30mpg (on paper).
Though it's not the one engine we'd recommend.
In this time of stringent emissions regulations and pollution clampdowns, the bullish V8 must surely soon be resigned to the past. So get it while you can, in all the 5.0-litre, quad-cam, 415bhp loveliness that we experienced.
If the engine isn't enough to tempt you in, Ford has also tailored other areas of its star-spangled stallion to better suit European car-buyers' needs.
This includes a suspension overhaul, with the Mustang getting multi-link independent rear suspension instead of the previous unsophisticated solid axle.
The interior has also been renovated to feel more steak and chips than burger and fries - a redesigned centre console and dash, the latest adaptation of Ford's Sync2 infotainment system and scatterings of chrome and leather replace the crude, plastic-bathed cabins of previous generations.
But it's the price that's going to make most buyers think about pledging their allegiance to the Mustang.
At £34,995 on the road for the 5.0 litre V8 that can hit 60 in under 5 seconds, it makes a £57,000 six-cylinder BMW M4 Coupe look staggeringly expensive. And that's before you've heard the Ford's engine shudder into life...
What's it like in town?
ON TEST FACTS & FIGURES: FORD MUSTANG 5.0 V8 GT FASTBACK
On sale: Now
Price (standard): £34,995
Test car with options: £37,080
Options include: Black Body Stripes (£500), Shaker Pro premium audio system with navigation (£795), Climate Control Seats (£495), Reverse parking sensors (£295)
Engine: V8, 4951cc 32v, petrol
Power: 415bhp at 6,500rpm
Torque: 391lb ft at 4,250rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
Fuel economy: 20.9mpg (combined)
CO2/tax band: 299g/km
The V8 gargles with a body-rippling burble when you prod the 'Engine Start' button with your finger.
Metaphorically speaking, it's like poking a lion with a stick - the roar is rapturous, attention engrossing and never fails to make you grin like an easily-amused idiot.
In fact, this orchestra of horsepower dominates your senses until the moment you pull away, when it becomes a secondary thought to the strain of your calf muscle as you begin to depress the clutch.
The best word to describe the pedal movement is 'meaty'. It's not necessarily heavy, just that it requires a little more effort from your left hip to dip the clutch to the floor than you'd expect if you're accustomed to cars of more modesty.
This 'meaty' sensation continues as you begin to move your hands onto the other main controls.
Shifting into first gear, your palm is met by a sufficiently stubby selector. A confirming 'ca-clunk' and the transmissions is readied.
Place both your hands on the ultra-chunky steering wheel and you're far from clenched-fisted. Begin to pass it through your mitts and you feel restraint in the revolutions. Again, it's weighted but not heavy.
In these three movements alone you understand everything the Mustang is about: this isn't a car concerned with being elegant - it's raw, almost caveman-like.
But that's not to say it's hard work in town. Yes, it feels like a big car at all times - especially with the enormous bonnet hiding the first few yard of tarmac ahead of you - but it's not an arm-pounding workout navigating through busy city centres.
At £34,995, the Mustang V8 is a staggering £22k cheaper than a BMW M4 and has two more cylinders than its German counterpart
Toggle switches and touches of chrome make the control feels more upmarket than before - but it still gets put to shame by German rivals
The interior, though still adorned with plenty of hard plastics, is a stark improvement over previous generations. The steering wheel is also in the right place, though the handbrake hasn't been switched over in the manufacturing process
The Mustang is fairly subdued at low speeds, too. While it does thunder into life on start-up, it hushes into a more muted grumble when driving in urban speed limits. Holding a conversation with passengers is easy.
The suspension, though reworked, still isn't on par with European rivals, like the Audi RS5, BMW M4 or Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG, though. The thud from speed humps, potholes and splits in the tarmac are all transferred from the wheels directly to your backside - you soon learn to become selective about the sections of road you aim for.
But it's not impractical in all areas. The 408-litre boot is a small suitcase short of the 490 litres of space in the Mercedes C63 AMG and a bit more short of the 445 offered by the BMW M4, but it'll swallow a set of golf clubs and a pushchair quicker than an American devours a Big Mac.
And to further bolster it's Daddy-cool credentials, we managed to fit two child seats in the back without a struggle.
The Mustang is unapologetically brutish even from the outside. Take our test car: it had Race Red paint with fading black racing stripes, black 19-inch multi-spoke alloys and exhaust pipes big enough to fit your fist in
Coming soon: Our test car will be appearing in the new Amazon TV car series featuring the former Top Gear team. Richard Hammond was snapped during filming in our Mustang in Westminster in February
What's it like out of town?
Showing the Mustang a signpost with a white circle and a black line through it is a red rag to a bull. Mash the accelerator into the carpet and the once-caged groan of the V8 becomes a full-on, head back, jaw-yawning roar. Hit 6,500rpm and it pummels the senses.
But the level of acceleration doesn't quite match the raucous theme tune - a sub-five-second sprint to 62mph is impressive enough but you get the feeling the 1720kg of bulk reigns the galloping horse back as you keep the throttle planted.
Weight is also a contributor to why you shouldn't offer a BMW M4 a race on twisting tarmac. While it doesn't handle as badly as a US Navy aircraft carrier like other stars-and-stripes models, you do reach the limits of lateral grip on corner entry far quicker than you would in a European rival.
On exit, the weight shifts around the body, loading up the corners of the car - the suspension struggles to compose itself and becomes unbalanced as a result, especially when applying the throttle aggressively, forcing grips levels to disappear and then return abruptly.
But that's not necessarily terrible news. It means leaving an apex becomes a strange compromise between fun and bravery - modulate the throttle to match your speed and you won't be disappointed with your cornering progress; pound it flat and you're guaranteed sideways lunacy to your heart's content - once you've mastered the weight transfer, that is.
Get it out of town and the big V8 Mustang is great fun to drive.
Despite being 4.8m long and almost 2m wide, the Mustang doesn't feel too daunting to drive in town, but it feels more at home cruising on the motorway
Many will argue it's not very practical but it does have a 400-litre boot, enough room in the back for two child seats and even projects a Mustang onto the pavement when you unlock the doors (just in case you can't find your enormous red muscle car in a multi-storey car park)
Slightly letting the side down when trying to get a hurry on is the gearbox - it's not as slick or well sprung as others we've tried, though at slower speeds it moves through the six gates with ease.
In fact, leisurely speeds on motorways is where the Mustang feels most at home. Lazy lumps of power, a now-restricted soundtrack and some surprisingly supportive seats make it an ideal 70mph cruiser.
And that's exactly what we were expecting. At the end of the day, it's still a car tuned for American roads that are as straight as a foot-long sub, not European tarmac with more twists than a bowl of fusilli.
Ultimately, it's a better match for Route 66 than the A66 from Workington to Grangetown.
Smashing the stigma: The Mustang is still an American muscle car, but for the first time it's one we actually like...a lot
50 years to get right for the UK market: While the original Mustang might be an icon in the US, the latest one (right) is the first version to make sense for buyers on these shores
The Cars & motoring verdict
By the turn of the year, Ford UK reckoned it had taken some 3,000 Mustang orders already, with an even split between the V8 and the EcoBoost - though the latter is predicted to streak ahead in coming months.
What we can guarantee is that 1,500 of these customers - granted they've ordered the Fastback coupe over the Cabrio - will feel like they've got decent value for money.
Of course, being a V8, it's not going to be all that efficient. Ford claims a 20.9mpg return, but you'll be lucky to achieve anything that doesn't begin with a one, however, most buyers in this segment are more concerned with bhp than mpg.
And that's why we're sold on the eight-cylinder Mustang. With the level of charisma, a cabin that's now fitting for a European market and a powerplant that forces a grin to your face, we'd go as far as saying it's a relative bargain next to a BMW M4. Simply, every drive is an event with that V8 upfront.
Has it changed our opinion on the American muscle car stigma? You're darn tootin!
So can the 2.3-litre EcoBoost version match the V8?
A week with the V8 Mustang won us over, but what is the smaller-engined car like? Autocar's Graham Scott tested it for us in easy-cruising convertible and automatic form.
We have to start by saying that this isn’t any old four-cylinder engine. It’s the one from the new Focus RS and that’s a giant-slayer.
It’s certainly still fast. With 313bhp, it will out-drag a BMW 420i Convertible and for a lot less money. But this is where facts on paper and actual reality start to diverge.
You’d be amazed to discover just how much your appreciation of the Mustang is based not on performance figures, not on the way it looks even, but on the way it sounds.
And now it sounds anaemic. Where have all the red blood cells gone? It doesn’t exactly wheeze, but it certainly doesn’t get the heart pumping.
Adding in the optional six-speed auto box makes things even more wan and vapid. It seems to be slower than before, and it knocks yet more off what excitement there was to be had.
The Cabrio version of the Mustang costs £3,500 more than the Fastback coupe - both for the 2.3-litre EcoBoost and the V8
The 2.3-litre four-cylinder EcoBoost engine has 313bph and is the same motor used in the new Focus RS. Unfortunately it's no match for the more exciting V8
And that lack of rorty V8 shows up the failings we know about but are prepared to overlook in the full-house Mustang.
The handling really isn’t that great. Now it has a front end that is totally unable to give any feedback and which starts to wash out earlier than you expect.
Yet at the other end the loss of power doesn’t seem to have diminished the car’s ability to slew the back end out in a surprising manner.
None of this is helped in any way by making it a convertible. The lack of roof means you can hear all too clearly that four-pot drone, and the lack of rigidity in the chassis means you become very aware of scuttle shake and other handling unpleasantness.
What’s good about it? It’s a cheap Mustang. It makes a perfectly pleasant cruiser, with the top down, it really does.
Even Donald Trump could ride in this with the roof down and the windows up and not worry too much about any major rug issues.
You get a great view down that timeless bonnet, and the cabin is also a pretty timeless and enjoyable interior.
But, really, it’s hard to recommend this variant. If you don’t do many miles, then go for the full-house V8. Give your ears a treat.
FACTS AND FIGURES: FORD MUSTANG 2.3 ECOBOOST CABRIO
On sale: Now
Engine: 4-cylinder, 2300cc, turbo, petrol
Power: 313bhp at 5500rpm
Torque: 319lb ft at 2500-4500rpm
Gearbox: 6-speed automatic
Top speed: 145mph
Economy: 28.8mpg (combined)
CO2/tax band: 225g/km, 37%
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