Ford’s Mustang elicits mental images of drawling accents, drag strips and cars tyre-smoking over prairies into the sunset. What you probably won’t think of is right-hand drive cars suited to New Zealand’s bendy roads.
Until now. Ford has launched a new generation of Mustang, with all the brash good looks you expect, but with a whole new set of talents under the bonnet – and with the steering wheel where it should be.
This sixth-generation Mustang looks every bit the muscular Yank, our bright orange example turning every head as it cruised Auckland’s pricier suburbs and causing whiplash out West. And that’s before we started playing the throttle to unleash the V8 growl.
Previous Mustangs were aimed at American buyers, with looks and performance akin to a prize-winning bodybuilder: impressive on paper, but not so good in a fight. Here in New Zealand we expect our cars to handle rough roads and corners, never a traditional Yank Tank’s forte.
But Ford’s latest philosophy is to build vehicles which will appeal anywhere and so, although this Mustang carries clear visual references to the car that made its debut in 1964, it is actually a very different beast.
It’s still a big car, long and low. This GT has its front-mounted 5.0-litre V8 weighing in at 1709kg, and delivering 306kW at 5600rpm and 530Nm at 3000rpm to the rear wheels via a six-speed auto transmission with paddle shift.
There’s a 2.3-litre twin-scroll-turbo EcoBoost four-cylinder available too, if you want a sensible car that doesn’t look like one.
Snuggled into the wrap-around sports seat, surrounded by gleaming chrome accents against a dark finish, my vision was directed ahead by its sharply incised sculpting. I didn't need to hear the engine to feel I was at the controls of something special.
Ordinary cars all but scattered before us like frightened sheep, pulling over almost the moment they spotted our bonnet in the rear-view mirror as we attacked the spine of Auckland’s West Coast hills; that was just in ‘normal’ mode.
Ignoring the ‘race’ option (switching the stability control off on a public road is never a good idea) and ‘snow/wet’, we turned to ‘sport’, holding the revs, upping the aural aggression and all but feeling those rear haunches scrabble for grip as we launched forward.
Initial disappointment that the engine note wasn’t more aurally assertive from inside the cabin was soon replaced by pleasure: it certainly tickled the eardrums of everyone we passed.
I loved the way this car has replaced outright low-revs brutality with a broader spread of urge that’s well matched to the gearbox and to real-world roads.
It’s also more nimble than expected, especially in the quicker-steering, lower-geared sport mode, though you’ll never beat a truly agile car through typical Kiwi backroads.
After all, dancing around bends isn’t what a Mustang is about: it’s about tarmac domination, which this car does very well.
Especially on more open curves, with plentiful grunt to power out of bends, it has swags of grip, a beautifully balanced body with just that hint of rear-steer joie-de-vivre to encourage you to steer on the throttle, and a predictability that lets you make the most of the available power.
There’s much to like on top of the performance, too. Ford knows most folk spend more time commuting than taking road trips and there’s plenty of everyday pleasure to be had: voice control of the satnav, music and hands-free phone; a rear-view camera; the ability to adjust the steering feel, with ‘sport’ notably firmer and ‘comfort’ imparting a light touch that you’ll appreciate any time you enter a compact carpark building.
You can even programme a restricted driving mode if your teenager wants a go. Maybe ensure they don’t choose the ‘track’ mode though, or discover they can view g-force, braking and acceleration with the inbuilt ‘track app’.
As for the frivolous icing on the cake? At night, those puddle lamps project Mustang's famous horse logo on to the ground, illuminating darkened driveways as you step out of the car.
More than 550 New Zealand buyers put money down even before they’d seen the new Mustang, most of them opting for graphite grey.
If you’re thinking of buying one, you’ll need to be patient; Ford has taken so many orders your car won’t be delivered until next summer.
Reported by Jacqui Madelin for our AA Directions Autumn 2018 issue