First drive: we get behind the wheel of the 2018 Ford Mustang GT
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Change is always toughest on those married to tradition and loyalty. It's a worrisome c-word, slowly getting phased out of our vocabularies in favour of its strapping younger cousin; “progress”.
Whether change and tradition can exist while the other survives is the question of the moment, and the answer may well unfold through the evolution of historic icons like the Ford Mustang.
The first of the blue oval's 2018 models have just arrived in this country, with Ford NZ hosting the first press drives on Wednesday. It's the first revision of Ford's S-550 platform since it debuted in 2015 — underlined by a new face, an injection of flash tech, and more power.
We would pick up our steeds from the manufacturer's contemporary, slick and reflective Highbrook head office, and drive them to a destination where tradition bleeds out onto the streets once a year; Beach Hop.
“They generally look down on any new cars that rock up,” I hear while awaiting the crucial set of keys.
“I'm sure it'll be fine,” replies an assured voice.
A wad of cash totalling $79,990 will net you the most popular Mustang model — the GT fastback. That's just over $2000 more than the model it replaces.
In fact, the whole range lines up at a higher price than the outgoing models. The EcoBoost 4-cylinder fastback and convertible are $62,990 and $67,990 respectively (though neither have landed in the country yet). And if you want a V8 and the wind in your hair, it's $84,990.
There's a compelling reason for the price increase; the new ones are better.
Though, that discussion doesn't necessarily begin with styling. The Mustang's new fascia has been a grand divider. There's less negative space, a much larger set of side intakes, a bigger mouth, more creases, and revised headlights.
In pictures, the slumped edges on the new headlights, coupled with a larger mouth, make it look like a bottom feeder caught in mid-yawn. But in person, it looks sharper; more pointed and vicious than before.
Rear styling is untouched apart from a set of active valve quad tail-pipes, but we'll get back to them in a minute.
Much of the interior is untouched, too. Crunchy plastics remain — again contrasted by leather on the dashboard, centre console, and door cards. The new optional Recaro seats feel good, despite being a slight pinch for pie-eaters like myself, and an improved suite of safety tech should help remedy the Mustang's scratchy two-star safety rating when it gets tested later this year.
The main changes here come in the form of two screens. The primary central infotainment screen adopts Ford's SYNC 3 system — a vast improvement over old — and the analogue dials behind the steering wheel have been replaced by a customisable 12.3-inch digital cluster.
Guided by directional keys under the right thumb, drivers can scroll through various menus and set-up changes while on the fly with relative ease. Pages of options flow quickly and intuitively, and it helps give the cabin a much needed kick of 2018.
For leg one of the journey to Waihi's incredible Beach Hop Warm Up Party, we were handed an almost fully optioned six-speed manual GT depicted in a not-Bumblebee-at-all yellow and black ensemble — coupled with Ford's new 19-inch optional wheel and a six-speed stick.
The frequently winding and cambered Clevedon–Kawakawa strip provided ample opportunity to hurl the Mustang through some corners, with some right-foot planting for good measure.
Ford has extracted 339kW and 556Nm from the revised 5.0-litre V8 — 33kW more than the previous model. This comes through the addition of direct and port injection, which help the Mustang's fuel economy and low-end bite.
And, via that active quad-tip exhaust set-up, it makes one punishing sonic boom of a noise — particularly when exploring high RPMs in Sport mode. The V8 roar is not only amplified, but also much filthier and raspier on start-up and through the extremities of the rev range.
This might be the best-sounding Mustang of the new millennium. Out of the non-Shelbys, anyway.
But as good as making the Mustang louder and more powerful are, the two biggest changes are advanced mechanical ones less likely to grab headlines or jump off the page with muscle-car faithful.
The first is the optional adaptive MagneRide magnetic dampers. We’ve seen these used effectively by the likes of HSV in the past and, coupled with revised stabiliser bars, they help make the driving experience more controlled than in Mustangs of old. Cornering feels more flat and composed under load, while at the same time retaining the car’s comfort-orientated ride in general driving via the switchable drive modes.
Arriving in Waihi around lunchtime, Beach Hop greeted us with a monstrous crowd and American muscle as far as the eye could see. Most central streets were blocked off, but Ford had planned that our cars would spend the break parked in centre stage.
This meant opening the cordons for our fleet, and a slow drive down the street through the thick legions of people. Some whipped out their phones, others simply looked on.
“Those things are bloody everywhere,” smirked one moustachioed punter.
The troupe left the cars for lunch, but a few of us stuck around to see if the retro-clothed crowd would signal a verdict.
There were no eggings, no keyed doors, no deranged tirades. Pockets of grouped gossip proved inconclusive, while some of the more enthused Hoppers were given the chance to jump inside.
Two hours, lunch, and some sun-stroke later we were back on the road to Auckland. We swapped cars; trading fake Bumblebee for a Royal Crimson convertible.
The trade-off for the convertible’s freedom is driving a car that doesn’t feel quite as together when put under pressure, but that’s to be expected in a top-down. Apart from not having a roof, the other main difference to our fresh acquisition was the 10-speed automatic SelectShift gearbox.
The six-speed manual in the morning’s car, despite sporting a fresh twin-disc clutch and dual-mass flywheel for 2018, was disappointing. The shifter felt good to hand but the pedal was vague, almost notchy, with feedback — delivering plenty of dead travel. It wasn’t popular.
The 10-speed on the other hand is the single best thing about the new Mustang. Co-developed with General Motors, it represents a comprehensive improvement over the old six-speed automatic. In normal mode it’s intuitive and smooth, while in Sport+ it fires through gears in a far more rapid fashion than its predecessor.
I hate to say it, but the best new Mustang you can buy is now definitively automatic.
Ford NZ has taken 115 orders and counting, with the next big shipment of cars to become available in a month’s time. Of that 115 cars, approximately 90 per cent have a thumping Coyote V8 under the bonnet.
As you’d expect. These buyers are traditionalists after all.