Crowd pleaser: fanging the new Ford Mustang GT RTR Spec 2
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If Mercedes-AMG’s slick E63 is the nuanced, set-piece laden comedy of George Carlin, then that bloke who smashes watermelons with a sledge hammer is definitely the Ford Mustang.
And that’s not a critique — the world needs loose units like Gallagher, like the Mustang. It’s why Ford’s eternal pony car has grown so popular on the shores of Aotearoa.
The Ford Mustang S-550 is going to go down in history as the first example of the breed that stamped its authority on the world — opening itself up to markets such as the UK, Australia, and New Zealand for the first time in a right-hand drive format.
And, with three years on the clock, the S-550’s first crucial refresh is just around the corner. But first, it’s a good time for a walk down memory lane to reunite with the car that kicked it all off.
Only, there’s something different about this one.
A new matte black stripe follows the car’s belt line — mirrored and framed by a black ground-effects package, rear spoiler, diffuser, and angular 20-inch Tech 7 shoes.
Turn it on, and the roar of Ford’s 5-litre Coyote V8 sounds different. It’s tighter, more focused, louder. And at the front, a pair of twin LED nostrils flare up like a furious bull. Or pony, I suppose.
Innocently poised between those nostrils is a quiet little blacked-out badge that says ‘RTR’. You’ll also find it on the wings, and sprawled across the boot lid — black on black, matte on gloss.
Ready To Rock is an American tuning group co-owned by Vaughn Gittin jnr and Ian Stewart; the former a global drifting superstar, the latter a Kiwi and one of the biggest names in US tuning design. This is their first road-car project, and it’s available to Kiwis as a multi-stage upgrade for the first-gen S-550 Mustang.
We were thrown the keys to this; a White Platinum Spec 2 GT RTR — the middle child of the range, with Spec 1 representing an exterior package, and the Spec 3 representing something much naughtier.
Sold out of CTB Performance & Accessories in Manukau, a new Spec 2 GT will negotiate a spot on your driveway for $102,605. However, those who already own an S-550 Mustang GT can get the kit fitted for $27,025. Not bad, given they’ll only build 10.
Let’s talk engines. This Spec 2 includes a Ford Performance engine upgrade that bumps performance to 340kW and 569Nm of torque — an increase of 35kW and 39Nm respectively over standard figures. Opt for a Spec 3, and your Coyote V8 is bestowed with a supercharger, helping power soar to around 500kW.
That sounds like a fist full of fun, but the level of grunt provided at Spec 2 is more than adequate for those who want drive their Mustang regularly. The added power is noticeable over the standard car (achieving the 100km/h sprint in about four seconds), without feeling silly in general commuting.
Unfortunately in our instance, it was still connected to Ford’s six-speed automatic transmission. This wasn’t a sharp system when the Mustang first landed, and time has only magnified how unpredictable and overeager it is, especially on kick down.
Manual mode and paddles are essential.
Indeed, the things about the regular outgoing Mustang GT that aren’t so good are generally also not so good on the RTR.
The interior — despite RTR’s best efforts with new mats, shift knob, and numbered plaque — looks and feels cheap; especially at the price point. Plastics are hard, leathers are loose. You’ve read it all before.
Then there’s the prehistoric SYNC infotainment system, which will have you wanting to punch a clear hole through the dashboard constantly.
But these aren’t RTR issues — they’re Ford ones, and hopefully subject to change on the MY2018 edition. And anyway, the Mustang has never been about interior tech and quality plastics. In recent times, they’ve represented a love letter to America’s past through retro styling, and the faithful V8 engine note.
RTR cites Japanese drift culture as a strong influence for its styling, and you can see it — if you squint. The creation sits low to the ground on massive wheels, but dodges looking ostentatious. There’s no cheesy chrome, no big “look at me” rear wing. It’s slick and athletic; a clue as to how it handles.
Don’t get me wrong, the normal Mustang is a hoot to drive on a back road. But ... it’s hardly sophisticated. Body roll and an inability to put its power to the ground are two of the main weaknesses, especially when you’re wanting to explore limits.
And above the styling and above the engine, the single best thing about this RTR is just how much better it handles corners.
Here, there’s no leaning on a Ford Performance parts bin. Instead everything is developed in house; resulting in RTR’s own “Tactical Performance” adjustable dampers, lowering springs, front anti-roll bar, and rear upper damper mounts — all of which meet the road via a set of sticky Nitto 555G2 tyres.
The net result is perhaps the most planted, confidence-inspiring Mustang money can buy.
Grip is always present, and the car manages to corner flat even with the right foot pinned to the floor. There’s still some window for slippage hilarity, of course. It wouldn’t be a Mustang without it. But because of all the feedback the changes provide through the seat of your pants it’s all much more predictable.
And, best of all, it somehow manages to also be comfortable. Compromise is barely coherent on the rough and ready roads of everyday life, with those fresh dampers soaking up much of the world’s bumps despite being bolted to big 20-inch wheels and rubber-band tyres.
Ultimately, the car is a revelation. RTR might stand for Ready to Rock, and it may have been founded by one of the wildest men in motorsport, but what’s come out the other side is a liveable, usable, more refined take on the modern American muscle car.
It’s the Mustang we know, but all grown up.
2017 FORD MUSTANG GT RTR SPEC 2
Price: $102,605 ($27,025 kit price)
Pros: Plush ride quality, swish looks, sounds lethal
Cons: Front splitter vulnerable to damage, interior and transmission