Roofless Mustang instant swagger
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Swagger can be a hard thing to pull off for a well-worn 64-year-old driver like me.
However, the company of this yellow Mustang convertible appeared to work better than any combo of a chest wig, some stick-on tats, and a dread-locked girlfriend would have.
At the wheel of the most attention-grabbing Ford, I felt like the coolest near-pensioner in Orewa, which is probably home to the largest number of silver foxes this side of Tauranga.
With the roofless pony-car offering at least four seats, even the normally auto-indifferent grandkids wanted to go driving with Poppa.
It helps that the 2018 Mustang is a more virile and potent machine. This 5-litre Coyote V8-powered example fires up with similar aural drama to Scott McLaughlin’s Falcon racecar, and there’s 25 more beasts in the horsepower corral than there were in 2017.
It’s no coincidence that this number of brake-horse-powers (460, or 339kW in metric measurements) is six more than currently offered by the Mustang’s most direct rival stateside — the 6.2-litre Chevrolet Camaro SS.
Ford has been winning the US muscle-car sales race since this latest-generation Mustang emerged there in 2015, but the Camaro has been the consistent winner of back-to-back comparison tests with the Ford.
That ascendency in opinion-leading car reviews was bought home to me late in 2016 while I was driving a Camaro SS convertible along iconic roads such as Highways 1 and 101 as they hug the west coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington.
Roofless Mustangs dominated in terms of performance soft-top numbers on that road trip, but the drivers of those cars seemed envious of the SS.
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I would later write: “As soon as the bigger-blocked Chevy V8 barked into life, all the coyotes in the valley would cower, whimper, and head for the hills.”
Such dominance was always likely to be temporary given the intense 100-year-old rivalry between Chevrolet and Ford, and not only does the Mustang now develop more power than its rival (and emit more noise while doing so), there’s a better 10-speed automatic gearbox on transmission duty as well.
Despite this, I suspect the Camaro still gets going a little quicker than the Ford, the extra capacity of the GM V8 supplying more motive energy at lower revs.
The Mustang builds to its mid-4-sec 0-100km/h performance instead of exploding out of the blocks. It’s more Euro-V8 than American in the way that it wins the sprint at the end of the race instead of the beginning.
The new 10-speed auto also feels Euro-centric in the best possible way. It prunes the Coyote’s drinking down to 12.1-litres/100km, but its best trick is the way it drops gears whenever there’s overtaking to be done.
For example, the Mustang can be cruising along the open road at 100km/h in 10th, the V8 ticking over at near-idling speed. A sharp prod of the go-pedal will then instantly cause the gearbox to select third, bringing the V8 up to 5000rpm. From there to the 7000rpm redline, the Coyote hauls the mail.
For a car that weighs 1800kg and measures more than 4.7m in length, the Mustang exhibits suitably sporty handling characteristics thanks to the 2018 revisions to the suspension and stabiliser bars.
NZ-spec V8s come with a performance pack, which ups the spring rates, and adds a torque-sensing limited-slip rear diff, Brembo six-piston brake calipers, and extra engine cooling.
The tyres fitted to our ’stangs are Michelin’s Pilot Sport 4 radials, which are the rubber equivalent of superglue. Of all improvements, it’s the extra body roll control I most relished. The body stays a lot flatter than the 2017’s when cornering, extracting even more grip from a set of tyres that just keeps on giving it.
Steering, too, benefits from the reduced lateral weight transfer, and the Mustang feels a willing changer of direction. The weighting of the steering wheel feels just about ideal in “sports” mode — not too heavy, not too light, and there’s plenty of feeling imparted for what’s happening to the front tyres.
It’s not all roses, however, in terms of chassis dynamics. Mustang delivers a firm ride without resorting to the optional magnetic dampers, and the Michelins are vocal when traversing our coarse-chip road surfaces.
Still, in performance terms, the Mustang is much more competitive with its Camaro opposition (rumoured to join Holden’s line-up in 2019).
Same can be said of the cabin, furnished with more foam-backed plastics and a new 12-inch TFT screen for the added Sync 3 infotainment system, featuring cellphone projection through Apple and Android interfaces. The standard seats are also more supportive — laterally and longitudinally.
Safety equipment levels rise with the inclusion of emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, active lane keeping, and auto-dipping headlights, but the Mustang’s shocking two-star crash test score has yet to be addressed at the time of writing.
Not that this worried me as I drove the $84,990 Mustang GT Convertible. I was too busy enjoying the swagger.