Review: 2016 Australian Ford Mustang. EcoBoost or V8?

The first factory built Ford Mustang to enter Australia is finally here. Probelm is its a smashing success for Ford and they can’t build them fast enough. There’s already...

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The first factory built Ford Mustang to enter Australia is finally here. Probelm is its a smashing success for Ford and they can’t build them fast enough. There’s already been 4,000 sold to Australians. If you decide you want one today, you’ll be waiting till at least December before you get one, almost a full year back order. According to Ford, Aussies are the third most popular market for the new Mustang, behind the US and Europe. The number of Mustangs being made is constrained and the number of right-hand drive Mustangs is even smaller, a number we compete with New Zealand and Japan for.

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Design

There’s no doubt the car looks fantastic, with Ford designers finding the right balance between classic elements of Mustang and a new, fresh look. When driving the Mustang, expect heads to turn. The agressive front end, combined with sexy body lines that run the length of the vehicle, followed by the iconic tail lights on the rear.

Part of the love people have for this car comes from the sound of the car. Something I wasn’t expecting is how much this emerges from under the bonnet and not from the exhaust at the rear.

Inside the the design of the cabin, its all about the driver. The aircraft inspired interior features plenty of knobs, dials and toggles, far more than necessary. Having around 10 buttons, just to control the dual-zone climate control is fankly ridiculous. Its a shame Ford didn’t take more from the efforts in the GT350 which is paired back, refined to the absolute essentials. The Mustang is a car for drivers and begs to be driven hard and the interior should match that focus with further simplification. With a decent touchscreen available, plenty of these options could easily be moved there.

The front seats are great, holding you in place with even the sportiest of cornering, these get a big tick from me. These seats have a seat cooling feature that blows air too cool the driver during spirited sessions, or just hot days (like today). When it comes to the rear seats.. there’s some things you need to know.

Technically this car passes as a 4 seater, but forget about transporting adults back there. Small kids are really the only humans that are fitting back there. In reality, most people who buy this car understand that and the Mustang certainly isn’t alone in having rear seats big enough for bags and not passengers.

Something else that screams Mustang is the colours. There’s actually a pretty wide range of choices for the Mustang:

  • Oxford White
  • Ingot Silver
  • Triple Yellow
  • Competition Orange
  • Race Red
  • Ruby Red
  • Deep Impact Blue
  • Magnetic
  • Guard
  • Shadow Black

The traditional, full length dual stripes are also optional.

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Performance

If you decide to buy a Mustang, you’ll be faced with a pretty hard decision. Part of the decision making process will obviously be price, but if you’re someone who’s not scared by the numbers, the choice will be down to a bunch of different factors. First you need to choose fastback or convertible, then choose the engine size.

The 2.3L Turbocharged Ecoboost engine produces 233 kW and 432 Nm of torque (max at 3,000RPM). Ford has managed to extract as much performance from this engine as the original Mustang had 50 years ago.. the difference is, it’s less than half the size. To achieve that performance, Ford bolts on a twin-scroll turbocharger that is optimised for fast acceleration. The reality is public roads have speed limits, so the priority isn’t outright top speed, its about how you get there.

The biggest drawcard is the more powerful, 5.0L V8 which delivers 306kW and 530Nm of torque (max at 4,250RPM). That performance doesn’t come free and results in combined fuel figures of between 12.7 and 13.1l/100km depending on the variant.

Something I wasn’t prepared for is just how much of the sound of the Mustang comes from under the bonnet. The exhaust note is there, but so underplayed that its a backup to the main orchestra. The sound of this car is fantastic, its addictive in every way possible and continually invites you to get busier with the right foot. Make no mistake, there will be plenty of speeding fines issued to Mustangs, its ridiculously easy to reach the speed limit and not be aware of how fast you’re going.

These cars, each variant of them all target low down performance which makes for a better drive 90% of the time. Something you need to know is the 6th gear is useless. Plant you’re foot to the floor and you go nowhere. It feels like a strategy for econemy, not an actual gear that’s needed. When you’re in 6th at 110km/h, the car sits low in the rev range, really low, like 1,500RPM low. This needs to be remembered when you call for speed to overtake and its not there. A quick downshift to 3rd and stick the boot in and the overtake will happen with ease (and delicious growl from under the hood).

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Drive modes

When you’re behind the wheel of the Mustang, you get access to 4 drive modes: Normal, Sport+, Track, and Snow/ Wet. Each one modifies the powertrain and chassis programming to suited that particular driving situation.

Sport+ is where most owners will live day-to-day as it provides more responsive steering and throttle response, plus different shift points if for some reason you go for the automatic transmission. After engaging the V8 manual in some spirited driving on twisty roads, I tested each of the modes and can safely say, this is easily the favourite. Some manufacturers make the sport steering setting significantly heavier and on longer drives can become taking on your arms, but the Mustang doesn’t.

If you’re cruising down the freeway and want some extra tolerance in your inputs, or a novice is behind the wheel, kick it into normal mode and the car becomes less race car and more grocery delivery van. The balance of comfort and handling is great if your using the car as a cruiser or daily driver.

Track mode, as the name implies, really is designed for track use. When you enable this mode, you get an illuminated icon on the dash to let you know traction has been reduced (can be disabled completely in the menus).  For the motor enthusiast who wants to take it to the track occasionally, and scare themselves silly, it is the pure performance mode. You notice the engine sournds more powerful engine and even more responsiveness than Sport+.

As someone who lives close to Falls Creek, the Snow/Wet mode sounded inviting. The thought of snow chains ever squeezing between the wheels and the guard, does not. This mode is designed to give a more connected-to-the-road feeling, so when things get hairy, you’ll know it first and correcting things should be easy enough. When I was behind the wheel, it was 40c+ so not so relevant.

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Fuel usage

Sure, fuel is cheap right now, cheaper than it has been for a long time, but that doesn’t mean we can throw caution to the wind. Fuel numbers will still make or break this car for some people. When it comes to the extra performance, the V8 is certainly thirstier. As a strategy to reduce the fuel usage in the Mustang is to disconnects the transmission from the engine when the car is idling, even if you’re in gear, to saving you fuel.

While we’re on the topic of fuel, the Ecoboost can fuel up with 91 RON, saving you money at the bowser, whereas the V8 sucks in 98 RON. Each edition has 59.8 and 61.9 litre tanks respectively. Thanks to the Ecoboost, the 2.3L achieves between 8.5 and 9.4l/100km economy with combined driving.

The weight of the Mustang varies a lot between models with the lightest at 1,666kg for the EcoBoost manual Fastback and the heaviest being the convertible V8 with an automatic at 1,811kg.

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Technology

The Mustang is meant to be a driver’s car. Most of the time that means you want to be in absolute control and don’t need technology assistance. In reality, the Mustang is built to be a daily driver and like it or not, a lot of driving environments (like city commutes) are painful and a couple weeks in, you’ll wish the car could help getting through the boring bits.

What’s not included in the price is any serious driver assist technology. There’s no adaptive cruise control, no lane guidance, no active city stop, no self-parking, so while this car feels on message for the driver’s driver, to live with this car, you’ll wish it could help at times. The Mustang does have to meet a price point and each of the technology additions would add to that critical price, so in many ways, the Mustang knows what its for and isn’t trying to lean hard on the future.

The car does feature upgraded suspension and Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) and Traction Control System (TCS) that work together to connect you to the road through dynamically changing road conditions and interpret your responses sensibly. To get the rear to step out, you have to push hard and when it does, things happen slowly and its easy to catch the slide and steer out of it.

Below is a list of features that are compliment ownership, the nice to haves that you may not notice on day 1, but find and appreciate over time.

  • Dual Zone Climate Control
  • Satellite Navigation
  • Automatic on-off headlights
  • Electric front and rear windows with one-touch lowering/close front windows (driver and passenger)
  • Leather steering wheel with cruise and audio controls
  • Illuminated visors – driver and passenger
  • Intelligent (keyless) Access with Push Button Start 
  • Auto Dimming Rear view mirror 
  • Ambient Lighting
  • Illuminated Scuff Plates
  • Driver and Passenger Climate Controlled Leather Accented (heated and cooled) 
  • 6-way Power Driver’s Seat and Power Lumbar support
  • MyKey (can set restrictions for other drivers)
  • Rearview Camera
  • Tyre Pressure Monitoring System

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Brakes

Inside the 19” rims hides some pretty agressive brakes in the Mustang. With the 2.3L model, the bakes are 352 x 32-mm vented discs, four-piston 46-mm fixed aluminium calipers. However the 5.0L model is faster, so needs better stopping power, so Ford have gone to 380 x 34-mm vented discs, Brembo six-piston 36-mm fixed aluminium calipers.

When you drive the car, you’ll find there’s really not a lot a play in the brake pedal, its either on or not. Maybe that’s intentional, with this being a driver’s car, you should be on one or the other, thinking between the two just costs you time.

A few times when I approached a corner, I wanted to wash some speed off ahead of the turn and with almost no force the brakes slowed the car significantly, something that will take some getting used to. It’s probably best you warn your passenger.

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Entertainment

The Mustang ships with Sync 2 on a 8” touchscreen, despite Ford announcing Sync 3 many, many months ago. The Sync 2 platform will get the job done for an uneducated driver, but anyone who’s paying attention will notice the upgrades that came from Sync 3 and the platform shift underlying that, are not available. More recently, Ford announced they are committing to offering Android Auto and Apple CarPlay in their vehicles. The problem is, they’re not setup to deliver an over the air update that delivers that promise.

When I asked for a release date for Sync 3, I was told, it is coming, but no date was available.

The car has 1 USB port up front, and another inside the center console arm rest. Strangely there’s still a cigarette lighter, which in 2016 blows me away. If you still smoke, you’re an idiot, if you buy a Mustang and try and smoke in it, you just committed a crime. There is an electrical outlet inside the console arm rest that you can use power electronics like DVD players for your tiny kids in the back.

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Drive comparison

Ford provided a unique opportunity to do a direct comparison of 4 Mustang variations back to back. With Sport mode enabled and sport steering, the car was setup perfectly to handle the tight turns of the short course. The course featured a great variety of turns, on and off camber, up hill, down hill, open and closed sighted turns. this opportunity to test the different varients back to back, literally one after the other is basically unheard of. This unique opportunity provided the best terms to accurately compare and contrast the different powertrains and body types.

  • 2.3L Ecoboost manual – Fastback
  • 2.3L Ecoboost auto – Convertible
  • 5.0L V8 manual – Fastback
  • 5.0L V8 auto – Convertible

After cycling through the cars, the EcoBoost was noticably lighter than the V8, but all performed well solid handling under decent lateral load through corners. The tyres never complained, despite being asked to hold the car to the ground under some pretty spirited driving.

The convertible is a big success as the different configuration are almost unnoticable. There are subtle difference in the handling of the convertible but slight compared to the dramatic difference in weight distribution. Of course the option to cruise with the top down is an inviting one, but personally I like the appearance of the GT.

In terms of power, the V8 certainly has more grunt and if you can swallow the extra fuel consumption, would be my pick of the engine types. The EcoBoost is remarkable for what it can achieve for its size and some will love the turbo sound, but the noise coming from the V8 and the bit more performance gets it across the line. The difference between the two isn’t imediate off the line, they’d be close, but once you’re at 60-70km and above, the V8 seems to just keep climbing.

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Price & Availability

Ford claims the Mustang is the world’s most liked vehicle on Facebook. Lets take a look at the prices and see how much you like them.

Ecoboost (2.3L)

Fastback manual tranmission – A$45,990
Fastback automatic transmission – A$48,490
Convertible automatic transmission – A$54,990

GT (5.0L V8)

Fastback manual tranmission – A$57,490
Fastback automatic transmission – A$59,990
Convertible automatic transmission – A$66,490

If you’re a big fan of tradition, the racing stripes will cost you between A$650 and A$845.

For those prices, the Mustang certainly isn’t for everyone, but you are getting one hell of a car for that price. Ford seems to have carved out somewhat of a nieche in the market here with a car that looks great, sounds great, performs and handles well for a reasonable amount of money.

Of course we’d love to see the car at $10K less so it drops into affordibility for more Aussies, but the Australian dollar isn’t helping the situation. To be honest, Ford are selling the car just fine at these prices and a price reduction would just increase the demand and waiting list.

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Overall

On paper the V8 is the car to have, much more power than the Ecoboost, but in reality, the 2.3L Mustang is actually a very legitimate alternative. Maybe you prefer the fuel savings, maybe you prefer the sound of the turbo spooling or maybe your budget just doesn’t stretch far enough for the V8, but definitely you’ll get a Mustang that looks the part and has serious performance to have fun with. For me it was the surprise of the bunch.

The 6-speed manual transmission wins out for me on this one, if you’re going to get the Mustang, chances are, you’re a driver and getting to absolutely define when the gearbox shifts, is something you want control over. The automatic, like every automatic, doesn’t get the memo fast enough when you indicate your intention. The most severe example of this miss-behaving box is when you’re in Sport mode and using the smallish paddle shifters (optional) to move between gears.

A pull on the slightly enemic paddle on the way up and the change would happen pretty quickly, but if you’re at the wrong RPM for the downshift, the car refuses to downshift until you brake and wipe off speed. I understand the technology in the car is pretecting its own expensive internal components before obeying every command, and that’s great, but there is much work to be done here to find the right mix. The lever themselves feel plastic and to be honest, I get a more satisfying shift from a paddle on my Logitech G920 racing rig.

Ultimately Ford have a massive sucess on their hands with a Mustang and I feel they’re a little unprepared to deal with that. Something like 1/10 vehicles that roll off the assembly line are for right-hand-drive markets like Australia, NZ and Japan, and in terms of overall units shipping, we’re competing with America and Europe. The company needs to find a way to ramp up production and fast.

Telling even the most enthusiastic Ford fan with money burning a hole in their pocket, that there’s almost a year wait, will almost certainly have them looking for a set of four wheels with a different logo on the back.

The good news is the company is listening to feedback from customers and improving the product. While they’re not committing to shipping a year branded Mustang every year, the base platform is solid and now just needs to be tweaked. What you can expect are improvements going forward, based on what they learn from real-world use, on the upside, waiting till 2017 may mean you end up with a better car.

Bonus.. Here’s the sound of that V8 engine.

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