Review: 2016 Ford Mustang GT, one of the last great driver’s cars

A transforming road warrior, ready for weekend fun

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The 2016 Ford Mustang is an absolute head turner and if you own one, expect a lot of attention. It’s a big shiny muscle car that commands attention and the combination engine and exhaust note is ridiculously addictive. It’s a car that begs to be driven and with so much of the auto conversation turning to driverless cars, this may be one of the last great cars built for those of us who love to drive.

This car is an absolute transformer, it is comfortable as a daily driver and can be quite tame while rolling through residential streets. Thanks to a long accelerator pedal, you really can choose how much of the power is called upon. If you do decide to call on all the ponies under the hood, you’ll see the car turns into an aggressive beast that throws you back into the seat and put a stupid grin on your face. To put it simply, this car is just plain fun to drive, but that power does need to be respected.

Performance

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Engine

The biggest version and the one reviewed is the Mustang GT, featuring a very healthy 5.0L V8 engine that has no problems filling the engine bay. Ford engineers have tuned it to put out 306kW @ 6500 rpm and massive 530Nm @ 4250 rpm. While the power is impressive, its all about how that power gets applied that’s the most important factor in driveability and performance.

To help control the grunt of the V8, the Mustang offers different drive modes which change how the suspension behaves, when the gear shifts occur and steering responsiveness. For daily driving, the normal mode works great, but Sport+ is easily my favourite, everything just gets tighter, sharper, faster and well better. It just feels like the Pony is ready to run at any moment or hook through some turns with ease. If you’re under 2,000 RPM, the power ramp up is like a surge of electricity, but if you’re over 2,000 RPM, plant the foot and get ready to jump like a bull at a gate.

The Mustang leverages uses Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) and and a Traction Control System (TCS) combined with great rubber (P-zero) to make sure all that power gets delivered efficiently and effectively. While the technology helps you reduce the chances of skidding, sliding sideways and over- and under-steering in corners, its you as a driver that still has to do the work, which makes the Mustang one the best, possibly last, real driver’s cars.

This car can reach 0-100km/h in just 4.8 seconds, which makes it a stand out performer in its price bracket, making it really hard to find an adequate rival in Australia.

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Brakes

Going fast is awesome, but you’ll eventually have to hit that brake pedal and when you do, you’ll need it to be strong, responsive and reliable. To make sure you can arrest the speed of the Mustang, Ford have bolted on power disc brakes with four-sensor and four-channel anti-lock braking system.

The front has 380 x 34-mm vented discs, with six-piston, 36-mm fixed aluminum calipers from Brembo. The rear is slightly smaller at 330 x 25-mm vented discs and just single-piston, 45-mm floating iron calipers. After spending the best part of a week with the Mustang, I can attest to how well the brakes perform. They find a solid balance between providing aggressive stopping power when called upon and not being too sensitive that puts your passengers through the windscreen.

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Technology

The Mustang is a muscle car with brains. Its a rear-wheel drive car with a limited-slip differential which makes sure you don’t loose traction with just one wheel which could leave you facing the wrong direction.

The wheels includes a tyre pressure monitoring system which allows the driver to see and monitor the PSI for each wheel and be alerted of any potential deflation before it becomes an issue that destroys the tyre.

It was a very nice surprise when I pulled up on a hill to find the Mustang was smart enough to stop itself from rolling back. Hill-start is becoming more common and definitely a nice inclusion here.

There’s also a reversing camera that provides great level visual detail on the distance you’re away from objects behind you. The center display shows a wide view of the environment you’re reversing into, your garage, a carpark or just watching out for small children, this is a great asset of the car, particularly because visibility out the back isn’t fantastic. As you get closer sensors display yellow, orange and then red directional information, as well as audible tones that will help you avoid impacts.

Electric Power Assisted Steering (EPAS), this means the wheel can have different weights and responsiveness. There’s three power-assisted settings to choose from, comfort, sport and normal. Normal and comfort modes are great for highway driving as it gives the wheel more play before converting your input into altering the direction. EPAS also helps in the event you hit a pot hole that would normally snap the steering, while this system works to compensate for such an event. If you’re in Sport+ driving mode, then you get switched to Sport steering mode automatically, but can override it. Sport steering is definitely heavier and more taxing on your arms, but provides a 1:1 feeling between driver, car and the road.

When you’re driving a car with this much torque, its important there’s some electronic assistance to help you make the most of it. If your powering through tight bends, DSC and TCS work together to adapt to changing road conditions and make sure your inputs get you in and out of turns efficiently while reducing the chances of skidding, sliding sideways and over- and under-steering in corners.

In terms of stopping the pony, naturally the Mustang is equipped with ABS, but also with Electronic Brake Force Distribution (EBD) which balances the brake pressure between the front and rear wheels to optimise the stopping power without locking wheels.

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Tyres

The Mustang is rolling on some serious boots, the Pirelli P-zero 255/40/19 up front and 275/40/19 at the back. The rims of the review model are the optioned 19″ Lustre Nickle Finish alloys which will cost an additional $500. At the front they’re 19×9″ and 19×9.5″ at the back, giving you a little bit more rubber to apply that power to the road.

These premium tyres perform exceptionally well and at times the car feels on rails when hooking into the windy stuff, at around $470 per tyre, you’d hope they’d be good and they are. Of course the traction you feel through the tyres is electronically assisted by traction control, unless you find yourself at a track and disable it. The way the car behaves is dramatically effected by the drive mode you’re in and if you’re after performance on public roads, then Sport+ is where you’ll want to be. If you want to make the rubber last you’ll need to resist the urge to mash on the loud pedal – that’s tough.

A word of warning, if you wash the car, or its been raining, you need to be very conscious of the fact your adhesion to the road has been severely compromised. Take it easy, respect the power and make sure you watch out for cambered corners like the edges of roundabouts.

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Fuel economy

With this much power, its natural people start to question the fuel burn. On a long highway drive from Sydney to Albury, it was a delight to continually see the fuel usage drop, like the engine was learning from past behaviour. It started above 10 when I picked up the car, but slowly hour by hour, continued to drop until it reached a staggering 8.8L/100km. The official numbers range from 8.5 to 13.1, but to achieve 8.8 in a car with this level of performance really was fantastic.

After some further testing around town the number slowly climbed back up and with mixed, sometimes sporty driving, the fuel number sits around 10.5L/100km. Thankfully fuel is cheap right now, so Mustang owners can enjoy it while it lasts.

This car can take E10 fuel, but please don’t buy this car and do that to it. 95 or 98 RON will certainly yield the best performance numbers if that’s your focus. When you do go fill up, you’ll find no fuel cap, the Mustang has an Easy Fuel, capless Fuel Filler system. There’s no button lever or unnecessary complexity when it comes to opening the cap, just tap cover and it opens, this is a touch of simplicity that’s appreciated, a simplicity I wish was extended to the knobs and dials in the cockpit.

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That Sound

The exhaust note from this car is spectacular. While the cabin noise is generally pretty low from ambient outside noise (depends on road surface) conversations are had without problem. However if you push hard on the right pedal, its clear a lot of attention has been paid to piping the right amount of sound from both the engine and the exhaust note into the cabin. It is simply infectious and addictive and will absolutely something you’ll want to repeat over and over again. After 30 hours and more than 2,000km with the Mustang, the noise that comes from it, is still as fantastic as the first time I heard it.

At idle the V8 Mustang rumbles softly but its under acceleration the distinct, Mustang comes alive and its real voice is heard. This addiction to repeating the V8 roar, will undoubtedly lead to many speeding fines with this car. Its effortless to go faster than you think, so you’ll need to pay close attention to the analog speedo.

If pedestrians don’t see the car, they’ll certainly hear it coming and I’ve experience plenty of head turns, double takes and even thumbs ups since I got behind the wheel. Probably the most impressive part is that these nods of approval come from all, even people driving cars from other manufacturers, recognise this is something special.

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Drive modes (Normal, Sport+, Track, Snow/wet)

The choice of an Automatic or Manual transmission is usually a tough one, but in this case, the Automatic is certainly the way to go. The reason I can be so decisive about this is because Ford engineers have got this gearbox right. In normal drive mode, the shifts are clean and fast. Under acceleration, shifts are certainly noticeable, but are surprisingly mild and the way gears hold on to allow the revs to get higher before shifting, speaks to how Ford understand what drivers want from a car like this. Drivers want performance when they put their foot down, not perfect RPM shift to optimise fuel economy.

These shift points change when switching between different drive modes and if you’re ever unhappy, just shift from D to S in the box. This allows you to use the paddle shifts on the wheel to choose for yourself when the shifts occur. Gone are the lengthy delays often experienced with a paddle shift and a gearbox execution of that request, now replaced with snappy shifts that connect like a high-end sports car. There are some software smarts in the box that will make sure to shift on your behalf if you forget, a much better alternative than nuking the transmission.

So with the flexibility of a good automatic and an option to take more manual controls if you need, the prospect of an all manual box is not one I’d go for. Inevitably you will hit traffic, especially if you live in the city, these means thousands of gearshift don’t become an empowering experience, but a cumbersome burden on the driver.

TrackApps

Track apps

Being a car designed to be driven, this car ships with ‘Track apps’ available from the steering wheel controls and appears on the driver’s display. There’s acceleration and braking tests and my personal favourite is the 0-100km speed test that includes a launch countdown with a light sequence that resembles that found at the starting line of a drag race. Assuming you run the test, you’re results are saved and then you have a benchmark.

From this, you can make modifications to your car and re-run the test to track progress and justify your investment. This is a feature I’ve not seen in other factory shipped cars and a great inclusion for enthusiasts.

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Design & features

The Mustang is distinctive, a car that is easily recognizable at speed or at a distance and if you need a boost to your ego, the Mustang will deliver. While this car has considered aerodynamics, evidenced by the vent in the front bar that directs airflow and reduces drag, there are sharp edges with the Mustang.

If the highest priority in design of this car was absolute fuel efficiency, then we’d see a lot more curves and the car would absolutely loose that muscle feel. It is a fine dance designers need to make and the Mustang maintains an aggressive stance while not diminishing the returns of the performance under the hood.

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Externally

The Mustang has big hips and you’ll see that the moment you sit in the driver’s seat and glance sideways into your mirrors. It’s also impossible to ignore the two massive feature lines in the hood that run down the sides of that big V8 engine. At first, they’re almost overwhelming, but after a few days, you’ll fall in love with the big muscular feel they give the car.

Unlike other Ford vehicles, you won’t find the blue oval anywhere, this car is branded with the Pony logo in the front grill and at night, the mirrors project a Mustang logo onto the ground for convenience lighting.

Of course we have to talk about the throwbacks to the retro tail lights of the Mustangs of old. The Ford designers absolutely nailed it here, finding the perfect blend between leveraging an old design cue, and making it feel modern. The clear angled lights are illuminated by LED brake and indicator lights and just look the business.

When you look at the photos in this review, you’re looking at Race Red which is a gorgeous colour, however there are alternatives, the Mustang is also available in Ingot Silver, Magnetic, Oxford White, Ruby Red, Shadow Black and Triple Yellow.

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Internally

The Mustang definitely looks inviting when you open the door. When you sit behind the wheel, you’ll immediately notice just how much is going on. There’s a overwhelming amount of knobs, dials, switches and options.

While the likes of Tesla have moved to a large touchscreen to contain an infinite number of user configurations, Ford continually say their market research points to drivers still wanting physical knobs and dials. Personally I’d much prefer a cleaner look in the interior providing access to just the essentials on the steering wheel.

In reality most of the almost 50 options in front of the driver are used occasionally. Its for this reason they don’t need to be available all the time and if the voice control was better, you’d be able to configure these on-demand.

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Knobs & Dials

There’s a lot of interior design cues from aircraft with the circular air vents to the drive mode, steering mode airplane-style toggle switches. The brushed silver running horizontally adds a premium feel to the black found in the rest of the dash. There’s touches of silver like the tune and volume stereo knobs, but the array of audio controls, combined with climate controls aren’t intuitive to use and actually take days to get your head around, rather than seconds.

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Steering wheel

The steering wheel is fantastic to drive with, the leather wrapped wheel allowing fine input when taking corners at speed. The paddle shifts are perfectly positioned and feel very connected with the gearbox. In terms of the Cruise controls and Sync controls, they look less like an integrated control surface that’s part of the wheel and more like a 3rd party attachment that’s been mounted to the wheel. This could be improved in future releases, but for the most part the wheel is the right size in diameter, but most importantly feels great in the hand, with your fingers allowed to wrap confidently around the back of the wheel. This makes even lengthy driving sessions achievable. There are still too many stalks and options going on, especially considering the automatic headlights are dealt with a dial on the right, it feels like the auto wipers could have had the same treatment, perhaps only left there for tradition.

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Seats

The leather stitched seats not only look great, but perform great too. They hold you in around the tight corners and let you focus on hitting the apex, rather than sliding around. They come with 6-way electronic adjustments and you’ll need that to find the perfect position. I’m 6’3 and being tall, I certainly appreciated being able to lower the seat height (front and rear) to provide more head room and a better view out the windscreen. There’s at least an inch and half height adjustment available, making it great for different sized drivers. Both the driver and passenger seats feature 3 levels of heating and cooling, the cooling working a treat to keep you cool during a session of spirited driving. I must hold my breath or at least breath less as my body temperature almost always goes up, with the seat cooling on, I never sweated and got out of the drive fresher. This may have been around for a while in more expensive vehicles, but in the Mustang, I absolutely love it.

Automatic lights and wipers

After picking up the Mustang, I spent a few days experimenting and learning the different features and when I found my way to auto modes, it was set and forget. With this technology, there really isn’t a need to manually adjust windscreen wipers or headlights, just let the sensors do the work and the functions come on when needed. It may not sound like much, but not having to think about basic functions like this, allows for more of your attention to be on the road. I just wish there was adaptive cruise control to really make longer drives in traffic easier.

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Personalised lighting scheme

Driving the Mustang at night is a very different experience to the daytime for one simple reason – it feels like yours. The indirect cabin lighting is user-configurable and allows drivers to choose their favourite colour. There’s a list of preset colours, but you can also choose the individual RGB values to perfect it. With a colour selected (only changeable at night) change the lights behind the Speedo dials, in the foot wells, the door handles, the cup holders and even the back-lighting for the word Mustang on the door sill. If only we could change the exterior colour this easily.

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Infotainment

Despite having announced Sync 3, the 2016 Mustang ships to Australia with Sync 2 which is quite frankly a massive let down. Sync 2 was great for its day, but the platform was released in January of 2008 and the world has moved on since then. Back in December of 2014, Ford announced they would switch from the Microsoft-based Sync to the Blackberry QNX based Sync 3. For a car to ship in 2016 without Sync 3 is all kinds of ridiculous. In the US, there is a premium version of the Mustang where you can get Sync 3, but this absolutely needs to be standard across the range, not just the mustang range, but the whole Ford line.

In January this year, Ford also confirmed they would support Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, giving drivers the ability to take over the 8″ touchscreen with their phone’s car mode. This should be an over the air software update available to all owners, but sadly isn’t. Right now there’s no more precise timeline available than ‘coming this year’ for when drivers can expect it.

That said lets take a look at Sync 2, as that’s what Aussie Mustang owners are getting. The system is largely built around a 4 corner control scheme. Top left is dedicated to phone connectivity, top right is navigation, bottom left is entertainment (read radio) and bottom right is climate control.

Most of the time sitting on the home screen, allows visibility of all 4, but tapping on any quadrant will fill the screen with the selection function. When taking a trip to an unknown destination, I found the navigation particularly useful, it has some great customisations like a split screen view that displays a map on the left with a list of upcoming turns on the right. You zoom the map to a scale that suits your needs and the km and time to destination is particularly helpful. Its also possible to add weigh points to your journey, all features that are expected at this point, but great to see included.

Returning to the home screen presents a unfortunate challenge, as the screen is recessed in the dash, the home button sits awkwardly at the button-center of the display, making it harder than it should be to access a common function.

The other massive element of Sync is the voice integration. The goal here is to press a button on the steering wheel to engage sync, then feed it commands to keep your eyes on the road and hands on the wheel. My tip here is to learn what you can say, then switch to the advanced mode. In advanced mode, you don’t need to wait for instructions to complete, just feed it commands. At times this works great for common functions like tuning the radio to a different frequency. However other times like setting a navigation destination is a disaster.

Remember my benchmark for voice control comes from what we experience with the voice assistants on our phone. With Google Now, Siri or Cortana, you can simply say “Navigate to Sydney” and the path from your current location to the destination is set. With Sync, you can’t simply define a town or city in a single command, you can do it, but its multiple steps to achieve. If you know an actual address, things get easier.

Sync 2 is dated and a graphic demonstration of the rapid pace of development in the smartphone market that auto makers simply can’t keep up with. This makes the decision to support Android Auto and CarPlay absolutely the right path forward. If its as easy as double tapping the voice button on the steering wheel to activate the phone’s voice assistant, the users will finally get closer to the dream of just getting on with driving.

As a connected person who loves driving, my issue has always been the challenge of getting out of the car and having a to-do-list of social media, emails, etc to deal with, after essentially being offline while behind the wheel. While Sync 2 allows you to have SMS messages read to you, I couldn’t reply by voice. This is also little help when most of us have moved to new messaging systems like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Viber, Line, Skype etc.

Another important component of an infotainment system is the audio output which will come from AM/FM Radio, Digital Audio Broadcast, content from a USB drive, SD card, line-in or Bluetooth. The Mustang features a 9 Speaker Sound System with an Amplifier which is branded under Ford’s pretty unknown Shaker brand. After a lot of experimentation with the EQ and positioning of the audio the audio from the speakers is fine, but not amazing. They get the job done, but any audio that comes from the speakers really only impede that gorgeous sound from the engine.

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Issues

As good as the Mustang is, its certainly not the perfect car. During my time with the Mustang I was frustrated by a some of the decisions of resolutions to necessary compromises that Ford have made.

While a lot of driver preferences are remembers, the ones that aren’t are importantly annoying. One example of this is the drive mode setting that resets every time the car is turned off. This may have been decided for safety, assuming a different driver gets in, the Normal drive mode is restored. But in reality, the owner will drive this one day, then the next and if you prefer to live in Sport+ you can’t. Another annoying setting that gets forgotten is the seat heating/cooling setting. A fantastic inclusion, but if I turn the car off and get fuel, get back in and keep driving, the seat preference should be remembered.

It’s really cute that Ford call this a four-seater car, in reality, its not. The Mustang is a two-seater with room for a couple of bags. The mounts for kid seats are kind of laughable and seems like the kind fo thing a husband would use to convince a wife to let him buy the Mustang “Its a family car honey”. The leg room for rear passengers basically doesn’t exist and even if you have young kids, there’s such a small window of a few years where they’d fit. This is also made worse by how long it takes to move the seat forward to allow entry and exit. Ford kept the manual level to adjust the seatback for this very reason, but often you’ll need to move the whole seat forward and the electric adjustment forward and back is incredibly slow. The way the roof line curves down on the Fastback, also means your rear occupants can’t be too tall or their heads will hit the rear window.

For the most part, the Mustang’s handling is an absolute success. The only caveat I’d make to that is the experience of taking cambered corners at slow speed, like that of a round about, requires very little acceleration to upset the rear. Get the amount of throttle input wrong and you may find yourself with a handful of car.

One of the nice touches of the Mustang’s design is the indicators, unfortunately the Aussie version doesn’t do the rolling animation when your turn indicators are on.

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Price & Availability

The 2016 Ford Mustang costs different amounts in different states, with Drive away price starting at A$50,229.

Our review model was the 5.0L V8 Fastback model which in costs A$64,775 in postcode 3000 (Melbourne) or A$65,778 in postcode 2000 (Sydney) with the 6-speed auto making up $A2,576 of that cost. Race Red is included in the price, but if you choose some of colours, you may be up for an additional $500 and there’s also a slew of accessories both externally and internally available.

Now lets talk about availability. Because the Mustang is such a success, you can’t get one anytime soon. As Australia competes with global markets for each one that comes off the assembly line, the wait for new purchasers is at least December and increasingly constantly as sales continue to boom. Given 6,000 have already been sold and we’re only at the end of March, there is a scenario that could see Ford sell more Mustangs this year than Falcons. Considering the price and seats, that’s ridiculous.

Ford have a smash hit on their hands and as a car company, that’s a great problem to have, but figuring out how they can make more RHD Mustangs faster will ensure they can capitalise on that demand and those dollars don’t go elsewhere.

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Overall

The Mustang is a massive success in both engineering and consumer demand. The performance, economy, sound and driver comfort are all stand out successes. Each of these elements are achieved thanks to intelligent technologies that you’ll never see, but make the car what it is to drive. A real driver’s car, the Mustang will make you and your passenger smile like a kid at Christmas.

There’s something incredibly visceral about driving the Mustang at full beans, its part confidence in the rubber connecting you to the road with confidence and knowing that this Pony is ready to bolt at any time when you call on it.

For the performance, enjoyment and price of this car, it represents great value for money, but that’s only fully realised with the work of the designers that have made the car stand out in one of the most crowded auto markets in the world.

If you have the want for a car that loves being driven hard and the means to make it happen, you can’t go wrong with the Mustang as a purchase, just make sure you treat it with respect, or it’ll bite you.

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8.8
2016 Ford Mustang 5.0L V8
The Good
  • Looks
  • Performance
  • Sound
  • Economy
  • Price
The Bad
  • Sync 2
  • Doesn't remember some driver settings
  • Lack of leg space for rear passengers
  • Few customisation options
  • Design
    9
  • Performance
    9
  • Value for money
    8.5
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