There ain’t a bigger sportscar nameplate; there ain’t a bigger sportscar obsession, so where better to reveal the new Ford Mustang than in the heart of downtown Detroit, Michigan? We were there to witness it. Complete madness I tell ya!
Let’s dial back a little…the year is 1964 and Ford exec Lido Anthony "Lee" Iacocca has just signed off a document authorising expenditure to produce a new coupe car for Ford Motor Company. At this stage, the company hasn’t even settled on a name for the new product, still shaking the hat with the names Ford Cougar, Thunderbird II or Mustang. The said document estimates sales of 75 000 units and the budget is piddly.
Fast forward just 9-months a new Ford Mustang is launched by Henry Ford II with a short rear overhang and long snout and muscular demeanour. The Mustang makes headlines, bursting onto the emerging pop culture scene giving new meaning to popular-at-the-time The Beach Boys’ hit single ‘I Get Around’. Mustang is an immediate winner. Prudent estimates of 75 000 sales turn out to 475 000 by the end of the 1st-generation production run 7 years later. And that car built on a small budget is the realisation of a future icon.
Fast track to 2022 and the Mustang’s storied past is still fascinating. The numbers are insane. Sales? 10-million to date. It is the car that has managed to immerse itself into American culture and then grown with it into an icon of all things that make America what it is. From pop culture to motorsport, Mustang is the car that materialises when you wake up from that American dream.
Ford Motor Company has graciously invited TopGear South Africa to the global reveal of the 7th-generation Mustang in the home of Ford, Detroit Michigan. The reveal takes place just before the start of the North American International Auto Show, popularly known as the Detroit Auto Show. The entire city seems to show up for this event, such is the heaving throng of people that litter the arena in anticipation of the new pony car. The event is a lesson in marketing and customer participation with thousands of Mustang owners in attendance, some of which are part of the pre-reveal build-up, telling their ownership stories to the crowd. It’s clear Mustang is ingrained into culture, family, identity – there are tears and laughter and then, raucous, rapturous applause when the all-new 7th-gen is driven onto the stage under the glittering lights of downtown Detroit. The atmosphere is mega.
The new Mustang with chassis code S650 isn’t actually ‘all-new’ and for some that may come as a disappointment. The base is from the outgoing S550 Mustang which is why the proportions, greenhouse and overall look aren’t all that far removed from what we know. There were murmurings of Ford developing an all-new chassis that would sink EV powertrains into it, but the news is now out – that’s not happening. Yet. Ford has built this new Mustang as a tribute and a show of hand for the company’s vision for ICE products. Ford is continuing to build ICE vehicles for the foreseeable future and this is a strong money-to-mouth statement.
The new Mustang is an evolution of design to meet customer demands. All of the hallmarks of Mustang are presented intact: a lengthy bonnet, a coupé roofline that descends into bulging haunches and a short rear deck. It is edgier at the front and rear with sharper lines yet with broader surfaces on the flanks. There’s a lot more detail to the design now with tri-bar LED taillights and headlights elevating the design. Futurists and purists will be happy. The entire front – bonnet, grille, air intakes are all new with key differentiation between the EcoBoost and the V8.
The engine bill remains similar with two engine choices available. There’s a heavily reworked 2,3L EcoBoost petrol-engine and a revised 5.0L V8. The 2,3-litre sports a new twin-scroll turbocharger and dual-injection system with a slight notch on up on the boost. Notable news on the naturally aspirated Coyote V8 is a new dual throttle body system. There are no official power figures for either of these engines but we expect somewhere around the 350kW mark for the V8 and 255kW for the EcoBoost. As before, the 10-speed auto or six-speed manual transmissions remain.
Keen-eyed and dyed-in-the-wool Mustang traditionalists should be smitten with the new design but, according to Ford, so too should Millenials and Gen-Z’ers. Ford’s latest progressive mantra is that they know exactly who their customers are and what they want. The new Mustang comes out of a process of extensive customer consultation and so its biggest change, to my eye and ear, is in its focus on delivering enjoyment to the driver in more ways than you might imagine.
Alicia Agius, Strategy & Transformation Manager for Enthusiast Products at Ford says, “We spoke to customers all over the world and we learned that perceptions around freedom are changing. We were hearing more and more that freedom is what comes from technology. We wanted to combine the physical freedom you can get from being on the road with that digital freedom that you can get from technology.” That’s the winning combination according to her. So what does that ultimately translate to with the car?
In a phrase - gamification and more driver playfulness. An entertaining drive has always formed part of the Mustang ethos but in 2023, there’s a whole new playing field of driver involvement not least of which is directed from the throttle and steering. A great deal of it comes from an overhauled interior operating concept that idolises customisation and gaming technology.
The all-new cabin architecture merges to fewer focal points now. Physical buttons from before are removed and instead integrated into the two large LED screens in the central stack and the driver’s display. Ford’s team has elevated the graphic interface and UX to a whole new level – one inspired by gaming and quite literally translated into a very game-like experience. Function inputs are rendered in crisp and game-like graphics in real time using the very technology that gaming companies use.
Of course, this lends itself to acute customisation options. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are part of the functionality but they can also extend into the driver’s display, a new version of mirroring your smart device. This is the next step in on-board visualisation that plays to Mustang owner's enjoyment of anything that enhances the owner's engagement. Feeling a little overwhelmed by all of it? Ford has woven in smart new ‘Calm’ displays that remove all of the fluff, leaving you with just one gauge. Feeling a little nostalgic because of all the modernity? Ford has worked in old, classic Mustang gauges backlit in green just like the cars from the sixties.
Apart from the large displays, other notable features are a new flat-bottom wheel, a first for Mustang and some rather interesting looking hand brake below the gear lever.
Pony Party Tricks
The whole car is a party but take note of these two new technologies incorporated into the new Mustang.
Party Trick #1: the new Mustang will come with an electronic drift brake that will make for spectacularly unmitigated tail-happiness and tyre-screeching. What is with this obsession with drifting? We’re kidding – we’re just wondering why they didn’t think of this sooner. The Performance Electronic Parking Brake will be available as part of a Performance Pack and will turn normal, warm-blooded Mustang drivers into hot-blooded hooligans. The Performance pack will include a Limited Slip Differential, engine bracing, active suspension and Brembo brakes with callipers that can be personalised in colours and stripes. Things like line-lock and rev matching on the manual for instance, remain.
Party Trick #2: Remote Rev as the name suggests is a feature that allows you to rev your burbly Mustang while sitting on your camp chair around the braai. Depending on who’s around, it’s a feature that will either cost you your reputation or solidify it.
Personalisation is everything with Mustang and even more so now. From the exterior colour schemes, stripes, wheels, brakes, wings and decal sets to actual performance upgrades, the new Mustang continues the trend. But it also continues into a new interior experience that allows a little more of that.
The new Pony car isn’t as drastic an evolution as initial rumours may have suggested but it remains such an important car for Ford because it is still a ‘proper’ Mustang that pays true homage in design and ethos to every generation that has gone before it. But it’s an important car because it’s a stamp of approval for the continued existence of petrol-powered cars. To quote Jim Farley, CEO of Ford: ``Investing in another generation of Mustang is a big statement at a time when many of our competitors are exiting the business of internal combustion vehicles.”
It is a big statement – and we’re behind V8-engined sportscars all the way. We expect the new Ford Mustang to arrive in Mzansi towards the end of 2023.
Enter the Dark Horse, first of its name
The Dark Horse is a new Mustang-based performance series that is focused on track capabilities. It is the hardcore Mustang, developed on the race track for racing purists. Under the hood is the most powerful 5.0-litre V8 with 368kW coupled to a Tremec six-speed manual. Magne-ride chassis and LSD are but some of the things Ford has done to introduce Dark Horse to the world as the elevated Mustang performance.
It is the base from which Ford has launched a massive racing offensive once again. The introduction of the Mustang Dark Horse will birth the Mustang Dark Horse S and Dark Horse R. The S is a street-legal, stripped out, powered up sportscar that can be enjoyed on the road but with a track focus. The 'R' is a track-only version for customers.
These models form the base of a huge offense of six new racing Mustangs that will compete across the globe. These include the Australian Production Cars champs; GT4 and GT3 championships in Europe and Asia as well as the NHRA Factory X series. As a performance derivative of Ford Mustang, the Dark Horse is the beginning of a full-on onslaught of performance competition but also of customer-oriented performance enhancements and customisations that take factory-backed performance to new levels. But that’s not all.
Ford is going back to Le Mans
As if that wasn't enough, the Executive Chair of Ford Motor Company, William (Bill) Ford, closed the Mustang reveal by announcing that Ford will compete in the 2024 24-Hours of Le Mans with the Dark Horse Mustang. He has laid down the gauntlet once again in search of more honours for the Blue Oval's performance arm.