You have to heap praise on the Ford Mustang, not just the cars that have carved grooves in tarmac across the Americas throughout history – but the brand itself, an all-American everyman car that is the dogma of muscle cars the world over. It’s been made famous across small towns and big cities and snaked its way into the stardom of the silver screen for almost 6 decades.
Of course, this 6th-generation Mustang is now a global export arriving in South Africa in 2015 to much fanfare and tyre smoke. As it has been for decades the recipe is conceptually the same combining an aggressive fastback design with a sonorous and powerful high capacity V8. The current 5.0-litre Pony car (you get a 2,3-litre EcoBoost as well, but the less said about that derivative the better) is all of that, unmistakably Mustang with a knack for turning heads from people both in awe as it bellows past, but also in respectable affirmation as if owners ever needed it. It really is that car though – one that says you’ve made it and that others rally around to cheer you on the fact.
The head turning appeal starts with that fastback design and long aggressive snout. You can’t miss the 4,78m dimensions, the wide snout and the quad exhaust outlets at the rear. That legendary chromed ‘Pony’ emblem sits large on the black grille and contrasting 19-inch black alloys but for me, the coolest design piece of the modern Mustang is those taillamps with 3 large vertical pieces now with LEDs behind them, but straight out of that 60s Mustang GT. It is uber cool, one of the best modern interpretations of a bygone design – quite simple I suppose, but it just works.
In 2019, the mighty Mustang was hailed as the best-selling sportscar in the world, a fact that is corroborated by the strong domestic sales in Mzansi. Recent figures may be skewed by hard economic times but sales in the 100s per month were not too uncommon when things were peachy and then sales in between 50 – 100 units per month even now remain quite normal. The question is why?
Apart from the large pony stuck onto the steering wheel, the cabin is less enticing than you’d imagine. Again, it draws some cues from history but they don’t quite hit home as well as they could. I like the switchgear above the shifter that operates the climate control, emergency lights, traction control, sport and steering weight functions. They’re different to the segment standard. It’s fresh to have real metallic switches but they require a bit of stretch to get to. It’s a fact that remains throughout the cabin really – it’s an odd bin of operation. The latch to push the front seats forward is awkwardly located directly behind and in the middle of the front seat. Reaching the infotainment system and everything central on the dashboard requires a bit of a reach and the handbrake(not e-brake) seems slightly further away than I’d have liked. These are small things yes, but they hint at other oddities in the cabin too such as fit and finish of the carpeting, the door trim, the storage bin in the centre. They look and feel budget capped. Open the bootlid and that continues to a really hard inner bootlining that is flimsy and dull.
Thankfully, Ford hasn’t spared much tech for the Pony car. The Mustang loaded with advanced kit in the areas of driver enjoyment, comfort and safety. The Mustang was heavily criticised for its poor 2-star EuroNCAP rating when it was launched and to improve on that as best they can, Ford updated the ‘Stang with driving assistance and distance alert tech including Adaptive Cruise Control, Pre-Collision Assistance and Pedestrian detection. This latter feature will help improve the poor 32% score the car achieved for pedestrian protection. Since all of this has taken place, the Mustang has not been retested at EuroNCAP.
The tech is sound and works well, but again, some of the buttons on the multi-function steering wheel through which these features are used, are awkwardly designed and odd to engage. I found myself often looking at the button and trying to position my finger correctly despite knowing where the button was.
A good driving position is easily found using all of the electronic seat adjustment, but I found the exterior wing mirror glass didn’t extend inward far enough as I’d like. It's not that I couldn’t see but again, I found it odd that the mirror's inward angle stopped so far short of what I am used to. I had to slightly readjust my driving position to ensure a better view. That said, the seats are supportive enough as they are and the addition of Ford’s SYNC3 infotainment and communication system is never going to be a bad thing. Fitted with CarPlay or the Android equivalent makes life a breeze. Rear seats – there are two rear cutouts for small people only. My two small boys were quick to point out that the rear glass is so large that the rear of the cabin does get much more sun than any experienced rear passengers would be used to.
Cooler tech is found right in front of the driver's perch in a large 12-inch driver’s digital display. It is from here you can do so many things to tailor your Mustang experience. You can pre-programme your own ‘Mode’ from the information display that goes with it to the graphics colour to the driving mode set up. The instrument cluster features exhaust note adjustment, gauge configuration for each mode, G-meters, acceleration and braking timers, line-lock selection and many many more things. There is a lot going on here, but the options are high on the cool list because they all relate to the very one thing that Mustang owners will relish – driving the thing!
This 5.0-litre V8 is brilliant. It is to Mustang what cheese is to Pizza. The V8 growls as it should, roars as it should and goes like Johannesburg thunderstorms. 331 kW and 529 Nm are significant enough to propel the Mustang to 100 km/h from standstill in under 5 seconds according to Ford. At Gauteng altitude I did try to match that, just for my own kicks and only managed a 5.8 second time.
Going fast in a straight line is true of this Mustang as it is of others but it’s how it gathers speed that is insatiably intoxicating. Bury the throttle and it works through those very many gear ratios in a mighty, throaty V8 sound. It’s perfect entertainment and you’ll want to do it time and again.
Introduce the Mustang to a series of corners and it puffs out its chest and does an admirable job of hustling from side to side. The weighty steering feel is good and inspires confidence but the front feels heavy and not very in tune with the driver's inputs. There’s an entertainment factor in the Mustang but it tips the scales at 2-tons plus and therefore its weight and lack of communication can be a little disconcerting. It’s not as tail-happy as you may expect, but if you try hard enough that rear can wriggle loose for some slides.
As you delve deeper into the menus, you’ll locate the drag strip setting, which you can use for launching the car in those sorts of applications. You can also opt for the smoke-inducing line-lock function that locks the front wheels for some tyre-shredding burnouts. All in the name of noisy fun.
For the money, I would suggest you opt for the six-speed manual transmission over this automatic. The auto is good when you’re entirely committed and have your foot planted flat from the get-go. It is all over the place as soon as you are uncertain with your right foot. Say you’re looking for a gap to overtake and decide to half gas it just before you commit to 100% of throttle input – the box will immediately change up, but take some time to decide exactly what gear is best, and I suspect this is because there are just so many of them. The more I drove the Ford Mustang, the more this became an issue.
Owning a Mustang is really about nothing else. Direct, apples for apples competitors are non-existent and there are many sportscars at this price that are built better and do many things in a technically better way. But the Mustang isn’t about that. The Mustang is incredible value for money if it is bought by the right type of owner. You have to understand what Mustang is before parting with that bar – if it’s right for you, then it’s right for you.
Of course, the other Mustang hallmark is that it is the genesis for so many automotive aftermarket tuners that will turn this already entertaining fastback into an even faster, more emotional, more fuel-thirsty monster. Think about what Shelby and Mustang have achieved together, or Roush and a whole lot more who make a Mustang a super Mustang. This 5.0-litre test bed means your ownership experience will never lack any playful friends and curious buyers who appreciate the raw purity of the Mustang GT.
I can’t think of anything in South Africa that will give you this level of thrills at this price, if you’re into this sort of thing. And yes, in order to deliver at this price, Ford has had to skimp here and there – you cool with that? Then Mustang is worth the consideration. The Mustang is sold with a 6yr/90 000km Service Plan and 4yr/120 000km warranty.
Ford has been smart with the Mustang. They've got the design and engine combo spot on. This car still turns heads more than many supercars. Ford has used an engine that has been in circulation for a decade, an auto-box and driving tech that is internally shared across many other products to produce a car on a budget. Then they’ve used 5-decades of brand power and nostalgia to ensure people are drawn to buy it at a price that even customers think is fantastic. So everyone wins, including the petrol station owners and government.
My only strong suggestion is to seriously consider the manual version, or the more powerful Bullitt version(also manual) if you can find one.
Lerato's notes: The Mustang needs very little introduction. South Africans of all ages love it, and you can't help but admire such an iconic status. The GT variant with its 5-point-O-V8 is superb, but the 10-speed automatic gearbox does tend to dilly dally at times. Sure, you can opt for the limited edition Bullitt, which adds more power and is exclusively available with a six-speed manual transmission, but those are few and far between. That said, it is involving for most part, thanks to the sneaky gearbox and that gloriously thunderous V8 burbling under the hood. However, the Bullit is anything but agile as going around corners is simply not its forte, and due care needs to be exercised here. Instead, what it has in its arsenal is a cool factor that is not easily replicated at this pricing point on the new dealer floor. Yes, the build quality is sub par, but the Mustang's charm is something that it has in spades, and that is perhaps enough to resonates so well with the public at large.