Under pale white light it sat. The yellow lines etched across the slippery concrete floor barely enough to contain its near 2.0 meter width. At 4.78 meters long – the nose juts out from the parking lot, revealing the soft curves of the wheel arches that draw down towards sleek, menacing looking headlamps.
Round the flanks, a sharp blade skirts between the jet black 19-inch aluminum alloys spread across a 2.72 meter wheelbase; taut contour lines along the doors seemingly compress the height of the body – cutting a low and imposing stance. The trademark fastback roofline gracefully slides its way towards a kink in the boot lid. The rear is finished off with the retrospective ‘tri-bar’ tail lamps – flanking the unmistakeable galloping horse logo.
There are cars and then there are legends. Most monikers will come and go – but some, like that of the galloping horse, rewrite the course of history.
Some cars may draw prestige from motorsport’s sphere, others, for pure beauty and obscurity – but the Mustang - simply masters the art of ‘Cool’.
Rarely is an automobile so intertwined and representative of the culture and romance of its era and origins. The swinging sixties in America brought about the baby-boomer generation, a blossoming economy, low fuel prices and a growing number of the workforce, aged under 25, which ached for a stylish means of transportation.
The father of the Mustang – Lee Iacocca, probably put it best, “It was a market in search of car, and not the other way around.”
The night before the Mustang's debut all major TV networks aired commercials like the one above simultaneously. The next day, 2,600 newspapers carried advertisements in what must have been the most comprehensive barrage of marketing ever done for any car. On April 17th 1964, the first Ford Mustang made its debut at the New York World’s Fair.
Newsweek and Times magazine both ran cover stories on the Mustang – with Times going on to call it a Ferrari for the masses. The Mustang became an overnight phenomenon, 400 thousand units flew out Ford showrooms in the first four months alone - and the rest as they say, is history.
Fast forward 52 years and Ford’s Global ‘DNA’ roadmap now means the sixth generation Mustang, which debuted in December 2015, can now offer its flavor of Americana to the rest of the world.
But, much of the success of the original Mustang, the ‘1964 ½’ as purists call it – was attributed to its cheap and attainable pricing – just USD2,368 at entry level. Our locally offered Mustang is quite the opposite for a large majority of the buying public.
Perhaps it not even a Ferrari for the Malaysian masses anymore – there lower priced deals for Ferraris here.
Which ultimately beckons the question – is a Mustang, still a Mustang, when it breaks its own tradition of offering cheap and stylish motoring with power to boot?
And, in the case of the entry-level 2.3-litre EcoBoost we have here – is it still a Mustang when it does without a hairy-chested V8 engine, so synonymous with the pony-car legend, bucking and roaring under the hood?
The reality of today means that efficiency is key – and the only way for a legend to survive is to adapt. Ford’s EcoBoost range of three, four and V6 engines, admittedly have a growing legacy of its own – having garnered numerous industry accolades since first introduced in 2009.
And, entry-level it may be, but the little 2.3-litre engine outputs more horsepower than the 1969 5.0-litre Mustang Boss 302 poster child.
On the open road
Granted, it’s not slow by any measure – but the 2.3 EcoBoost's performance isn’t going to blow your socks off either. Perhaps because downsized turbocharging has given us pseudo grocery-getters like the Golf R pumping nigh on 280 PS, 317 PS on paper at least, for an iconic ‘muscle’ car perhaps won’t raise too many eyebrows.
But it isn’t without intent though – funneling upwards of 1.2bar of boost pressure through high-flow cylinder heads creates quite a riot when the rev needle reads peak torque. There’s not much grunt below 3,000rpm, thereafter, the full fury of 432Nm is delivered with a substantial shove –offering up a rather flat torque curve towards the red line. The engine revs pretty cleanly too, peak power happens at 5,500rpm and keeps on going till 6,400rpm before the boost pressure starts to taper off.
The six-speed automatic features Ford characteristic ‘long-legged’ gearing – granting this car some delectable Grand Touring ability. Fourth gear alone will take you past 180km/h and the car will pull diligently pass the 200km/h mark – but more often than not, you’d run out of road by then.
Upshifts and downshifts are despatched with vigor, compared to my first experience with Ford’s SelectShift six-speed auto (in the Ford Focus 1.5-litre EcoBoost), there is noticeably less delay when cycling through the ratios. The Malaysian market Mustang EcoBoost is also supplied with a 3.55 ratio (versus a 3.15 in other markets) limited slip rear differential – which quickens responses when accelerating.
Cycling through the four drive modes - Normal, Sport +, Track and Snow/Wet, sharpens the proprietary responses of the engine, transmission, suspension and throttle maps, thereby allowing further extraction of the car’s potential.
‘Sport +’ hits the sweet spot in my opinion, the engine and transmission gels into a cohesive unit – engaging on the large sweeping corners and deadly during overtaking when accompanied by a flick or two of the paddle shifters.
Steering, largely being a Ford forte – is superb. Both in weightage and response – it excels to allows one to place the car right along the apex of a corner, and handy too when trying weave into a parking space. Feedback from the Electronic Power Steering is present, albeit slightly muted, but it’s no deal breaker if you ask me.
The suspension specifications, for the first time – reads like a true sports car. The sixth-generation Mustang is the first ever model supplied with an independent rear suspension – replete with integral-link and stabilizer bars. Double ball joint MacPherson struts with stabilizer bars accompany the front and the combo serves up a very good mix of composure and sharp response, great for Malaysia’s crater –filled roads.
Push it hard through sharper corners and the car’s natural tendency to understeer will become prevalent. More enthusiastic drivers or track day junkies may consider it soft, but, for the most part, craftily manages the power and relative heft of the car.
Being the first right-hand drive Mustang, one would have to agree Ford have done a great job on the interior. There is ample head and shoulder room, all-round visibility is good – granted the front hood is huge, but after some time in the car, it’s rather easy to understand its wide footprint on the road.
The seating position is superb, both low and snug within the cabin with common touch points such as the steering wheel, door panels, and seats – decked out with nicely textured leather. I don’t quite like the hard plastics along the center console, and the floating metallic trim which runs the length of the dashboard doesn’t feel as tactile when compared to other premium competitors.
The Ford Sync 2 infotainment system’s familiar squabbles remain – while being very talented and well equipped, requires a rather hard prod on the screen when selecting functions and requires a bit of practice to be fully proficient with.
The first ‘global’ Mustang features a talented mix of superb engineering and mouth-watering design – but once you factor in the price, making a case for it does become a tad harder.
Especially, when you consider the price tag which also buys you well-established German rivals such as the (W205) Mercedes-Benz C-Class and the (F32) BMW 4 Series coupes, not to mention, the upcoming, latest-and-greatest Porsche 718 Cayman.
In my opinion, that’s totally missing the point. Yes, the competitors have massive appeal, are considerably better to drive and will promise a fulfilling ownership experience nonetheless, but, none can match the Mustang’s penchant for sheer drama and character.
At one point during my drive, I pulled up next a bus packed with primary school students, to my amazement – every boy and girl (even the bus driver) scrambled to stick their heads the side, just to get a glimpse of this Oxford White beauty that had pulled up alongside. I offered up a sharp prod of the throttle, it may not be the V8, but the raspy crackle and pops of the exhaust are melodic nonetheless.
That summed up the appeal of the all-new Mustang, in my opinion, it’s more than just a car – it breaks the monotony of ‘keeping up with the joneses’, stirs the senses and excites the young and old alike. Granted, the roaring bellow of a V8 engine has been swapped out for mainstream efficiency, but the ‘Stang flirts with emotions in a way, other cars rarely do – isn’t that what a sports car is all about anyway?