Wow! This has been a long time coming. I’ve always loved the Mustang, but with the steering wheel on the wrong side of the car and the infamous American build quality there was never a Mustang that I would actually want to own. But what about the new right-hand drive S550, will that change my mind…?
Well, in short, yes! Yes it has! It actually wins you over long before you get anywhere near the driver’s seat too. Just looking at the new Mustang makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end – that long sculptured bonnet, those wide hips, and those fat rear tyres are just intimidating. Couple these to the evocative details such as the three bar lights, the iconic pony on the grille, and, most importantly, the ‘GT’ and ‘5.0’ badges, and you know you’re in for a treat!
Yes, that’s right – this is the range-topping GT version, complete with whopping 5.0-litre, 435bhp V8 engine. Fire it up and the huge motor roars like a muscle car should. But inside the cabin it’s actually nice and quiet. In fact, inside the new Mustang things are all familiarly European. And that’s a good thing, trust me. Having driven a few early US imports, I can report that difference in the interior is like night and day. The UK cars feature the touchscreen Sync2 system, have solid-feeling retro-style toggle switches, a much nicer dash layout, and generally have a more quality feel to the interior. In comparison, the US versions I have driven feel quite cheap and tacky, but this I like.
On first opening the door things may look cramped, but due to the sleek design of the Mustang the interior is deceivingly spacious. There is plenty of legroom (even for a great lump like me) disappearing under the dash, the transmission tunnel provides a comfortable armrest and easy access to the short-throw gear shifter, and all of the controls are within easy reach of the driver. It’s actually very comfortable in here – much more so than the Mk3 Focus RS – and I can imagine the miles just fly by in one of these! But this does come at a price – practicality. They sell the Mustang as a ‘two plus two’, when in reality anyone over the age of 11 will struggle to fit in the back – I most certainly can’t as the photographer proved!
But what’s it like to drive? Well, that depends how you drive it! Pottering around town it feels and solid, robust, and almost industrial like. There is so much unstressed power and torque available from idle that you can actually pull away and cruise at town speeds without even having to touch the throttle! It’s the polar opposite to a tuned turbocharged engine that needs winding up before it makes any meaningful power, in this the power is just always there.
But when you do start to wind it up things really come alive! It’s very old-school in its power delivery. Things are all very linear and smooth, but there comes a point in the rev range where the amount of torque the engine produces clearly overcomes the levels of grip available – especially when driving on diesel-covered roads around Dagenham in the pouring rain! At this point it’s like someone flicks a switch to engage ‘chaos mode’! The rear tyres light up, the little yellow traction control warning light on the dash starts flashing at you, and the only thing keeping you from ending up in a ditch is the ECU deciding you can’t handle this much power!
The more I drive the car, and the more used I get to its savage power delivery, the braver I become. Brave enough, in fact, to turn off the traction control – which, incidentally is done by flicking a man-size toggle switch, not pressing and holding a little plastic button for 5 seconds! Now, with no electronics hampering your progress, you can have some real fun! When you hit that point in the rev range where the torque overcomes the rear tyres you now have full control of your destiny. You need to modulate the throttle input, and need to be quick with the steering controls to avoid facing the wrong direction, but get it right and there is nothing quite so rewarding as a long, smoky, burnout / drift in a V8-powered muscle car!
Unfortunately, with the unpredictable weather, the ridiculously slippy roads in and around Dagenham, most of the Metropolitan Police force parked up in a nearby layby on the A13, and Ford’s big wigs watching my every move, I daren’t push my luck too far so I was restricted to a few ‘out of sight’ sideways moments. It also meant that I didn’t get chance to test out the famous linelock function for myself either, but there’s always next time.
My fairly short time behind the wheel did leave a lasting impression though. The S550 Mustang is refreshingly old fashioned, and that is undoubtedly a huge part of its appeal. If you are not on your game, it will bite! Make no mistake. I fully expect plenty of V8 Mustangs to see the wrong side of a hedge or two over the next few years, not because it is a bad car (it’s by far the best handling Mustang there has ever been!) but simply because us Brits aren’t used to this type of power. We’re used to being able to jump in a new car and floor it everywhere. The Mk3 Focus, for example, is brimming with technology that has the ability to make an amateur driver look like a hero behind the wheel. The Mustang, on the other hand, will simply make an amateur driver look like an amateur.
For many, this may be a black mark against the Mustang. But I suspect for most of you reading this it’s in fact quite the opposite! Yes, the Mustang can be a sedate, comfortable, motorway cruiser, but if that’s all you want then go and buy a diesel Mondeo! If, however, you want something that can do the day-to-day stuff well, but can also become a tyre-shredding, V8-roaring, grin-inducing, smoke machine when the mood takes, then the Mustang is the car for you!
I like the V8 Mustang so much I’ve already got it penciled in as my next move once I let go of the Focus RS. Unless I win the lottery this weekend, in which case I’ll have one on my drive alongside the RS tomorrow!
5.0-litre Ti-VCT V8, 435bhp & 6500rpm, 400lb.ft @ 4250rpm, 6-speed manual, independent rear suspension, double ball-joint MacPherson struts, electronic stability control, Sync2 system, leather interior.
Price: from £35,745