THE RIGHT-HAND-DRIVE Ford Mustang has been on sale in Britain for a little while now, but I’m still always a bit surprised when I see one bumbling down the street. However, I’m even more surprised when I don’t.
Every day, thousands of people take delivery of a new BMW or Audi or what have you, and I don’t doubt they’re very pleased. But the fact is that for a great deal less money they could have driven away in a Mustang. The American icon. Steve McQueen with numberplates.
The figures are remarkable because the Mustang costs less than two-thirds of what BMW charges for an M4. And it’s not like the Ford is equipped like a cave. It has rain-sensing this and dark-sensing that and electric everything and a system that lets you spin the rear wheels and make smoke while the front brakes are locked. And spin they will, because under the bonnet is a big, American 5-litre V8. It’s not the most sophisticated engine; often it feels as though it’s made from rock and powered by gravel, but it delivers the goods well enough.
When you drive the Mustang, you are left scratching your head and wondering: what’s going on here? Is BMW being a profiteering bastard, or is Ford paying its workers in beads? Because how can it possibly sell a 5-litre sports coupé for £36,000 when Jaguar — as another example — charges £90,000 for almost exactly the same thing?
Well, now we have the answer. Europe’s independent safety testing body recently gave the Mustang a two-star rating out of five, the lowest rating for any mainstream car it’s tested for nearly 10 years.
It found that people in the rear would slide under their seatbelts in a frontal impact, that the airbags inflated insufficiently and that it lacked the sort of sophisticated braking system fitted to even the Fiesta these days. What’s more, it noted that safety equipment available to American customers is not offered on this side of the pond. That, then, is why the all-singing, all-dancing, bells-and-whistles V8 Mustang costs so much less than any rival: it’s just not as safe. So I guess you got to ask yourself one question, punk. What do you want? A system that lets you do burnouts at the lights? Or a head?
On the face of it, the answer is simple. You want a head. You want the safest car you can buy. But do you?
I smoke and drink and jaywalk. I try to mend electrical equipment myself. I jump off cliffs without testing the depth of the water. I fire firework rockets horizontally across lakes, and at work I put myself in tricky spots to get a laugh out of the audience.
And I’m not unusual. Kids go to all sorts of stupid places on their gap years and do all sorts of stupid things. YouTube is full of people falling over on ski slopes and tripping over next to swimming pools. And have you met anyone who says, “No, let’s not build a swing over that river. Let’s go to the library instead because it’s safer”?
“Yes, it’s not going to look after you very well if you crash into a tree. So here’s an idea. Don’t crash into a tree”
Coming back to cars, the Ferrari F40 is not even on nodding terms with the concept of safety. It doesn’t have antilock braking or airbags. And it was designed at a time when any sort of accident was simply the starting point for your journey through the Pearly Gates. So obviously you’d rather have a Volvo V70. Except of course you wouldn’t.
Which brings me back to the Mustang. Yes, it’s not going to look after you very well if you crash into a tree. So here’s an idea. Don’t crash into a tree.
There are two ways this could be achieved with the Mustang. Either you could concentrate the mind by replacing its airbag with an enormous spike, or you could buy the version I’ve been testing.
It’s the £35,845 Mustang EcoBoost convertible, so called because, instead of a stone-age V8, it has a bang-up-to-date 2.3-litre turbocharged four-pot. Yes, that’s right. A four-cylinder Ford Focus engine … in a Mustang.
The figures aren’t as bad as you might expect. There are 313 horsepowers, for instance, and 319 torques. This means a top speed of 145mph and reasonably brisk acceleration. But not so brisk that you risk finding out first-hand what a two-star safety rating actually means.
What’s more, you get a rear-view camera as standard, dual-zone air-conditioning, the burnout facility, keyless entry, DAB radio, USB and Bluetooth connectivity, selectable driving modes and every other whizz-bang you can think of, all for £35,845. Or £3,500 less than that if you go for the coupé.
To drive, it feels like a Mustang. Obviously, you don’t have the Steve McQueen offbeat burble, but, if I’m honest, you don’t really get that in the V8 either. You do get, however, a deep bassy engine sound that suits the car well.
You also get several acres of bodywork. In America this is fine, but here, especially in a city, it can be annoying. Especially as the turning circle is woeful. After a short while, you start to look enviously at bus drivers as they zip about in their far more manoeuvrable vehicles.
But then you get out of the city and the Mustang does what it does best. It lopes along, eating up the miles without any fuss. And,of course, because there are only four cylinders, you should do twice as many miles to the gallon as you would had you gone for the V8.
Best of all, though, are the admiring glances. People like Mustangs. They smile at you and let you out of junctions. And that’s because we all know that behind the shouty noises, and bigness, it’s a gentle giant. A pussycat that thinks it’s a wild horse.
It really isn’t an out-and-out racer. It leans and it wobbles and it gets awfully wayward if you ask it to behave like a Porsche. But minding this is like buying a burger and then minding that it’s not a quail’s egg dipped in a pinch of celery salt. If you want a quail’s egg, you’ll need to spend twice as much.
The only real problem, as far as I can tell, is that while there’s not much in the way of exterior badging to say this is a 2.3-litre car, you always know. And a Mustang without a V8 is like a chicken korma. Yes, it’s less likely to crash, and, yes, it’s cheaper and more economical, which means it’s the more sensible option. But who buys a Mustang to be sensible? It’s a fun car, so you absolutely have to have it with the most fun engine.
Head to head: Ford Mustang v BMW 4-series
|Ford Mustang Convertible 2.3 EcoBoost
|BMW 420i M Sport cabriolet
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