IT’S THE car that countless British drivers have lusted after but were never able to buy. Now, after more than 50 years of longing to climb behind the wheel of a Mustang, car enthusiasts can scratch that itch, walk into their nearest Ford dealer and bag themselves the latest “pony car”.
For the first time, Ford is selling the Mustang in Britain, complete with the steering wheel on the right hand side and prices that are nearly as gobsmacking as the countless Hollywood car chases in which the car has appeared.
Two engines and two bodystyles are available. The four-cylinder, 2.3-litre Ecoboost Fastback (which is a cooler way to say “coupé”) boasts 313bhp and costs from £30,495, or £34,495 as a convertible.
However, if you’re in the market for a true American muscle car, there can be only one choice: the 5-litre V8 GT Fastback which, priced from £34,495 (or £38,495 for the soft-top version), is something of a bargain. You get 410bhp, an engine note straight out of the Bullitt blockbuster and head-turning bodywork that, as we discovered, will draw a crowd on the school run.
So, the obvious question: is the Mustang fitting of an Anglo-American special relationship? To find out, we pitted the pony car against one of the finest German coupés money can buy, the BMW M4.
Both have engines with over 400bhp, drive the rear wheels, offer four seats and a modicum of luggage space. But which puts the biggest smile on a driver’s face?
Ford Mustang 5.0 V8 GT Fastback
The Mustang gets off to a flying start even before the driver climbs behind the wheel. It’s more than £22,000 cheaper than the BMW M4, a difference that could buy a new Ford Focus ST.
What does this tell us? That corners have been cut at Ford? Or profits are enormous at BMW? In truth, a little of each.
Walk around the Mustang and its Fastback body looks fabulous. There are plenty of hints toward past Mustangs, notably in the shark-bite face, the hockey stick crease line that runs beneath the windows and those distinct “tri-bar” brake lights.
The detailing gives it a muscular appearance. But a neat, modern touch are LED lights beneath the wing mirrors, which project the Mustang’s famous logo onto the floor, and are bright enough to be seen day or night. And when it comes to picking a colour, surely it has to be Ford’s Guard green paint, the closest match to the most famous Mustang of all, the ’68 GT 390 Fastback that starred in Bullitt?
Lift the bonnet, and where the BMW’s engine bay is as immaculately presented as a Formula One mechanic’s tool chest, the Ford’s looks rough and ready, like a hot-rodder’s box of bits and pieces.
The bonnet has to be lifted by hand and propped open with a rod, exposed bolt threads poke out all over the place and there’s the impression that the Stars and Stripes machine has been assembled by men and women. By contrast, the M4’s immaculately presented, carbon-fibre dressed engine bay speaks of robots and alarm bells that ring on the production line should anything deviate from finely specified tolerances.
The V8 sets the hairs on the back of your neck on end. Its noise is the pure, full-fat, real-deal experience that’s missing from most European sports cars
A glance at the cabin through a window will set the pulse racing. The theme is big and brash, with retro detailing, such as chrome-style toggle switches that are every small boy’s dream. But settle in behind the wheel, poke around more closely, and again it’s obvious that this sports car has been built to a tight budget.
The seats and headrests feel like something from a 10-year old Korean hatchback. The seat would benefit from dropping lower to the floor, the trim feels cheap and in the boot the carpet is distinctly bargain basement.
Does that matter much? Well, drivers trading from an Audi TT, BMW 4-series, Porsche Cayman or VW Scirocco might feel a little underwhelmed. But all any quietly panicking Ford salesman has to do is suggest the driver fires up the V8 engine…
The Mustang delivers, as the Americans would have it, bang for your buck. The V8 sets the hairs on the back of your neck on end. Its noise is the pure, full-fat, real-deal experience that’s missing from most European sports cars.
There are four different driving modes, and a nudge of a toggle switch cycles through Normal, Snow/Wet, Sport and Track. Our test car was fitted with an automatic, six-speed gearbox, and in Normal setting the Mustang saunters along with a deep, underlying burble from the engine and exhaust, and leisurely gearchanges.
Snow or Wet mode is probably only ever going to be used in snow, as it dramatically reduces the accelerator’s responses and the car is, pleasingly, far from a handful on wet roads.
So Sport, or Track, it is. When you get stuck in and squeeze the accelerator to the floor, the V8 comes out all guns blazing. It sounds louder and prouder than an American marching band, and beyond 4,000rpm it really gets the big car moving at a fair old lick.
At this point, it would be tempting for petrolheads to imagine that the muscle car goes to pieces at the first sight of a bend. It doesn’t.
The steering is a bit slow to react and there’s not much feel about the remaining grip that the front tyres have, but that’s just fine as you can feel more than enough through the seat of your Levis.
Pushed to its limits, the car behaves predictably and the tyres progressively relinquish their hold on the road surface, which makes it a doddle to be a bit naughty and switch off the stability and traction control systems. At which point, it will smoke its back tyres like Marlboro Man opening a 20-pack. It’s all good fun.
There’s another, equally amusing feature of the latest Mustang. It has a system, known as Electronic Line-Lock, which locks on the front brakes for 15 seconds and allows the back wheels to spin under power, creating a smoke-fueled white-out before the car launches off the line and charges for the horizon.
Faults? The gearbox is ready to collect its pension and on winter weather tyres, the car wandered noticeably under maximum braking. The back seats are tiny, and much of the car feels cheap, if cheerful. Surprisingly, though, the fuel economy wasn’t as dire as we’d presumed it would be, hovering around 18mpg, compared with low 20’s for the M4.
None of this matters as much as the car’s character. The V8-powered Mustang has a super-sized personality, gets you noticed wherever it goes and has to be one of the performance car bargains of the century. Ford may have cut corners, but it’s cut them in all the right places. After a 50-year wait, the Mustang’s Motown magic makes it all worthwhile.
Vehicle shown for illustrative purposes only
If the Mustang delivers Motown magic, the M4 brings Mozart mastery to drivers who crave technical accomplishment above all else.
Like comparing a bottle of Bud’ with the finest bottle of German Riesling, the old-school Ford’s specification is entirely different to the BMW’s. The latter’s 3-litre engine features a bi-turbo arrangement and the optional automatic gearbox is a dual-clutch affair that can snap through gearchanges in the blink of an eye. There are myriad ways to fine-tune the driving experience, too.
Open the bonnet and gas struts lift it skywards effortlessly. There’s an elaborate carbon-fibre strut brace that looks like it would cost more to replace than a new Dacia Sandero hatchback, and the vibe is one of precision engineering.
It’s much the same story on the inside of the M4. The cabin exudes quality. It really does feel like a car that’s twice as expensive as the Mustang. What’s more, despite the car being shorter and narrower, the BMW’s cabin has much better packaging, with a more comfortable driving position and significantly more space in the back seats and boot.
Thedriving position is better. The steering wheel is smaller. The carbon-backed seats perfectly grip the driver. And each switch operates with a feeling that it’s been honed over a three year development period, rather than thrown in to the mix by accountants who wave spreadsheets beneath engineers’ noses to remind them of the bottom line.
These are aesthetic and practical concerns, and different drivers will hold different views as to their significance. What can’t be disputed is how much fun the Mustang is to drive compared with the M4 — and it’s here that the German car struggles to justify its price.
The 3-litre, straight-six cylinder engine in the BMW throws all of its torque at the back wheels from just 1,850rpm. Like a frayed temper snapping, this has the nasty habit of unsettling the rear tyres’ grip of the road with barely a moment’s notice.
So, one minute you can be driving along, minding your own business, the next the heart rate jumps to 180bpm as the car’s various electronic systems attempt to prevent the M4 from spearing off the road and leaving a car-sized hole in a hedge.
And annoyingly, regardless of how much fine tuning you attempt via the MDrive manager — whether it’s the adaptive suspension, steering or throttle response — the M4 forever feels like Alex Forrest, Glenn Close’s bunny-boiler character from Fatal Attraction. You never know when the car’s going to catch you with your guard down and exact an unpleasant punishment.
That’s a shame. Because the M4 is a seriously quick car, with better steering, a great seven-speed gearbox, impressive brakes and just enough of a growl from the engine to bring you out in goosebumps. Wind the engine up to 7,300rpm and, slowly but surely, it will pull ahead of the muscle car and emit a little snort from the exhaust pipes with each upshift of the gears.
It’s also packed with technology to spare, quiet on the motorway and treads that very fine line of being a subtly sporting car that doesn’t scream to onlookers that its driver is having to overcompensate for something in the trouser department.
However, it’s not a playful car. Take liberties with it and the M4 will attempt to take the driver’s trousers down and thrash their backside so hard that they won’t be able to sit for weeks. The Mustang’s simple charms are hugely appealing by comparison.
Head to head: 2016 Ford Mustang 5.0 V8 GT Fastback vs BMW M4
|Ford Mustang GT Fastback auto||BMW M4 DCT|
|Price||from £36,495||from £57,055 (estimated)|
|Engine||5-litre V8, petrol||3-litre straight-six-cyl, bi-turbo, petrol|
|Power||410bhp @ 6500rpm||425bhp @ 5500 – 7300rpm|
|Torque||391lb ft @ 4250rpm||406lb ft @ 1850 – 5500rpm|
|Gearbox||6-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive||7-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive|
|Road tax band||M (£1100 in first year; then £505)||J (£490 in first year; then £265|
|Dimensions||L:4784mm; W:2080mm; H:1381mm||L:4671mm; W:2014mm; H:1383mm|
|Boot capacity||408 litres||445 litres|
|Release date||On sale now||On sale now|