Some American objects just don’t travel well: I yield to no man in my admiration of Bruce Springsteen and bourbon whiskey – other staples like root beer, Hershey’s chocolate, and grits leave us Brits as baffled as a Yank faced with drinking a pint of warm, flat bitter while watching a game of cricket in the rain.
Nowhere is this cultural divide more apparent than with cars; while world cars like the Ford Focus and Toyota Corolla have been spearheading the assault on the American domestic market, it has been a one-way street with few cars making the return journey east.
However, that’s about to change because the Ford Mustang, surely the archetypical American muscle car, is now available in right-hand-drive for the first time in its 52-year history.
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A modern twist on a US icon
This is something of a seismic event for lovers of Americana, not least because of the availability of the thunderous 5-litre V8 engine that is as much a part of the ‘Stang’s image as the long bonnet and short rear overhang, both which are also present and correct on this very 21st century incarnation.
It’s an incarnation that also includes the option of specifying your Mustang with a weedy little four-cylinder engine – but it’s a rather special one, so the discerning few won’t be ticking the box marked ‘EcoBoost’ on the order form because they can’t afford one fitted with the ‘proper’ engine…
I started the day in the most iconic Mustang of the lot: A 5.0-litre, V8 convertible with an automatic gearbox.
If any car was perfectly designed for cruising in style while the sun is shining, then it is this car. It was sunny but extraordinarily chilly, and while the heated leather seats did a fine job of warming my nether regions, my neck and head were freezing because there was no wind deflector or diffuser, something the drop-top Mustang badly needs if it’s to cope with an al fresco British winter.
But everything else went swimmingly; there really can be no finer way to start the day than by wafting around in an iconic classic like this with a friend beside you helping put the world to rights.
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Looks, performance and handling
The Mustang rides well and steers much better than you imagine a car like this would; the old American cliché of not going round bends has now been well and truly debunked.
It stops on a dime too, and generally behaves like a fully-fledged member of the modern world, which is not something that can be said of all of its ancestors, no matter how beautiful they may be.
In this version you get looks and performance and handling, a triumvirate that should keep the naysayers quiet for a while.
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Gee, it's fast
Ford claims that the V8 will reach 62mph in just under 5 seconds, but few owners would want to drive like that more than once, out of respect for their wallet if nothing else.
Better by far to enjoy whoffling around in comfort with that glorious engine under the bonnet and the wind rushing through your hair.
The Mustang hides its cruising speed well too, which means you need to keep a keen eye on the speedometer, which is charmingly marked ‘GROUND SPEED’. Nice touch.
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Don't underestimate the EcoBoost
My initial conviction – and yours too, I’ll wager - was that anyone buying a Mustang should pony up for the full-fat, non-homogenised, calorie-laden V8 version.
I assumed that the turbocharged four-cylinder EcoBoost engine was there only as a sop to the environmentalists and the poor. So I pulled away in a manual EcoBoost fastback with a sense of righteous disappointment; the 2.3-litre engine sounded OK but a car like the Mustang is about drama and theatre and, if I’m being honest, showing off, and it’s hard to show off with something this puny under the bonnet.
I was (and not for the first time as my wife will attest), completely and utterly wrong.
The EcoBoost Mustang felt taut and lithe and far more sporting than the bigger-engined car, positively encouraging you to wring out its performance.
Where the V8 encourages you to adopt a classic American one-elbow-on-the-door driving position, the EcoBoost delivers every Steve McQueen fantasy you’ve ever had.
Sure, you lose that wonderful V8 burble from the exhaust but you gain so much more that you’ll only miss those 5 litres on the overrun.
It might be ultimately as quick, but it feels quicker and part of the fun of driving a sports car is, surely, to be able to drive it hard?
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Performance for a bargain price
Not that this is a sports car in the Jaguar F-TYPE mould. The Mustang is an absolute bargain in terms of performance per pound spent, costing half what the Jaguar does but dynamically they’re poles apart.
That’s not to say there isn’t fun to be had, because there definitely is but it’s a laid-back, Dukes of Hazzard-style, rather than the knife-edge, inch-perfect control of the Brit.
If you argue this is a good thing, I would find it hard to disagree; I drove the F-TYPE for a week and while I absolutely loved its looks, it only felt satisfying at very high speed and given that I’m not looking to go out thirty years early in a blaze of tyre smoke and oversteer, I appreciate low-speed thrills more than ultimate handling at ten-tenths, hence my current, unrequited love affair with Mazda’s gorgeous MX-5.
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A choice of dynamic settings
There are four dynamic settings to choose from: Normal, Sport Plus, Track, and Snow/Wet, all of which alter the car’s throttle response, steering effort, and stability control settings plus, on cars fitted with the automatic gearbox, the shift points.
Sport Plus felt more suited to the car’s nature than Normal did, and Track is almost certainly redundant given the road-biased nature of the car. Still, I’m sure that the brave or foolhardy will find plenty of amusement to be had on a race circuit, although it’ll probably be more good-natured than deadly serious.
Speaking of which, the 5.0-litre car also features the hilarious Line-Lock, which locks the front brakes to allow you to spin the wheels for up to 15 seconds, nominally to warm them through before you pull your ‘Stang out of the pits and onto the race track.
In reality, it is an even more effective way of turning pound notes into heat and smoke than testing the 0-62mph acceleration. (Or pound notes into smiles, depending on your disposition.)
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A bit of a squeeze
I much preferred the fastback body style to the convertible. It was warmer and felt stiffer – and there is nothing in it for rear-seat legroom, as neither model has any to speak of; this is very much a two-seat indulgence if the driver is approaching six foot. (If you need its four-seat status to sell it as a viable purchase to your family then you have my permission to say that it will officially seat four people, but you’re on your own when the reality becomes apparent...)
The rest of the interior is easily as good as it needs to be, and equipment levels are good.
Headroom is very good with the roof up, and excellent with it down and there is enough boot space for a week’s touring with ease. (There is also a padded rear shelf that can be used for luggage, although Ford does insist on calling it a ‘rear seat’.)
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Take the plunge
So, to return to where we started, the introduction of the right-hand-drive Ford Mustang will either leave you cold, or very excited.
If you do decide to take the plunge – and 3,500 people have done so already – you are in for a treat. Prices start at just over £30,000, with the automatic gearbox commanding a £1,500 premium over the manual, and the convertible a £4,000 premium over the fastback.
If you want a Mustang in your life for the noise and to show off a little (and why wouldn’t you?),then a V8 convertible will do the job very nicely indeed. But the keen driver should save a few pounds by ordering an EcoBoost fastback.
And if you choose it in either Lightning Blue or Magnetic Grey, you can do so knowing that I heartily approve of your choice of colour too.
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Best-in-class – There is only the Mustang really, unless you include a secondhand £35,000 F-TYPE, in which case I’d still take the Yank on a smiles-per-gallon basis, although the Jag has it beaten for looks, obviously.
The best of the rest – The Toyota GT86/Subaru BRZ offer the same old-school, rear-wheel-drive fun but aren’t half as engaging. Or cool.
Left-field alternative – The BMW M235i is faster, smaller, nimbler and handles much better than the Ford, but I’m guessing that never the twain shall meet on any shortlist.
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