Ford Mustang: The world’s most popular sports car, really?

By Nick Hodgson

Everyone knows the Ford Mustang. It’s one of the very few automotive icons that has not only endured over the years, but also worked its way into the world conscience. To most the words “muscle car” and “Mustang” are virtually one and the same, in the same way “Hoover” and “vacuum cleaner” are. Strangely to me, and despite this incredible phenomenon, the Ford Mustang falls in as a sports car amongst the automotive industry’s eyes. Doubly odd too considering the muscle car market isn’t exactly overflowing with competition around the world. So the open goal has been ignored by Ford in favour of this new challenge and a challenge that it didn’t take long to conquer as the Ford Mustang is now the world’s best selling sports car.

I have to admit that before driving this new face lift model that fact made me rather sad inside. Prior to this I’d only ever driven the 2.3 Ecoboost in convertible form and I felt like applying for a skippers licence after wallowing my way through corners. So you can imagine that scepticism was at best my approach to the experience as I flew into a cold and wet Cape Town.

Now being a facelift of the old Mustang it would have been easy for Ford to make a couple of headlight tweaks and knock off early for apple pie. However, they’ve actually gone to town on the Mustang, making improvements in virtually every aspect. Firstly, and acknowledging the elephant in the room, the Mustang has officially dropped the option for a manual gearbox, unless you go for the special edition Bullitt Mustang of course. I must be the only one lamenting this though as 95% of Mustang sales in South Africa were already automatics, so from a pure business decision it certainly makes sense. To make up for it though, Ford has equipped both the V8 and 2.3 Ecoboost with its new 10 speed box, a gearbox that on your typical highway driving is exceptionally smooth. Where it falls over is on downshifts during a spirited mountain pass drive, particularly in sport mode. Disappointing as I’d have expected better at this point, but the reality is the downshift is jerky and actually feels like the car gets thrown forward when you’re hard on the brakes instead of helping you slow down. Uninspiring to say the least and coupled with brakes that are in my opinion only adequate, it takes the fun out of driving quickly.

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With that all said I actually found the V8 coupe to be an absolute hoot. First off that engine noise is intoxicating. There is a reason why car enthusiasts have been obsessed with a V8 for so long. Sure, sound is artificially pumped into the cabin, but that is always going to be a price you pay for modern sound deadening and creature comforts. Secondly, those looks are exceptionally enticing. Turning heads has never been a problem faced by the Mustang and this new one is no different. Put one in your driveway and expect to have many more friends by the end of the day. Lastly, the coupe is not only lighter, but stiffer too and that makes all the difference on the road. Not only do I prefer the coupe looks, with that long sweeping back end, but you also get a better handling vehicle that actually feels like a sports car.

So what about the 2.3 Ecoboost then? Well the engine itself is still as good as ever, but to me it just feels completely wrong to have inside a car like this, especially if you’re buying it for the wow factor and the attention that brings. Pull up to the traffic lights in the Ecoboost and for all intents and purposes you look like you’re in the V8, so you’re getting the same amount of attention, yet you’ll never be able to give the people what they want. So yes the Ecoboost is cheaper, but I can’t help but feel you’ll regret that decision, constantly trying to justify to yourself why you didn’t go that little bit extra.

So the big question is, has the new Mustang changed my mind? Absolutely it has and I can fully understand why this is the world’s most popular sports car. Just for goodness sake, please get the V8 coupe.