My last experience of driving the Ford Mustang was on the Pacific Coast Highway from Los Angeles to Napa Valley and back. I vividly remember stopping en route at Pismo beach, to dig holes in the sand, rather childishly with the big V8 and its rear tires. I burnt badly in the sun with the roof down, ensuring I wasn’t the only lobster for dinner. And there was a gap between the rear and front windows wide enough to get your hand in to lift the locks. Some prodigious stops at wineries led to my precious cargo of some sixty bottles of wine to be locked in the boot whilst the luggage travelled in plain view on the back seat. I forgave that car everything – after all, it was a Ford Mustang. I was in California and driving the American dream.

The Mustang came into being in 1964, having been a concept since 1962, with just 101 horsepower on tap. As a model, it has been available from Ford ever since, immediately becoming the doyen of the drive in, and over 9.6 million sold between 1964 and 2017. This ensured its roots in the American way of life. In the UK, however, it was available only as an unofficial import, though itsoon became the chosen weapons of those living a USA lifestyle in the UK, complete with Brylcreem and double denim.

From the seventies, Europe had the Capri at its behest, and there wasn’t demand for the Mustang to officially cross the Atlantic. This is despite its first UK appearance in Goldfinger, in 1964, piloted by Tilly Masterson when 007 turns the toys on the DB5 to his advantage. After all, only a bit of ‘Q’magic could stop Miss Masterson from escaping in her far more reliable Ford up the FurkaPass. Often spotted in Norfolk, around US airbases and in Essex close to Ford headquarters, the Mustang was a bit of a curiosity in the UK. However, it retained its iconic status and instant recognition as a true American muscle car. Its major fault, previously, was that it was only available as a lefthand drive variant – but now all that has changed.

It seems rather strange in 2018, then, to be looking over the familiar bonnet hump on a B-road outside Midhurst in West Sussex. You couldn’t get a road and its surroundings more British if you tried. After all, we are skirting Goodwoods boundaries with our course set for Thruxton. Our Cabrio has its roof down, despite the light drizzle, and we are motoring gently to keep dry. To say the car has presence on the road is an understatement. It feels wide – yet at just under two metres,it’s no wider than an Audi A5 Sportback. It is the classic design that gives it the amazing presence;the family face that screams “this is a Mustang”. On the road, this is almost an advantage, as traffic moves from the outer lane to the inner lane of the dual carriage way in part recognitionpart curiosity, as it sees you approaching. The sculpted bonnet and snakelike eyes highlight the dark grill, with the familiar running horse beautifully framed by the almost elliptical mesh. But the fact that we’re on a 2018 number plate is what confuses most. This is, after all, the bestselling sports car in the world.

The overall design is now much more a global concept. It is still undeniably a Mustang, but the lines are much sleeker, more aerodynamic. This means it stands out less than before, though this is an advantage in my view, giving the car greater appeal. Boot space is excellent in both coupé and Cabrio variants, probably aided by the fact the haunches on the vehicle are now wider. The design cues of triplelens rear lights and front bumper ensemble are still there, delivering the DNA of the vehicle in its purest form.

Another reason why’s there’s so much deference to this American icon on the road is that, when in conversation, people are never quite sure what a Mustang is capable ofor how its horses are allocated. Be in no doubt, though, this is a five litre V8 pushing out 410bhp. When it shows a clean pair of fetlocks, it can hit 60mph in 4.6 seconds. It does so with a deep rumble akin to a roll of thunder in the Grand Canyon; deep, controlled and reverberating back from the road surface. The exhaust note sounds like pure undoubted power as it urges you to apply more, the delivery being smooth and consistent as you move up through the gearbox.

One of the first things you notice behind the wheel is how much the handling has improved:responsive and well mannered. Under braking you feel you are still kicking hard with the stirrups and pulling back on the reins – but that’s probably due to me enjoying the V8 and late brake application, as I try to squeeze every bit of fun out of the Ford. With the engine being frontmounted, there is a slight weightbias towards the nose. You can turn this to an advantage by exploiting the understeer when required. The car, in normal use, is wellbalanced and decidedly respectful.

Kerb weight comes in at around 1893kg, so a little heavier than others in its class, but this leads to a solid ‘bomb proof’ feelwhich I like. It rides over potholes and road imperfections with ease, almost bullying them out of the way. The steering is weighted just enough to give feeling yet leave you in no doubt where the rubber is pointing. 

Seating is supportive and, given the dimensions of the vehicle, there is plenty of room for everyone. The car is genuinely comfortable and, as a 2 plus 2, allows four adults to be well looked after. I’m not sure I would want to be in the rear seats for more than an hour, though, due to snugness. Roof action on the Cabrio is slick – unlock one handle whilst stationary and the great extent of canvas drops quickly and undramatically. Move on, there’s no German roof ballet to be seen here.

Handlingwise, Ford have clearly listened to feedback and judged its offering to the European marketplace well. MacPherson struts are reassuringly Eurobiased at the front of the vehicle. The rear of the car gains an integral multi link at the rear. This is a far cry from the previous live axel variant which gave that American boat-like handling under pressure. The modifications don’t stop there: the upgraded front brakes and additional cooling ensure this will be a car to savour on the B roads on days like today.

Interior plastics have reached a new level, and are sturdy, functional and smack of quality. There is,however, a lot of plastic to be seen. That said, the whole brand is going through a renaissance, and trim levels are easily equalling their Teutonic brethren. I particularly like the central three aircon vents in the dash, which are nicely accented in tungsten grey. This circular theme continues through all dials and gauges. Switches are reassuringly industrial, stressing the functionality they convey. I never object to the positive ‘click’ of a toggle. Some would quibble all this and cry that the car is not luxurious enough – but not me. This all leads to a feeling of reassurance.

Electronic gadgets and gizmos are top classrefining the Mustang offering. The Ford Infotainment system, with 8-inch display, has all you could require at your fingertips. It is simple to operate and not full of useless, smokescreen menu features. The Mustang is all about form and functionality, helping to retain and reinforce its identity. Ford’s intention was for the Mustang ‘to be styled and not designed’ and this has been inherent since its conception.

The surprises don’t stop there, however. In 5 litre guise you get Brembo brakes and launch control. as well as a draglike mode called ‘line lock’. This gives the car a competitive, fun edge over its rivals, particularly if you are considering track day or sprint use. The reversing camera is a nice addition, given the cars wide rear end; I found it to be extremely accurate. 

On a wet Thruxton, the car begs to be driven. Surprisingly nimble, given the weight, it gallops willingly out of the pits. Around corners, it is responsive and supple, taking real effort to step out of shape. In fact, I must confess, I thought I’d see at least one spin pushing it towards the edge of its performance envelope, but not so. Weight transfer on all axes, particularly through the chicane, is predictable and can be used effectively to give a clean, fast, controlled lap. Fuel economy on track was eyewatering. Perhaps my only real criticism is that the fuel tank feels a little small, requiring frequent fill ups as a result. On a long road trip, this could be a mild annoyance – but then refuellingdoes give you the chance to admire the lines of this American beauty.

The Mustang has taken a long journey since 1964, and you could view the vehicle as a modern classic. You are buying the heritage and associated lifestyle, but with reliability and flexibility. This car is both a good-natured commuter and an enjoyable tourer. Why choose the anonymity of another Eurobox in the coupe class when you can really make an impression, showing some original thinking wherever you go? 

The other Eurolookalikes never sound like this V8. And certainly, other contenders in this price bracket are just wheezing, testosterone-infused hot hatches. This car is an ideal transition vehicle for someone looking to move from a trendy, two-seater roadster or small coupé. On that basis alone, the Mustang becomes a more educated choice. It would make a great modern addition to a car collection, or as a Cabrio for summer use. This will never be the sensible choice, though, in the same way some old Scandinavian cars, often driven by architects, were seen as ‘quirky’. The Ford being in right-hand drive now gives it the ability to make a big carpark impression; a chance to show some open thinking, to be an unrestrained spirit, like its namesake, running wild and free.

Rob Bellinger

RB, Bon Vivant, Man About Town and modern day Hemingway. The Review's Lifestyle Editor has been pontificating on the finer things in life since the dawn of time. Always armed with a Magnum of Champagne, an international race license and an arsenal of cars; he's the life, soul and ambience of the soirée.

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