2020 Ford Mustang.
2020 Ford Mustang.

Why Aussies are obsessed with this car

The Ford Mustang is most likely the most famous sports car in the world. And we find out why it is still so popular 55 years after it first went into production.

It's the ultimate survivor

A plaque on the dash of our loan car says 55 years of Mustang, which is some achievement for a two-door, rear-drive sports car. That longevity is down to sheer visceral attraction - it stirs emotions in people (typically men) that aren't entirely logical. The 2020 version's unashamedly retro styling does great justice to the original 1960s design and the V8's fat, meaty exhaust note turns revheads week at the knees. After four years in Australia, the heat has gone out of Mustang sales but it remains the best-selling sports car in the country by a large margin. And it has successfully fended off a challenge from a locally-converted version of its arch rival Chevrolet Camaro.

 

The Mustang has a poor crash test rating.
The Mustang has a poor crash test rating.

 

You'll have a difficult decision to make

Four or eight? That's the question prospective Mustang buyers will need to ask. The V8 Fastback is $13,000 more expensive at $64,190, much thirstier (12.7L/100km to 9.6L for the auto) and less agile through the corners. But buying a pony car is about emotion, not logic. If you buy the four-cylinder turbo, you'll have to settle for roughly 100kW less power (236 v 339) and more than 100Nm less torque (448 v 556). The turbo recently received a small power boost and is no slouch off the mark, but the thing you'll notice most is the absence of that wonderful V8 soundtrack. You'll also have to be prepared to say: "No, the four" whenever you're asked about your car.

Don't crash it

Independent crash-testing body ANCAP gave the Mustang a mauling, awarding it just two stars out of five when it was released here in 2016. The rating was later upgraded to three stars after Ford added a bunch of crash avoidance tech, including auto emergency braking and lane-keep assistance. There were no structural changes, though, so ANCAP's concerns about occupant protection remain, particularly for rear passengers and children.

The Mustang’s cabin got a much needed spruce up.
The Mustang’s cabin got a much needed spruce up.

Technophiles will love the digital cockpit

The original Mustang felt a little low rent in the cabin, but Ford addressed that in a midlife update that replaced hard, shiny plastics with softer materials. The refresh included a new 12-inch configurable screen in front of the driver. The screen layout changes as you switch from "normal" driving mode to "sport", "track" and "drag". Scroll through the settings and you'll find G-sensors, lap timers and a bunch of digital gauges telling you the temperature of various fluids. Ford hasn't skimped on the audio system either. The 12-speaker, 1000W Bang & Olufsen unit makes almost as big a racket as the V8 on full throttle. Elsewhere in the cabin there are Recaro decals on the leather bucket seats and ambient lighting in the doors. A nice touch: Ponies illuminate on the ground next to the car when you open the door at night.

This is how driving was meant to feel

The Mustang is the automotive equivalent of a therapy dog. Head for your favourite stretch of twisty tarmac and the Ford will put a smile on your face before you reach the first corner. That smile will be wider in the V8, but the lighter four-cylinder is arguably the better balanced machine through the bends. Both versions are big and heavy for sports cars, though. That bulk - and the prodigious amount of grunt under foot - means you have to be judicious with your throttle application out of corners. Purists will opt for the six-speed manual, but the 10-speed auto is pretty adept at picking the right gear for maximum performance in both variants. The ride, while busy, is surprising comfortable around town.

Originally published as Why Aussies are obsessed with this car