Johannesburg - 1968 was a very interesting year for the Americans (of which I am, arguably, secretly one, if you look at the amount of cheese I add to my food).

Vietnam War protests were escalating, Hey Jude by The Beatles was trending, 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Love Bug were the must-see films at the bioscope. We’ve come a long way since ‘68, but a few things haven’t changed - war protests are ongoing, Hey Jude still trends in my playlist, and Odyssey remains a go-to every few years.

Like me, Ford too seems nostalgic for the past, staying true to the spirit of the pony cars of the ‘60s, with its latest Mustang coupe and convertible. To this end, the company launched its latest Mustangs in South Africa, along with a limited edition Steve McQueen-inspired version that will set your heart, your soul, and your pants on fire. Let’s tuck in.

A bit of nostalgia

In 1968, director Peter Yates brought Detective Bullitt to life on the silver screen, using the legendary Steve McQueen as the conduit. 

Bullitt was on a specific mission; to hunt down the person(s) responsible for a murder. Say what you want about the film being over acted, over-directed, and over-scored, but for many, including myself, it remains an epic piece of cinema that not only captures the spirit of ‘60s American life, but also highlights the impact cars made on us as people and why we are so smitten by them to this day. 

Detective Bullitt, by the way, drove a Mustang fastback, and his arch nemesis drove a Dodge Charger R/T (excuse me while I take a moment). Whether you’re a GTI fanatic, or an “M” car enthusiast, or a Porsche nut, there’s no doubt that you will appreciate the Mustang, and what it stands for. For 2019, four years since this “global” Mustang for right-hooker markets made its debut, Ford has sharpened the edges, bringing the car into the 21st century as much as possible (without letting go of its past).

The 2.3 Ecoboost

Now, some will argue that a Mustang is not a Mustang if it doesn’t have a V8 beating under the bonnet, but let’s not forget the Mustang SVO that Ford built between 1984 and 1986. Amidst an oil and gas crisis, that sent fuel prices rocketing Stateside, the 2.3 four-pot was a welcomed way to quench American petrolheads’ thirst for speed without burning the season’s crop on “go-faster-juice”. This SVO was fast even by today’s standards, thanks to 149kW and 330Nm.

For 2019, the 2.3 Ecoboost Mustang is looking to fill a similar gap that the SVO once filled, still fast, but much more economical. The 2019 Ecoboost Mustang is endowed with 213kW and 441Nm, which is slightly down on power compared to the pre-facelift cars, but up on torque for more longevity and user-friendliness, Ford says.

On the road, the Ecoboost ‘Stang is fast, not Golf R fast, but fast enough for a daily. Ford’s fitted the latest turbo pony car with a 10-speed torque converter autobox, which has completely transformed the vehicle in terms of punch and frugality. In the lower gears, the car quickly picks up speed and makes no fuss galloping to beyond 120km/h and, once you’ve come on stream, simply back off the throttle and you’re cruising at low rpms. On the highway, with part throttle and cruising in the higher gears, it sipped unleaded at 9.5L/100km. Booted in traffic, it drank around 15L/100km.

The 5.0 V8 GT

Few power sources come close to satisfying the senses as much as a V8 does. And Ford, well, they know how to build V8s. 

The latest V8 Mustang gains a dual direct-injection and port injection setup, to offer thundering performance at high rpms, while still delivering low end torque for added driveability. Power climbs from 309kW in the pre-facelift to 331kW in the latest version, while torque peaks at 529Nm.

It may not seem like a massive motivational improvement over the pre-facelift, and it certainly cannot punch with the (smaller-engined) forced-induction cars that it competes against, but thanks to that aforementioned 10-speed auto, you can’t call it a slouch.

At the coast, where we tested it, it revved cleanly, puling hard to the redline before snap-shifting to a higher gear.

Fuel economy has also improved thanks to the 10-speeder, and the overall day-to-day useability of the car has improved immensely thanks to the new box and the new setup. 

The GT also comes with an active exhaust system, that’s able to run in several modes, from “sane” to “wake the neighbours”. Both the GT and the 2.3 also feature a raft of driving modes, which alter throttle and steering sensitivity, as well as the ride comfort, if you go for the optional Magneride suspension.

Tech (and spec) upgrades

Key tech enhancements were made to bring the Mustang into the contemporary world. It retains SYNC3 multimedia (with B&O), but gains a 30cm digital instrument cluster, that can be fully-customised to your particular viewing needs.

It can be argued that the digital cluster is a bit of an overkill, with more modes and views than needed, but it’s a nice touch and makes the digital clusters in some of the newer BMWs and Mercs seem dated. 

Both the 2.3 and the 5.0 Mustangs come with enhanced interiors, with softer touch materials in areas that were too hard and gritty in the pre-facelift car. There’s still a few rattles and squeaks to contend with, and the Convertible still wobbles a bit on broken tarmac, giving that uneasy feeling in the ear, but it’s not unbearable as long as you keep the speeds reasonable. 

The tin-top’s definitely the one to go for, in my opinion, in this regard. Styling wise, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s the pre-facelift car when looking at it from the rear, while the front has been pulled and pinched in all the right directions to give it a meaner, sleeker appearance.

The Bullitt

Only 50 Bullitt Mustangs are coming South Africa (45 in Highland Green and five in Shadow Black) in the next 12 months, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of its namesake film.

We sampled the six-speed manual for a brief while, before it was ushered back under the covers, and I can tell you that the world will be a much better place if more big V8s came with manual boxes. It has slightly more power than the normal V8, at 338kW, and it offers rev-matching on downshifts, like you get in a Nissan 370Z or Civic Type R. In Track mode, with the exhausts wide open and the tacho-needle buried in the red, it’s one of the best-sounding new cars you can buy right now.

Worth the money?

Pricing is keen, undercutting its competitors, and the Bullitt is one of the best-priced limited edition models we’ve seen in a while. It remains a good all-round package with sharper steering and a better ride, and the latest updates give it that quality bump that was severely lacking.

PRICES

2.3 Fastback auto - R768 000

2.3 Convertible auto - R831 000

5.0 GT Fastback auto - R915 800

5.0 GT Convertible auto - R978 400

Bullitt 5.0 GT Fastback manual - R995 400

All models come with Ford’s four-year/120 000km warranty and a six-year/90 000km service plan.

Drive360