Johannesburg - Last year, Ford sold 125 809 Mustang coupes and convertibles in 146 countries around the world. Not bad for a nameplate that started out in the 60s, soldiering on through economic recessions and rising fuel prices over the past few decades.

More than one-third of Mustang sales happened in export markets, according to Ford’s analysis of IHS Markit global light vehicle registration data, marking three straight years for Mustang as best-selling sports coupe in the world.

In December this year, South Africa will celebrate three years since the right-hand drive Mustang was officially launched here, and with the facelift (and Bullitt) on the way it made sense to jump into one and see why the world (particularly petrolheads) goes ga-ga when they see a Mustang.

The original Mustang was based on the second generation North American Ford Falcon platform and it gave birth to the ‘pony car’ class of American muscle cars; affordable sporty coupes with long hoods and short rear decks.

The Mustang took the fight to Chevrolet’s Camaro, Pontiac’s Firebird, AMC’s Javelin, Plymouth’s Barracuda, and the Dodge Challenger. Look around today and the Mustang remains the lone warrior in this class, save for the Camaro and Challenger in the USA.

Ford a used Mustang on Drive360

I’ve always loved the Mustang, ever since the first time I laid eyes on one at the Durban Drive-In in the early 90s. It was a late 60s model, white, with GT stripes over the roof and bonnet. I’d never seen, or heard, a car like this in the metal before and to this day I’ll never forget the sound it made when the owner fired it up for the group of us that gathered around it.

The new car gets this same kind of attention.

I parked the car in my extra bay at my estate and went inside my house to fetch an iPhone cable to plug my phone in before leaving for a quick drive. I hadn’t been in the house more than 5 minutes before one of the neighbour’s kids was banging on the front door asking if the car was mine for the week. I said yeah, it is, ‘do you want to see it?’ The kid was ecstatic, and by the time we had walked back to the car, he had obviously sent text messages to all the other kids in the estate. At least five of them were waiting in line for me to take them for a drive. Their parents joined too, also, grinning like school kids at the sound of the burly V8 as it idled.

That’s the thing about the Mustang; it makes people smile. OK, not everyone, because my next door neighbour didn’t enjoy the V8 springing to life in the mornings for my 6am drive to the office.

But what about this new Mustang itself; is it actually a good car?

Well, it’s no longer a car from the 60s, that’s for sure. Customers can choose from a thundering 5.0-litre V8 or the 2.3 EcoBoost engine (similar to the one found in the Focus RS and forthcoming Focus ST). We, naturally, asked Ford to deliver a V8 to test. They delivered a convertible, automatic transmission model.

At highveld altitude, the car doesn’t feel as powerful as the spec sheet suggests, and the long gearing on the autobox doesn’t do it any favours when it comes to sprints either. I tried the different engine mapping modes, as well as drove it in manual-shift mode from time to time, but found it to lack that kick in the gut that’s expected of a car like this. Sure, there are hotter models to choose from overseas, but this GT is made for cruising (and glaying) to put it colloquially.

Ford’s off-beat firing 5.0-litre V8 engine employs sequential multiport electronic fuel injection and variable camshaft timing to produce a hefty 306kW of power, along with a thunderous 530Nm of torque. As the most powerful and fastest-accelerating Ford ever sold in South Africa, Ford claims a sub-five seconds 0-100km/h sprint time.

Styling wise, it’s distinctive. You won’t mistake the Mustang for any other make or model on the road. It has tons of presence, and whether the roof is up or down, there’s an overwhelming ‘good’ feeling from the driver’s seat.

The folding roof is charmingly old-school in nature, but does feature multi-layer insulated cloth. To open the roof, you grab and turn a latch near the rear view mirror and then press and hold the roof-operation button. It takes a little longer to retract than say an MX-5 soft-top or Merc SLC hard-top, but you’ll be looking so cool while lowering the roof that time simply won’t matter.

There are other cool bits and bobs in the Mustang to keep you entertained for years to come, too. You can use the toggle switches on the dashboard console to quickly adjust steering effort, engine response, transmission mapping and electronic stability control settings. Yes, you can turn the traction control off as well; handy for burnouts and general mayhem when the mood calls for it.

Should you fancy yourself as a drag racer, the convertible isn’t the one to go for though; you need the coupe with a manual gearbox.

To help you get the most from the car at the strip, the Mustang GT also comes with a Track Apps function that can be controlled via the steering wheel and viewed in the instrument panel. It provides you with real-time information via an accelerometer, acceleration timer and brake performance timer, which measures braking time and distance from a set speed.

The manual V8 model’s transmission system also comes with a Launch Control mode that holds the engine at a pre-set RPM between 3 000 and 4 500 r/min with the accelerator fully depressed. When the clutch is released, torque delivery to the rear wheels is controlled for maximum traction and consistent standing starts. An electronic Line Lock system (also available for the 5.0-litre V8) applies only the front brakes, allowing drivers to the warm the rear tyres before a run.

VERDICT

Would I buy a Mustang with my own money? Hell yes, but not the convertible. A coupe makes more sense to me as an everyday kind of car and the manual transmission will give more control and interaction.

The only challenge I had with the Mustang during the test period was trying to figure out if the fuel tank had a hole in it. I averaged over 20/l100km, giving a range of less than 300km on a full (61 litre) tank of unleaded. 

If you can afford the fuel, get the V8. It’s packed with creature comforts, it rides like a big, planted car on the road and if you want to get up to shenanigans, it can do that too. If you buy one, listen to Henry Ford and get it in Shadow Black with the optional black wheels. Prices start at R955 800 for the GT with soft top and you’ll get the standard four-year/120 000km Ford warranty.

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