Beyond Hope, past Hell’s Gate, out of a hole bored through living rock, comes the roar and thunder. Eight pistons pounding through oil and air and fire, blurring in their cylinders as the tachometer sprints toward the red. It’s a Promethean sound, an ancient flame not quite ready to be extinguished.
To some, this car is an old idea, somewhat past its prime. To others, it is a classic recipe. It’s a Ford Mustang, rear-wheel-drive, draped in school-bus yellow, equipped with a manual transmission and fitted with a 460-horsepower V-8 engine that displaces five litres and sounds like an Allosaurus being fed into a wood chipper.
Five point 0. In a world where every German luxury marque has thrown in the towel on numeric badging actually meaning something, the decal on the Mustang’s flank carries heft. This is the one you wanted as a kid, dreaming of the old Fox-body notchbacks in your high-school parking lot.
Yet, perhaps you realize that dream seems a bit irresponsible, given current climate headlines. Take heart: The Mustang’s big V-8 isn’t as dumb as you’d think. It’ll out-rev a Honda Civic Type R’s four-cylinder and produces only about 10 per cent more carbon dioxide a kilometre than a 1994 Mazda Miata.
Or, to put it in modern terms, this is a rip-snorting pony car that isn’t far off the price tag or fuel consumption of a typical family crossover such as a Honda Passport. Yes, the latter is a more practical choice, but here, too, the Ford has a few surprises.
The Mustang is a pack horse. Compared with the Camaro, with its cramped vestigial rear seats, Ford’s pony car easily swallows up a couple of child seats. The trunk is also weirdly spacious, enough to devour a weekend’s camping gear.
If Henry Ford’s Model A brought transportation to the masses, then the Mustang democratized power. Yes, the GT’s V-8 is the centrepiece of its theatrics, but this is a car that’s not just about straight-line speed. Getting the options right is key, and this Mustang was fitted with the $6,500 Performance Package 2. It adds adaptive magnetic dampers, some unique aerodynamics and wheels so wide they don’t actually fit under the bodywork.
It’s basically a Hot Wheels come to life, and not really suitable as a commuter. The ultrasticky Michelin Cup 2s tramline through ruts in the road and the suspension is very stiff.
But out here in the fields, the Mustang feels entirely at home. In this spec, it’s a weekend car built for Sunday mornings spent roaming up into the canyons, looking for the good roads.
When you find those roads, the Mustang shines. Lateral grip is immense, but the suspension also easily puts up with transitions over rough pavement. With the performance exhaust, the V-8 gives you the kind of soundtrack to melt your earwax. Altogether, it’s exactly the kind of Mustang experience you wished for when your driver’s license was still on the horizon.
On the face of it, it’s an old idea. The Mustang GT is an indulgence infused with the spirit of sixties Trans Am racing, Friday night heads-up dragstrip action and V-8s rumbling through the city at night.
It’s also the kind of car that moves you – the kind to make you lower your windows and take one more pass through that tunnel, grinning like a maniac. Future Mustangs may well be hybrid, then fully electric. For now, a modern V-8 rages against the dying of the light.
Engine: 5.0-litre V8
Transmission/drive: Six-speed manual/10-speed automatic, rear-wheel-drive
Fuel economy (litres/100km): 15.0 city/9.1 highway
Alternatives: Chevrolet Camaro, Dodge Challenger
The Mustang’s classic long-nosed shape lends itself well to all manner of bright colours and stripes. Yield to the temptation, embrace your inner five-year-old and you’ll end up with something that looks like it should be on a bedroom-wall poster. Which is kind of the point.
On paper, the Mustang’s performance puts it in the same league as some German sport coupes. Step inside, though, and the differences are clear. On the plus side, the Mustang’s interior is all business – and nicely functional, with excellent optional Recaro seats. On the other hand, the interior plastics are the same as what you’ll get on your cheap holiday rental convertible.
Many modern cars post big skidpad numbers, and the soft rubber of the GT’s Michelins offers prodigious grip. What’s unexpected is how playful the car is, how it squirms under throttle and lifts its nose. Yes, it’s extremely fast (0-100km/h in under four seconds), but it’s also really good fun without feeling completely anti-social.
While a manual-transmission Mustang seems like largely a do-it-yourself proposition, the GT does come with available driver assists, such as blind-spot monitoring and automated cruise control. Ford’s infotainment works well, and the different instrument displays are futuristic and retro at the same time.
At 383L, the Mustang’s trunk is far bigger than expected. You can also pack it right to the brim, thanks to its gas strut setup.
Verdict: 9 out of 10
A blend of old ideas and new technology, the Mustang GT attempts to let you have your V-8 cake and eat it too. It’s the most practical of the pony cars available, yet feels very special to drive. That has always been the Mustang’s mission and this latest generation still delivers.
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