Fifty years – that’s how long British buyers have had to wait to buy a Mustang with the steering wheel on the right side. Well, the wait is finally over, although our friends on the Continent get the all-new model first, which is why our first chance to try it on UK roads comes in left-hand drive form. There are two versions: a 2.3-litre four-cylinder and the full-fat 5.0-litre V8 that we’ve got here, which is expected to sell better.
The BMW M235i may be smaller than the Mustang, but offers similar performance for similar cash. So, which of these rear-wheel-drive coupés is the better buy?
BMW 2 Series Coupe M235i
It might be down on power and cylinders, but the M235i is just as rapid and great to drive.
Ford Mustang V8 GT Fastback
After 50 years, Ford's iconic muscle car is finally about to be offered in right-hand drive.
What are they like to drive?
Very different. The Mustang’s V8 has the lazy, unstressed feel of an old-school American muscle car, and it’s strong enough to easily get the Ford rolling in second gear. The Mustang never feels slow but, that said, its most prodigious shove comes when you rev the engine past 4000rpm, at which point it pumps out a V8 growl.
The M235i’s turbocharged 3.0-litre six-cylinder can’t match the power and torque of the Mustang, but the car is so much lighter it doesn’t need to. When you put your foot down there’s a momentary delay as acceleration picks up, but the engine pulls well from 1300rpm. It sounds very different but the higher-pitched, racier note is almost as compelling.
Both cars are closely matched in a 0-60mph sprint and for in-gear acceleration in the first four gears. However, the BMW pulls harder from low revs in its top gears, which makes high-speed overtakes easier and more relaxing.
The M235i has the slicker gearchange, although the Mustang’s is not unpleasant. The Ford’s stubby, short-throw gearlever feels great in your hand, too.
Neither car’s steering offers much traditional feedback and although both have buttons to vary the assistance, the BMW’s is always more consistent. Its steering is also quicker, which helps to make the M235i feel much more agile along winding country lanes.
Despite it being no wider than a Mondeo, you’re always more conscious of the Mustang’s size on narrow roads, a feeling that can hinder progress.
When the road opens up, the ’Stang offers plenty of thrills, although it isn’t as easy to drive on the limit as its rival. Its taut suspension doesn’t deal with mid-corner bumps as well as the more composed and better-balanced M235i, although it does at least keep body roll in check. If the road is wet, you also need to be particularly careful when accelerating out of corners because the Mustang tends to call its stability control into action quite early, which makes it feel nervous.
Our M235i had the optional (£515) adaptive dampers fitted, which sharpen the handling and improve the ride by allowing you to stiffen or slacken the suspension at the touch of a button. Select the stiffer Sport setting and there’s not much to choose between the two cars – both are firm and a little unsettled on patchy surfaces. However, when you switch the BMW to Comfort it instantly softens and becomes less tiresome on bumpy roads.
The Mustang is the quieter at speed, though, with less wind noise and, surprisingly, less road noise.
What are they like inside?
Both cars offer plenty of space up front, and loads of seat and steering wheel adjustment, so no matter what your build, you’ll be able to get comfortable. However, the Mustang edges ahead with full electric seat adjustment, including lumbar support. The BMW is slightly hampered by offset pedals.
The Mustang feels airy inside, thanks to its wider front cabin and more open cockpit design; this contrasts with the more cosseting and wraparound feel of the M235i. The BMW looks modern and businesslike, whereas the Mustang’s 1960s-themed styling is that bit more interesting.
Despite its retro ambience, the Mustang has a centrally mounted touchscreen infotainment system, although it’s a faff to use compared with BMW’s excellent iDrive. The BMW also comes with sat-nav as standard. This costs £795 on the Mustang, although it includes an upgraded sound system as well.
The M235i offers a sense of quality that the Ford simply can’t match. The switchgear has a precise, well-damped action, while the materials are a mix of soft-touch plastics with gloss black and chrome highlights. The Mustang’s metal fascia smartens up the cabin, but there’s no disguising the cheaper-looking plastics and flimsier-feeling controls.
The BMW is smaller but its rear seats will suit you better if you regularly carry more than one passenger, because they’ll just about take two average-sized adults. There’s a reasonable amount of leg room in the rear of the Mustang, too, but head room is truly terrible.
Both cars are more evenly matched on boot space, though. The Mustang’s boot is slightly bigger and can be made larger still by folding down the standard split-folding rear seats (a £175 option on the BMW), but the M235i has a wider boot opening with a lower loading lip.
What will they cost?
Company car tax liabilities will be much the same, but the Mustang will cost £100 more per month to lease. If you’re buying outright, the discounts available on the BMW make it around £1600 cheaper at the outset. However, at the end of three years the Mustang will claw £1200 of that back thanks to its slower depreciation.
It’s cheaper to buy the M235i on finance, too. With a £5000 deposit on a three-year, 10,000 miles-a-year PCP deal, the BMW costs £50 a month less than the Ford.
Factor in road tax (which is £505 each year on the Mustang), insurance and servicing, and you’re looking at an additional £2100 to run the Ford over three years.
That’s not taking fuel costs into account, either. We weren’t able to obtain a True MPG reading for the Mustang, but even if it meets the official claimed 20.9mpg average, you’ll spend a whopping £3400 more at the pumps over three years.
The Mustang offers more equipment as standard, though. Both cars have Bluetooth, a DAB radio, xenon headlights and leather seats, but the Ford also gets power-folding door mirrors, cruise control, a reversing camera and keyless entry.
The Mustang also has driver and passenger knee airbags, which you can’t get on the M235i, although only the BMW offers automatic emergency braking and lane keep assist as an option (£390).
Neither car had a Euro NCAP crash rating at the time of writing, but security experts Thatcham have awarded both of them the full five stars for resisting drive-away theft, and four for their resistance to being broken into.
In our reliability survey Ford fared much better than BMW, which languished near the bottom of the table. Both cars come with a three-year manufacturer’s warranty, restricted to 60,000 miles and one year’s roadside assistance for the Mustang. The BMW’s warranty has no mileage restriction and its assistance cover is active for three years.
The Mustang isn’t perfect, but it’s certainly great fun. It loses out here because it isn’t the polished all-rounder the M235i is, and its hefty running costs compromise it badly as an everyday car.
However, it offers something unique for the money: a real V8 muscle car experience. Buy one as a weekend toy and you won’t be disappointed but as everyday transport, it makes less sense.
BMW 2 Series Coupe M235i
For Better to drive; lower running bills; more practical; a classier cabin
Against Offset pedals; reliability worries; slightly numb steering
Verdict A coupe you can buy with your head and your heart
Ford Mustang V8 GT Fastback
For Glorious V8 engine; strong resale values; lots of standard kit
Against Running costs; interior quality; infotainment; rear headroom
Verdict Huge appeal as a weekend toy, but not as an everyday car
3.0-litre petrol, turbo
Ford Mustang V8 GT