First Drive

2015 Ford Mustang review

One of the greatest automotive icons - the new Ford Mustang - is finally coming to the UK in right-hand-drive form. We test drive it in California to see if it's been worth the wait.

Words ByPaul Bond

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Never has a car captured the American dream better than the Ford Mustang. Throughout its 50-year lifespan this automotive icon has gone from being a Hollywood star to a bloated has-been, and now come full circle with the all-new version, which will be sold in Europe for the very first time. Better still, here in the UK we will finally be able to buy the Mustang in right-hand drive, when it officially goes on sale in September of next year.

There will be two different petrol engines to choose from. The entry point in the range will be a new 2.3-litre four-cylinder turbo with 306bhp, while the flagship version has a thumping 5.0-litre V8 (as you might have guessed) with 420bhp and 400lb ft of torque.

Both cars come with a six-speed manual gearbox as standard, with the optional of a six-speed automatic, which is likely to add around Β£1500. There will also be two different bodystyles to choose from – a 'fastback' coupe, and a soft-top convertible – with a Β£4000 premium for the drop-top.

Will European buyers be seduced by the muscle car looks and rear-drive chassis? With UK prices expected to start at just under Β£30,000 for the 2.3-litre Ecoboost coupe, the Mustang will go toe-to-toe with talented rivals such as the new Audi TT and BMW M235i, so it'll need to be good to succeed.

What's the 2015 Ford Mustang like to drive?

At the heart of any muscle car is its engine – and the two powerplants on offer in the Mustang could hardly be more different. The new 2.3-litre Ecoboost isn't the first four-cylinder Mustang, but it feels rather out of place in a car this size and weight. It delivers a decent slug of mid-range torque, but never revs particularly smoothly, and feels strained and breathless at higher revs.

Choose the 5.0-litre V8, though, and you'll be getting a seriously quick car for less money than a mid-range Audi A5 or BMW 4 Series. It emits a loud, broad-chested rumble from the exhausts, even on half throttle, revs out a lot smoother than the 2.3-litre model, and feels more flexible and responsive than the smaller unit throughout the entire rev range.

There are no official performance figures yet, but expect the 2.3-litre to go from 0-60mph in around 5.4 seconds, while the V8 is more than a second quicker, at around 4.5 seconds.

The Mustang has always been famous for its eye-catching looks and straight-line speed, rather than any real handling prowess, but Ford was determined to change that image with this all-new model. That meant doing away with the antiquated 'live' rear-axle of the outgoing car, and fitting entirely new front and rear suspension, which Ford says has given the Mustang sharper handling, taut body control and better grip. It's also longer, lower and wider than before, with a wider rear track.

We drove both versions on some seriously demanding roads, and can confidently say the newcomer is the best-handling Mustang ever. Throw it into a corner and the long bonnet turns keenly toward the apex, there's plenty of grip and enough traction out of slow corners to really exploit the engines' power.

All UK cars will come with the GT performance pack as standard, which includes stiffer anti-roll bars, beefier brakes (with six-pot Brembo calipers on the V8) wider tyres, stiffer springs, a limited-slip differential and a set of mean-looking black 19-inch alloys.

The good news is that those wheels make the Mustang look absolutely fantastic. The bad news is that the ride could probably be charitably described as 'uncompromising'. At low speeds every crease and ridge in the road will send a sharp jolt into the cabin, and undulating surfaces will jostle occupants.

The Mustang struggles to deal with mid-corner bumps, too, which unsettle the car and throw it off line. This issue is a bit less obvious in the V8, which feels slightly more composed, thanks to its higher kerbweight.

Another area that disappoints is the electronic power steering. The Mustang comes with four different driving modes – Normal, Sport +, Track and Wet/Snow – and three different steering settings. In Comfort it's fingertip light, but devoid of any feel and inconsistently weighted, while Sport adds some much needed resistance, it offers very little information back through the rim about what the front tyres are up to, so you are often forced to make mid-corner adjustments to try and feel how much grip is available.

The uprated brakes deserve a special mention, though – they remained fade-free under heavy use, and make it easy to know how much pressure to push with to effectively scrub off any excess speed.

However the six-speed manual is less impressive. It has a short, tight throw, but a heavy clutch, notchy shift and (on the V8 especially) jerky transmission that shunts you forward, making the Mustang hard to drive smoothly.

Wind noise and engine refinement are both well contained while cruising the motorway, but the standard 19-inch alloy wheels and wide tyres generate an awful lot of road noise, and the suspension also thuds noisily over poor surfaces – which doesn't bode well given the current state of most UK roads.

What's the 2015 Ford Mustang like inside?

Part of the Mustang's appeal is that it's always been an affordable (and therefore attainable) sports car, but the price you paid for its bucolic appeal was having to put up with a rather cheap and nasty cabin.

To help address this issue the latest car offers a huge amount of kit as standard, with heated electric seats, touch-screen sat-nav, a DAB radio, automatic lights and wipers and radar cruise control. Its Sync2 infotainment system is also used in the latest Focus and new Mondeo, but is not in the same league as the sophisticated, easy-to-use MMI or iDrive systems that you find in its premium rivals.

It's the same story when it comes to build quality. The new Mustang marks a huge step forward for Ford when it comes to fit and finish, especially when compared with the old car. There is aluminium-effect brightwork on the dashboard, a row of silver toggle switches and bezels, and leather and soft-touch plastic on top of the doors and centre console.

Look a little harder, though, and some very hard, hollow materials appear lower down, and none of it feels particularly well screwed together, with poorly damped switches, and flimsy build quality. Still, the cars we drove were all pre-production prototypes, so hopefully the production model will be improved.

At least there's plenty of space for those up front, with lots of adjustment to the seating position for taller drivers, and reasonable forward visibility. Those in the back aren't so lucky – rear access is poor, and the shallow back seats (there are only two) are strictly for kids.

The boot is larger than before though, with a maximum capacity of 408 litres, and a lower loading lip that makes it easier to carry bulky items of luggage. The load bay is still fairly shallow, and not very square, but there is more than enough room for several weekend bags or two medium suitcases.

Should I buy one?

Ford reckons that around two thirds of Mustang buyers will opt for the 2.3-litre coupe, which on paper has lower running costs than the V8, is cheaper to buy and easier to driver smoothly in town.

Based on our experience though, we'd struggle to recommend this car over its European rivals, or indeed fast hot hatches such as the BMW M135i and Audi S3 - which weigh less, handle better, and are faster.

However, the full-fat 5.0-litre V8 is a unique proposition in the coupe segment. None of its rivals offers such a large engine, or quite so much power for less than Β£35,000. It looks and sounds amazing, is seriously quick and feels more playful and adjustable than the four-cylinder car on a challenging road.

Driven hard, the V8 was also within 5mpg of the 2.3-litre turbo on our varied test route, so if you can stomach the high running costs associated with a car that is likely to emit more than 300g/km of CO2 when it arrives in Europe, then it's definitely the one to go for.

The Mustang might have gone global, but only one version still delivers the authentic muscle car driving experience to go with the agile new chassis, while the four-pot version feels like a bit of a show pony.

What Car? says...

Rivals

BMW 435i

Audi TT

Ford Mustang Fastback 2.3L Ecoboost manual

Engine size 2.3-litre turbo petrol

Price from Β£29,995 (est)

Power 306bhp

Torque 320lb ft

0-60mph 5.4 sec (est)

Top speed 149mph (est)

Fuel economy 31.2mpg (est)

CO2 195g/km (est)

Ford Mustang Fastback 5.0L Ti-VCT V8 manual

Engine size 5.0-litre petrol

Price from Β£34,000 (est)

Power 420bhp

Torque 400lb ft

0-60mph 4.5 sec (est)

Top speed 164mph (est)

Fuel economy 19mpg (est)

CO2 330g/km (est)