First drive: 2018 Ford Mustang GT has more power and prowess
SPORTS cars are always polarising and, as good as the Ford Mustang is, it still attracted some criticism. A midlife makeover not only addresses the obvious ones but is also substantial, transforming the two-door from muscle car into a truly accomplished performer.
Pundits complained about the lack of a digital speedo; the 2018 model now has a 12-inch digital driver's display that changes to match the driving mode you choose.
Those who thought the Mustang lacked the bark to go with its bite will have to think again as Ford has fitted an active exhaust that can quell the V8 burble for early-morning suburban trips or crank it up to cacophonous for back roads, track work and time in tunnels.
There were also a few - including me - who reckoned the Mustang's cornering wasn't on a par with its acceleration. Ford has responded by retuning the suspension and fitting a new rear link to improve lateral grip. Beyond that, adaptive dampers are a $2750 option that I'd argue should be standard.
The only things Ford can't address - short of a full redesign of the Pony Car - is some of the cheaper looking and feeling plastics in the lower areas of the cabin.
With the 2015 car, Ford also was kicked for active safety aids so the Blue Oval has responded by adding autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assist.
ANCAP's riposte was a three-star rating, chief executive James Goodwin noting: "The inclusion of driver assistance aids such as AEB and lane-keep assist is a definite step in the right direction, yet these upgrades have neglected to address the injury risk posed to rear seat occupants as well as whiplash protection."
Safety apart, this update does a lot more than address minor issues or add the obligatory subtle styling changes. The V8 has been reworked to add power and fatten up the torque curve, the manual transmission now uses a twin-disc clutch to lighten the pedal feel and there's a 10-speed automatic.
Such improvements don't come cheap and V8 prices are up between $5500 and $8793, with the V8 Fastback manual now costing $62,990 before on roads, rising to $74,709 for the auto-equipped convertible.
ON THE ROAD/TRACK
Chief dynamics engineer James Cullen cites the BMW M4 as the benchmark competitor when the updated Mustang was under development.
At a dust-coated and yet-to-be-run-in Tailem Bend racetrack in South Australia, Callen showed, repeatedly, how composed the Mustang is while being balanced on the throttle blasting out of the corner. Try the same thing at the same pace in the outgoing car and the back end will be swapping places with the front.
"We really wanted to make this a driver's car whether you're cruising with friends or taking it to the track," Callen says.
"We're proud of our muscle car heritage and the looks and sound of this car still evoke that. We've just put the Mustang forward as a rival to some of the more expensive sports cars we're being compared to.
"We've never wanted for pace and now we've focused on lateral grip. Between the new suspension and new (Michelin) tyres we've achieved that."
On the way to the track, it was hard to fault the 10-speeder as it skipped multiple gears on up and downshifts without ever jolting the occupants.
The ride is lumpy over recessed manhole covers and potholes at low speeds - even in the default normal setting - but becomes better as the speedo climbs to 80km/h.
The Mustang can now muscle in on the sports-car scene with handling that finally matches its phenomenal acceleration.
PRICE More power and active driving aids mean prices rise by $4000 to almost $8000. A manual GT Fastback is now $62,990 before on-roads; the auto adds $3000 and the auto-only convertible is now $74,388.
TECH Autonomous emergency braking, active cruise control and lane-keep assist help with safety, a 12-inch digital display adds a modern look inside and the auto has 10 forward gears.
PERFORMANCE The 5.0-litre V8 gains 33kW/26Nm, cutting the 0-100km/h sprint to 4.3 seconds for the auto-equipped Fastback. A "drag launch" feature ensures it's achievable.
DRIVING Optional $2750 adaptive suspension transforms the Mustang from muscle car to back-roads blaster. Tweaks to the standard suspension (not sampled at launch) improve cornering.
DESIGN LED headlamps, a restyled bonnet and the regulation front and rear bumper tweaks bring a leaner look and refined aerodynamics. Interior touchpoint materials have also been improved.
2018 FORD MUSTANG GT
PRICE $62,990-$74,709 (still value)
WARRANTY 5 years (good), $1440 for 3 years/45,000km (average)
ENGINE 5.0-litre V8, 335kW/556Nm (grunty)
SAFETY 3 stars, 6 airbags, AEB, lane-keep assist (still sub-par)
THIRST 12.7L-13.0L/100km (thirsty)
SPARE None; repair kit (not good)
CARGO 408L (convertible 332L; passable)
WHAT ABOUT THE FOUR-CYLINDER?
Joshua Dowling writes: The new four-cylinder Mustang is no laughing matter. Now sharing the 10-speed auto with the V8, it accelerates quicker and has even better open-road fuel economy. Sure, it still sounds like a four-cylinder despite Ford's efforts to add some aural excitement - but it's no consolation prize.
Because the turbo 2.3-litre is lighter over the nose, the balance is better than the V8 in corners and it's not as hard on tyres and brakes.
Rolling acceleration - for example, from 80km/h to 100km/h to overtake - is more responsive than the V8. You're always in the turbo's torque band, especially now with the 10-speeder. In my preview drive of the V8, the auto was occasionally indecisive or tripped over itself trying to shift down three or four ratios at once. In the four-cylinder the auto was crisper.
During a brief preview drive I didn't test Ford's 0-100km/h claim but if seat-of-the-pants acceleration is a guide the 10-speed has slashed the times of the V8 and four alike.
The V8 finally sounds glorious but I can still see a place for the four-cylinder - diehards will cry sacrilege but the turbo version still looks the part and costs far less to run.