New Mustang sallies forth in style
Mel's Drive-in on Sunset Boulevard, West Hollywood, has not been around for as long as Ford's Mustang, but diners like it have been roadside fixtures in the US since the 50s.
So to start our first drive of the new Ford Mustang, 50 years since the first version saw the light of day, a heart-jarring breakfast of thick coffee and chilli cheese fries seems an appropriate start to the day.
Parked under the diner's glowing neon, and gaining as many stares as the Hollywood stars that have frequented Mel's over the years, our brilliant yellow Mustang GT glows right back, and looked as if it was born to be there.
Two icons together. There's even that perfect track on our dining booth's juke box, and we can't resist selecting Mustang Sally just to garnish the day a little further. More than 50 songs have at least mentioned the Mustang since the first production model to bear the name rolled off the production line 9.2 million cars ago.
I was even able to reacquaint myself with the Steve McQueen movie Bullitt, one of many films and TV shows that used the Mustang as a prop over the years, on the Air New Zealand flight to Los Angeles.
The new sixth generation Mustang we're testing is set for a blast along Sunset for the effect and then to the serpentine Angeles Crest highway. The car's muscular yellowness certainly looks the part, sculpted by a team of designers headed by Scotsman Moray Callum, who headed Mazda's design team during the development of the series III MX5 and brother to former Aston Martin man and now Jaguar's design chief, Ian Callum.
I hope I don't offend when I say I can detect a touch of Jag and Aston in the confluence of the Mustang's side-glass and C-pillars.
Fifty years ago, the Mustang had no such musculature. It was sculpted only as far as its side strakes and a upkick of the shoulderline at the rear quarter. The new car has a deliberate flair over its rear track, made neccessary by the widening of the wheelspread by 70mm and the result is remarkable, using modern iterations of those side-strakes, but surprisingly, no side rear intakes from that first car. Its tight blend of curve and cleverly sporting proportions create a car that could wear an Italian badge with impunity.
But not with that grille.
This is a Mustang and its gaping front maw - split by the bumper in the 2015 car - makes this palpably obvious. There are other cues borrowed from 1964, with the three vents of the first car's grille rendered as driving lamps in the main headlight clusters, and the tri-lens rear lights from way back now shaped in three dimensions. When the indicators are operated, the lenses ignite sequentially to show the driver's intentions.
That's probably the only gimmick on the car, which starts to get very serious once you filter into the seen-it-all traffic of Los Angeles. It may be short of a litre or two in size when compared to its US-built competitors but with quadruple cams moving four valves per cylinder and a heady redline that runs to 6500rpm and beyond, this is a far cry from the big-block pushrod two-valve iron used by others. With 320kW and 542NM on tap, its 4.5 second zero to 100kmh time is right into Porsche territory.
Slipping through six speeds, the Mustang erupts through tightly packed lanes of cars to follow our route out of town, its long yellow prow responding neatly to the steering, with far less understeer than you'd reasonably expect from a front-engined American car. Flick-flacking through the streets and up into steep hillside boulevards, the '15 Mustang is the sharpest Mustang ever, with meaty, informative steering, tonnes of grip and an engine that loves revs as much as the old power units certainly didn't.
Not even available in showrooms on its home market yet, the Mustang is a rare sight and we're interrupted by passers-by in their own cars, wanting selfies or "to shake the hand of the guy driving my next car." One couple even hauled up in a late Porsche 911 - what a compliment.
On the Crest highway, the new independent rear suspension comes into its own. Previous Mustangs made do, and not well, with live axle rear underpinnings which meant that every bump and rill would be felt by both rear wheels. The '15 car's set up works to separate the reactions of those rear wheels, and the result is remarkable, with a car that goes where it's told to, calmly and without any bad habits.
The front end had to be reworked to match the new rear-end too, and the result is a car of suprising back road talent, one so nimble and biddable that it belies its near two-tonne weight, with passengers.
Coursing through the canyons, the Mustang feels as much at home as it did at Mel's.
This racer road is populated by Angelenos in their Porsches, Ferraris and a BMW i8 or two, exercising their cars hopefully out of the gaze of the Californian Highway Patrol.
The only time we see the CHP is when a distracted colleague can't get his Mustang through a flat, open, left hander, slamming at first front-right and eventually side-on into a roadside Armco barrier. The car's probably a write-off, much of the front right corner is smashed, but all eight airbags deployed (the Mustang has an extra knee-bag in the glovebox lid that was especially useful here). We stop to help, but no-one's badly hurt, just two egos.
It's sad to see a fine motor in such a state, but good to know that even when someone freezes - as we suspect has happened here - the airbags and the structural integrity did their job.
It doesn't ruin our day, or our Mustang's part in it. We know enough about the car's excellent chassis and responses to know that this was driver error pure and simple. Where we might have misgivings is a slight jiggling at low speed, but it's still leagues ahead of any previous Mustang.
The cabin is as much a mix of the old and the new as the exterior. The familiar wing-shaped double cowls hark right back to '64 while a touch screen that works at the behest of fingers or voice sits under the centre of the dash, which can be had with a textured or plain alloy pelmet. A chunky, three double-spoke wheel feels just right while the optional Recaro front seats locate and cosset just as a performance car's should.
In the back, the new Mustang supplies adequate if not spectacular knee and legroom, and once in through the pleasingly wide-opening doors (better duck for that low roofline) a couple of hours travel is not going to be too uncomfortable.
While the 5.0-litre V8's soundtrack adds a high-revving end-note to the Mustang's repertoire, the smaller, EcoBoost four that powers the entry-point version of the new Mustang is nowhere near as orchestral, though Ford has attempted to imbue it with something of a voice, artificially.
In the all too-brief time I spent with the 2.3-litre unit, I was deeply impressed with the unit's blend of power and torque 228kW/434Nm, and it's worth noting that in 1964, the 289 cubic inch (4.7-litre) V8 unit in the then hottest production Mustang, was short of the modern EcoBoost unit by 39 horsepower - 271 to 310. It shows - the four-cylinder Mustang goes from zero to illegal in 5.2 seconds.
There will be customers and indeed journalists who'll get sniffy about the "little engine" but they should try it first. The car is also lighter at the front with this unit, and this shows with even more responsiveness than the V8. While the four is marginally slower and may not turn heads with its engine note, it's going to be just as much fun. Remember? That was every Mustang's original brief.
While the first Mustang was a clever combination of existing Falcon and Fairlane bits and power units, with a pretty body placed on top, the 2015, save for the V8 engine, is all new from the ground up, and it had to be.
The world market beckons, along with the potential for massively increased sales and profits thanks to better amortised costs brought by the growth in numbers. It makes sense.
And the car makes sense too. You get the feeling among Ford execs that they're surprised how well the 2015 has turned out. I am too.
This is the least American Mustang ever made and so much better for it, ready to wrest back sales from the Chevy Camaro.
Make mine yellow.
AT A GLANCE
Powertrain: Front, inline-mounted, turbocharged four and fuel-injected eight cylinder engine with 4V and DOHC, six-speed manual or SelectShift automatic transmission.
5.0-litre V8 - 320kW (435bhp) at 6500rpm, 542Nm at 4250rpm,
2.3-litre I4 - 228kW at (310bhp) at 5500rpm, 434Nm at 3000rpm.
5.0-litre V8 - Max 164kmh, 0-100kmh 4.5 seconds, 12.3L/100km.
2.3-litre I4 - Max 149kmh, 0-100kmh 5.2 seconds, 9.4L/100km.
Chassis: Front double ball-joint MacPherson struts, rear integral link independent. Power assisted rack and pinion steering. Choice of alloy wheel rim sizes.
Safety: Eight airbags, front, side, curtain and knee type. Electronic stability control, ABS, traction control, blind-spot protection, adaptive cruise control.
Connectivity: Sync 2 connectivity for bluetooth, MP3, iPod, Sat Nav, voice activation software, rear-view camera. Two USB charging ports.
Dimensions: L 4783mm, W 1915mm, H 1382mm, W/base 2720mm, F/track 1582mm, R/track 1648mm, Weight 1662kg (2.3), 1728kg (5.0), Fuel 60.6L (2.3), 58.7L (5.0).
Pricing: US pricing is: $25,000 to $33,000 in standard form, New Zealand pricing will depend upon exchange rates at the time.
Hot: Taut chassis is brilliant, refinement levels and all-round integrity; 2.3L a huge surprise and the 5.0L a poor man's X-type with extra seats.
Not: New car should be lighter than this, people may not understand the value and ability of the EcoBoost four.
Verdict: It's better than we thought possible, no American car handles better than this, and few look better, either. Mission accomplished, Ford!
Taranaki Daily News