Wednesday, Jan 23, 2019

Living Legend

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Ford’s iconic Mustang has now been in production for more than five decades. Virtuozity tries out the latest car from the famous stable, with, surprisingly, a manual gearbox

BY NOEL EBDON

Changing gear in a manual car is becoming a lost art. Sliding the lever down through the gears to slow the car and getting it just right is one of those things that never becomes unsatisfying, no matter how many times you do it. And the bigger the car, the bigger the thrill.

But the point is, that with more and more automation and a Playstation generation more intent on Snapchatting than slipping the clutch, less and less people actually know how to do it. So, for Ford to bring a manual version of its iconic Mustang to the region is a brave move indeed.  

The Mustang is fairly unique, perhaps only rivalled by the 911 or the Corvette, as it’s one of the few cars that can claim an unbroken heritage stretching all the way back to mid-sixties. The car still uses the same layout, the same styling cues and still has the same sassy nod to both chic cool and muscle-bound utilitarianism over six individual generations.

From Bullitt to pretty much every modern car chase movie, including an appearance as an evil Transformer, the Mustang has become the bad boy of the automotive world. The same pointed nose and slick rear end that sent thousands of Americans flocking to Ford dealerships at its launch, still resonate today, carried through the various designs in an unbroken line of instantly recognisable characteristics. It’s not radical, it’s familiar.

It’s also part of America. Ask people to name American ‘things’ and the Mustang is usually up there with hamburgers, baseball and apple pie. Almost every family has a ‘Mustang story’ and they still fly out of dealerships with the same enthusiasm as the first ones back in 1964.

From a technology point of view the new model clearly bears little resemblance to anything that has gone before it. The sixth generation boasts such niceties as sat nav, parking sensors, Bluetooth integration, remote boot pop and all the things buyers now expect for free on their cars. But it’s still a Mustang, still loud and still a bit big for its boots. This is not a car for shrinking violets. 

Inside, it’s clear the American car manufacturers have finally found some decent materials, as it’s well built, neatly laid out and feels like an interior should. The seats are extremely comfortable and there’s a little bit of room in the back, which is something that couldn’t be said for previous Mustang models.

Outside, it’s taken the fifth generation’s approach and rounded it all off, with some nods back to the sixties. The slender hips give it a much less brutish look than its predecessor, something people new to the brand will love and aging fans will need to get used to.

Under the hood you get a 5.0 litre V8 with 415 hp and 530 Nm of torque. There’s also a 3.7 litre V6 version with 300 hp and 380 Nm and a surprising four-cylinder Ecoboost version with 320 hp and 439 Nm, but the V8 will always trump both (excuse the pun) on sound and feel-good factor. The manual six-speed box (the auto is also a six-speed) is solid, but not the easiest when shifting fast. The gates are a little wide and the stick slightly too short for accurate changes, but once you start to get used to it the box does start to become part of you. Ford doesn’t publish performance figures for its cars, but the 0-100 dash is dispatched in around 4.5 seconds and top speed is around the 250 km/h mark. 

It’s also the tightest Mustang yet out on the road. And, unlike previous models it doesn’t feel like it’s about to throw you into the nearest barrier or switch ends on you for no reason whatsoever. It used to be an axe, compared to Europe’s scalpel sports cars, but now more of a meat slicer. It’s still big and brash, but it’s a lot more accurate and useful.

The rear end will still bite you if you go too mad, but the chassis is now more useable and stable with great driver feedback. Ok, it’s not as clever as a lot of the performance machines on the market today, but it also doesn’t cost $200,000. That’s always been the Mustang’s winning card. It’s a car for the people. People with attitude.

In that regard it’s business as usual. The Mustang is loudly and proudly American. With a third pedal it takes you straight back in time, away from the faceless identikit cars available across almost every showroom in the region. 

This car feels very alive and that’s because it’s both a Mustang and a manual. With that in mind, it’s a match made in heaven.  

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