Lower and wider, for a start. Compared with some of today's cars that offer great leaps forward in construction technology, the new Mustang is a conservative all-steel unitary creation, with a front-mounted engine driving the rear wheels. It's slightly heavier than its predecessor as a result of its higher equipment spec (more airbags, better infotainment, bigger electronics package).
For the UK there will be two engines: a quad-cam, 5.0-litre V8 with 420bhp, developed at a stirring 6500rpm, plus 400lb ft of torque at 4250rpm, and a four-cylinder turbocharged 2.3-litre EcoBoost four-cylinder developing 306bhp at 5500rpm and 320lb ft at 3000rpm. The latter engine’s function is to provide a version with lower emissions to make a better case for company car buyers who might like a Mustang.
Both models are very well equipped. In the UK they'll all have what Ford calls a Performance Equipment package (firmer suspension, bigger brakes, sports seats and a system of variable driving modes configurable from the dashboard). The entry-level 2.3 Ecoboost is expected to start at the bargain price of £28,500, while the V8 should cost around £33,000. Given the car's impactful styling and the fact that its equipment is so rich, both models should look like a considerable bargain.
It is clear in the first 100 yards of driving a V8 that Ford has tried harder than ever with a Mustang to deliver inspirational handling. There’s a new precision built in, compared with its predecessors. The engine revs smoothly and easily to its 6500rpm redline, and its dynamism is accompanied by one of the most stirring notes this side of the Jaguar F-type.
The V8’s six-speed gearbox (you can’t get a V8 automatic) is especially well-matched to the engine’s sporting character, having five close ratios that make the car ideal for quick acceleration (0-60mph in 4.4sec and a top speed of 155mph) plus a cruising sixth cog that lets the car roll along the highway at about 30mph/1000rpm.
The chassis’ biggest new feature is a new multi-link rear suspension which contributes greatly to rear grip, traction and handling balance, introducing a new level of precision and subtle throttle-steering into fast driving.
Its major flaw is low-speed ride comfort. The car bucked and kicked uncomfortably over California's rougher concrete roads, and can be expected to do the same the UK unless extra last-minute tuning – claimed by engineers still to be possible – is carried out.
Inside, the Mustang delivers much greater level of quality and sophistication than any of its predecessors, though it retains the simplicity and ease of operation Mustang buyers have always expected. Design boss Moray Callum says there were many internal debates about how to maintain a Mustang's air of straightforwardness while increasing its quality and capability. The new design, based on two deep-set binnacles ahead of the driver, strikes the balance very well indeed.
On challenging roads the V8 is a very fast car, though it doesn't feel so at first. For all its lovely note the engine seems rather to lack the expected brute torque, but what it is really doing is replacing traditional Detroit-iron bluntness with quick-revving sophistication worthy of a much more expensive car.
The newly tuned suspension has more anti-squat and anti-dive built into its design, so the car stays planted and grip beautifully under serious provocation. On fast canyon roads, the exhaust note bouncing off the rock walls, it steers beautifully, turning in and exiting bends exactly on line. Throttle steering is a particular joy.
The four-cylinder model has most of these virtues, and goes well (0-60mph in 5.4 seconds and a top speed of 155mph) but the engine can feel coarse and boomy around 4000rpm, and suffers at times from obvious turbo lag. European Ecoboost engines tend to be better on those scores.