Still big and burly, and as effusive and disarming as ever – although Ford’s efforts to bring the car more in line with what Europeans expect from a performance coupe are beginning to show more clearly.
The Mustang’s new 12in digital instrument screen has several display modes that change with your selected driving mode. While it’s a way off having the graphical or functional sophistication to rival similar systems from Ford’s premium-brand rivals, it does make the Mustang look and feel like a more up-to-date pseudo-luxury prospect.
A smattering of more upmarket cabin materials contributes to the same effect – on the interior door cards, centre console and instrument panel. It’s not to the extent that choosing a Mustang no longer means making a clear compromise on perceived quality compared with other coupes you might spend £40,000 on, but it does make that compromise a touch easier to stomach.
We had limited chance to test the difference made to the Mustang’s outright performance level and handling on our brief test drive – and there’s a fuller review coming soon, by the way – but it’s clear that Ford’s new gearbox and engine tweak has made a clear improvement to the car’s peak acceleration. In ‘drag strip’ and ‘track’ modes the automatic version of the car becomes the perfect counterpoint to the physical, analogue challenge of launching the manual version of the car off the line.
With the auto, you simply mash the accelerator and watch as that ten-speed gearbox rifles though the ratios, keeping the V8 right in the heart of its power band. On a dry day, and figured the way us European motoring hacks do these things (at genuinely zero to 60mph, and not using America’s preferred ‘one-foot-rollout’ benchmarking technique), I suspect a 4.0sec 0-60mph run might be an optimistic expectation of this car – but it wouldn’t miss it by much.
The idea of an automatic gearbox with ten speeds fitted to a car like a Mustang V8 is admittedly a bit of a tough one to wrap your head around. To this tester, the car’s appeal has everything to do with its V8 engine and how closely you can interact with it – and I wouldn’t take the edge of that appeal by choosing a gearbox that robbed you of the involving, tactile connection of a clutch pedal or an H-pattern gearshift.
Then again, Ford isn’t taking the manual away: it’s simply broadening the car’s ability and allure by adding a better automatic for those that want one. And it’s a pretty good one. Working via four planetary gearsets rather than ten distinct ratios, it could be a shade faster when you’re shifting gears manually using the car’s paddles, but juggles ratios well in ‘D’ and ‘S’ modes. It’s also capable of dropping three or four ratios at a time when you suddenly ask for a big hit of pace, and changes gear smoothly when you’re in no particular hurry.
Ford’s suspension and steering refinements for the car consist of new internals for the power steering system, and of magnetorheological dampers. The car’s tiller continues to feel usefully weighty, conveying a good impression of the heft of the car around you, and its body control and handling balance both seemed good during the limited opportunity we had to investigate them. If there’s been a really telling improvement made here, however, I suspect it’s to the Mustang’s ride, which could easily get choppy and restless in pre-facelift cars – and now feels a shade calmer and more settled.