After years of admiring the Mustang and its beastly, dynamic and timeless character, Indians have finally got the Mustang and that too in its full fury with a 5.0 litre V8 engine. While the car was launched in July, 2016, and we drove it on the track, the real test of any road-legal car can only be done on the road. This has been made possible due to the Mustang getting its steering wheel on the 'right' side, the actual place for a steering wheel. While we've driven the Mustang earlier on the Buddh International Circuit, the real test for a car of Mustang's character demands actual roads. Keeping this in mind, Ford India invited Express Drives to drive the Mustang GT from Ahmedabad to Surat, covering a distance of around 300 km and what followed was an eye-opening experience. It also proved that a few things I thought about the Mustang all these years were wrong.
The Mustang Journey
I reached Ahmedabad just after the sunlight started pushing the mercury up and proceeded to the hotel where the Mustang GT was resting since last night. After a quick chat with Ford officials, I got into the car and fired up the engine for warming-up. The 5.0 litre Ti-VCT V8 naturally aspirated engine came to life with a loud rumble from the exhaust and in seconds it settled into a pleasant mechanical track with a deep bass that played in the background.
This was the time when I took the opportunity of familiarising myself with the cabin as the larger part of the day was scheduled to be spent here. The first thing that I noticed was the way the cabin displayed the car's intent. It had performance written all over the controls and design, which seems inspired from an aircraft's cockpit. It doesn't look as suave as the cabin of some other European cars but it does look well-built and strong enough to last years. Material quality is decent but more importantly, ergonomics are spot-on and it takes just a few minutes to get accustomed to the placement of controls. A highlight in the centre console is the row of toggle switches in a metallic finish, typically what on would see inside an aircraft cockpit. The plastic quality again isn't top notch but feels solid, something that wouldn't break or rattle for a long time to come.
Next up were the seats, which can be electrically operated and are draped in leather. The seats are well-designed to hold the occupants in place when the car goes sideways, which it definitely will at some point of time. Right then, Ashish Trivedi from Ford India walked into the car and we were ready to leave, following the support car. We had to get to the Ahmedabad-Vadodara Expressway and that meant getting through the office hours traffic of Ahmedabad, a city which makes Delhi look like London in terms of following traffic rules. While local residents were busy blowing every existing traffic rule to smithereens, they were pleasantly surprised to see a long red hood emerge from a small service road. After all, the Mustang has been a frequent star in Bollywood over decades so the brand is quite well-known here. As people from all directions slowed down for a moment, I saw a small window to quickly get to the other side of the road. A slight dab on the throttle and instantly the V8 made the day for bystanders with a deep roar. Once onto the road towards the expressway, most of my attention was on avoiding people on scooters dangerously getting close to the car in order to take a selfie or a picture, all this while they were riding with one hand!
For the next 30 odd-minutes, we could barely make it past 30 km/h and this is where I realised that all these years, I was wrong to think that the Mustang wouldn't feel comfortable in stop-go traffic, especially the unruly traffic in our country. Surprisingly, the Mustang felt as comfortable as any regular car and if not for the mesmeric sight of the long hood through the windshield, one could forget that this engine displaces 5,000 cee cees across eight cylinders arranged in the classic 'V' pattern and churns out 400 hp and 515 Nm of torque. At slow speeds, the engine just hums along and the throttle isn't snappy either so even if one were to accidentally push it a wee-bit further, relax! It won't kill you. For the next few minutes, I used the 8-inch colour touchscreen to access various radio stations and checked out the voice control, which worked fine. The display quality is good but the touch response is a bit slow and at times you end up pressing twice for a desired function.
Once on the expressway, it was time to open up those American horses caged in the traffic of Ahmedabad. I quickly used one of the cool-looking toggle switches (like a fighter pilot would for selecting a missile) to switch from Normal to Sport+, sharpening the throttle response and allowing for higher revs as well. A second later, I floored the throttle and the Mustang responded with quick acceleration and a loud roar from the exhaust. The acceleration isn't really neck-snapping but it is enough to firmly push you into those well-padded seats. As the rev needle approached the 5,000 rpm mark, the sound from the exhaust came in its full glory and my aural senses conceded addiction to a new drug. A few minutes later, I could see cars hurrying to give me side as they wanted to see that fast incoming red spots with its headlamps on. The Mustang was chewing on kilometre markers with a ferocity similar to that of a crocodile, solid big chunks in quick succession. About 30 km into the drive, with the fun, just having begun, something hit us. “Houston, we have a problem”, is what came to my mind as the fuel level warning lamp turned on and showed a range of 30 km. Now the need to replenish the fuel tank of the Mustang did not come as a surprise since we had seen the range while leaving the hotel. We checked the GPS on our phone and saw a petrol pump around 10 km after the expressway started but we couldn't get any visual on it. We'd covered 30 km and had fuel for 30 more at the most and the GPS showed no more fuel stations for the next 40 odd kilometres.
The next few kilometres, I drove in Normal mode with the cruise control set at 90 km/h and the Mustang once again showed how effortlessly it can manage to be a sedate and comfortable car. Fortunately, we came across a guy who guides us to a nearby fuel station that wasn't on the GPS somehow. As we tanked up the car, two local guys, conversing in Gujarati approached the car. While I couldn't make out much of their talk, it was clear that one was explaining to the other how the Shelby has a Cobra where the GT moniker was placed at the rear. I was surprised to see awareness about not just Mustang but Shelby in a small town near Ahmedabad.
With the fuel tank full, we were back on the expressway shortly and I once again happily opened up the tap of the engine to let the power flow freely. Over the next 100 kilometres, I realised the Mustang has is a brilliant car to drive but isn't perfect. The Achilles Heel in an otherwise brilliant package is the slow 6-speed automatic transmission. Putting the transmission in 'S' mode doesn't change things significantly and even when one takes control via the steering paddles, one cannot ignore the slow shifts. There is a noticeable lag between the shifts, which limits the amount of performance you can extract from the large and brash motor.
With about 150 km covered and another 150 left to go till the Ford dealership in Surat, we stopped at a small dhaba (local highway restaurant)for a tea break. The moment we stopped, we had curious people closing in on the car. As we proceeded to place our meal order, we could see people admiring the car but thankfully no one was too close. In a few minutes, we were back on the highway and since it was already noon, things were getting warm outside. The Mustang's cooled seats felt God sent, since the car parked under the Sun for more than 30 minutes and obviously pretty hot. The air-conditioner quickly cooled the cabin and soon we were back to headbutting the horizon as the Mustang happily flamed up fuel and spat it out of its exhaust.
In a couple of hours, we were on the outskirts of Surat and started encountering traffic. The Mustang was quite easy to manoeuvre in this traffic despite a relatively heavy steering. One can also change how heavy the steering feels through one of toggle switches. Visibility up ahead and on the sides is impressive, which made it easy to negotiate the traffic on the narrow and congested roads leading into Surat. Rear visibility is a bit limited but not to the extent of being uncomfortable. Through the heart of Surat, we encountered bad stretches with bad roads and once again to my surprise, the Mustang handled them with ease. There were a few speed breakers, which seemed certain to scrape the car's underbelly but somehow it never happened. With the suspension being setup on the firm side, ride quality isn't exactly plush but it's only at slower speeds that you feel the jerks. At higher speeds, though, the setup works well and keeps the car steady. I encountered a few roundabouts in the city, where it was possible to test the handling. Being a GT, the Mustang feels most comfortable going fast in a straight line but that doesn't mean it;s nervous around corners. The car with its Pirelli Zero tyres manages to carry impressive speed around corners. However, in the process, one has to encounter a fair amount of body-roll. One also needs to be careful with the Mustang as with the power it has, one can lose the rear quicker than expected. At the end of the day, it's a muscle car and a damn fine one.
Driving the Ford Mustang GT through narrow streets, maddening traffic, bad roads and smooth expressways turned out to be a memorable experience. The car impressed me with its versatility, wherein it can be a gentle and composed car but can quickly unleash savagery when one needs to have fun. There is no point talking about fuel-efficiency as anyone buying the Mustang wouldn't think about it. What matters is the approximately 350 km range you get on a full tank of about 60 litres, which means planning long drives will not be an issue. There's a decent amount of space in the boot too, which means you can take the Mustang GT for a weekend trip as well.
In a nutshell, the Mustang GT is what one would expect from a modern day performance car without sacrificing the iconic retro appeal of the brand. The car marries technology and legacy in an almost perfect manner, which rewards the visual, aural and touch senses in a manner that can only be experienced, not explained. The Mustang GT has a rough and blunt side to it and that is what one would want from a muscle car. At Rs 65 lakh, ex-showroom, Delhi, the Mustang GT has no direct competitors for now. One could argue that around the same price-point one can buy faster cars with more features but that is missing the whole point of buying a Mustang. Yes, one could buy something like an Audi S5, which is larger, equally quicker yet more refined. However, when you pull up into a social gathering in the S5, you arrive in just another luxury car. In the Mustang GT, you would be heard and seen arriving in a timeless icon!