Feature: Redefining the pony car: 2015 Ford Mustang GT review

Photography courtesy of Ford

Ford’s 2015 Mustang is arguably the most anticipated car to launch in 2014. Up against steep competition with the likes of BMW’s M3 and M4, Dodge’s Hellcat, the Camaro Z/28 and even Jaguar’s F-Type R Coupe, the Mustang is boldly claiming its position in the fight for car of the year.

Rumours had been flying since the announcement of the redesigned 2015 in regards to the new pony car’s technological packages and trim offerings. But the major anticipation surrounded Ford’s inclusion of the 2.3-litre EcoBoost engine, and the monumental move away from the solid rear axle that had graced (and compromised) the Mustang since the beginning, in favour of a completely independent suspension in the front and rear. 

Mustang chief engineer Dave Pericak had the unenviable task of taking what had been a chief stablemate among America’s best, and reimagining it to line up on the global stage where it could play the part of multiple characters. But how would these changes affect the personality of Ford’s most prized possession? Would they detract from the experience of what makes the Mustang unique? There were some bold decisions to make in the car’s golden anniversary, but the time had finally come to start a new chapter.

Setting the stage for the Mustang’s 50th anniversary launch program, Ford could not have chosen a more appropriate location in Los Angeles and the surrounding area of Mulholland Drive. The technical, mountainous roads have graced the silver screen countless times, and the postcard views of Malibu along the Pacific Coast Highway are the perfect stage to embody all that the Mustang represents.

From the outset, it’s easy to see the variations this current model has over its predecessors. Height has been reduced by an inch-and-a-half and the body is wider by the same margin, with a significantly wider, staggered track patch in the front and rear. It loses 14 or 29 kg, respectively, depending on whether it’s equipped with the manual or automatic transmission.

The strengthened approach in the front end is highlighted by a larger, more exposed fascia that’s accented by triple LED bars inside each of the HID headlamp housings – hearkening to the Mustang’s triple taillamp configuration and subtly hinting that this Mustang is a technological leap ahead of its previous self. Aerodynamics have been thoroughly revised, and the EcoBoost version gets active grille shutters. The fastback rear is undoubtedly curvier and more modern and, while longer than its predecessors, still completes the unquestionable silhouette of the fabled Ford.

Our GT tester appears to come straight out of a time-warped version of Bullitt, dressed in Guard Green, though with a slightly more silver tinge than the ’68 Fastback driven by Steve McQueen. Complete with the optional performance package, the 19-inch black wheels and hulking six-piston Brembo front brakes further separate the modern car from its famous counterpart. Instead of McQueen’s Persols, I’m sporting a pair of Wayfarers, but hey, it’s close enough to live out the fantasy.

The modern renovations carry onward to the cabin where it’s clearly Mustang and clearly refined. Ford's efforts in caring for the interior feel of the car have become increasingly evident over the past few years, and this time in the Mustang, not a single stone is left unturned. Materials and textures have all been considered; everything has a tact, quality feel that doesn’t go unnoticed. The stitched leather trim and machined aluminum panels give a perfect balance of boldness, sport and class.

It’s also evident in the instrumentation. For the first time, the entire Mustang lineup is push start in both automatic and manual transmissions. Standard on our Premium GT model and the Premium EcoBoost, the driver and front passenger are treated to heated and cooled seats. Infotainment is controlled using Ford’s SYNC system from an eight-inch, full-colour touchscreen with a complementary two-inch display in the main instrument cluster for easy viewing when toggling adjustments on the console or steering wheel. We had some issues with navigation inputs - not finding locations, specifically - although it's something that can surely be sorted with a quick update.

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But it’s four shiny toggle switches beside the ignition button that catch your attention and pique your curiosity when sitting in any version of the new Mustang for the first time. Furthest left is the hazard indicator. Nothing big. Right of that is a toggle to turn traction control on and off. That’s getting somewhere. Beside that sits a switch with a steering wheel. This little addition makes use of the new electronic steering modes that actually allow drivers to adjust the stiffness and input/reactivity level in any given driving situation. You can set it up for comfort, normal and sport. It’s great for adjusting between city and highway driving. But climbing through the Hollywood Hills and into driving nirvana, you can guess what mode we leave it in.

To match the steering settings, the final and most important toggle says “MODE.” As Captain Obvious might suggest, this changes between the three available modes and adjusts throttle input and suspension dampening accordingly. With upgraded springs on Premium 2.3- and 5.0-litre models, those settings become much more magical.

Suffice to say, the engineers at Ford know what they are doing when it comes to the interior design. Next to the BMW M4, this is the only other car that I have driven this year that has (and even more so) figured out proper seating height. At 6’1”, it feels as comfortable and adjustable as I could’ve asked, and it’s the only vehicle that doesn’t require me to make sacrifices in one area or another to get seated properly and comfortably. From $20,000 to $220,000 cars, that’s a big nod to Ford. Perhaps the optional $1,800 Recaro sport seats also have something to do with it.

The revised V8 carries that instant growl on startup, patiently waiting until the right moment to let loose. Compared to last year, this pony outputs 15 more horsepower and 10 lb-ft more torque for an incredible power-to-weight ratio of 3.85 kg per horsepower. It’s also the first time across the range that, no matter which engine you choose, you have no less than 300 horses at your disposal - V8, V6 or inline-four. The horsepower-per-dollar ratio is equally as impressive.

Upon takeoff, the Mustang’s clutch actuation feels near perfect. Input and engagement are well-weighted and appropriate for everyday driving, while still matching the potential of each of the 5.0’s 435 horses. The performance package also aids in the sport character this modern pony car possesses, swapping the GT’s standard 3.31:1 gear set for a 3.73 for even greater engine response, driven through a Torsen differential. Driving enthusiasts, rejoice!

The fact is, this latest Mustang is all about putting power exactly where it should be: on the ground. Even without the performance package and LSD, the all-new suspension gives the car an added level of confidence that translates directly to the driver.

Having driven my share of ’Stangs over the years, including a 1970 Boss 302, 1988 5.0 LX, a 2013 California Special and my own 1996 GT, the 2015 treads on completely new ground in its handling and stability, which should be evident to even the least discerning driver.

In the front, engineers have constructed a new double-ball joint strut suspension and thicker stabilizer bar that helps point the car directly and effectively, while helping trim out vehicle pitch and roll for excellent communication with the new electronic steering package.

But starting our test drive going uphill into the open California roads? That is one heck of a way to start off a test in the newest and most trimmed-out pony. I couldn’t think of a better way to shake out the brand-new independent rear end than climbing through the winding terrain, waiting for the off-chance that we get a nice tank slapper.

I couldn’t think of a better way to shake out the brand-new independent rear end than climbing through the winding terrain, waiting for the off-chance that we get a nice tank slapper.

I loved my ’96 GT when I had it. I hadn’t done too much to it, but when I originally bought it off a police officer in 2003, it had never been in the rain. It was ECU flashed to Cobra-spec, ran a MagnaFlow performance cat-back, CAI, Eibach sport springs and Cobra wheels. It wasn’t much, but it was definitely fun to drive.

Whenever I drove that car, the solid rear axle would kick out, jump, pull – basically whatever it wanted, it could do. It took a bit of finessing to learn off the start, but it was a blast once I figured it out. Most of the time, I understand the call for an independent rear setup, but wow, that live rear was a ton of fun.

In any case, the new Mustang has moved on from said primitive technologies in favour of the independent rear. But somehow, it hasn’t taken away from that Mustang experience. In older models, to rush the car you have to get it balanced, run through the turn and ease into the gas as the rear end planted itself. With the 2015 you’re definitely not required to do that, but if you do, you’ll be rewarded in spades.

Weight distribution has been optimized 53/47, front to rear (52/48 with the lighter EcoBoost engine), and increased chassis rigidity provides 28 percent more torsional stiffness than the 2014 (15 on convertible), and it's noticeable.

From the driver’s seat, everything seems calm and composed and just how it should be. The car is being hustled and it’s responding. I’m able to lay my tires exactly where I want at speed and, when there’s a need for an extra stab at the throttle, it stays were I want and holds on just enough to remind me it should still be respected. After all, with the performance package, the 2015 GT is essentially better than the company’s latest Boss 302.

"We already set a very high standard for Mustang driving dynamics with the 2012 Mustang Boss 302, and our goal was to go above and beyond that with the performance pack on this new car,” says Pericak. “We added a lot of content to the new Mustang in order to hit our performance targets and meet today’s customer expectations.”

“From day one, we knew that if we were going to build a new Mustang, we had to do it right,” he adds. “We built a new Mustang from the ground up that is quicker, better-looking, more refined and more efficient, without losing any of the raw appeal that people have associated with Mustang for half-a-century.”

...with the performance package, the 2015 GT is essentially better than the company’s latest Boss 302.

At a time when cars are becoming tech-savvy and ultra modern, the Mustang lets its performance do all the talking. It shares the same grocery list of safety and infotainment options as its top performance luxury competitors, with double the airbags, traffic safety alerts and adaptive cruise, but when you look at it – when you get inside – none of that matters, because you realize you’re in the best Mustang and, arguably, the best pony car, of all time.

2015 Ford Mustang GT

Specifications
Base Price: $36,999 CAD (Base GT)
Price as Tested (before taxes): $42,499 (GT Premium) w/ GT Performance Package (+$3,700)
Engine: 5.0L Ti-VCT V8
Horsepower/Torque: 435 hp @ 6,500 rpm / 400 lb-ft @ 6,500 rpm
Configuration: FR w/ LSD
Transmission: 6-speed manual w/ hill start assist / 6-speed paddle shift automatic
Curb Weight: 1,680 kg (3,705 lb.)
Fuel Economy Ratings (city/hwy./comb.): 14.7 / 9.4 / 12.4 L/100 km
Warranty: 5 years / 100,000 km
Options on Test Vehicle: GT Premium Package w/ equipment group 401A (standard features +$2,000 – Shaker Pro audio system, memory mirrors and driver seat, blind-spot and cross-traffic indicators), Performance Package (strut tower brace, large radiator, unique chassis tuning, upsized front/rear swar bars, heavy-duty front springs, gauge pack (oil pressure & vacuum), K-brace, Brembo 6-piston front brake calipers & larger rotors, Ebony black aluminum wheels (19x9 front, 19x9.5 rear), Summer-only tires (255/40R19 front, 275/40R19 rear), unique stability control, EPAS & ABS tuning, 3.73 Torsen rear axle, engine turned aluminum panel appliques, spoiler not included), adaptive cruise control ($1,600), Recaro sport leather seats ($1,800)