When the very first Mustang arrived in 1965, it surpassed all forecasts, eventually selling a million cars in just 18 months. Although a massive hit in the US, Europe never really got the Mustang, either physically or intellectually. It was derided as an American take on the sports car, too big, too powerful, too brash and not especially good at going round corners. But what it lacked in airs and graces the Mustang made up for in visual brawn, taking the svelte coupe shape and injecting it with a dash of Detroit bulk.
The newest iteration of the classic muscle car attempts to claw back some of the character lost during the Mustang's long evolution. There have been six different Mustangs, each markedly distinct and shaped by the tastes and politics of each era. It wasn't until 2005 that Ford rediscovered the Mustang's mojo, with an unapologetically retro design that evoked the glory years of the mid-to-late 1960s. This latest version, launched in the US last year, is more of the same.
Being a Ford, you get a lot of car for your money, even though the UK-specific model costs around double its American equivalent. In the UK, that base model Mustang comes equipped with a 2.3 litre 'Ecoboost' engine, a name that would probably have given the Mustang's very first customers a nasty turn. It's a big car, but the engine feels up to the job, even though cunning audio engineering is used to bulk out the sound in the cabin. If you need a more authentic exhaust note, there’s also a burbling V8, which is far more in character with the car, if not its surroundings. American fans also have access to the steroidal Mustang Shelby GT350R, the alpha male of automobiles.
The Mustang is a barometer of automotive taste, from the slightly compromised 1960s futurism of the earliest cars, through to the reactionary machismo of the big, bluff 70s models (perfectly ill-timed for the fuel crisis), followed up by 80s uncertainty, timid 90s revival and eventually the full-blown retro celebration that came with the new century.
No-one drives a Mustang for a quiet life. This is a statement car, one that demands attention. The body is obviously derived from the original series, from the rear lights to the big grille and sculpted flanks. The ‘fastback’ hardtop is more brutishly elegant, but the convertible gives you more chances to show off. Every design detail hammers home your choice, from the courtesy lights in the wing mirrors that are shaped like the galloping pony symbol ('Mustang logo projection puddle lamps'), to the 'Mustang' trim set into the metal door sills that’s backlit in red.
This is a statement automobile, but the statement projected in the UK has always seemed at odds with what a Mustang means in the US. It's more Miami Vice-themed Home Counties nightclub, circa 1987, than authentic symbol of blue-collar American pluck. Yet unlike many of its antecedents, the modern Mustang is perfectly decent drive, even if the sport mode offers a gearchange and throttle that are a tiny bit more ambitious than the dynamics can handle. But that’s what the muscle car aesthetic is all about: a bold, carefree shout out to the world. In that respect, the Mk VI Mustang is a stand-out success.