When planning that special all-American road trip experience, what could be a better choice of rental car than a Ford Mustang? That’s clearly the thought that goes through countless peoples’ minds and accordingly all the major US rental car companies tend to have quite a number of Ford’s enduring Pony Car on fleet. Not everyone wants a convertible, and let’s be honest, the climate in many of the 50 States is not really any better-suited for open-topped motoring than you can experience back in Northern Europe, so those rental fleets tend to comprise a mix of Coupe and Convertible models. Whilst the automotive enthusiast will almost certainly include the delights of the sound track of the legendary V8 engine in their pre-trip dreams, the reality is that Mustangs almost always come in “rental car spec”, which until recently has meant the entry level V6 engine. Performance, until recently, very definitely played second fiddle to the overall style and reputation of the car. The arrival of two credible rivals to the Mustang, though around the turn of the decade, in the Chevrolet Camaro and Dodge Challenger caused Ford to think again, and a much improved and all-new 3.7 litre V6 in 2011 finally gave the car the performance its looks suggested it deserved. Not long after the population of this “pony car” class had expanded to include three desirable sports coupes, Hertz decided to try an experiment and purchased a number of more potent models, calling the cars the Adrenaline Collection. And very popular they proved to be, too. Needless to say, I sampled all three back in 2011/2012 and enjoyed them all. There were at least a couple of rounds of each car on fleet, but by 2014 their rental car duty was largely up. It was about this time that the new generation Mustang was launched, ready for the 2015 model year and I eagerly awaited its arrival on fleet. This came, fairly quickly, with some V6 Convertible models available by March 2015, but the Coupes remained conspicuous by their absence for much longer. In Hertz’ case, the first coupe models that did appear came in 2016 in a special Shelby edition, marking 10 years since the last time Hertz had partnered with Shelby to produce a modern-day version of the famous “rent-a-racer” program of the 60s. These were only available in limited numbers at select Hertz airport locations, but before their time on fleet was up, a small number of base model Coupes arrived, and my sources told me that they would soon be followed by some GT models. Sure enough during 2017 these appeared in what by now had become a very large and diverse fleet that Hertz offered, with a booking class all of their own. Having driven the special GT-H Shelby car as well as a V6 Convertible, I was keen to sample a 5.0 GT Coupe to broaden my experience of the range. Because, well, yes, those dreams that I started off describing apply to me as well!
The latest and sixth generation Mustang made its debut in December 2013, ready for the model’s 50th anniversary the following April, though it did not actually reach the US dealers until November 2014. Visually it looked like quite a cautious evolution of the previous car, though the new body was both wider and lower, by 1.5 inches in both cases, and indeed this was an all-new car. The changes were designed to increase the amount of space inside and also to help make the car even better to drive. With new engines offered in its predecessor from mid-cycle, these were carried over, though a new potent 4 cylinder Ecoboost engine did join the range to provide a third option. Perhaps the most notable change was the introduction – long overdue in the view of many – of independent rear suspension, and the steering changed to an electrically assisted setup, whilst a significant technology update brought in the latest safety and technology updates that we are told that customers expect. The general view expressed at the unveiling was that Ford had once again found the right balance between a link to the heritage of this much loved model and making the advances that are needed to stay competitive in the market, something that was going to even more critical for this generation as Ford announced plans to sell it in Europe, a first for a car that they had been producing for 50 years. Evidence that Ford got it right came from the fact that there have been no changes of any significance in the three years since the model went on sale, just additions to the range with ever more lairy versions. I had this car on the day that I made my annual visit to the Los Angeles Auto Show, where a mid-cycle refresh was unveiled, of which a newly reshaped bonnet is perhaps the most obvious visual difference. No doubt these cars will appear in the rental fleets in the coming months.
I collected this car, finished a striking bright yellow colour, from Hertz’ LAX facility. Unlike Phoenix, the LAX facility is all outdoors, so you don’t get all the sound effects when you first fire the engine of cars here that you get from the enclosed space of the Sky Harbor rental garage, but even so, as I pressed the Start Engine button, which you will find in the lower part of the centre of the dash, the noise that emanated told me that this would be aurally stimulating throughout my test. And so it proved. Once you reach a steady cruising speed, the engine is actually quite quiet, but on start up, and at light throttle loadings there is a wonderful rumble, leaving you in no doubt that there are 8 cylinders powering this 435 bhp car. Push harder on the throttle, something I struggled to be able to do until clear of the morning LA traffic, some distance away from the rental car facility, and there is a fabulous sound once more, and you realise that this car is really rather rapid. There is a rush of acceleration evident without even trying hard, the car always seeming to be in the most appropriate of its six gears. There are paddles on the wheel, if you want to change the gears yourself, or you can just let the box’ electronics and software work it out for you, something it seemed to do pretty well. Be in no doubt, this is a seriously quick car, with more than enough acceleration on tap whenever you want it. And don’t forget that if this is not enough, then there is always the GT350 with another 90 bhp. I only had the Mustang for one day, during which time I managed to cover 147 miles. It needed 6.3 US gallons to fill it up before I returned the car, which computes to 23.33 mpg US or 27.87 mpg Imperial, about what I would have expected for a car with 8 large cylinders to keep nourished, and in fact little different to what I achieved with the V6 Convertible model I drove back in 2015. I should point out that the test mileage was made up of a mix of freeway miles up to the mountains north of LA and then time spend up on the major roads there, the Angeles Forest Highway and Crest Highway, so a mix of steady speed driving and a certain amount of stop/start between photo locations. I suspect that you could improve on this figure a bit, but also were you to exploit more of the performance, that number could easily go down. Possibly by quite a bit.
In recent years, Ford have transformed the road manners of the Mustang. With independent rear suspension arriving – finally – the challenge of driving a Mustang briskly on a bendy road became a whole lot easier, and. frankly, more fun. There is plenty of feel in the electrically assisted steering, and this version with its uprated suspension and wider 235/50 ZR18 tyres had plenty of grip encouraging you to have some fun on the twisty canyon roads up over Los Angeles, which is where I took the car for its test. There is negligible body roll and the car corners feeling like it is on proverbial rails. Of course, we all know from numerous video clips online showing drivers losing it, often with brutal acceleration away from a Cars & Coffee event, there are limits and the Mustang will snap away, with disastrous consequences. Canyon roads in a rental car and a foreign country are not the place to find just where those limits are, but for the sort of speed that you can do on public roads (with speed limits and frequent visits from the California Highway Patrol) this is a fun car to drive. Even on the smoother roads that you find up in the hills, the ride is not brilliant, though, something which you will notice even more on the less well maintained an often frankly awful surfaces that you encounter on the freeways and surface streets in the LA valley. There were no concerns about the brakes, which seemed powerful and responding well to just moderate pushes on the pedal. There is a central pull-up handbrake between the front seats. Visibility, whilst better than the view out of a Camaro, is not brilliant. Much of the problem comes from the quantity of glass and the angle at which it is. The rear window gives some view of sky, but not much else, though fortunately there is a rear-view camera which gave a decent view of what was behind the car. The view over the shoulder was poor, thanks to the thick B and C pillars. There is a second piece of glass in the door mirrors to try to alleviate the blind spot, but even with this help, you still need to be careful in traffic.
The interior will look pretty familiar to those who’ve seen inside a Mustang in the last few years, with a similar overall style adopted for the cabin, though there were lots of detailed changes for this generation car compared to its predecessor. Ford have made a determined effort to try to improve the perceived quality, though I have to say that they’ve not been particularly successful. Despite the use of leather not just wrapping the wheel, but also on part of the dash and the door casings, you still get plenty of cheap looking and fitting materials and some of the main elements have something of a patchy fit. The real let down comes from the plastic inlay on the main face of the dash, the rather nasty quality plastic that pretends to look like metal in the gearlever and just the feel of some of the switches and buttons. The layout does look pretty familiar from the previous generation, though there have been detailed changes. There are still two main dials in individual and deeply recessed cowls, each with a smaller gauge set in the bottom for fuel level and water temperature. Unlike most current Fords, you get traditional red pointers in the dials as opposed to the turquoise ones that Ford use on most of the rest of their range. The speedometer is marked “Ground Speed” as it is on all the current generation of Mustangs. Between the two dials is a digital display area which is exactly the same as you get in most other contemporary US Ford models. There are several menus and sub-menus selected using the buttons on the left hand steering wheel spoke. The wheel is busy, as it also has lots of buttons for audio repeaters and cruise control. The two column stalks are straight from the Ford parts bin and there is a rotary dial to the left of the wheel for the lights. Lights and wipers both have an auto function. The major change over the previous model is evident in the centre of the dash, with an integrated colour touch screen for infotainment functions. This houses the latest generation of Ford MySync technology and it is a lot more responsive than their systems were even only a couple of years ago. There are a few traditional buttons and two large knobs below the unit, which do help. The audio system in the test car, including XM Satellite radio was a 12-speaker Shaker Premium Sound System, and the sound quality was pretty decent, for those times when you wanted to listen to something other than the sonorous V8 engine. Below this unit are a series of buttons for the dual zone automated climate control, some of the functions of which you can also set from the touch screen. A row of metal-look toggle switches for the remaining minor controls are intended to give a retro feel. It is all easy enough to use and I found quickly assimilated.
Like most low-slung coupes, you do need to be moderately agile when getting in and out of the Mustang. It is not as hard as some, but do bear this in mind. Getting comfortable was not that hard. There is electrical assistance for adjusting the seat back and forth and its height, but there is still a manual lever for backrest rake. Even though the natural seating position is quite low, I still found myself setting the seat down as low as it would go, and so doing did not seem to give me a visibility problem. There is electric adjustment for the steering column. The seats themselves are heavily contoured in bucket-style and proved to provide both plenty of support and also some good grip to hold you in place. I found them comfortable. Premium trim includes seat heating and cooling. I felt the need for neither of these during my test, but then that’s California for you!
It remains as challenging as ever to get into the back of the Mustang. The front seat back rest tilts forward, meaning that those who are planning to get in must clamber through quite a small gap. There are most definitely only two seats here, deep buckets separated by the central part of the seat. The central console moulding, sitting on top of the transmission tunnel extends back almost as far as the rear seat cushion, so there really would be nowhere for any prospective third seat occupant. There’s not an awful lot for those who do sit in the intended seats, especially if the front seats are set well back. Although you sit quite low, headroom is also not that generous. Children would probably be quite comfortable, but adults would not to sit here for long. It should be pointed out that the Camaro is not really any better in this respect, whereas the Challenger offers much more space. If there are more than two adults on that dream trip, then you really do need to go Dodge and not Ford.
Also as with the previous generation car, the boot is a reasonable size, but you may struggle to take advantage of it, as the entry slot is quite small. In the past I have struggled to get my suitcase through the opening, even though the floor area was clearly sufficient to house it once in. On this occasion, it was mid trip, so I had no suitcase challenge to deal with. Also as before, there is no external boot release, so you either need to use the button on the key or the button inside the car. There is a spacesaver under the boot floor, but it sits in a tightly fitting well, so there is no additional space under the floor. You can get more space by folding the rear seat backrests down, should you have long items. In the cabin there is decent provisions for odds and ends. There is a modest glovebox, some rather small doorbins and a small cubby under the central armrest. This is a little awkward to reach as the armrest is located well back, behind the pair of cupholders.
The main difference between the models in the 2017 Mustang range revolves around the engine. There are four choices: the established 300 bhp 3.7 litre V6, a more recently introduced 2.3 litre 310 bhp Ecoboost 4 cylinder unit, which costs slightly more than the V6 and then the 435 bhp 5.0 litre V8, with the 526 bhp Shelby GT350 sitting at the top of the range. The Mustang GT adds larger brakes, and an external oil cooler as well as larger 19″ wheels. The GT350 adds Brembo brakes, an adaptive suspension, a differential cooler, and Recaro sport seats. All come as standard with a six speed manual transmission, with the 7 speed automatic a cost option. Both coupe and convertible body styles are available with all engines bar the Shelby. The base model trim, for the V6 and Ecoboost cars ride on 17″ wheels and comes as standard with a 4.2-inch display screen, a rearview camera, a USB port, Bluetooth, an AM/FM radio, a CD player, keyless entry, push-button start, cruise control, air conditioning, cloth seats, and alloy wheels. For better amenities and tech features, opt for an EcoBoost or GT model outfitted with the available Premium package. This includes leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, an 8-inch touch screen, satellite radio, and dual-zone climate control. Other available features include a navigation system, forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring, and rear parking sensors. There’s also an available GT350R package, which adds carbon fibre wheels and aerodynamic upgrades, but removes creature comforts like air conditioning, the radio, and even the backseat. The test car featured the Premium package. Features I also picked up on were the puddle lighting which projects an image of the Mustang logo on the ground, as well as the Mustang-specific kick plates.
Having driven a couple of other Mustang models of this generation, as well as many of its predecessors, my expectations for this GT model were high. I was not disappointed. This was without question the best Mustang yet of the numerous models I have driven over the years. For sure the car is not perfect: the interior quality is still not particularly good, rear seat space is tight and access to the boot may prove to be a challenge, and the ride is not very good, but beyond these, none of which are exactly showstoppers, this car has much to commend it. Re-reading my thoughts on the V6 Convertible, it would seem that the weak spots on this car were little different from the things that I highlighted then, suggesting that if you possibly can, then there is no significant penalty in going for the V8 with the upside of more power and a much better-sounding engine. That, of course, is not quite the end of the story. Back in 2012, having sampled the rival trio of Camaro SS, Challenger R/T and Mustang GT, I ranked them in that order. Since that time, although the Dodge has only altered in detail, every change has improved it, and whilst it is now quite an old design, it still has huge appeal. Chevrolet did introduce a new generation Camaro a few months after the Mustang’s refresh, and whilst I’ve yet to drive an SS version, the latest Camaro does not appeal in the same way as its predecessor did . It has issues, too, with visibility added to the things which the Mustang struggles with it. That means that given the choice of all three, I would probably put the Dodge first, but if there were none available, but I could have a Mustang GT instead, I really would not feel short-changed.