As an editor who also makes a considerable number of business trips, we have a personal policy of accepting whatever rental car our favorite rental company, Hertz, happens to choose for us at the airport so that we get more experience with a broader range of cars. Hertz is continually improving it’s service and now, thanks to our Hertz Presidential status, we get to choose our rental car from whatever they have on the lot at the time of our arrival. So recently we have gotten the opportunity to choose from a much wider set of cars than our corporate employer would regularly pay for!
Enter the 2017 Mustang GT, which just happened to be available at a Hertz facility at a city we had just flown into for several days of business (sure, we'd prefer a 2018 model, but everything we have to say below still applies 100%). What’s a 2017 doing on still on the road? Simple, Hertz, like other rental agencies, has a financial model where the car will stay in the fleet until a certain point in it’s depreciation curve and replacement cost. We expect this car to remain in use until at least the end of the 2018 calendar year.
We’ve driven the 6th generation Mustang many many times, and we’d also attended the original press unveiling where we talked to Ford Execs, admired the handsome styling, and climbed underneath to examine the (10-years late!) IRS in detail. And we’d sampled the GT350 on track and at speed at it’s press introduction. And did we forget to mention that we've owned 12 Mustangs, almost all modified and used in HPDE events (every generation except a Mustang II)? So we know a thing or two about Mustangs in experience and in detail (including this generation's origin as a “CAD’d” S197). But what we don’t know is how the current generation will hold up with 15 thousand mixed miles on it from probably 100 different drivers.
This week we found out. And unlike those certain websites and magazines who make their living with carefully prepped press cars… well, this is more meaningful because it’s a real world evaluation of a car that an enthusiast would live with for several tens of thousands of miles or even buy used.
First, the weather. “Baby, it’s cold outside” with an unusually cold spell for this time of year. 30 degrees in the morning, cold during most the day, and a peak of 45 degrees. All week long, except at the end when it finally driedout. Awful… but real-world. Not everybody has the luxury of leaving their car in a garage all year, only coming out for the occasional track weekend in the summer months (we know, we’ve been there). Most of us have to drive our cars all year – so how will a 435 HP rear wheel drive car do in the cold and wet?
Now for the car. We have a base model Mustang GT, without any options other than the 6-speed automatic transmission and the heated & cooled seats option.
It’s still that handsome Mustang we first saw at the press launch in 2013 and it still looks great. Note that as a base model, the front spoiler is the smallest size of at least three available (good for poking a parking curb without damaging the front cap). It also has HID headlamps (LEDs are not available), and the usual useless driving lamps (thanks to Federal standards).
We remember at the press introduction standing behind the car at this same angle, admiring the "hips" and the sexy way the side window and roof wrap around the side of the car. So well done, and what an improvement from the S197 generation with it’s enormous rear window.
And despite this, visibility out the rear window is excellent. Try this in a Camaro (where you sit in a bathtub) or 370Z (where the rear view if a slot). In fact, side visibility is fair too. Again, try that in a Camaro with it’s terrible (and as most drivers find, unsafe) sightlines in all directions from inside the car.
This is a base model GT, so the tires are Pirelli 235/50ZR-18 all seasons on 18×8″ wheels. Not the tire specification that a driving enthusiast would want, but on the other hand also not so low in sidewall that the tires could end up damaged by potholes. These fat sidewalls will also protect the rims from real-world damage. Makes sense for most drivers.
Moving inside, we find the familiar dash, essentially unchanged since the introduction for 2015. This is another retro styling element of the car... and we’re not entirely happy with it’s ergonomics. The temperature controls need more clearly defined thumb rests. We’d also like to see the center dash more angled toward the driver, and a deeper hood over the Sync screen to cut glare.
This rental car doesn’t have the Sync navigation option, but does have a full size screen to satisfy government backup-up camera regulations. This works very well and is a good feature to have for daily use. We used it to parallel park the car without having to turn more than once in our seat.
Retro styling aside, this interior is still enormously better than the Camaro where the ergonomics are just terrible… thanks to to the comic book "concept car" styling which came over to production nearly unchanged. The Camaro in our experience is a car you can’t live with on a daily basis (I have driven them on track where their suspension is superior, with HPDE students who can’t see out of it or see any of the other cars around them – and are therefore dangerous, and as rental cars).
I also like the small steering wheel… such a contrast to the gigantic and thin wheel of the previous generation cars, although I don’t like the slick leather wrapping. I’d like to see perforated leather here to provide a better grip (fake Alcantara wouldn’t wear well enough for the base cars although it’s an option for the GT350).
The retro shifter? Silly with it’s look of a flip-up cover over a non-existent switch. And it’s slippery.
The speedometer and tach are tiny, buried deeply inside inside their bezels. This is styling and not function. Why do we say this? Two things: (1) we had a 1967 Mustang where the gauges were considerably larger – and as Ford said in advertising at the time, easy to read with a single glance and no need to take your eyes off the road. (2), their sweeps only go part way around the dial. Again, taking our ’67 as an example, where the sweep used up considerably more of the 360 degrees. Think in practical terms: that 15 mile-per-hour school zone you are trying to maintain a legal speed thru is about a half inch of travel on the outside of the dial. Can you really have an accurate speed with this? And what is the typical highway speed you might maintain? In Texas it’s up to 85, and that’s only halfway around the sweep. Everywhere else: 55 to 70 – not even a third. The 160 MPH maximum? It should be far further around the sweep… and 99.999% of owners will never do that anyway (even on 20 racetracks in our two dozen tracked-prepped cars, we’ve rarely “pegged” the speedometer). The digital guages option in the 2018 Mustang should be standard.
And then there is the engine. Hidden under a cover that simulates a SHO manifold with fake side plenums… this makes zero sense (the 2018 finally has a different cover... but it looks like a work table). Again, not function, just styling – and styling to no point. Ford, show us the engine!! The engine is smooth, docile, and makes nice sounds. No strut tower brace on this base model (but the studs are waiting for it’s eventual owner to add one). 435 HP, 420 torque. And when it finally dried up this week, we got to sample all of it.
Dual exhaust, single outlets on each side. And fake aero slats on the rear bumper…. well, at least there aren’t any fake scoops on the hood or side. We’re very tired of that kind of childish poseur add-on and they would have zero function to add. We’re glad the Mustang stylists have mostly grown up…. at least on the exterior.
Now let’s take it out in the rain and drive it in the real world. First, the saving grace this week: Snow/Wet mode. This slows the throttle response and sensitizes the anti-lock and traction control. A very good thing in the real world where owners will have to drive their Mustangs in any conditions. And especially in rain storms in any climate, warm or cold. This makes sense. Also offered are normal, sport, and track mode – each changing several functions as well as steering response. We’ve had experience with Track mode in this generation Mustang and it’s a very welcome addition over the previous generation.
Yes, we eat in our rental car… when we have to. And because it’s not owned by us, we are careful and clean up. Call this a “cupholder test”, and the two it has work well. As to the console design.. there is no provision to set down a cell phone. Not that you should be using one, but there should at least be a place to set it. And someday in the future Ford will probably offer a wireless charger as well… but not today.
The Sync system works well, although we wouldn’t buy this car without navigation – it’s just too useful these days (and it contributes to the resale). The Sync menu has the best usability we’ve seen from any manufacturer, and that’s important. We’ve seen so many poorly designed interfaces in cars recently, particularly in Cadillacs (and Mazda's awful system). If you have to take your eyes off the road for more than a few seconds to perform any function, your risk of a crash increases exponentially. Manufacturers need to think about applying software user interface usability science and testing to the design of their infotainment systems. This is an area where Ford has done well, and most others have done poorly – even dangerously (we note that Tesla has a terrific design on all of their vehicles). Ford also provides voice control, and it works very well if you take the time to memorize the commands. But even then don’t expect “Alexa” smarts… there isn’t much computing power here.
We found again this week that the seats are very uncomfortable… the leather is cheap, the bolsters are strange (large on the side and hips, but no shoulder support), and the lumbar doesn’t work well. And this is odd because Ford does know how to design better seats and does have them on the shelf (the Fusion Sport seats come to mind, these are used across many of the higher-end Ford and Lincolns). The seat base is also angled poorly – your knees stick up in the air and are completely unsupported. Some other manufacturers provide an adjustable seat cushion extension that slides forward… Federal crash regulations make this tougher to design but it is still done and Ford has done it in the past. Nor do we like the optional Recaro seats as they are even more poorly angled and don’t offer the cooling option. So we were squirming around in these seats the entire week we had the car. Again we blame stylists… the seats should have been designed rather than "styled" because we have to live in them in the real world in both long trips and in slow city commuting.
All these complaints... and yet it’s a Mustang… it has presence and features (and sound) that remind you of that. One is this running horse projected on the ground by a lens in the side view mirror on the door. A neat feature, and it worked even in the pouring rain.
Gas mileage? People don’t buy Mustang GTs for gas mileage… but again we have to live with them in the real world. In our mix of city and highway driving we saw an average of 23 MPG, moving to 21 in pure city and 25 on the highway. In other words, nearly identical real-world mileage to every Mustang we’ve owned ourselves in over 40 years… right down to the typical 225 miles per tank before filling up. It is easier to get better mileage here than in the V-8 Mustangs we’ve owned in the past… but for the privilege of 3 times the HP (speaking of our 140 HP 1979 V-8 Mustang Indy Pace Car) you at least have the same gas mileage and with far better emissions (that said, somewhere around 2030 we'll have a 600 HP Mustang GT with a 1000 lb-ft of torque thanks to an all-electric drivetrain... it'll make this engine look like a mouse).
Performance… very good. The engine doesn’t have the peak feel of our former Boss 302; instead it’s docile – especially in Snow/ Wet mode. We’re frankly of mixed opinion since we drive a twin turbocharged car on a daily basis and appreciate it’s instant and huge torque, playful throttle, the rush to maximum power and passing other cars with just a touch of the throttle. The Mustang GT engine provides none of this and has little personality. We’re wondering if the days of the naturally aspirated engine should be numbered…? Ford’s latest Raptor engine with 540 HP and 510 torque would be “supercar” fabulous in a Mustang. On the other hand, Ford offers the GT350 engine which brings forth a lot more emotion than the - by comparison - “plain” GT engine. So now we’re starting to better understand why we have mixed feelings about this car.
Handling? Poor. The all-season tires and poor shocks didn’t provide any inspiration at all, dry or wet. We know that Ford can do better… and that in Europe the Performance Pack Level 1 is standard. Why wouldn’t that be the case here in the home of the Mustang? Do North American Mustang drivers have lower expectations, or just lower driving skill sophistication?
Dragging our luggage from the airport made us appreciate the deep trunk in the Mustang – and the large trunk opening. Compare and contrast this trunk opening to the tiny slot in the Camaro and the winner is clear. You can’t live with a Camaro on a daily basis.
And then there’s build quality – and we’ve seen this particular problem before so we know this isn’t an orphan case. The drivers side window no longer fits in it’s slot, hanging out by this much, which results in a rush of air noise at speed. Yes, this can be adjusted by your dealer… but after 15k miles the owner will have to deal with this type of issue - a result of poor engineering. So like all the Mustang’s we’ve owned and sampled, these types of problems start to surface at 15-20k miles and you will just have to live with them. There is far better quality to be found elsewhere.
And the drivers side door is poorly aligned. The picture angle exaggerates it, but the door hangs down and out. We looked at the door frame, underneath the car, everywhere – there wasn’t a crash here and the door has the original paint. So we’ll just credit this again to poor engineering and to a poor build – it shouldn’t have come off the assembly line like this but it did indeed (as well as others we’ve seen). The doors are also long (required for anybody attempting to climb into the rear seats, which are pretty much useless anyway), heavy (aluminum would be a smart move here in the next generation car, or perhaps just a hinge with less friction), and have a cheap echo when you close them (just like the previous generation).
We ended our week with a quick lunch on the way back to the airport at “America’s restaurant”: The Waffle House. We sat in a window seat looking out at “America’s car” and admiring it’s lines. And we debated yet again whether we could again live with one of these ourselves after having owned so many in the past. The pull is very strong… and we’re glad to see that Ford has at last put so much attention into significantly improving the Mustang. But for us, personally, after having owned so many (including a 2013 Boss 302 with a great engine and an absolutely terrible suspension – too typically Ford), we’ll have to pass. See you again for the CD6 Mustang...
For our final verdict, we’ll borrow this famous quote: