USA vs UK: which passport does the Ford Mustang deserve?
You have to imagine that some cars are designed with a destination in mind. As their metal husks are stamped and formed on production lines around the world, they’re already predisposed to certain places – destinations folded into their bonnets, wings and chassis like the prayers of samurai-sword craftsmen.
An air-cooled 911 and a set of alpine switchbacks, for example, are just one of those predestined pairings. Or a V12 Lamborghini and rolling Tuscan foothills bathed in golden late-afternoon sun. Perhaps, even, a Peugeot 205 GTI and some mud-strewn sweepers between some back-of-beyond French villages.
Arguably the strongest bond between machine and place, however, is Ford’s V8 muscle car and its homeland. Mustang and desert. V8 and night-time stop-light charges through damp city intersections. Perhaps with a little Springsteen on the 8-track. Ask most non-Americans what their ideal USA roadtrip rental would be and chances are it’d have a horse on the front.
And I’m one of them. I picked a Mustang for a recent roadtrip around America’s highest state: Colorado. A stroke of good fortune at the hire car desk saw me walking away with the keyfobs to a 5.0-litre V8 Mustang Convertible, and in a week I put 2,000 miles under its wheels. I fell in love hard over the course of seven days, so much so that I set fire to my debit card and took on responsibility for fuelling a near-identical Mustang V8 Convertible in the UK for a week when I returned.
All in the name of science of course – because the world needs to know whether this motoring icon is hermetically bound to the 50 states of its birthplace, or whether it works perfectly well in a few weirdly shaped counties the other side of the Atlantic.
Driving the thing
You can fall in love with a car for the way it drives. It may take seconds, or hours, or more often days behind the wheel to work out how the car wants to be driven, and it’s only then that you can really connect. And the Mustang, perhaps surprisingly, doesn’t like to be driven like a sports car.
On the snow-lined stretches of Colorado State Highway 91, the Ford’s soft suspension, rubbery steering and heated seats meant we could cruise top-down in comfort for hundreds of stress-free miles. At least until my bald head showed signs of cooking. It’s a comfortable car, and the 10-speed auto means the engine is barely ticking over at about 1,800rpm at 80mph. It’s in its element as a cruiser.
The hairpins and tight turns of the Independence Pass outside of Aspen, meanwhile, showed how it just doesn’t appreciate cornering quickly. As the driver it just doesn’t give you that feeling that it’s happy being hooned, so you slow down more for corners and allow it to settle before letting all 460bhp loose in a hilarious hot-road blare. It’s still a driving experience that’ll stick in your mind, but not perhaps in the way you might have expected.
And in the UK?
Well, in America you can certainly use more of the V8’s oomph more of the time. Wider roads, bigger scenery and way, way lower traffic density meant you could bomb around like a bit of a penis and not worry too much.
On the UK’s roads there is just too much bloody traffic to get anything like your money’s worth out of the right-hand-drive car’s 444bhp V8 (and it really performs its best magic from 80mph well into three figures).
The romance of a V8 convertible in the UK is erm, dampened a bit. And yes, the Christmas tree would've fit with the roof up, but where's the fun in that?
Likewise the sheer size of the thing only becomes apparent in UK parking spaces. In the USA where every single shop, restaurant, house and attraction has a litany of spaces big enough for the Millennium Falcon, you don’t recognise how much of a land yacht the ‘Stang is. On my tiny Victorian street in Surrey, the Mustang fitted in about as naturally as Will Ferrell’s 6’2” frame among a classroom of Elves. I had to plan my departure and arrival from home so as to be sure I’d find a parking spot big enough for it. And then the temptation to leave it there and use my dinky MR2 to save parking faff was fairly considerable.
Let’s chalk this one up as a win for America.
Yes, this has taken a bit of a weird turn. You were probably expecting that sub-heading to say ‘Practicality and boot space’. Or ‘Real-world mpg’ (of which it has about 22).
More important in the quest to determine whether a Mustang is better in the USA or UK, is how it fits in culturally.
In the States the Mustang is like a well-worn pair of Red Wing work boots, creased and shined with years of wear. It’s a classic, it’s adored but it’s just… prolific. People will smile when they see the GT badge on the back pointing out you picked the V8 and not the V6 or four-cylinder Ecoboost, but they won’t cast a second glance.
Whereas threading the Velocity Blue UK car through villages elicited a reaction more akin to reincarnating Marilyn Monroe and parading her nude atop a real-life unicorn pooing actual gold nuggets. People turned their heads, smiled, stared, gave a thumbs-up and laughed as I revved the incredibly loud engine.
You get the feeling that the Mustang made British people’s days a little bit better. It’s a loud, brash car – it’s everything we Brits are stereotypically not. It’s in-your-face, it’s ostensibly good-looking and it wears its 5.0-litre heart on its wings. It sits in the high street traffic outside Robert Dyas saying “I am ridiculous” and, because it’s an American, it says “and please have a good day.”
And with a perfect, white-teeth smile it’s gone. To please some more people, in another village. Mustang, you’re a slice of American goodness but you deserve a British passport (whatever that’s worth these days) because you bring us a kind of joy we’d never consider creating ourselves. You’re childish but we’d like you to stay for a cup of tea.