"The Mustang is the essence of Ford on a good day." So says Ford global marketing vice president Jim Farley, who's in charge of the sixth-generation
Mustang. Whether he means this or it's a case of accidental honesty, he's exactly right. The Mustang is Ford, for all intents and purposes, and has been
for 50 years.
One day last fall, we were allowed to see and photograph an early prototype 2015 Mustang under heavy security. The car, due later this year, is the biggest
sea change the model has seen in a decade and is vital to Ford's future. On a more personal level, in the R&T office, arguments broke out
among the staff as to who would be present at the shoot. Everyone wanted in.
So what kind of day is Ford having?
There's a good deal of the previous car in this one. While few design cues carry over, the proportions are an obvious callback to the Mustang's heyday. The
most pronounced place of inspiration is the new car's rear end, probably its best angle, from which it closely resembles the classic '67 fastback. It's a
pleasing shape, made more so by a new iteration of the "tri-bar" turn signals, which we're told will be sequential.
So that's proper. But on the sides, the traditional hockey stick-shaped indent is gone, now just hinted at by a small fillet in front of the rear wheels.
There's no externally visible B-pillar, the daylight opening just a long expanse of glass. The internal frame on the rear quarter-window means the driver won't be able to use all that glass with the actual window area just a few square inches. The sides seem more slabbed, probably
because the A-pillar has moved back but also because the hood doesn't slope downward as much.
The new nose is more sharklike and forward-leaning with no bumper overhang. Sadly, there's more than a hint of Taurus there, angular, Fusion-esque
headlights. Just as unfortunate: There will be no grille-mounted fog lights. The nose is the least traditionally Mustang part of the car, though it is a
That pedestrian-impact-friendly front end is a good indication Ford is taking this Mustang global, as is the symmetrical interior, an easy convert to
right-hand drive if necessary. That interior is still in flux, but the preproduction design we saw retained the twin-brow treatment, now styled with the
two "hoods." The metallic-finish center stack features a standard-seeming touch screen. At its base, a row of toggle switches to the right of the engine's Start/Stop button will allow the driver to change things
like steering and damper calibration. The HVAC knobs are knurled.
The rest of the cockpit looks familiar but has changed noticeably. The shifter has been moved closer to the driver. The gated shifter we saw (and loved) in
early Ford sketches was conspicuously absent, as were the traditional pistol-grip door handles. The driver still gets two big gauges right up front. Our
examples were aviation-themed, the speedo and tach labeled Ground Speed and Engine Speed, respectively, with simple numbers in lieu of Ford's retro gauge
font. There's more claimed hip, knee, and shoulder room, as well as more trunk space, with a lower trunk-sill height.
Still, as everyone knows, the monumental change is in the rear. After half a century of evolution, the solid axle is gone, replaced by a multilink independent suspension that—no matter how much magic Ford has worked with a stick axle over the
years—most agree is overdue. We're told the IRS has been designed for "incredible precision," with twice the anti-dive and anti-squat previously possible.
Up front, there's a new double-ball-joint setup. It's all packed tightly, allowing the use of bigger brakes—up to six-piston, fixed-caliper Brembos as an
option on GT models.
It's worth noting that an independent suspension will help the Mustang fight its uncharitable low-tech image, an annoyance here but a definite sales
impediment worldwide. It's also worth mentioning that Chief Engineer Dave Pericak said during our viewing that he wanted the base Mustang to beat the
2012–2013 Mustang Boss 302 around a racetrack.
Under the hood, the current car's 3.7-liter V6 remains the base engine, with a direct-injected, 2.3-liter EcoBoost four with a twin-scroll turbo as the
mid-level performance powerplant. This engine is said to make more power than the 2013 model's six, though exact numbers weren't available. The 5.0-liter
Coyote V8 used in today's Mustang GT returns with breathing improvements, a standard oil cooler, and the connecting rods and valve springs from the
2012–2013 Boss. The flat-plane-crank V8 rumored for an upcoming Shelby model was not mentioned. Power goes through what Ford says is a more durable
version of the fifth-generation car's six-speed Getrag manual or an improved, more efficient six-speed automatic with paddle shifters.
So who's this car for? Pericak name-checked the Porsche 911 and BMW M3 as benchmarks, but he noticeably didn't mention the increasingly sharp
"There's nothing wrong with that rivalry," Pericak said, "but if you're going to better yourself, you have to look beyond that kind of thing. We wanted to
benchmark something else, something a little higher than that."
It felt like a matter-of-fact statement, as if Ford wants its pony car to start thinking about what it wants to be when it grows up. This meshes with the
world-market friendliness on display and the way the design cues evoke classic Mustang values with relatively few Mustang specifics. During our visit, Ford
emphasized the international goodwill the car has earned, its countless overseas fan clubs, its vast army of foreign Facebook followers. The company is
clearly thinking outside North America.
If there's a risk here, it's that the new design may be too middle-of-the-road to appeal both at home and overseas. Everything will hinge on how it
drives, of course, but one thing is obvious: If the Mustang can sell the world on what it's become without too many domestic diehards missing what it no
longer is, Ford will have a very good day, indeed.
Sidebar: Declaration of Independence
Only after testing IRS-equipped Mustang mules did engineers discover that the old front suspension was the limiting factor. The resulting double-ball-joint
setup—a first for Ford, and not unlike the suspension in the BMW 3 Series, which they studied—ditches crossmembers for a light, stiff subframe. The rear is
based on an existing architecture used on the Fusion and others; it was designed from the start to handle the Mustang's high torque loads.
The 2015 Ford Mustang is a turning point, the biggest ground-up redesign in the car's history. The 1960s-tech live axle has been canned along with the
decade-old retro vibe. Should we be anxious, thrilled, or both?