Before we get started, I need to make a declaration: I already own a Ford Mustang.

It’s a 1967 Fastback, the car with the nicest automotive ass ever designed.  Admittedly, it exists largely as a collection of disparate pieces as it undergoes a tortuously long restoration, but one day soon I’ll be able to climb aboard and thunder my way through the English countryside, all while pulling my best Steve McQueen face.

It’s an experience that’s been enjoyed by millions of Americans over the last 50 years, but on this side of the pond, it’s been the preserve of only a select hairy-chested few.

Now, though, anyone can stroll in to one of 70 Ford Stores across the land and order a slice of V8 American pie.

Although they could just as well opt for the four-cylinder 2.3-litre Ecoboost.  It sounds exciting enough on paper – 317PS and 432Nm of torque – but in the Mustang it feels and sounds like the low-calorie option.

We expected a surge towards the horizon as the turbo came on song, but with peak torque not arriving until 3,000 rpm, the four-pot needs more revs than its Ecoboost title might suggest.

We also tested it in conjunction with the somewhat schizophrenic six-speed auto – this not only dulled performance but also felt the need to swap ratios seemingly at random through corners, occasionally offering up the next gear with unnecessary wilful violence.

The full-fat experience is rightfully reserved for the 421PS 5.0-litre V8.

It’s not as theatrical as more modern V8s; while a Jaguar auto-revs into life with an eargasmic bark, the Mustang gives a gentle, albeit deep-chested cough before settling into a low woofle.

Nor is it as brutish in its low-down torque, its peak of 530Nm not making an appearance until 4,250 rpm.  Instead, this is a V8 that needs to get its legs underneath it before it puts in its best performance, perhaps not surprising given its new-found variable valve timing.

However, with 4k on the clock, the cabin fills with delicious induction noise, while by 6,000 rpm the V8 Mustang begins to feel like an unstoppable force.

…by 6,000 rpm the V8 Mustang begins to feel like an unstoppable force…

Luckily immovable objects can be avoided thanks to powerful brakes (UK-spec cars get the Performance Pack as standard) with almost excessive initial bite, although beyond that the pedal needs a determined hoof to get much more.

That’s a feeling that’s echoed elsewhere in the Mustang: the six-speed manual feels like a short-throw lever transplanted onto a truck gearbox, while the steering in anything but Comfort mode (no, it’s really called that) is almost maleficent in its heaviness.

But that’s entirely as it should be, because this is a Mustang after all – a car that, for decades, has had more in common with a pick-up truck in terms of engineering than anything honed on the narrow and twisty roads on this side of the water.

Judged against more European efforts, the Mustang’s case seems hopeless: the convertible suffers from a mild dose of the wobbles, particularly visible through the rear-view mirror; the plastics are rather naff in places; and the excessive writing on the switchgear is almost comical (Americans don’t do icons, it seems).

Nor does it deliver the nuanced chassis responses of something born in Stuttgart or Bavaria.

Sure, gone are the leaf springs and live rear axle, replaced by a more modern integral link set-up.  But the ride is still rather unsettled, the Mustang bobbing about on what would otherwise be imperceptible undulations in the road surface.

Yet show the Mustang a corner and fifty years of playfulness comes flooding back to it, like the remembering of a distant memory, helped by traction control that allows an enticing few degrees of arse-hangery before subtly reining it all in; more can be had by choosing a different drive mode (Normal, Sport+, Track and Snow/Wet are on offer).

…the traction control allows an enticing few degrees of arse-hangery before reining it in…

Yet more hooliganism is catered for by a well-calibrated Launch Control, as well as the tyre-shredding Line Lock that delivers burn-outs on demand – although it doesn’t permit a graceful peel out.

Perhaps the Mustang’s only real fault is that it’s been engineered to appeal to a global audience, when all along the global audience liked Mustang because it was desperately American.

As if to prove this point, nearly 70% of the 3,500 people so far who’ve ordered a new Mustang have plumped for the V8, a figure we suspect is set to rise once the new VED rules take effect – from April 2017, as long you don’t go mad with the options, both 2.3 and 5.0-litre Mustangs will pay the same road tax after the first year.

Given we found the V8 achieved a slightly higher average mpg than the four-banger during our brief testing, only the £4,000 price difference remains in the Ecoboost’s favour.

RHD Mustang Sales Breakdown (as of March 2016)
Orders taken: over 3,500
Mustangs delivered: over 1,000
Body-style split: 80% Fastback, 20% Convertible
Engine split: 68% V8, 32% Ecoboost
Transmission: 54% manual, 46% auto
Top 5 Colours: Race Red (20%), Magnetic Silver (17%), Shadow Black (15%), Triple Yellow (9%), Ruby Red (7%)

Most, if not all, of the future ‘stang owners we’ve spoken to have cited the pony car’s incredible heritage as chief among the appeal.  Inexplicably though, Ford UK doesn’t like to talk about the Mustang’s history too much, and this is a shame for at least two reasons.

Firstly, there isn’t a manufacturer on this planet that wouldn’t kill for a brand like Mustang and the accompanying effect it’s had on popular culture over the last five decades.

And secondly, in an age where car makers raid their respective archives for old models to ‘re-imagine’, the link between today’s Mustang and my 1967 original is both clear and continuous.

This isn’t a hand-me-down platform, liberally sprinkled with parts-bin bits and wrapped in a body with a few retro-inspired elements – which, ironically, is exactly how the original Mustang was created back in ’64.

No, this is an evolution of a concept that’s collected fans the world over for more than half a century.  Simultaneously brutish, yet usable.  Mischievous, yet safe.  Thunderous, yet affordable.

As Ford puts it, the new Mustang has been designed – not styled.

And that’s why I love it.  Warts and all.

2016 Model Year update

For 2016, the UK-spec Mustang now features Ford’s Sync 3 touch-screen system as standard.

Three new colours have been added – White Platinum, Grabber Blue and Lightning Blue – while Competition Orange, Deep Impact Blue and Guard Grey are no longer available.

Tester’s Notes

  • 2.3 lacks character, in both sound and power delivery
  • Auto positively schizophrenic; changes harshly and seemingly at random
  • V8 needs revs; still achieved better economy than 2.3 in testing
  • 2017 VED changes make 2.3 and 5.0 tax equal, making it the only choice
  • Brakes have almost too much initial bite, but only marginal increase in retardation thereafter
  • Manual gearbox needs determined inputs
  • Steering heavy (not unpleasantly so) in all but Comfort mode
  • Convertible suffers from visible scuttle-shake
  • Fastback front end bobs about over undulations
  • TC allows appealing levels of oversteer
  • Launch Control works well; Line Lock doesn’t permit peel-outs
  • EU-spec loses front DRLs and iconic tribar red tail-lights in favour of clear lenses – regs compliance could have been achieved without these omissions
  • Switchgear fiddly and unintuitive; dash display menus overly complex
  • Sync still well behind rivals
Entry-level Price £30,995 Price as tested £37,080
Engine 5.0-litre V8 Transmission 6-speed manual
Power 421PS @ 6,500rpm Torque 530Nm @ 4,2500rpm
0-62 4.8 secs Top speed 155 mph
Economy 20.9 mpg CO2 299 g/km
Dimensions 4784 x 1916 x 1381 (LxWxH) Kerb Weight 1720 kg