­ JET lag aside, my first morning in Los Angeles is off to a helluva good start. After overnighting at the famous Sunset Marquis Hotel, a West Hollywood establishment that has played host to some of the most heinous rock-star debauchery in recent history, I’m led up to Mel’s Drive-In on Sunset Boulevard. A fast-food chain immortalised in the frames of the George Lucas’ coming of age comedy, American Graffiti, Mel’s can be described as a waffle-and-coffee-serving salute to mid-century Americana.

From the photographs adorning its walls to the chrome-licked formica tables, this place harks back to a time when in which rock and roll, hotrods and teenage self-expression ruled.  There’s a sense of nostalgia.  Which is probably the reason why Ford is using it as the backdrop to introduce us motoring scribes to their all-American sweetheart: the new and highly anticipated sixth-generation Mustang.

Despite being perhaps the most futuristic interpretation yet of Dearborn’s revered pony car, there are some obvious yet surprisingly subtle architectural nods to the original that so successfully captivated the attentions of ’60s America. That classic fastback silhouette. Those chunky tri-bar tail-lights. The sharkish snout which, that, sat regarded from behind the steering wheel, seems to curve on ad infinitum.

Without the contrived retro styling cues that messed up the previous model, the new Mustang is a fine-looking automobile, one that is attracting all sorts of camera-phone attention from pedestrians on the Mel’s sidewalk. Unfortunately for them the show is over because we are about ready to saddle up for a jaunt through some of the best driving spots this city of angels has to offer.

First up is a slow cruise down Hollywood Boulevard,  that’s home to the Walk of Fame, Dolby Theatre and Capital Records Tower. Even though I’ve never been here before but I can’t help but feeling  a strange feeling of familiarity, a weird kind of déjà vu no doubt fuelled by a lifetime diet of American pop-culture.

My eyes and hands explore the Mustang interior. The innards of the outgoing car were a cringeworthy mix of el cheapo plastics of the kind you might find in a trashy Chinese hatchback. Not good. Fortunately this time around there is a marked improvement.

From the optional leather-trimmed Recaro seats (a must-have, by the way) to the soft-touch inserts that cloak the dashboard and doors, the new Mustang feels solid and classy and with the times. Think of it as that scruffy friend who’s finally ditched his torn denims and sneakers for a pair of fitted chinos and sleek leather shoes.

Yet for all this new-found refinement, one still gets a subtle serving of star-spangled pantomime. You’ll find an aluminium “Mustang: Since 1964” plaque on the passenger dashboard brow, a speedometer emblazoned with the word “groundspeed”, and centre console switchgear that mimics that of a jet fighter-bomber.

Now rolling down Interstate 210 towards Pasadena, home of heavy metal band Van Halen, the new Mustang is definitely a good place to be. It’s reasonably well insulated, comfortable and filled with all the electrical doodads you’ll ever need in a car. I could happily keep on sailing all the way up to Vegas.

But this isn’t going to happen because my satellite navigation has just asked me to spear down Angeles Crest Highway. Punch these three words into Google and you’ll discover that this 106km ribbon of asphalt twisting through the Angeles National Forest and San Gabriel Mountains is much revered by those with a need for speed. Because As wily Highway Patrol officers pay it little attention, everyone from humble bikers to wealthy supercar owners use this road to give their machinery an honest thrashing. Now it’s my turn.

Usually the idea of tackling an institution like the Angeles Crest in a street-legal Mustang wouldn’t get me all that excited. Simply because, and let’s be brutally honest, here, this pony car isn’t very well known for its corner-gobbling prowess. So With this cold hard fact flashing through my mind I approach the first few bends with a degree of caution to better test the waters.

Although it makes 93kW less than the buck-wild V8 in the range-topping GT, the EcoBoost is nearly 100kg lighter up front, which makes the car a bit sharper through canyon corners. Especially when fitted, as the Mustang that I drove was, with the optional performance pack that bolts in uprated bushes, shocks and rollbars.

As it turns out, this isn’t at all necessary. Obviously drawing on the dynamic know-how used to craft their brilliant Fiesta ST, Ford has frozen Satan’s fires and given us a Mustang capable of handling bends with all the dexterity of something German. There’s feedback and lots of grip and a wonderful neutrality that gives me the confidence to forget about LAPD’s finest and push as hard as possible.

Much of this can be attributed to the Ford engineers having fitted fitting the car with a proper independent rear suspension. Indeed, no longer do you have to put up with the tired old solid axle and leaf-spring setup that predates the industrial revolution. And the difference is like trading up from an ‘80s Walkman to a glossy iPod Touch.

Equally surprising is the controversial new 2.3 EcoBoost engine. There are many people on this planet who believe that a turbocharged four-cylinder engine has no business being anywhere near a Mustang. To them it’s a bit like asking Woody Allen to take the place of Mickey Rourke in the new Sin City movie — a weak and weedy copout. Yet strangely enough I’m surprised at how good it is.

Although it makes 93kW less than the buck-wild V8 in the range-topping GT, the EcoBoost is nearly 100kg lighter up front, which makes the car a bit sharper through canyon corners. Especially when fitted, as the Mustang that I drove was, with the optional performance pack that bolts in uprated bushes, shocks and rollbars.

There’s also plenty of mid-range turbo punch so you don’t have to rev the nuts off it of it to make rapid progress. Topped off with a healthy, albeit artificially inducted engine sound, the EcoBoost is a tight package. One that even I, a V8 diehard, would not mind parking inside my garage.

After passing a weathered hitchhiker with sun-coppered shoulders, mattered grey hair and a face resembling a more grizzled version of Charles Manson circa 1970, we fire on down the Mulholland Highway en route to Malibu. And it’s here that the GT, with its four extra cylinders, distinguishes itself as the pick of the range.

It’s not quite as precise, but the extra power and noise and fury puts a more constant smile on your face. Ford has equipped it with what has to be one of the most ridiculously awesome features ever seen on a production car. It’s called Line Lock, and it turns the GT into your personal Hollywood smoke machine. By locking up the front brakes for 15 full seconds, you’re free to mash the throttle and perform an explosive standing burnout.

Politically incorrect, you ask? Damn right, and very nice too. 

Quickly blurring past Malibu’s millionaire haunts — lounge-lizard bars interspersed with palatial apartments — and merging back into the treacly soup of downtown traffic, our joy ride is pretty much over. A little short, perhaps, but still long enough to convince me that the new Mustang has finally made the transition from dumb muscle car to cool, calculating sports car.

It’s an exciting fusion of European driving sparkle and with American street swagger which — that, much like Los Angeles itself with and all its gritty, sometimes plastic sights and sounds — does not disappoint. Even more so when you consider that a right-hand version will arrive in South Africa by the end of 2015.



Engine: 2300cc four-cylinder turbo; 4951cc V8

Power: 231kW at 5500rpm; 324kW at 6500rpm

Torque: 433Nm at 2500rpm; 541Nm at 4250rpm

0-100km/h: TBC

Top speed: TBC

Fuel consumption: 9.04l/100km (EcoBoost); 12.37l/100km (V8 GT)

Price: TBC at launch late 2015

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Wed Oct 26 09:21:05 SAST 2016
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