Mustang R-Spec. Australia’s answer to the GT500?
What we love..
- Supercar Power
- Oodles of grip, solid handling
- Supercharged V8 powerplant
- 5 year warranty
Not so much..
safety rating and fuel economy might upset some
- Cheap materials on interior
- Launching with urgency takes finesse
- Interior could be more exclusive
I’ve never been a huge Mustang person. I mean, I don’t think any enthusiast can truly not appreciate them for what they are, but the recipe just wasn’t quite for me. There was always a little something missing and I tend to like cars that are a little more dynamic.
But then one day while looking through classifieds, I stumbled across a blue beast with some stripes on the top and sides and an enticing spoiler and found myself compelled to see it up close. Moments later I was in an Uber making small talk with the driver whilst trying to research further about the R-Spec, which I had only casually read about but never quite thought about owning.
It turns out the 500 R-Specs produced very quickly sold out, presumably with many of them going to be locked away from the world – which probably explains why this one (at a year old) had a meagre one thousand kilometres on the clock. I was initially tempted by a green car in the eastern states and didn’t want to settle for a local car “just because”, but the sun was twinkling off the Velocity Blue as I pulled up and any obsession with looking for any Hulk tribute fizzed away. It sat pretty with a slight drop with those black rims (albeit still standard-issue 19-inch in size) and I was getting excited to see what the hype was about.
The headlines then are overall quite subtle; black Ford Performance gear knobs, scuff plates and wheels, mirror caps, exhaust tips, decals, stripes, badges, hood vents and Pony badges making up the majority of the visual cues. Then where it matters, we have the Magneride handling pack which is recalibrated to suit the 20mm lower, stiffer springs, and adjustable, chunkier sway bars.
It also comes more track-focused with a beefy 6-speed manual transmission (which after driving and later research, I found was upgraded with parts from the Shelby GT350 namely, a twin clutch plate, tougher flywheel and macho rear shafts). Which meant it was starting to tick more mental boxes for me, on paper at least.
Oh, and the Roush 2650 Supercharger. It sits on top of the 5.0-litre Coyote powerplant and is more than just a brawny pedestal for the Herrod Performance plaque that sits on top of it. It means the car now puts out 522kW (or 700bhp). Another box ticked, so I was excited but still not convinced. I stop staring at the thing like a schoolboy and go to find the dealer with whom I had made the giddy phone call earlier.
In my rush to leave I actually forgot my licence, but the dealer principal said, “We can’t let him not drive it.’’ Luckily for me, I was able to take it out for a spin. Sitting inside I found it was largely standard-issue Ford. But that’s not a criticism – in my opinion when a carmaker has to sell millions of cars not just to enthusiasts, but families, business users, commercial users and more, you tend to find that they develop key components to at least be effective.
The Large Sync3 screen sits in the middle which I quite like. It shows enough information when you need it, and is easily navigated (and that’s from someone that generally still doesn’t love touchscreens in cars – maybe I’ve become accustomed to my daily driver’s old iDrive).
This example lacked the optional Recaro seats – but that means it retains the temperature-controlled seats. Heavier, but given its 1700kg+ girth, I can forego a little weight for the extra comfort provided by air conditioning running down my back on a warm day. If, over time, I feel the standard-issue seats aren’t grippy enough it can be looked into though.
It’s finally time to hit the red button and the Mustang snarls to life with a deeper, punchier, bassier tone than the standard Mustang, which isn’t exactly the choice for a shrinking violet as it is. The car has an exhaust system (Borla based I believe) created to Herrod specs from the primary Cats back and with a rear section that retains the valving options from Race, Open and Loud to Quiet which is, well… quiet.
The car features a ‘MyMode’ which I love, much like the MDM button on my BMW E92 it can be configured with your choice of configurations. For me, that is steering and suspension slotted to Sports, and exhaust in Race mode. I haven’t found out if you can make the car start in your choice of modes without it reverting to Normal – it means a not-really-that inconvenient toggle press each startup.
What becomes evident before long at the helm, is that the extra kilowatts doesn’t necessarily translate to a greatly reduced 0-100km/h sprint. It’s no slouch at around 4 seconds, but it lags behind in comparison to many modern offerings from other makers. But that certainly isn’t the full story.
By turn two three and four that thought is already a distant memory. 15 minutes later I pulled into the dealership and before I knew it was signing off paperwork and ducking and weaving like Mike Tyson through the onslaught of the aftersales team’s optional extras. Cue a nerve-wracking week waiting for the car to be ready to collect. A week later I found myself donning my favourite pair of driving shoes and collecting the car with a big grin.
First impressions after a longer drive home was that the steering exhibits a typical muscle car vagueness but it’s forgivable given its weighting is very enjoyable. It is meaty without being too heavy and laborious. It actually rides very nicely despite being lower and stiffer. Kilometres are eaten up with ease in Comfort mode.
But I didn’t buy the ‘Stang to sit on the freeway on cruise control, so I eagerly headed to my favourite stretch of road, set everything on Sports mode or above and started to attack the winding road ahead.
What really puts a smile on my dial is when I find a long sweeping exit with a straight ahead and you get to slingshot out of a bend and stretch the Mustang’s legs up to its 7400rpm redline. The way it picks up pace above 4000rpm is astonishing yet somehow still quite smooth. Things happen very quickly whilst defying the usual memes that show Mustangs ploughing into cars at meets. It grips very well, and I’m sure a big part of that is due to the 275 wide (on the rear) Michelin Pilot Sport 4S’. I’m sure a set of Cup 2’s wouldn’t go amiss, but then the car will no doubt become a bit of a liability in the wet.
In my head I keep comparing it to my R35 GTR which after some mods runs similar power. While the Mustang can’t keep up with the sprint from a standstill or attack corners with such brazen cockiness, it rides more softly when you need it and when you’re bounding through apexes on a nice twisty road, it is much more linear and consistent. It wouldn’t surprise me if it showed the GTR a set of clean heels on a rolling start which is funny because it often feels the Mustang is going slower than it is. This is especially true when you get higher up in the revs where progress happens; the larger injectors are bailing fuel into the engine and the intake is inhaling as much air as it can while it all dumps exhaust gasses into the aggressive exhaust.
I can see a few track days in her future, again, probably when clad in Pilot Sport Cup 2’s. Reportedly from what I’ve read, overheating will often see the R reign in the power output to prevent hand-grenading components, but then you have to keep in mind that all of the above comes wrapped in a 5 year warranty. So it’s reasonable not to expect the car to go hard or go home. That said, when driving it as hard as
conditions would allow on the road, the car takes it in its stride.
I wasn’t expecting anything much from the Mustang. The looks had won me over, so as long as it made a nice noise and didn’t handle too comically I would have probably liked it. But that didn’t do it nearly enough justice.
Body roll is kept in check impressively given the size of the thing, and progress becomes a cycle of steer, wait, stomp and grin as you reel in the horizon at an enthralling pace. The car squats into position more pro-actively in a corner than I remember the GT doing.
It becomes seriously intoxicating with the window open. At lower speeds the supercharger whine is more prominent, but it's not long before the fanfare begins and the snarling exhaust and air intake join the rabble as speed increases.
The power delivery is linear, always feeling in complete alignment with the throttle and with a good amount of predictability especially with the manual transmission. Speaking of which, the gearshifts are also very smooth and positive. The pedals are perhaps a little far away if you enjoy an excuse for a bit of heel-toeing, although if you don’t the auto-matching setting (which can be de-activated) will blip the engine just as you start to engage a gear.
The car brings a bit of hilarity to day-to-day motoring. Two days ago I overtook a caravan whilst on the cruise home. Blink for a moment and not only have you overtaken the obstacle, but you’ve very quickly closed in on the next.
All in all, the R-Spec has surprised me with how well it turns, holds and especially exits a corner. And with the huge torque on offer, gear changes become less mandated. The usual big Brembo brakes do a great job of shedding off speed quickly, whilst giving you a modulated, smooth pedal feel. Combined with the revised suspension setup, braking is also controlled without the front frantically twitching like rabbit’s nose under hard stopping.
But when the traffic starts to build and I have to slow down to more mundane speeds, the R-Spec is surprisingly very civilised. It drives nicely around town without becoming tiresome. I’m actually a fan of the retro-esque interior, the Bang & Olufsen speakers with woofer offer a nice warm, deep output, but with no equaliser you can’t quite get a nice crisp sound out of them. But they more than do the job for the brief moments I want to hear some tunes rather than the grunting V8.
I didn’t set out to buy the Mustang, but it quickly took my heart. I originally had my eyes on everything from an R8 to various AMGs but the Mustang has that ‘soul’ and character that I love and look for. Sure, the interior doesn’t have the soft-touch, high quality materials of German counterparts (the silver trim along the top of the dash looks particularly cheap if I had to pick the worst part). The rear passenger’s space is far from generous and it often proves hard to get all of that power down with any urgency at times. But for the price, I’m not sure of an equivalently aged vehicle that speaks to me in the same dialect.
Since picking her up mere weeks ago, I’ve already trebled the odometer’s count. Rightly so, as it would be a crying shame to purchase something like this and keep it locked up in a shed. In happy mode, I last managed 250km out of the 61-litre tank. I make that to be a sniff over 24 litres per 100 kilometres.
But I am loving every second of it, so fuel economy (and the subjective 3-star safety rating) are so far down the small list of concerns that their whining is muted by the sound of that supercharged roar.