The sixth-generation Ford Mustang got off to a shaky start with a poor two-star ANCAP safety rating. But if anybody thought a nasty crash rating would be enough to deter hordes of V8-craving muscle car fans, they were wrong.
Ford’s legendary Pony Car was an instant success, with buyers fighting to get their hands on the first-ever right-hand drive Mustang.
But demand has slowed since sales peaked in 2017, and hardcore fans have been craving something a bit… hotter.
Which is why Ford Australia joined forces with Rob Herrod and the experts at Herrod Performance to develop a supercharged Mustang people can buy from their dealers, no extra tuning required.
The solution is a powertrain using almost entirely Ford Performance parts, and carries a full five-year factory warranty.
Oh, and just 500 will be built.
The team came up with this green beast, the Ford Mustang R-Spec. It’s wild enough to put (more) hair on your chest, but refined enough not to disturb your sleeping cherubs on the highway.
If, like me, you’re interested in a visual representation of just how much faster the supercharged Mustang R-Spec is than a naturally-aspirated Mustang GT, check out this video we shot at the recent Mustang R-Spec launch at The Bend Motorsport Park of a drag race between the Mustang GT and the Mustang R-Spec.
The Ford Mustang range kicks off from $50,990 before on-road costs for the entry-level High Performance – the new name Ford has given the EcoBoost four-cylinder – jumping to $61,490 before on-roads or the Mustang High Performance Convertible.
Opting for a V8 up the price to $63,690 before on-road costs for the Mustang GT, with the convertible demanding an extra $10,900.
The beastly supercharged Mustang R-Spec will set you back $99,980 before on-roads.
That’s a sizeable $36,290 more than the cheapest non-supercharged V8.
It’s worth keeping in mind the extra performance is backed by Ford’s regular five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty.
It also includes access to the Ford Performance Club – a complimentary membership included with any Ford Performance vehicle, including the Focus and Fiesta ST.
Members receive a welcome pack with a 1:18 scale model of the Ford GT, a Ford Performance down jacket, a membership card, and a branded presentation box.
Most important, though, is the exclusive opportunity to drive your car at track days around Australia under the guidance of some of the country’s pre-eminent race drivers.
There has been some discussion around whether the R-Spec vehicles are in fact entirely sold out.
They’re not – well not yet, anyway. Every R-Spec has been allocated to a dealer and, while most dealers have orders for vehicles, a few are still available.
Be careful though. Like they did with the Falcon Sprint farewell specials, some dealers are gouging customers with inflated dealer delivery prices.
The asking price gets you a pick from four colours. Grabber Lime, Twister Orange, Oxford White, and Velocity Blue.
Above and beyond the Mustang GT, buyers get the Ford Performance Roush 2650 Supercharger kit, a numbered engine block badge, Ford Performance engine covers, Ford Performance MagneRide handling pack, 19-inch Ford Performance black wheels, a Ford Performance shift knob, a numbered interior plaque, a Herrod Performance active cat-back exhaust, black 5.0 badges on the fender, a black rear spoiler, and black side hockey stripe decals.
Standard features included in the Mustang GT donor car include dual-zone climate control, leather sports seats, a 12-inch digital instrument binnacle, keyless entry and start, an 8.0-inch infotainment system, electric windows and mirrors, automatic headlights and wipers, heated and cooled six-way driver and front passenger seats, a Bang & Olufsen sound system, adaptive cruise control, automatic high beam, a reversing camera, and tyre-pressure monitoring system.
It’s a very, very long list of standard features, which is what makes the Mustang an appealing proposition.
No. I’ll be blunt. In a previous life, I wrote about never wanting to drive a Mustang again until the safety rating was improved.
Ford listened. Well, they probably didn’t listen to me, but they did realise a car built to pass the American crash standards wasn’t fit to excel under the Euro NCAP regime, which what we use in Australia.
Although the Mustang launched with a two-star ANCAP rating, it has since been upgraded to a three-star car thanks to the addition of autonomous emergency braking tech with pedestrian – which brakes if you’re about to rear-end another car or run into a pedestrian and don’t slow down in time.
Ford didn’t make any structural changes to address the inherent issues with rear passenger safety, however.
Prior to its facelift, the Mustang was pretty disappointing inside. There was a mountain of harsh plastic and it lacked the visual impact of the exterior.
This time around Ford has thrown the book at the facelifted Mustang. In addition to the gear found in the Mustang GT, the R-Spec picks up a number of individually-numbered plaques and Recaro sport seats.
The display ahead of the driver offers a stack of useful information, including track and drag-race-ready modes.
The Ford Performance crew really knows how to fit cars with fun gadgets and toys to keep punters thoroughly entertained.
Ford’s Sync 3 infotainment system is excellent. The most recent software update has improved usability, but maintains necessities such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Given our test of the R-Spec was limited to the race track, we didn’t get a chance to play with these features on the road.
But we can confirm that the seats are comfortable; they’re body hugging and supportive. The technology that helps on a race track, like the driver display, works a charm.
The refresh rate is fast enough to keep up with the supercharged engine’s rev counter, while the gear shifter is perfectly located for rapid gear shifts.
Outside of the tinsel, the interior is well presented and feels premium.
Does it feel $100,000 premium? Not quite, but anybody buying this car knows that the real money has been spent under the bonnet.
Supercharging a Mustang isn’t anything new. But supercharging a 5.0-litre Mustang to be reliable enough for a five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty presents a new set of challenges.
Ford Australia worked closely with Rob Herrod to develop a kit consisting almost entirely of Ford Performance parts. Rob has a massive amount of experience with Ford products, and has improved the performance of more than 500 local Mustangs already.
The part that adds the most oomph to this engine is its supercharger. Co-developed by Ford and Roush, the supercharger is an Eaton Twin Vortices (TVS) 2.65-litre unit producing 12psi of pressure.
Fuel is fed into the engine comes by fuel injectors around 60 per cent larger than those used in the standard GT V8. Cooling comes from a water-to-air intercooler fed by a larger front air intake unique to the R-Spec, and a full-face radiator.
Herrod Performance developed a 3.0-inch cat-back exhaust system to reduce back pressure, but it also gives the car a sonorous exhaust note at full steam.
It looks bloody cool, too – pop the bonnet and you’ll see the supercharger sitting proudly atop the engine, while the air filter is exposed with a perspex glass cover.
It’s not too dissimilar to the setup Ford’s Aussie engineers put together for the supercharged Ford Falcon Sprint 8.
The supercharger kit increases power output by 35 per cent to 522kW, up from 339kW of power. Importantly torque has also climbed 33 per cent to 830Nm, up from 556Nm.
All that extra performance results in more fuel use. Most owners will be fine with that, but it’s worth noting there’s an increase of just over seven per cent with a combined fuel economy figure of 14L/100km.
The standard Ford Mustang GT is no slouch. Strap on a supercharger and it turns into a faster, but equally compliant version of the same car.
We tested the R-Spec at The Bend Motorsport Park against the turbocharged four-cylinder Mustang High Performance and the non-supercharged Mustang GT V8 to get a good idea of how the R-Spec feels in comparison
First thing you’ll notice is the extra noise in the cabin. While the Eaton supercharger is quieter than some aftermarket superchargers, there’s still a considerable amount of whine when the throttle is buried – especially if you’re standing outside and the car is approaching.
Despite only sporting 275mm wide Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres at the rear, there is a tremendous amount of traction on offer.
That’s partly thanks to torque limiting in first and second gears (designed to stop the car turning its driveshaft into pretzel), and partly thanks to the fact the R-Spec doesn’t unleash its full 522kW power figure until fourth gear.
Rolling into the throttle on corner exit gradually brings on the supercharger whine and rapidly piles on the pace. The Bend’s lengthy front straight has enough space for the Mustang to charge north of 200km/h before the driver needs to stamp on to the six-piston brakes.
The braking package offers adequate bite and fade-free motoring, even on a track day.
However some other journalists driving the R-Spec at the same track and same day as us noticed issues with power surging as the vehicle heated up.
Joshua Dowling from CarAdvice experienced the surging, and wrote:
“We’ve since learned it may have had the wrong calibration for temperature sensitivity. The other car tested later in the day – a look-a-like mock-up R Spec and one of the early prototypes – did not display the same symptoms.”
While we didn’t see the problem in the cars we tested, it could indicate a requirement for more cooling if you’re having a proper crack at the track.
In terms of handling, there’s no getting around the fact the Mustang is a big car. At 1779kg it’s no Lotus Elise, but surprisingly it has loads of traction on sweeping high speed bends.
Lower speed corners require a bit more effort, but the traction control in track mode offers enough leverage to prevent the car from breaking out into rampant oversteer unless you really get stuck into it.
The willing handling comes down to a custom-tuned version of Ford’s MagneRide damping system, which effectively creates a variable magnetic field across fluid passages within the damper to vary firmness at a rate of 100Hz.
The car also sits 20mm lower than a regular Mustang.
Beneath the skin are a set of adjustable sway bars that can be modified by the owner if required. When combined, all of these parts offer an incredibly composed ride on the track, and leave the body sitting almost dead flat through corners.
In comparison to both the Mustang High Performance and GT, the R-Spec has a lot more urgency. The added weight of the supercharger marginally hampers front-end feel, but it more than makes up for it when you begin piling on the throttle.
The Mustang R-Spec is covered by Ford’s five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty and comes with capped price servicing. But, there’s a catch.
While the regular 5.0-litre Mustang requires servicing once every 12 months or 15,000km the R-Spec needs maintenance every six months or 10,000km at a cost of $299 per service, capped for two years or 40,000km.
The Michelin Pilot Sport 4S rubber will set you back $1712 for a set of four – keep in mind the front tyres are narrower than the rears.
Just like the naturally-aspirated Mustang GT, you’ll need to fuel the Mustang R-Spec with 98RON premium unleaded fuel.
This is a stupidly fun car to drive. It makes the right noises, it’s balanced, and comes with enough features to justify the price tag.
But, at just under $100,000 there are a stack of other sporty and pretty accomplished sports cars within reach.
Most of those are available with an automatic transmission (yes, I know… a manual is pure and all that kind of stuff, but tell me how pure it is in peak hour traffic) and most will be quicker in a straight line until this is offered with an automatic transmission.
I also think it could be louder. While it sounds good, it sounds somewhat restricted – most likely to meet the stringent noise requirements that Ford sets itself.
Given this was strictly a track test, I want to get my hands on the R-Spec again to see how it feels around town, on the highway, and against my Supra. They’re almost the same price, so I think a comparison is in order!