It’s been a while coming, but I finally got a steer in a Ford Mustang R-Spec before every last one of them vanishes into unassuming garages across the country.
I have a special connection with another limited Mustang model which I’m convinced is the pick of the current generation, as long as Ford doesn’t intend to make factory right-hand drive versions of the Shelby GT500.
I’m one of 700 proud Mustang Bullitt owners in Australia – a modern-day automotive icon synonymous with the ’60s Hollywood movie of the same name, and one which made a lasting impression on me from such a young age.
The fact they’re all painted Dark Highland Green (at least for Australia), devoid of any Ford or Mustang badges, and pack a blacked-out grille and old-school cue-ball shifter made it all the more desirable.
Beyond the unique styling, there’s performance upgrades such as the intake manifold from the Shelby GT350 Mustang, an open air filter element, and larger throttle bodies. All of that and a nice bump in the grunt department to 345kW adds more exclusivity.
I went further and added a larger wheel and tyre package, and new Ford Performance suspension components as part of a handling upgrade from Herrod Performance in Melbourne. My Mustang Bullitt is complete… or so I thought.
Ford says the Bullitt is capable of sprinting from rest to 100km/h is 4.6 seconds, which is just about perfect for my kind of recreational use.
So when news leaked Ford was releasing the Mustang R-Spec with more than 500kW and 800Nm, my immediate reaction was to write it off as a bit silly.
Nevertheless, when I read that Rob Herrod was building the car I figured it’s probably worth a closer look because the results from the work he carried out on my car were simply outstanding.
But those outputs being sent to the rear wheels does seem a bit comical on paper given the standard issue 275/40 R19 tyre package on board, as good as the Michelin Pilot Sport 4S rubber is.
My speculative impression was that all that torque would overwhelm the rear tyres, surely.
Aesthetics are clearly important when purchasing and, while I’m not much of a fan of things too loud when it comes to paint, I was hoping the press car wasn’t Velocity Blue or Grabber Lime. Twister Orange is perfect for the R-Spec, even with its black stripes.
Priced from $99,980 before on-roads, the R-Spec was an immediate sell-out with all 500 cars spoken for.
At the time of this review and after a few calls to well-known Ford dealers and it seems there are still a few remaining on the showroom floor if you’re keen.
It’s still a sizeable bump in price from my Bullitt, which cost $86,000 drive-away two years ago. But it didn’t get an Eaton Twin Vortices supercharger.
It’s also $35,790 more than a stock GT Fastback manual if we’re comparing apples with apples, which is considerable on any level. But apart from the enormous increase in pulling power, a significant exclusivity factor comes into play with the R-Spec.
Competitors and few and far between but if you’re lucky, you might find a few locally-converted Chevrolet Camaro ZL1s around, which are armed with a thumping 6.2-litre supercharged V8 producing a similarly serious 477kW and 881Nm of torque for around $165,000.
I’m told at the time of writing this review there are deals to be had on those remaining.
All the good stuff is under the skin and bonnet, including a Ford Performance Roush 2650 supercharger kit, Ford Performance engine covers, an engine block badge, the Ford Performance MagneRide handling package (including lower springs and unique sway bars), and 19-inch Ford Performance black wheels.
There’s also a Ford Performance shift knob, a Herrod Performance active cat-back exhaust, black 5.0 badges on the front guards, and a black rear spoiler and hockey stripe decals.
Inside, it’s pretty much standard Mustang GT fare inside which means you get Recaro leather sports seats (optional on GT), a Bang & Olufsen nine-speaker sound system, adaptive cruise control, auto headlights and wipers, tyre-pressure monitoring, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror with reversing camera, and rear parking sensors,
Like the standard Mustang GT, the R-Spec mixes old-school elements with modern tech such as keyless entry and start, a 12-inch configurable instrument display, and an 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment unit with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integrated into the dash.
As standards go these days, no. The Mustang went from a two-star car in 2015 to three stars in December 2017 with upgrades including low- and high-speed autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, as well as lane-keeping assist and lane-departure warning.
Individually, it scored 72 per cent for adult occupant protection, 32 per cent for child occupant protection, 78 per cent for pedestrian protection and 61 per cent for safety assist.
Additionally, it gets dual front, dual-side chest protecting, side head protecting (curtain), and knee airbags for the driver and front passenger.
It’s pretty much a carbon copy of the Bullitt, bar the build plate and shifter.
The Recaro seats are standout for their racy style, bolster and comfort, even over long stints behind the wheel. And while the majority of the dashboard is soft touch, as is leather-wrapped centre console and top section of the doors, there’s plenty of hard plastics to remind you of the Mustang’s blue-collar origins.
The leather-wrapped steering wheel is a bit big for my liking, but feels good in the hands and there’s plenty of functionality built in. The switchgear also feels a bit cheap for a car costing more than $100,000 on the road when you start comparing it to European models around the same price.
The driving position is spot on with plenty of adjustability for the driver and the perfectly-placed shifter making manual driving a sheer delight.
I’m also a fan of the Sync 3 infotainment system, which is quick to respond – especially when using Apple CarPlay. It makes switching between navigation, music, messages, and phone all so easy on the move.
It’s wonderfully functional from a technology and driving perspective, but it’s significantly less polished than you might expect for your investment.
Rear passenger space is not much bigger than a Porsche 911 (tight), but boot space is reasonable at 408 litres. That’s large enough for a full-sized suitcase and a couple of soft bags.
It’s a third-generation Coyote 5.0-litre V8 from the standard Mustang GT with an aluminium block and heads, but with an Eaton TVS 2650 series supercharger and water-to-air intercooler helping it generate considerably more muscle than the regular motor.
The R-Spec uses fuel injectors around 60 per cent larger than those in the regular GT V8, while cooling is taken care of by a water-to-air intercooler fed by a larger front intake specific to the R-Spec, as well as a full-face radiator.
Ford or Herrod Performance don’t quote specific performance outputs but the supercharger kit bumps things up considerably. Peak power is 522kW, and peak torque is a whopping 830Nm going to the rear wheels.
Drive it like your mother and you might get close to 14.7L/100km (on a highway), but drive it to enjoy and you’ll likely be using closer to 18L/100km of the good stuff (98 RON).
Rather than the untidy shenanigans I was expecting from the get-go, the R-Spec delivers its extra power and torque in a surprisingly linear fashion as to not overwhelm the tyres, or indeed, the driver.
In fact, so well calibrated is the power delivery that it feels completely normal but with such effortless reserves of sheer grunt available in-gear and anywhere in the rev range.
I’m already thinking about calling Rob Herrod to add the supercharger package to the Bullitt, because once you get a taste of what this car delivers, you can’t go back to the standard powertrain. It’s that good.
It pulls unbelievably well but never really overwhelms the chassis, or the Michelins down back. That’s thanks to the linearity of the torque delivery which is slightly limited in both first and second gears, so it never feels like too much.
That’s not something I expected given the huge bump in pulling power. Well done to Ford and Herrod Performance for the calibration work.
As much as I’d like to suggest that the 305/R20 tyres on the rear of my Bullitt might have been a better choice of equipment for the R-Spec that’s just not the case, as there’s plenty of grip from the standard-issue 275s at the rear of this car.
Even when giving the throttle a solid prod out of an uphill right-hander there’s oodles of bite from the rear. Again, it all feels so normal.
Don’t get me wrong, lean into it on a straight road and the R-Spec piles on the pace with seemingly no let up, backed by a nicely subdued supercharger whine. There’s no better feeling that rowing through the gears with that stubby shifter.
I was heel and toeing for a bit but, as in my own car, the automatic rev matching is so good you just resign yourself to the superiority of the machines and let the electronics take over. It doesn’t miss a beat and you sound like a hero. Job done.
I’ve heard a few colleagues ask for more volume from the exhaust, but there’s more than enough to keep you entertained… and off the radar of the folks in blue. Who needs the hassle? You can always select a different mode for the active exhaust through the steering wheel button. I tend to use Track almost exclusively in my own Mustang.
The steering weight is near perfect in that there’s some real meat to it, but without feeling heavy. The R-Spec’s beefed-up suspension and specially-tuned damping system also means body roll is more than kept in check when pushing in the bends, despite its 1779kg heft.
On the flip side, the ride is generally compliant depending on your settings, despite the car sitting 20mm lower than standard. There’s a big difference in ride comfort from Normal to the firmer Sport and Track modes, but most of the time I preferred the less aggressive settings which offers a more relaxed chassis.
Braking is courtesy of Brembo 380mm vented front rotors using six-piston calipers, while the rear uses 330mm discs with single-piston calipers for what is significant stopping power for the road, along with a nicely progressive pedal feel.
The good news is Ford offers a full five-year, unlimited-kilometre factory warranty, as well as capped-price servicing.
The standard Mustang GT requires servicing annually or every 15,000km, the R-Spec demands maintenance every six months or at 10,000km at the relatively modest cost of $299, capped for two years or 40,000km.
Replacing those Michelins isn’t a cheap exercise either; you’re looking at around $470 per corner, bearing in mind the fronts are 255mm wide as opposed the 275mm width at the rear.
It’s utterly addictive and a breeze to drive anywhere – even around town. I’m not a fan of the 10-speed automatic – or at least Ford’s calibration of it – so manual-only is just fine by me.
It’s not cheap, though, nor is it as quick as some of the fast Euro hatches and sedans on offer for less money, and with more kit and a nicer cabin.
But that’s not important when you climb behind the wheel of a Ford Mustang R-Spec. This car speaks to you in so many different ways, most of them good.
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