The power and the glory: how Ford's fiery new Mustang set pulses racing
First Drive: Ford Mustan in Munich
NOW and again a car just takes your breath. The new Ford Mustang - the first made for Europe as well as the US - did just that the other day.
I knew it would be powerful and brawny and straight-line fast. It was.
I didn't expect it to be grippy and agile on tight twists and long bends. Previous Mustangs weren't.
But this is the first for Europe. And it is a hoot; a ravenously quick piece of crafted muscle that made me feel part of its propulsive power unlike anything I've driven for a long time.
The last car I drove with that sort of roar and raw excitement engineered into it was the Jaguar F-TYPE.
The Mustang, here in November, is a once-off. There are no direct competitors or comparables really. It is spurious to suggest that, from €46,000, it is significantly better value than a similarly-priced BMW, or Audi or Merc.
It may be but I don't know if buyers of those cars are going to give it a second look. Correction, they will give it a second look because it is impossible not to do a double-take on seeing this low-slung, long bonneted, rear-sloping powerhouse.
But most probably won't consider it a car for them. I don't know who will but it is likely to draw people from right across the spectrum.
America's blue-collar dream car it may be, but the European dimension (different suspension, steering and brakes) has transformed it.
Now it's a European car with an American soul. And that's why its buyers will be en eclectic bunch of enthusiasts who, like me, just love it (imperfections and all - and it has a few, believe me) for what it is: a stomping throb of moving energy.
I wanted to get down my sense of its prowess while the memory is fresh. Of blasting along the autobahn near Munich and thrusting through spindly, twisty green-verged roads. Of still sensing the joy of discovering Sport mode and the steering feel stiffening as we swung through bends, sharp lefts and rights, while buoyantly pushing for more.
I sat in a wonderfully sculpted driver's seat (two tiny-tot ones at the back) that I think is as central to enjoying this as the roar of the 5-litre V8 (optional extra Recaro, manual adjustment) or 2.3-litre EcoBoost (standard seats/electric adjustment).
You are immediately part of the car, sitting deep but not in danger of losing perspective thanks to the guiding trams of raised bonnet lines. Placing the Fastback (there is a convertible too) on corners was just a joy.
A simple, near-button free dash and excellent rear visibility let me concentrate on the important: driving. No clutter confusion. I was in control.
Everywhere we went, through villages and towns, people thumbed-up; everywhere we stopped, young men asked me to rev the V8. "Again," they begged.
On the autobahn in the wet and the dry we dashed and darted in our Race Red V8. The power throbbed through; I sensed always there was plenty more. But it wasn't until we took to the side roads that I realised: hey! they've gone and made a proper driving car out of this.
It can no longer be said it was for American tastes. This is a car to drive not just steer. There is a crucial difference; that special independent rear axle and double-knuckle front suspension bestowing on it a life all of its own.
The 2.3-litre EcoBoost version is the one most people will be interested in. It was a different animal to the V8 and had its own distinctive engine sound.
On wet, wet roads in the convertible I fished-tailed it once but with Snow/Wet settings and improving weather it showed the car's dynamics in another way.
And so to a few facts. The 5-litre V8 pumps 418bhp and hits 100kmh in 4.7 seconds; the 2.3-litre EcoBoost, which will be the big seller, tops at 314bhp and reaches 100khm in under six seconds.
Prices start at €46,000 for the 2.3-litre manual (8l/100km/35mpg, €750 road tax) and from €62,000 for the V8 (13.6l/100km/21mpg, €2,350 road tax).
Automatic transmissions cost €3,000 more (and incur road tax from €1,200).
Stick with the manual. It's called engagement; though gear-change was one of my areas of real complaint.
The gear shift (6spd) was sticky, fudgy and disappointing and I was unsure of what I'd changed to a few times.
Also sixth gear is a serious let down when you get there (I used fifth virtually all the time - it's got the torque to take you from way down the revs to up near 8,000rpm).
The biggest blot on an otherwise exemplary dash are four horrendous shiny silver buttons (for hazard lights, driving modes etc) at the bottom. They ruined the look of the dash and were totally out of sync. Do something Ford please. And there's no passenger-side grab handle.
But mostly what you see is what you get and there won't be a long list of options. Leather upholstery, 8ins touchscreen, sync2, MyKey, selectable driving modes, 19ins alloys, dual-zone climate control, reverse parking camera etc are all standard.
It will be sold through a small number of Ford Stores - dealerships that will not only sell Mustangs but new upmarket Vignale versions of Fords as well.
And so, 50 years after the first Mustang we get the first Mustang for Europe. It keeps much of what it always stood for but has moved quickly with the times too. And that comes across on the road. Few cars have the ability to make you want to drive them like this does.