2016 Ford Mustang GT CS – Is the California special, special?

When Ford launched their 6th generation Mustang, they hit 50 years of Mustang production, which must mean that they’ve done something right for the past 50 years but the question that remains, is the new Mustang capable of carrying on this heritage?

That is only one part of this review, though, as my test vehicle is the unique 2016 California Special and I wanted to know if it is any special at all.

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Special thanks to Ford Middle East for this awesome weekend ride!

Before we jump into the all-new Mustang, I have to mention that I own the last model of the 5th generation, also in V8 form, which means I have quite a reference to compare this too.

Ford Mustang Specifications

Ford kept things fairly Mustang with the 6th generation. All vehicles are a two-seater, front engined, rear drive sports cars with the familiar dose of V6 and V8 engines, except this time around, they slipped in an EcoBoost four-cylinder turbo engine, mainly targeting Europe and the economic race-car driver.

I am neither in Europe nor am I paying for fuel so I welcomed the V8 with opened arms. The beautiful Mustang GT has a very familiar 5.0-litre V8 engine with 421 horsepower and 530 nm of torque powering the rear wheels and managed through Ford’s 6-speed SelectShift Automatic, or in other words, a single-clutch, automated manual. Old-school, just like the Mustang.

Official Economy numbers are 8.8 KMs per litre on the V8, but I managed to get 13 on average. Might be high, but this is a V8 sports car. Surprisingly, that is what I get on my current GT, as well.

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This was also the California Special, which essentially gives the car some stickers all around the vehicle, blacked out bits on the hood, what seems to be an extended front splitter, a black rear wing, badges on the exterior and interior. Purely cosmetic and more on that later.

Oh, before I forget, this particular beast in Race Red with 5 million miles of headroom.

All the above, could easily be said for the 2013 model, so what exactly is new here?

The Looks

Without a doubt, the Mustang’s looks have changed quite dramatically.

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The Mustang had taken a more European approach to design, where all the aggressive growling of the 5th generation was taken down a bit. It has become more civilized, but that is only what it looks like.

Curves are smoother, lines are calmer and more aerodynamic rather than there for the sole purpose of the drawing board.

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Up front, the lights have three slanted LED strips instead of two with a single Bi-Xenon lens. Foglights have moved lower down. Some design elements like the hood overflowing above the headlights still remain, but the car misses that one very specific angle where it looks like a horse’s head, which is my favorite angle on the 5th generation.

If it sounds like I am criticizing, I am, not as a new vehicle, but as a newer generation. As a vehicle of its own, it is stunning! Just look at it! Holy front splitter!

I am not a fan of the wheels, I could not actually find it in the official brochure but its a 5 spoke two-tone wheel coded 10081MB – just skip it.

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Moving around to the back is where the Mustang comes together with its heritage. Those triple taillights, also flash sequentially this time around are signature since the very first mustang. The rear end is super muscular, just large and wide enough to show its size and by all means, this is a wide car.

The Mustang is 2.08 meters wide, 4.78 meters long and 1.38 meters tall.

Moving down a bit lower, there is a very visible rear diffuser, dual exhausts and a reverse light in the middle. Yeah.. on an American Muscle-Car.

Since we’re down here, I must admit, Ford never did a great job with the stock exhausts, and while taking a few clips using a GoPro, it just sounded a little tinny at times – so I scrapped the footage all together. *cough* Roush *cough*

The Tech

This time around, they actually gave the Mustang some tech. I did not even have parking sensors in mine as standard and that speaks a lot for a 2013 vehicle!

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It comes with front, rear sensors, and a rear facing camera which actually has quite a decent resolution and it does not end there!

This car is targetted not only for the racers but also techie racers, which means for safety, the Mustang has front collision prevention and warning systems, warning for oncoming traffic when backing out of a parking spot, blind spot indicator and a large red LED strip that brings up on to the windscreen when any warning is displayed.

But wait, there’s more. For the first time, you actually have electronic driving modes! Normal, Sports, Track, and Snow/Wet mode are now offered with variable levels of fun all in a beautiful array of switches.

On the interior the screen on the instrument panel has a few track-focused apps as well, to monitor G-Force, acceleration, braking, lap timer and more!

Now that we’re talking interior for a bit, you get the all new SYNC, which is a lovely touch screen display split into 4 windows, each with a function on the SYNC system. Intuitive but it ain’t no iPad. The part that I do not understand is, why was the Navigation not a part of this experience? You have to press and hold the voice command button to launch Navigation on the screen, like an external app and then press and hold to take it away. Super weird.

Remote start is a dream-come-true on the new Mustang and Ford has been doing this really well for the past few years now and I always got excellent range starting the car from ridiculous distances.

So, they got the tech part sorted, I mean, it is no S-Class, but that’s not why you’re buying this, now are you?

Unlimited headroom

This Mustang is a convertible, just when the weather is perfect. Which is not something I can say about the roof, to be honest.

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With the roof up, the car seems to have odd proportions, and I dislike how you can see the rods, but aside from it screaming “This will age badly” there are some fundamentals that bother me.

You need to take the whole roof off in a Bugatti, because it does ridiculous speeds and in an R8, Bentley Continental, Aston Martin and other must faster coupe’s the roofs are automated without driver intervention, yet the Mustang requires quite a bit of it. What intervention you ask?

First of all, you have to manually pull down a lever, twist it to unlock the roof. Then, once the roof is fully lowered, you are left with two large gaps on either side of the rear fenders. To cover these, you’ll have to manually insert them – that is, if you have them in your trunk. I am also not sure what is the speed rating on those panels before they fly off. This is a modern sports car with a soft-top, I do not understand why it is still so old-school. Cost savings perhaps?

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Once the roof is down, though, it is a thing of pure beauty. The lines, curves, and proportions are near perfect. You can forget about wind deflectors and all of that malarkey because even with the windows up, you are going to be blown around the cabin. So, simply lower the windows and embrace the lovely breeze of winter. Dubai winter that is.

The roof can be lowered and raised while driving at a low speed and even with the room given for the roof, you have a decent 325 litres of cargo space.

It is clear then. I like the way the car looks, I like the convertible only with the roof down. So, let’s move on.

The interior

I am not going to spend too much time here because while other manufacturers are moving away from excessive buttons for more touch focused systems and smart tech, Ford chose to add more buttons, especially on the steering wheel. I counted 20 without the paddles.

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While the overall interior has improved dramatically over the 5th generation, the sense of low-quality materials still lingers on. The cabin had surprisingly nice leathers, a mix between leather and suede-like inserts keeping you planted in your place and very hard materials which I do not understand how it even made sense to put into a car.

Seating is fairly comfortable with noticeable hardness, as has always been the case. Short trips are relaxing and easy while longer trips can be a little tiring.

The steering wheel feels a lot better than before, more grippy and with the paddles behind it, feels significantly modern. Interior design is not at its finest, but it is still an improvement without a doubt.

A final thing I have to mention because it feels cool as heck are the switches! You get to control your driving mode, traction control, and steering feel right beside the hazard lights, also triggered by a similar switch.. boring.

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Overall then, the interior is simply Mustang. Basic interior design, a few modern touches, a mix between soft and hard materials, rear seats that are as pointless as the hood turn signals that the driver nor cars nearby can see. I like it!

Let’s not beat around the bush. This is a budget performance car. It may have increased in price by at least 10-15% but you will not get this kind of performance for cheaper. As I always say, it’s cheaper for a reason. Ready for the good part?

The Drive

If I were forced to sum the drive of the new Mustang up in one sentence, it would be: “They have taken every single component and made it 10-15% better”.

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The speed is consistently good as before, maybe with a slight improvement due to the power delivery speeds and improvements in the gearbox, but hardly noticeable if you do not drive them back-to-back.

Steering is more precise and you’re more aware of where you’re pointing that heavy nose. Yes, the nose is still heavy but it seems to be slightly less floaty in quick direction change. The car is more composed, controlled and even more comfortable due to it finally having independent suspension for each of the rear wheels, which has been long overdue.

Typically, with a car of this type of setup, there is slight understeer with hard cornering but can be easily corrected with some over-pedal but be warned, 420 horses are not always easy to tame.

Speaking of those ponies, power delivery is significantly better in this new car with its new engine. Power comes in at a more instantaneous punch in the throat and sticks around till you’re over all the legal speed limits through the 6-speed gearbox. Manually shifting does little push compared to shifting it in sports+ where it does not want to ever shift, anyways.

Braking has also significantly improved which I feel was a major issue in the previous generation Mustang but nothing fancy, just a better, cleaner setup. You can definitely brake harder, later and with less fade with use.

0-100 KMPH remains at 4.6 seconds and the top speed is at 264 KMPH. They are not after any top speed records here, just quarter-mile fun.

Coming from the 2013 Mustang GT, I can feel an improvement in every aspect of this car’s driving abilities, making it the very best Mustang ever, hands down.

The California Special

What’s the deal here?

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The California Special includes 19″ Ebony Black painted machined aluminum wheels with 255/40R19 tires, unique performance front air splitter, unique black grille and hood stripes, black raised decklid spoiler, side view mirrors and hood-vented air extractors, faux gas cap, unique dark taillamp bezels, leather-trimmed front bucket seats with suede cloth inserts and red stitching, unique instrument panel finish and door-panel inserts, and premium carpeted front floor mats with embroidered logo (not available with Black Accent Package, optional wheels, over-the-top racing stripe, Premier Trim With Color Accent Group seats.

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It may have a significant increase in price over the standard GT, but does not add much except a cosmetic element to make the Mustang even more special. I’d still say the 50-year anniversary edition was sexiest in terms of badging, but this comes super close. I wish it was more limited and maybe even numbered!

Conclusion

Ford has definitely created a winner here. They have taken a winning formula, proven over 50-years, and improved it significantly focusing on making it a more modern, enjoyable and even international machine.

Every element has been taken, dissected, put under the microscope and improved for the 6th generation. One thing that has not been improved, is the personality, which remains distinctly Mustang. I felt like I was driving my own car after a few days, I got used to it far too quickly and going back to my car is when I noticed the tiny improvements that had taken place.

I definitely love the new Mustang, and I think they have done it justice. Improving it just enough that its a brand new car but also, little enough that it has the exact Mustang personality that we’re used to and love.

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