What the hell? Why would you put a two-door Ford Mustang up against a soon-to-be-departed four-door Holden Commodore? Well, when there’s only 2kW and $2500 between them, why wouldn’t we…?
Late last month we got the chance to twin-test our resident long-term 2017 Ford Mustang GT Fastbackagainst the ageing – yet decidedly still entertaining – 2017 Nissan 370Z Coupe. The American ‘Stang trumped the Japanese Z, but not by much. This got us thinking. If we had just under $60,000 to spend on a new rear-wheel-drive ‘muscle car’, would we pick the 5.0-litre Ford or a 6.2-litre Holden? And with that, we were off.
If you’re not familiar with, or at least aware of, either of these two cars, then you really do need to get out more.
As mentioned, our carryover champ is the 2017 Ford Mustang GT Fastback. It teams a 5.0-litre Coyote V8 engine with a six-speed manual transmission and offers somewhat ‘squeezy’ seating for four.
The 2017 Holden Commodore SS V Redline sits atop the VFII sedan range – if you exclude the limited-edition Holden Commodore Motorsport – and it combines a 6.2-litre LS3 V8 engine with a six-speed manual transmission and ample space for five adults.
Sleek and muscular on the road, the US-built Triple Yellow Ford Mustang has presence. Easily the more conspicuous of the two here, it sits low, looks aggressive, and is visually the more modern-looking of the pair.
Sure, there’s plenty of black plastic around the place – and only a single ‘Ford’ signifier on the whole car – but there are also gloss-black 19-inch alloy wheels, Brembo brake calipers up front, and a body-coloured rear diffuser housing two chrome-tipped exhaust pipes out the back.
With its Son of a Gun Grey paint, gloss black accents, and gloss-black 19-inch alloy wheels, the locally-built Commodore simply oozes unmarked police car. Menacing unmarked police car, but unmarked police car nonetheless.
Proudly advertised as a Holden – with ‘lion and stone’ emblems front and rear – those who notice the ‘LS3 6.2-litre’ badge, four exhaust pipes, and Brembo brakes all around, will quickly pick up this particular Commodore has some legitimate performance potential. As for anyone else, if they’re within ear-shot, they’ll soon be in on the secret.
As odd as this match-up might initially seem, when you think about what each vehicle represents, it’s not that crazy at all.
Since the last Ford Falcon rolled off the Blue Oval’s Broadmeadows production line last October, the Michigan-made Ford Mustang has effectively taken up the role of the brand’s ‘big boy’ performance car – the sprightly all-wheel-drive Focus RS more aimed at pleasing the PlayStation generation.
As for the current Holden Commodore, its days are numbered, with the V8-powered rear-drive example seen here representative of the end of an era for the long-serving Zeta platform. And furthermore, come October 20, the end of a local manufacturing story started way back in 1856.
So really, one of these contenders marks the start of something new, the other, the end of something very, very familiar.
In an effort to give both cars a chance to shine, we devised a 320-kilometre road loop that would take us from Melbourne to Victoria’s stunning Great Ocean Road, and back again.
Comprised of high-quality freeways, patchier B roads, and the always entertaining twists and turns of the Deans Marsh Road, the road loop would be followed up by some track time at Melbourne’s ‘Home of Horsepower’, Sandown Raceway. Good times.
Price and features
Opening the bidding is the 2017 Ford Mustang GT Fastback.
Priced at $57,490 (before on-road costs), the 5.0-litre Mustang produces 306kW of power at 6500rpm and 530Nm of torque at 4250rpm, and claims to burn 13.1 litres of 98-octane premium unleaded fuel every 100km.
Coming in bang-on $2500 cheaper, the 2017 Holden Commodore SS V Redline kicks off at $54,990 (before on-road costs), with its 6.2-litre V8 churning out 304kW of power at 6000rpm and 570Nm of torque at 4400rpm. Believe the spec sheet, and the Holden not only offers more torque than the Ford, it also promises to cost you less to run – the Commodore claiming a requirement of 12.6 litres of 91-octane unleaded fuel every 100km.
The standard equipment battle is a bit tit-for-tat, with both manufacturers cramming in features but focussing attention in different areas.
Cruise control, dual-zone climate control, rain-sensing wipers, hill-hold assist, tyre pressure monitoring, and a nine-speaker stereo with Bluetooth phone connectivity and audio streaming are common to both cars, as are satellite navigation and voice commands.
Both come with keyless entry and a push-button start, however, the Holden’s proximity key still requires you to push a small button on the door handle to unlock the car. Both also come with automatic daytime running lights and headlights, although the Mustang runs halogen DRLs and HID headlights, the Commodore LED DRLs and halogen headlights.
Front fog lights, LED tail-lights, a rear-view camera, rear parking sensors, and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror are all standard fare on the Mustang, with the Commodore packed with front and rear parking sensors, semi-automatic parking, a rear-view camera with rear cross-traffic alert, plus a head-up display, blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning, forward-collision alert, and trailer-sway control.
That said, the Mustang takes the cake in the infotainment stakes, with its recently updated – and now Sync 3-equipped – 8.0-inch touchscreen touting better visuals and responsiveness than the Commodore’s ageing 8.0-inch MyLink-based system, which also can’t match the Ford’s support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Another key point of difference swings the other way, in favour of the Holden: safety.
Despite the Mustang coming standard with two additional airbags over and above the Commodore’s six (driver and front passenger knee airbags on top of dual front, side, and curtain airbags), the Mustang received a widely-discussed two-star ANCAP safety rating in January, while the VFII Commodore possesses a five-star rating – albeit a carryover score first obtained by the VF Commodore back in 2013 under different testing criteria.
Cabins and practicality
Big. Spacious. Comfortable. When it comes to these two, we can only be talking about one car and that’s the almost-five-metre-long Holden.
With an interior instantly recognisable to anyone who’s ever spent any time in just about any Commodore taxi or rental car since about 2013, the SS V Redline’s cabin is simple, practical, and ergonomically well laid out.
Mixing mid-level leathers and suede inserts with gloss black, silver, and chrome accents, the space is also permeated with ample hard plastics – notably on the doors, dash, centre stack flanks, and transmission tunnel.
Storage is plentiful, backseat acreage is vast, and the Commodore’s 495-litre boot still seems as boundless as ever.
By contrast, the Mustang’s newer-looking cabin is a blend of modern-retro design and garish and chintzy Americana.
Harder plastics abound, but they are at least broken up by silver and chrome highlights, a faux brushed-aluminium dash element, and some of the tackiest-feeling leather to be used in a new car – the latter found on the doors, seats, gear shifter, manual handbrake, and button-packed multifunction steering wheel.
Visually busier compared with the Holden’s, the Ford’s interior lacks the space, storage, and outright practicality of its Aussie-built-and-designed rival. The Mustang does come with two USB inputs to the Commodore’s one, however.
The backseat is, let’s say ‘limited’, and best kept for bags or emergencies rather than actual people. And, while the Pony car’s 383-litre boot is still decent for trips away or to the shops, the puncture repair kit that lives under its floor isn’t as ideal as the Holden’s full-size spare.
Interestingly, only the older Commodore comes with an electric parking brake, a digital speedometer, and an entirely power-adjustable driver’s seat with electric lumbar support. The Mustang exclusively scores heating and cooling for both of its power-adjustable front seats, although in the Ford, back-rest adjustment relies solely on ‘old-school’ manually-operated levers.
On the road
After inflating tyres to a manufacturer-recommended 36psi, we head off on our 110km highway drive towards the coast.
Somewhat strangely, we note that while the Holden runs Bridgestone Potenza RE050As front and rear, measuring 245/40 and 275/35 respectively, our long-term Ford rolls on a set of mismatched Pirellis, with 225/40 P Zeros used up front and 275/40 P Zero Rossos used out back.
With cruise control switched on – something you have to do every trip in the Mustang but are only required to ever do once in the Commodore – both cars are locked to 100km/h.
Almost immediately, the Ford’s driver’s seat is noticeably less comfortable than the Holden’s, lacking lower-back support and not feeling anywhere near as cosy to be in for extended periods of time.
An ideal driving position is also harder to find than in the Commodore, with the Mustang’s power seat not able to be lowered enough towards the floor.
Despite the slightly taller seating position, sat in the ‘Stang, you feel lower to the road and more hunkered down. And although from the inside things are darker and somewhat more claustrophobic compared with the Holden, from the outside, the hard-to-miss Ford never ceases to attract looks and stares from all and sundry. We can assure you, while plenty of people make all sorts of efforts to grab a photo of the Mustang, not once did anyone pause to get a snap of the dark grey Commodore.
More relaxing and less fatiguing to drive, the Holden Commodore SS V Redline not only pips the Ford Mustang GT Fastback in terms of ride comfort and compliance, but also in terms of its helpful driving aids, with its blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning, and adjustable forward-collision alert all ensuring you stay on the ball on longer stints behind the wheel.
Road noise is fractionally higher in the Ford compared with the Holden – especially over coarse-chip surfaces – though really, neither car is particularly hushed inside.
Speaking of noise, the Holden’s big 6.2-litre LS3 V8 is a cracking engine that sounds fantastic and is more than happy cruising along at 100km/h at a metric smidge over 1500rpm. However, despite offering stacks of low-down torque, the pushrod-packed eight-cylinder doesn’t feel quite as responsive or eager in top gear as Ford’s quieter, smaller-capacity DOHC 5.0-litre Coyote powerplant – no doubt partly due to the Mustang’s slightly shorter final drive ratio (3.73:1 in the Mustang, 3.70:1 in the Commodore).
With our initial highway stretch in the bag, we stop to check fuel figures before hitting up the B roads of Winchelsea. To this point, it’s the Ford outdoing the Holden in the average consumption stakes – 8.2L/100km versus 9.2L/100km.
Mixing longer, sweeping bends with a variety of undulations, our patchier stretch of 80-100km/h dual-carriageway blacktop perfectly represents many of Victoria’s, and Australia’s, interconnecting rural roads. And it’s here again the locally-focussed Commodore proves king.
Even bolted up to Holden’s firmer ‘FE3’ sports-tuned suspension, the SS V Redline’s ride is impressive. Admittedly on the firmer side over road joins and harsher imperfections, the calibration just works, commendably dealing with the bad and never feeling busy over the good.
Carrying over its more relaxed and compliant highway manners to our less-than-perfect B roads, even if it does strike a bump firmly, the Commodore settles quickly, highlighting its better and more resolved body control, shaking off mid-corner bumps with little fuss.
Unfortunately – and despite the long-awaited inclusion of independent rear suspension (IRS) – over the same roads, the Mustang is largely skittish, nervous, and unsettled.
Fitted with ‘Performance Pack’ suspension as standard in Australia (it’s optional in the US), the GT Pony car’s underpinnings include heavy-duty front springs, a front-end K-brace, a larger rear sway bar, and unique chassis tuning. And although Ford’s intentions may have been good, in reality, the ‘Stang is often left bouncing around from bump to bump, putting its passengers inside the cabin through the same ordeal in the process.
Firm in its initial hit, but with a tendency for mid-corner roll and lean, the 1701kg (tare) Mustang is fidgety and agitated on pock-marked straights, and floaty and remote through curves. And the longer you’re in it, the more the experience simply becomes disappointing and unsatisfying, especially when compared with the noticeably better balanced and flatter-riding Holden – which, it’s worth remembering, is a four-door family sedan lugging around near-on 50kg of additional weight.
With our final stretch of the Deans Marsh Road to go, we approach Lorne by slicing our way through the dense greenery of the Otways. And as the switchbacks twist and tighten, the surface also smooths out, giving both cars equal opportunity to impress.
Teaming lighter weighting with good levels of feel and feedback, the Commodore’s steering is connected and engaging, and easily more communicative than the Mustang’s less accurate and more muted and detached set-up.
Crack on, and the Holden remains the more stable and planted of the two, with its well-sorted suspension better able to take advantage of the high levels of lateral grip on offer.
Sighting the next bend is an easier task in the Mustang, thanks to its thinner and more heavily raked A-pillars, however, the Ford’s front end is consistently lost beneath its long and often-rising bonnet. At the same time, the Holden’s nose is pointier and more accurate, staying down and helping the Commodore more adeptly change direction.
In short, between a meandering front end that wants to push wide and a frisky backend that only ever feels moments away from stepping out, driving the Mustang fast, on these sorts of roads anyway, just feels like you’re hassling it, and it’s not great fun. It is fast though, and it certainly knows how to wind out and hustle in a straight line.
Impressively, with our 320-kilometre road loop completed, and both cars safe and sound back in Melbourne, it’s the Ford that again takes the fuel consumption crown, averaging 10.8L/100km for the whole journey, to the thirstier Holden’s 11.6L/100km.
So, what have we learned to this point?
Well, it’s clear: If you’re after style and flair, there’s no point waiting for Part Two of this comparison – the Track Test – and our final verdict. It’s the Mustang all day, hands down. But, what’s the best sub-$60k spend if you want to buy a new, front-engined, rear-drive, V8-powered ‘muscle car’? That answer is potentially a little more complicated… Stay tuned.