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Road trip: new Ford Mustang vs the States, the first leg

In need of summer road trip inspiration? Here's what happened when we took a new 'Stang to every American state

  1. Can you imagine the logistics of setting up a trip to drive through every state in America?

    I’ve got the windows up and the air-conditioning on full blast, but I’m still sweating like I’ve sprung a leak. The hot and humid air swirling around the cabin is already so saturated with moisture it can’t absorb any of mine. In front of me is a quarter-mile drag strip covered in so much grip goo it’s like a giant piece of flypaper. Behind and to the side of me in the grandstand is a crowd of people waiting expectantly for something historic to happen.

    This feature originally appeared in the December 2014 issue of Top Gear Magazine. 

    Pics: Rowan Horncastle

    Mustang vs the States: leg two

    Mustang vs the States: leg three

    Mustang vs the States: leg four

    Mustang vs the States: the final leg


  2. A big dude with an even bigger beard beckons me forward, so I slam the lever into first, hear and feel the clunk of the Torsen diff engaging, then roll slowly towards the staging line. As I do that, there’s a small whine of feedback from the PA system as it spools up, then, “Lay-deez and-ha gen-tle-men, put your hands together for the first 2015 Ford Mustang!” And, as the crowd follows the instruction, I nail the throttle, dump the clutch and lunge forward into the Carolina night on the 2015 Mustang’s first ever run down a drag strip.

  3. How do we know it’s the first time? Because everything we’ve done so far - and will do over the next couple of weeks - is a 2015 Mustang world first. We’ve got Number One off the line right here, so anything we do with it - fill it with petrol, get a ticket, eat crisps, burp, anything - are all new Mustang world firsts. Which is a huge privilege, of course, but not one that was won lightly. We had to convince Ford that we had the best plan for celebrating the launch of the new model, which we all now know is finally coming to the UK next year.

  4. So we thought of lots of clever ideas. Then we binned all those and went with an obvious one. The Mustang is 50 years old this year. There are 50 states in the US. Why don’t we drive the car through all of them to celebrate both facts, introducing the US to its favourite pony car one state at a time? Deal, said Ford, calling our bluff and causing a major breakout of Serious Planning. Or partially serious. Associate editor Tom Ford wondered what all the fuss was about. “Surely we just amble senselessly about America. No?”

  5. No. Well, actually, yes. But not before a couple of months of staring at Google Maps, more travel arrangements than an evacuation and many, many logistical realisations - like just how far Alaska really is from the rest of the US. What emerged was a route that looked like the work of an over-caffeinated, ink-dipped spider. It started in Maine on the east coast and wiggled its way west to the final destination: the Sunset Marquis hotel just off Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, California. Total mileage? 11,175.5, as the cursor flies. Time to do it? About two weeks. Possible problems? Too many to list. A road trip to remember? You betcha.

  6. The central star of which we’d left to Ford to choose and specify. The sensible Mustang, in retrospect, for this long-distance, on-the-limit cruise through the US’s urban and open spaces would have been a GT with the 5.0-litre V8, the comfiest seats and kindest suspension possible plus the lightest gearbox to take the sting out of all the city work, of which there was plenty.

  7. But Ford, clearly expecting us to race every moving thing up to and including our own shadow after burning out a set of tyres before breakfast each morning, went straight to the toughest end of the options list. This gave rise to a Ruby Red GT (all GTs are V8s) fitted with a pair of Recaro race seats and the US-only Performance Pack. This includes bigger brakes, more bracing, stiffer suspension, wider 19-inch wheels and a 0.373 rear axle with, as we would be reminded with a thump every time we selected first, a Torsen diff. If we’d been on a track, we’d have wanted this spec. For our tour-athon it seemed a little harsh. So that’s the set-up. Over these galleries, you can ride shotgun with us as we introduce ourselves, and the US as a whole, to the 2015 Mustang. Sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin…

  8. I didn’t expect to see a tortoise. Not here in the middle of a deserted misty freeway just a few miles from Atlanta. And, to be fair, the tortoise probably wasn’t expecting to see a bright red 2015 Mustang GT bearing down on him at 75mph either. But here we were, marvelling momentarily at each other’s unlikely presence. He travelling at 100ft a day, we moving at roughly that much per second.

  9. No, I’m not going to flog the old hare and tortoise story, although on a journey this twisted, if he’d carried on heading due west he might well have beaten us to California. What struck me was the way we were both gazing at each other. Staring had been a common theme ever since we had picked up the Mustang three days earlier at Granite Ford in Rochester, New Hampshire. We drove around staring at people and things, and people stared back at us and pointed. They also grinned, laughed, gasped, high-fived, sang, went for their guns and generally loved being in the close proximity of this first of a new breed of Mustang.

  10. They also, to a person, strangely seemed to know instantly what it was. Like its picture had been on the side of cereal packets for weeks, or beamed into the nation’s consciousness. Almost everyone - men, women and kids, many of whom we saw tugging on their parents’ sleeves and pointing - saw it, knew it and loved it. If someone commits a crime and a bystander sees the getaway car in the UK, all most people could tell you is its colour. In the US, anyone of almost any age could immediately tell you the make, model and year without blinking. Especially if it was a Mustang.

  11. That includes Kim, who is playing with her kids on an idyllic stretch of beach at our first stop in Maine. Seeing the Mustang appear, all of them drop their buckets and spades and rush towards the car for a better look. Kim knows it’s the new Stang as she coincidentally works at the local Ford dealership. Her kids “just know, alright?” it’s a new Mustang, and that’s apparently enough to make them ecstatic. After crawling all over it, leaving sand everywhere and doing selfies in the passenger seat, they pronounce it “very cool”, which bodes well for the Mustang keeping its long-term appeal. If these sub millennials like it so much, maybe this 50-year-old model could see its centenary, too.

  12. But first it has to transport us through another 18 states in less than 48 hours, so we have to get a move on. This first leg runs from Maine, the most north-easterly of US states, then wiggles down the eastern seaboard through - deep breath here - New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, North and South Carolina before screeching to a halt in Atlanta, Georgia for the next crew to take over. So it’s as much about endurance as sightseeing. And because we need to bag all 19 states, we have to use our own wobbly navigation skills, not the Stang’s in-built unit which would take us direct.

  13. Or it would if it could understand our UK accents. Voice is the only way you can programme it on the move. We tried all the usual British ways of talking to foreigners - talking more slowly, then more slowly at twice the volume, then shouting - but none of them worked. We even tried talking with a rubbish American accent, which just seemed to confuse it even more. When we came to a stop and tried programming it manually, we had a chilling realisation. There aren’t 50 states in the US - there are, according to the nav, 66. Thinking that we’d blown it before we’d hardly started, we looked a bit closer and felt a little better. Being a US unit, it had been programmed with all US-owned territories, like Puerto Rico, the American Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa and the other 12 that have people on them. But even that’s not it. Pub fact #150,965: there are another nine, such as Baker Island, which are uninhabited. So 75 in all.

  14. But the navigation system was not our only issue. The six-speed gearbox, which we were working quite hard as we ground through the Boston, and then NYC, traffic snarl-ups, also wasn’t helping matters. At first we thought it was just a bit new and tight, but after a few hundred miles it was exactly the same - awkward, heavy and noisy. Thinking there might be something wrong with it, we pinged the factory, and the message came back - no, this is how it’s meant to be. The Performance Pack has been designed almost solely to make the 2015 V8 beat the outgoing 2013 Boss 302 around a track. Something that Ford assured us it does, which is impressive. But the cost of beating the 302 is that it makes the Mustang a grumpy companion for city work.

  15. With a lower-geared rear axle making all the ratios in the ‘box shorter, first feels too low and the increased torque makes shifting harder and less precise unless you are going flat-out. Likewise, the Torsen diff is a brilliant way of making sure more of the power finds its way to the track than a regular LSD, but the pay off is it feels like the driveshaft is loose when running at road speeds. It’s not coming to the UK, so it won’t be an issue. No reason to feel cheated - you wouldn’t want it.

  16. Particularly as the rest of the car is so much better than ever before. There’s the design of it for starters, which has managed to modernise all the Mustang cues without messing them up. Then there’s the aero-inspired interior with its Bell & Ross watch-alike clocks, big alloy cross beam and variable drive and steering modes. There are still a few spots where the plastics could be better - like around the handbrake - but generally the fixtures and fittings are of way higher quality. And then there’s the chassis, which finally ditches the solid rear axle for an independently sprung item.

  17. The first impression this gives is that the car is heavier, because it feels more tied down, particularly at the back. But since the weight difference in the components is only around 25kg, that’s mostly an illusion. It also makes the car feel slower, as we’ve become used to Mustangs getting lively when the speed rises. Not so in this car, which stays composed and linear right up to, and even beyond, its limits. So it’s as much about recalibrating your expectations of what a 2015 Mustang can do - and I speak as the previous owner of two classic Mustangs - as much as anything else. Ford is the master of making blue-collar cars ride and handle, and it’s not dropped the ball here. This becomes ever more clear as we leave behind the big cities and head up into the Blue Ridge Mountains. Out here, despite the blanket police coverage - clearly one of the main employment opportunities - the Mustang can breathe a little better and the route becomes more of a challenge than a gridlocked chore. But, just as the fun starts, we are quickly zeroing in on our final destination for this leg.

  18. The handover point in Atlanta, GA, is a Holiday Inn just next to the airport. We’d picked this place as it looked like the quiet sort of hotel where nothing ever happened. We couldn’t have been more wrong. If it had known what was going to transpire, even the tortoise would have probably taken one look and got out of there - fast.

    Click through the gallery for more images from this leg, then hit the blue words below for the next one. 

    Mustang vs the States: leg two

    Mustang vs the States: leg three

    Mustang vs the States: leg four

    Mustang vs the States: the final leg

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