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Ford Mustang Cobra review

Nothing can match a Mustang for muscle-car magic, and Ford Australia is about to give it more rein.
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  • Engine
  • History
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  • Cabin quality
  • Boot space

There are only two things you need to know about Ford's new muscle-car star. It has a Mustang badge on the bonnet and a thumping V8 to back it up. It's not the best car in the world and it costs at least $85,000, but nothing much matters beyond the bold, brutal basics.

The Mustang is like a Harley-Davidson motorcycle - both are made in America to time-honoured recipes - and they do their job. People who want a Mustang or a Harley don't really want anything else. They know there is nothing to match the potato-potato-potato rumble of Harley's big-twin powerplant, and nothing to match the muscle-car magic of a Mustang. Other cars may be faster, cheaper and much better finished, but they're just not a Mustang.

Allan Moffat, Bob Jane, Norm Beechey and Ian Geoghegan proved this during the touring-car wars of the 1970s. So did actor Steve McQueen when he jumped a 'Stang through San Francisco during the great car chase in the 1968 cult movie Bullitt. John Bowe is adding the newest Aussie chapter to the Mustang legend Down Under, scoring the car's first GT Production victory last month in a Bud-backed return to racing.

No one - least of all the people who have turned the latest Ford coupe into a sellout success - really expects a Mustang to match the boogie blast of a Subaru WRX or the final finishing of a Mercedes, despite its 4.6-litre quad-cam V8 and that meaty bottom line. They're looking for old-time muscle-car magic, a 21st-century time machine, and a fast Ford to give the brand back some of the bragging rights that have been lost to poor planning and political correctness in the 1990s.

The story of the 2001 Mustang isn't as simple as it looks. It has taken nearly five years to get it on the road in Australia, and too many excuses have been made and too much time has been wasted along the way. But at least the process will also put Ford's mighty F-Series trucks back in action here later this year. The local model is the V8 Mustang Cobra with all the fruit, but it still takes a detour through Tickford at Broadmeadows - home of the XR and FTE Falcons -- to get it ready for right-hand drive and local conditions. Tickford does a masterly job on the wheel switch, though it still can't compensate for poor cabin quality, which is closer to a $15,000 Hyundai Accent than a $90,000 Benz or BMW.

Still, the Mustang is loaded with air-con, a six-stack CD sound system, central locking, electric windows and mirrors, tilting steering wheel, twin airbags and leather trim. It also has anti-skid brakes, alloy wheels and some of the most comfortable sports buckets, with electric assists on the driver's side, on the road today.

Leaving the best until last, the new-age Mustang has a cracking quad-cam V8 that must be fitted to the next Falcon. It's a lightweight design and has "only'' 4.6 litres of breathing space, but still punches out 240kW of power and 430Nm of torque. To put that into perspective, the Falcon XR8 has 220/435 with Tickford tuning; Holden's SS Commodore 225/460 and the flagship HSV GTS 300/510. But all of those V8s are much bigger, the Holden grunters by more than a litre.


The Mustang is surprisingly good to drive.

Why a surprise? Because plenty of other hi-tech road rockets fail to deliver the same sort of raw, involving feedback or straightforward rumbling enjoyment as the old-fashioned 'Stang. You'd expect it to do the business, if only from the number of smiles, waves and "goodonyamate'' calls when you drive the car.

The Mustang definitely delivers, but its "baby'' 4.6 needs encouragement to give its best and dip below seven seconds for the 0-100kmh sprint. It takes at least 4000 revs to really get it moving, but the howl approaching the redline at 6900 means it's a trip worth taking.

The engine always dominates the Mustang experience, from the first muted burble to that runaway roar, like all the best muscle cars. It allows the 'Stang to cut through traffic, or run and gun on twisting sprints, but wasn't too punishing at the pumps and would be close to 10 litres/100km on a long freeway run.

The feisty Ford has "only'' five gears, whereas lots of sporties now have six, but the change is relatively light and direct. The clutch takes muscle, but the steering compensates with good feel and plenty of power assistance and the anti-skid brakes are powerful without needing more than a solid shove.

The cornering grip is terrific; response to the wheel is eager and the 235x45 tyres have plenty of grip. You know the Mustang is heavy and the long nose can make it hard to sight the apex, but it's easy to balance the steering and throttle in an old-fashioned way.

Modern all-wheel-drive turbo rockets are quick, but you don't get the same involvement in the action. The Mustang needs a driver who is prepared to work with the tools, not rely on the tech torque to get the job done.

The other surprise is the feel. I expected at least a degree of shake and rumble, and it is there in the Mustang convertible, but the coupe was as tight as a Falcon and the test car had no squeaks or rattles. Even so, the cabin is a big let-down and the boot a disaster.

Inside, the Mustang's chintzy stick-on Cobra badge, plastic quality and parts fit would disgrace a $15,000 Hyundai. The seat trim is cheap and thin, pieces of metal are exposed, the steering column sometimes fouls your legs and the carpet is thin and nasty. The boot is tiny and tough to load, though the cramped rear seats fold down to increase the space.

The horn is pedestrian, the headlights are OK, the car is tough to park, requiring a huge turning circle, and I'd much prefer an old-fashioned three-spoke Mustang wheel in place of the four-spoke Ford parts-bin model. But does any of that really matter? A Mustang is a Mustang and that's all that matters.

Ultimately, it's a bloke's car and they love it. It's not the sharpest tool in the box, but there are times when a blunt instrument is best for the job.


THE BOTTOM LINE: It's a Mustang, and that's enough.


Price: $85,000 as tested (manual coupe)
Engine: 4.6-litre V8 with twin-overhead camshafts and fuel injection
Power: 240kW at 6000 revs
Torque: 430Nm at 4750revs
Transmission: Five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Body: Two-door coupe
Dimensions: Length 4653mm, width 1857mm, height 1354mm, wheelbase 2573mm, tracks 1525/1515mm front/rear
Weight: 1557kg
Fuel tank: 60 litres
Fuel consumption: Average on test 12.8 litres/100km
Steering: Power-assisted rack-and-pinion
Suspension: Fully independent with front MacPherson struts and rear multi-links
Brakes: Anti-skid four-wheel ventilated discs
Wheels: 8x17 alloy
Tyres: 235x45 ZR17
Warranty: 3 years/100,000km


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Pricing guides

Based on third party pricing data
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Range and Specs

Cobra 4.6L, PULP, 5 SP MAN $13,500 – 19,580 2001 Ford Mustang 2001 Cobra Pricing and Specs
Cobra 4.6L, PULP, 5 SP MAN $12,900 – 18,700 2001 Ford Mustang 2001 Cobra Pricing and Specs
Pricing Guide


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