Fast Ford shootout: V8 Mustang vs Focus ST

Actually, it surprised me, perhaps because this particular car came equipped with £1600-worth of magnetorheological suspension damping, that the slightly clunky progress the Mustang usually makes as it wriggles around on imperfect road surfaces was notable only for its absence. It rides really well.

Driving it fast is a slightly strange experience because we’ve all forgotten what normally aspirated engines with high specific outputs are like. Not much happens in the first 3500rpm. Indeed, it’s only when you pass peak torque another thousands revs or so around the dial that it really takes off. But then it makes good on the promise of its appearance: this is majestic, thrusting performance, such that you’ll forgive the fact the revs fall too slowly between shifts so you have to time your instructions to the heavy, mechanical gearbox with care.

Make no mistake, although in the US Ford will sell you a supercharged Mustang GT500 with 750bhp, the Bullitt is still a proper Detroit muscle car, with the punch beneath the bonnet to deliver on the promise of those looks. It’s got a surprising amount of grip, too. As you sit there amid the thunder, guiding this authentic slice of automotive Americana across wide, open moorland, the last car in the world you’d expect to give it any kind of challenge is the upstart orange hatchback still snapping insolently at its fat rear pipes.

So you swap positions and cars. It’s now your turn to drive the Focus with the Mustang giving chase. Oh dear. Where you sit low and reclined in the Mustang, surveying a bespoke instrument display that can dazzle you with the technical information it can yield, the Focus offers a cabin that’s pretty dowdy even by normal hatchback standards, never mind those costing over £30k and let alone that of its legendary £50k super-coupé in-house rival. It feels insubstantial by comparison (because it is), and you feel perched upon it rather than slung low, deep within the cabin. The engine starts with a flat four-cylinder blare – rarely has the woofle of a quad-cam V8 been more missed.

Grab a gear and go. Almost at once you start feeling better about life. While the ST is less accelerative, the gap isn’t as wide as you might expect, and there are two reasons for this. First, being front-wheel drive, the car’s quoted 5.7sec 0-62mph run is a poor form guide because, for at least half that time and probably more, you’re going to be traction limited. With the same traction as the Bullitt, you could knock that back to 5.4sec or so, within half a second of its stablemate.

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