2023 Ford Mustang 5.0 GT California Special 10AT Fastback

2023 Ford Mustang 5.0 GT California Special 10AT Fastback

There are few things quite as satisfying as the deep burble of a naturally aspirated V8. Enter the limited-run Ford Mustang California Special.

California dreamin’

The current iteration of the Mustang GT Fastback has demonstrated a pleasantly purposeful look since it arrived on our shores back in late 2015. Its aesthetic was tastefully refined when it was updated in 2019. The California Special package ups the ante and guarantees that the Mustang will continue to draw the attention of curious onlookers even after bring on our market for seven years.

2023 Ford Mustang 5.0 GT California Special 10AT Fastback

The CS stands out from its regular GT sibling with a rear honeycomb grille featuring a red GT/CS badge and there are lower side stripes finished in black, red and grey. Incorporating GT/CS logos, the stripes run from the front to the rear for added visual appeal. Like the 1968 original, aerodynamic enhancements include a larger front splitter, with a rear wing from the GT Performance Package, and the CS introduces side air scoops behind the doors to the Mustang range in SA for the first time.

The latter gives the car a more muscular stance. At the rear, a California Special faux filler cap sits above quad 4,5-inch tailpipes connected to an active valve performance exhaust. Unique five-spoke 19-inch alloy wheels add to the look and are finished in Carbonised Grey to complement the front splitter, side skirts and rear diffuser. Nine exterior body colours are available, including the signature Atlas Blue seen here. All of these CS-specific design tweaks mean you can hardly avoid catching a glimpse of your reflection as you roll past any glass buildings.

Step inside and the Mustang CS is a comfortable and practical 2+2 coupé. As with the regular Mustang, there are more instances of exposed plastic than found in its German rivals, but there are Miko suede inserts – a synthetic material made from recycled polyester – with red stitching on the seats and door cards. Seats and floor mats are embossed with the GT/CS logo, and the dashboard is finished in faux carbon fibre with a hexagonal pattern and a Mustang California Special badge situated ahead of the passenger seat. Standard heated and cooled front bucket seats are comfortable and supportive, while Ford’s familiar SYNC 3 infotainment system makes accessing media and communication a fuss-free affair compatible with both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, whether via the steering wheel-mounted controls, the central eight-inch touchscreen, or the customisable 12-inch digital driver’s display.

My particular favourite is the drag-race-mode display, which arranges the rev counter in a horizontal line at the top of the cluster. The exhaust modes are arguably the star of the show, though; you can select between neighbourhood-friendly (Quiet), the I-have-a-V8 (Normal) or the here’s-an-earthquake (Sport).

My personal favourite? Sport, of course. Along with the exhaust, steering, suspension and drive modes, standard driver assistance technologies include adaptive cruise control with pre-collision assist and a lane-keeping alert function.

The Mustang CS’s 5,0-litre V8 Coyote engine delivers 330 kW and 529 N.m and provides the same performance and soundtrack as the GT, befitting the Mustang badge. As one of the few naturally aspirated V8 engines still remaining on the market, it provides a thoroughly characterful experience and immediate throttle response. Gently rev the motor and the whole car shimmies and vibrates; send the rev counter beyond 4 500 r/min and the V8’s distinctive roar can be heard echoing in the distance.

Mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission, the CS is capable of accelerating from standstill to 100 km/h in just 4,5 seconds and is limited to a top speed of 250 km/h. The transmission is tuned to adapt depending on the selected drive mode and the difference in the ferocity of shifts is noticeable between Normal, Sport and Track. On our drive from Cape Town International to Hermanus, we conceded the transmission is best left to its own devices.

Maximum traction and cornering grip are possible with a standard limited-slip differential and adaptive damping system. It can monitor driving conditions a thousand times per second and uses an electronically controlled fluid to match damping resistance to the driving scenario. The ride is pleasantly supple as a result. It tackles road scars well and can tighten up significantly when pushed on a smooth winding back road. There’s no concealing that this is a wide and heavy machine, though.

Braking performance comes courtesy of those large-diameter 380 mm ventilated discs and six-piston fixed aluminium Brembo callipers in front, along with 330 mm discs at the rear. Sticky Michelin Pilot Sport 4S rubber helps to translate all available grip for stopping performance. The Mustang California Special is a timely reminder as to how characterful the Mustang 5,0-litre is when compared to conservative luxury four-seater coupés. With a 382 litre boot, usable rear seats, intuitive technology, pedestrian neck- straining looks and a roaring V8, the CS ticks plenty boxes as an everyday muscle car. It’s a pity that only 100 of these will be made available.

2023 Ford Mustang 5.0 GT California Special 10AT Fastback

  • 01 A spacious and practical cabin and most functions are easy to operate. Fit and finish is acceptable, but not class leading.
  • 02 The Coyote V8 develops 330 kW at 7 000 r/min.
  • 03 A fixed rear wing, model-specific wheels and GT/CS badge help the California stand out.

TECHNICAL DATA 2023 Ford Mustang 5.0 GT California Special 10AT Fastback

  • Price: R1 154 900
  • Engine: 5,0-litre, V8 petrol
  • Transmission: 10-speed automatic
  • Max Power: 330 kW @ 7 000 r/min
  • Max Torque: 529 N.m @ 4 600 r/min
  • 0–100 km/h: 4,5 seconds*
  • Top speed: 250 km/h
  • Fuel consumption: 12,3 L/100 km*
  • CO2: 279 g/km
  • Rivals: Audi S5 Coupé, BMW 440i, Mercedes-AMG C43 Coupé
  • + immensely entertaining V8 soundtrack, looks demand attention
  • - a muscle car, not a sportscar, it feels heavy
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