A dream car on a budget

Brake lights on the Mustang.

I’ve always been an optimiser.

If you’re a driving enthusiast like me, you’ll have looked through a lot of expensive driving experiences. You can drive a V8 racecar for four laps of a track in Sydney for $300, or seven laps for $425. Or you can drive a Lamborghini for 15km along the Mornington Peninsula for $100, or a Ferrari for an hour for $375. I took a six-hour Volkswagen Driving Experience for $400 - a series of cars and exercises on a closed course - and thought that was pretty good. Compared to a $1,250 day trip with some supercars, it is pretty good.

Turns out: For $400, you can pack a picnic and spend all day behind the wheel of a V8 Mustang GT, if you live in the right corner of the world.

Here it is. A $70,000 car, with a 5.0-litre engine, making 450 horsepower, with only 800km on the clock.

Front view of the Mustang.


Before we go any further, here’s the spending for the day:

$8555L fuel
$50Airport parking
$50Picnic & food
$20Gifts from faraway places
Total: $410
(Excess: $6,600)

We covered approximately 500km, giving the trip a fuel consumption rating of ~11L/100km.

So what’s it like?

One headlight. Initial impression: it’s very loud, very large, and very comfortable. I’d never spent much time driving anything with >120 horsepower or over 1300kg, so 450hp and 1700kg is a huge jump.

The guy at the Hertz gate seemed thrilled that I was taking it out - old mate practically high-fived me when I rolled down the window. After a day of Nissan X-Trails, I guess hearing a muscle car fire up in a concrete garage would get the blood pumping.

It’s also full of technology. The digital dashboard is crisp and responsive (and fancy!), the Sync 3 infotainment system is clean and effective, and the ventilated seats are the bees’ butts. The reversing camera has a very wide angle, which is perfect for reversing out of angle parking into the street. The adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assist are nifty. And it’s got sexy LED headlights and indicators, which should be standard on every car with any semblance of prestige.

I daily-drive a recent Volkswagen Golf, base model, with 120hp from a 1.4L turbocharged engine. You can imagine this was a step up.

Driving dynamics

Here’s how a Mustang drives: you put your foot down and it turns petrol into maniacal laughter.

It’s the sound, and the speed, and the sound. Five litres at 7,400rpm is unbelievable.

The 10-speed automatic transmission with the paddle shifters is… better than a manual enthusiast wants it to be. I’d want to try the manual, but the ZF is smooth and quick and rarely in the wrong gear. It also makes every hard acceleration feel like a movie. rrRRR-rrRRR-rrRRRRRR! It shifts into 10th at 70km/h and stays there, but during hard takeoffs you won’t get past 3rd before you’re breaking the law.

Keyboard warriors poke fun at its handling, but the Mustang corners much better than a Golf. I’m sure it’s no Cayman at the limit, but on the rental tyres, it’s plenty for the public road. The hard part is slowing down before the corner; don’t get me wrong, it’s got good brakes, you just don’t want to get off the go-faster pedal.

It’s almost a grand tourer - it has the power, the cabin, and the soundtrack - but road noise is its Achilles heel. Cruising at 80km/h on country roads, you can’t hear the engine over the tyres, and the engine’s never subtle.

I started the day scared of the car, and ended the day less scared. Not comfortable. Just less scared.

What else?

Photo of the dash.

Ford have done a good job mixing digital and physical controls in the infotainment system. It’s worth playing with the centre stack and dashboard for ten minutes if you’re a gadget nerd. Apparently you can change the exhaust from “earth-shaking” to merely “colossal”, but… why?

This car has way too much power and loves to use it. Once you get comfortable, I can’t fathom how anyone could hold on to their licence.

It sounds glorious. If you’ve never had a V8 engine at your right foot, give it a try. One neighbourhood’s noise pollution is another man’s power trip.

Parking is a problem. Even when you’re not frightened of scratching a rental car, and you’re used to its dimensions, its turning circle will never be good. Just park further away and walk.

If you’re spending all day with a car, make sure you get out and take a break every couple of hours. It’s good for your health, your driving and your enjoyment.

Return to normality

After hopping back in the Golf:

  • It doesn’t feel crippled or sluggish. Even an economy car has plenty of go for suburban driving.
  • The seats don’t feel as comfortable or cossetting.
  • It’s a lot quieter and more relaxing in the cabin.
  • Parking is so, so much easier. The Golf’s turning circle is pretty disappointing for a compact hatchback, but the Mustang sets the bar for difficulty.
  • The car doesn’t feel special. Being in the Mustang feels like an event, and everyone around you knows it. A Golf just blends in.
  • Range is about 800km rather than 450km, and on a smaller tank.

All up: looking pretty good. The Mustang hasn’t ruined the daily.

Booking the thing

Hertz let you have it for a proper day. I picked it up at 8am and returned it a bit before 10pm, and could probably have pushed it later.

They’ve got a few Mustangs at the airport depot, in red or white. It’d be great if you could pick it up from the city and skip going to the airport, but that doesn’t seem to be an option.

Unlimited km, so just fill up the tank on your way back - within 15km of the airport - and you’re good to go.

Everyone I spoke to was very helpful. Their online booking system is horrendous, though, so good luck. screenshot of the route

Budget: room for improvement

This could’ve been done for $300. If you’re in Brisbane, the only Hertz location with Mustangs seems to be the airport, so you have to get there somehow. I drove, and spent $56 on the parking, but an Airtrain round-trip would cost $35, and that’s probably not the best you can do either. You could also pack a picnic (and stick to it!).

For a day with a proper muscle car, that’s a steal.


Muscle cars use a lot of fuel, make a lot of noise and cost a lot of money. I’d struggle to own one purely because of the constant gentle tug on the conscience.

There’s a Mr Money Mustache article for everything. Here’s an excerpt:

… And you’re not just wasting your own money, of course. You are wasting the gasoline that the rest of the world works so hard to produce, puncturing seabeds and spilling stadium-loads of oil into pristine wilderness areas as a necessary byproduct. Destroying coral reefs and flooding coastlines with your carbon emissions. Clogging roads and creating demand for roadway expansion, indirectly raising your own taxes. It’s a whole lot of badness we’re doing, every time we drive. It’s not just a matter of “Hey, it’ll only cost me ten bucks for the gas”. It’s a matter of choosing to be an asshole. I fully admit that I drive plenty of miles in cars too, and I too am being an asshole every time I do it.

Renting a Mustang is a great idea if you love cars, but I couldn’t take one home.

Rear view of the car.