Updated: Jan 19, 2019
Tired, hungry, and in need of a shower after the 11 hour flight from Heathrow to San Francisco. My girlfriend and I reach our stop on the autonomous 'AirTrain' to arrive at the rental car check in desk at an airport. Filled with apprehension as to whether the online booking four months ago was received, and thoughts on how many 'hidden fees' were waiting for us, we stepped up to the desk to begin the USA roadtrip.
Luckily, the fees are minimal at 106 USD for a two week period. I am yet to meet a rental company that gives the customer the true price on booking. If you know of any, please get in touch!
The classic up-sale question then reared it's head, 'You know you can upgrade to the GT for 6 USD per day? Having only selected the 2.3 litre ecoboost 4 cylinder at the time of booking, obviously this was too good an opportunity to pass.
After walking through the rows and rows of rental vehicles in the parking garage we eventually came to the 5.0 legendary American 'pony car', which to a european eye, seems enormous. We squeezed the two 23kg cases into the surprisingly large boot, jumped in, and headed off out into the city. With 460bhp, 10 speed automatic transmission, and very limited knowledge of the US road system. It almost feels like we've stolen it.
The 'Golden City' is both an exciting and terrifying place to drive, it's a combination of steep, blind junctions and a stop sign every 500m (550 yards). The Mustang was completely out of it's depth, and I don't think we engaged third gear. Having had a small taste of city driving, we valet parked the car for three days and enjoyed the wonderful sights of the beautiful city.
On our third and last day in San Francisco, we realise that we had not yet driven over the golden gate bridge. This was a bucket list item, so we retrieved the car from the valet and clambered inside. Having experienced the drivers seat for only 30 minutes on the trip from the airport to the hotel three days prior, this second stint in the Mustang felt just alien as the first. The roads were busy, and the hills difficult to navigate, although I now understand why there are so many automatic vehicles purchased. Hill starts in a manual (stick shift) in San Francisco must render clutches un-usable after only a few thousand miles.
As we emerged from one of the hillside tunnels, the faint silhouette of the historic landmark loomed into the distance, accompanied by the low sun shimmering off the Central Bay. After passing through an empty toll booth, and an American flag flying by the roadside, we were making our maiden voyage across this famous landmark before we knew it.
The Golden Gate bridge is split up into three lanes in either direction and has no central reservation. Staring up, left, and right, it is difficult to soak up a mile of views when aiming to stay in one lane. The speed limit is thankfully low at 45mph, and the vast concrete pillars suck away any sense of scale. The hanging steel cables guide the way forwards for drivers over the open expanse of water below.
The Mustang paraded across in 10th gear, and a strange sense of pride floats through the cabin. If the pony on the front badge were real, it would be marching, head held high, and full of patriotic self confidence.
The trip from San Francisco to Yosemite is a relatively short one of 3 hours 15 minutes. We planned to stop for lunch at a large retail park, and as the car was brimmed with fuel from the rental desk. We set off with more excitement than ever.
For navigation we used Apple car play, installed on this 2019 model. Accompanied by two navigation apps, Apple maps and Navmii. Navmii allows users who do not wish to use their data roaming service whilst travelling. It downloads the route via wifi and does not use data whilst you are driving. Apple car play displayed the maps faultlessly, although the infotainment screen is a little low in the facia. You have to really take your eyes off the road to look for the next turn.
The Mustang was much more suited to the freeways coming out of San Francisco, and effortlessly changed between it's 10 speed gearbox with minimal fuss. The 5.0 cross-plane crank V8 should be prescribed to cure low testosterone. I found myself trying to count each cylinder firing at low rpm as we cruised at the California freeway speed limit of 70mph.
Flexing your right foot 5 degrees has little affect on the drivetrain when overtaking or changing lanes. You have to push down hard on the accelerator to get the car to drop gears. Often the gearbox is in it's 10th speed and the kick-down to 5th takes some time.
Once 5th gear is engaged, the revs drop to 5000rpm and the whole car changes character, vibrating and desperate to accelerate.
Now that the lower gear is selected, the 5 degree input on the throttle pedal has a huge affect and the car lurches forward accompanied by a bark of noise from the exhaust.
The roads gradually changed from four lane freeways, then to two lane, then to one lane roads. By the time we were on the single lane roads there were very few gas stations, and even fewer lunch stop offs. The lack of places to eat annoyed my passenger, but as we approached the mountains with little fuel and an hour to go, the lack of gas stations was worrying me more.
The speed limits dropped to 50mph, then to 30mph and the climb up the mountains began. The fuel warning light flickered on, and our hungry stomachs were making a warning noise of their own. We stopped at a small cafe called 'Priest View', on the top of a large mountain pass before entering the national park. The waitress was extremely helpful and let us know that we were only a mile away from the nearest gas station whilst we enjoyed sandwiches with a view.
Our first fill up was an eventful one. The fuel nozzle colours are the opposite to Europe, so diesel is green and petrol is black. Luckily the Mustang has a restrictor on the fuel funnel and I soon realised my mistake before pumping diesel into the tank!
So far, the soft top remained firmly closed whilst driving due to the higher freeway speeds. The reality of a four seat convertible is that the wind buffeting is a little colder than ideal, even in the California sun. Manufacturers try to combat this by offering large wind deflectors that, in my opinion, ruin the look of the vehicle. As we arrived at the gate to Yosemite national park, the temperature had dropped to 10 degrees Celsius, however the speeds throughout Yosemite are sedate, I don't think we ever saw a limit above 35mph. It seemed an excellent opportunity to experience some of the beautiful wildlife sounds, with a touch of V8 rumble. The roof mechanism in the 2019 Mustang can be operated under 3mph and has one main rocker style switch and a locking handle. To open, pull the latch handle down from its stowage position, rotate in a clockwise direction and then press the rocker switch.
Arriving on a week day meant that there was no queue at the park gate, and the $30 dollar fee per vehicle is a small price to pay for the incredible roads and scenery. We headed into the park, roof down, heated seats on and beaming with excitement.
Thanks for reading, please see next article, Yosemite to LA!