Technically, the EcoBoost Mustang is the least Mustang Mustang of all the Mustangs. Also, Mustang. We’ve all heard it: a turbo, four-cylinder Mustang is antithetical to everything that a Mustang is. I’m here to tell you that’s bullshit, and, what’s more, I think this boosted pony is actually the sweet spot of the whole lineup.
The big news about this Mustang is the EcoBoost part, of course. This is the first Mustang to have an anything named Eco anything and that ‘boost’ part is pretty important, too. Boost, of course, refers to turbocharging, which many of you may be familiar with as the method TurboTax uses to force air into your computer’s CPU and crunch all those numbers.
Of course, this is not the first four-cylinder, turbocharged Mustang — there were Pinto-engined, carbureted turbo Mustangs way back in 1979, and then in 1983 the Mustang SVO appeared and became a Mustang legend. But since that time, Mustangs have been exclusively powered with either huge V8s or smaller but still not small V6 engines.
As you can imagine, there’s been some purist backlash to this latest abnormally-aspirated muscle car, but like all the things purists bitch about, nobody should care. Here’s the thing about this — and, really, any car: you have to understand it in terms of the job it’s supposed to do.
In the case of the Mustang, its fundamental job is not just basic transport. If you wanted that you would have bought something much cheaper and more flexible, like a Fiesta or Focus or a Honda Fit or something. This car’s job is to get you, the driver, noticed for a very specific set of criteria.
The Mustang is a muscle car, and the traditional role of the muscle car has been a tool for its statistically likely male owners to convince strangers that the driver owns a set of gentitalia that are very capable of becoming turgid and providing groin-focused pleasure to a sexual partner. Maybe that’s overstating it a bit, but either way, this type of car is one that needs to be visually striking, loud, and fast. You don’t drive a Mustang if you hate attention.
And, with this in mind, the Ecoboost Mustang does its job remarkably well, even with half the cylinders of the archetypal Mustang. It looks the part, it sounds the part, and for almost any use you’re likely to have for it, and that includes the most important use of lighting up the tires — it goes the part. And it does it while returning gas mileage that was once only available in a sad little econobox.
My point is, for most people who see this car, it really doesn’t matter what’s under the hood, a turbo 2.3L four or a big 5.0L V8. The EcoBoost is a perfectly capable motor for creating all those things so essential to Mustang ownership: noise, speed, and, occasionally, tire smoke.
It’s kind of like how I needed to find some mercury switches, and so I looked into getting some cheap wall thermostats and taking them out of those — until I found that wall thermostats haven’t used mercury switches in, like, decades. I had no idea. Because, from the outside, the thermostats still did just what I expected them to do. It’s like that.
If you actually are someone who’s appalled by the idea of a Mustang with a small, turbocharged engine, then, clearly, this is not the one for you. But I think it still deserves your respect.
Overall, I really like the way the Mustang has been re-designed. They’ve managed to give it just enough cues and references to the original without getting too cloyingly retro, and they’ve even taken some long-needed and bold edits, like getting rid of that fake side scoop that never really made much sense on anything but that first mid-engine concept car.
The proportions are handled very well on the Mustang. They got the long hood/short deck ratio down, and Ford’s designers managed a very clever trick of making the front appear to have a pedestrian-hostile but very cool-looking forward rake from almost every angle except exactly side-on, where you can see it actually does comply with our non-shin-shattering laws.
The real test is that as I had this car for a week, a number of my non-car interested friends managed to look up from their artisanal ham catalogs or erotic walrus videos or whatever the hell people who don’t care about cars do and actually noticed this car. This Mustang actually has a real presence, and it feels like a much more exotic piece of machinery than it has any right to.
I think the bright yellow color helped, too. Aside from my personal belief that yellow is by far the best color for any car, it’s clear that this is a car that can handle an intense color. It works. I know you can buy a Mustang in silver or white or whatever, but why would you? The car thrives on attention, and this bright yellow pony catches peoples eyes and makes them feel a bit happier about their commute. That’s the least you can give back to them, since you probably be honking at them to move their asses in a few minutes, anyway.
It’s not perfect, but this Mustang has the right look for the job.
The interior isn’t bad at all here, but I do have some gripes. The basic layout still sticks to the traditional Mustang twin-hump architecture, just barely, but it feels quite modern. There’s plenty of leather to touch and caress, creepily, and on the one I tested, there’s even a nice big slab of something that looks like engine-turned aluminum.
There’s an awful lot of interior here, and that’s my big complaint — you feel like you’re surrounded by black, leather-wrapped stuff.
I mean, you are, but for some reason, in this car everything just feels a little more bulky and claustrophobic. Everything is very thick and chunky — the wheel, the gearshift, the knobs, the dash panel, the A-pillars, hell, even the hood itself as you look over it. There’s two triangular bits that are the cross-section of the creases on the hood that were always kind of bugging me as I looked out the window.
The interior area of the car isn’t huge, but the car isn’t small, and as a result everything just feels bulky. Getting in and out of the car was always a bit of a chore as well, and while I was able to cram my 4-year old in the back, getting him in and out was no picnic.
That said, there’s a lot I liked in the interior as well — the switchgear people had some fun with the aircraft-style switches on the center console, the baby seat latch access was actually very well thought-out and more accessible than some SUVs I’ve been in, and there’s a clever little tab in the glovebox to get the owner’s manual out from a special compartment. That’s a nice touch I’ve never seen before. Oh, and the trunk is big enough to swallow a kid’s bike, which impressed me a lot.
I liked the center-mount boost and oil pressure gauges, just for some visual fun, though the whoever designed the speedo gauge face maybe took the slight aircraft-control thing a little too far, just over the border of Stupidistan. The speedo is labeled “Ground Speed.” Oooooooohhhhhhh. Thanks, Ford! GROUND speed. So, what gauge do I use when I’m plowing through the water in some estuary?
The 2.3L turbojazzled four-banger in this Mustang makes 310 HP and 320 ft-lb of torque. Of course, that’s a good bit less than the 5L V8, but it’s also about 10 HP more than the V6 makes. And, more importantly, it feels like plenty, which is what really matters.
On paper, 310 HP isn’t all that much by modern standards, where you can pick from a good number of cars making 500 HP or more. But off paper on on the road, where it actually matters, 310 HP is still three hundred and ten fucking horses and that will move your ass just fine. The EcoBoost Mustang has been tested to get to 60 in right around 5 seconds or so. Sure, there’s lots of cars that can do it faster, but unless you’re regularly drag racing or some numerical rapidity fetishist, who cares? You feel like you’re going fast, and you are.
There’s a good bit of difference between the Normal and Sport modes,so I suggest making sure you’re in Sport before coming to any judgements. I didn’t notice much turbo lag at all, but like many turbocharged cars it does seem to like being given the revs.
But even more important than raw numbers for the vast majority of people who will buy this car is the ability of the engine to spin those tires to such a degree that they transmogrify the rubber into noise and smoke. Let’s be honest here — a good burnout is going to be by far the most common vaguely performance-related thing people will do in this car.
I’m happy to say it does them just fine. The traction controls are easy to turn off, and in Sport or Track mode you can easily find a nice open area (I used the forgotten back lot behind a Food Lion) and do crazy donuts until you’re grinning like an idiot or passed out cold from rubber and exhaust inhalation.
Here’s some video of that magical moment, with a little extra something Raph added:
I mean, that right there, that’s pretty much all you need, right? The EcoBoost Mustang feels quick, and can go plenty fast to get you in serious trouble anywhere in the country. You’ll lose in a drag race with the V8, but that’s easy to fix: don’t drag race against the V8.
Maybe the most important thing here is that the turbo four in this thing gives you power where you can actually use it to have fun without ending up dead or in jail. From 30-60 this thing feels great. Will the V8 kick its ass in the extremes? Sure, but who gives a shit? 90% of the people who will buy these will ever exceed, say, 100 MPH (and even then probably only for one giddy moment on an empty highway), so who cares if the V8 can do 170 or whatever? It’s useless potential, and the EcoBoost is plenty capable of fun.
The press car I was given had the 14” front brake rotors with the 4-piston calipers, and I found the brakes to work very well. I tried a couple of panic stops at speed, and the car stopped predictably and controllably. This car isn’t particularly light, and you could feel all that mass straining to stop, but it invariably did.
You won’t be uncomfortable in the Mustang at all, at least if you’re in the front seats. The ride’s a bit firm, like you’d expect, but you’re pretty well isolated from bad road surfaces and various jolts and bumps. The fact that the Mustang finally has an independent rear suspension helps here, too, finally getting rid of the rear wheel’s creepy twin-like sympathetic hopping when the other one gets jostled.
You can be comfortable on a long trip here, no problem. Well, again, as long as you’re not folded up in the back.
Keep in mind that I wasn’t able to take the car to a track to really wring it out and see what the handling was like, but I did try to feel it out as much as I could on public roads. And, generally, I liked what I felt.
The steering feel is quite good — precise, very direct, and the feedback through the wheel actually felt meaningful. There’s hardly any slop in the system, and a little subtle flick of your hand translates to the wheels crisply and quickly. I liked how it felt.
Not having a big oxcart-beam for the rear wheels has clearly improved things out back, and everything felt very composed and in control inside a sweeping curve while accelerating. I think it handles much better than previous Mustangs I’ve driven, and I get much less sense of fighting with the car than I did with past ones like the GT500.
That said, the car still feels bulky and heavy. It’s nimble and quick, but at the same time you still feel like you’re slinging around a big-ass slab of metal — which you are. This may be my small-car bias showing here, but I didn’t like how massive this thing always felt.
I liked shifting this car. The six-speed box Ford’s using here has gearchanges that feel light and precise. The clutch point is easy and natural to find, and the shifter’s throw is nice and short. I never had a problem with gear spacing (going into 5 instead of 3, for example) and the overall experience was very satisfying.
I do have one quibble, though. To get to reverse, you pull up on this little ring around the shaft of the shifter, and connected to the shifter’s boot, or, as Ford prefers to call it, the scrotum. The problem is, when going from reverse to first, I found that releasing the little ring didn’t always re-engage the reverse lockout, meaning that when I went back into first, I actually ended up in reverse again.
A couple jiggles on the ring usually took care of it, but it was pretty annoying.
This was a tricky one to rate, because I came into this knowing that Ford is doing a good bit of electronic manipulation to the engine sound, capturing it with mics under the hood and filtering or enhancing or whatever sort black audio magic they do, and then playing it through the speakers.
They’re not the only ones to do this, of course, but at first the purist pedant that lives inside me (he has a lovely little benign tumor just south of Left Kidney, or as the local cells cal it, LeKid) rejected this as somehow insincere.
But, you know what? Like everything about this car, it gets better and better the less you think about what’s “right.” The truth is, the engine sounds pretty great. It’s not a V8 sound, but it has a character all its own, it can get loud, and whatever cheating they’re doing to get it there, it’s working.
So, screw it. I’m embracing the artificiality and actually scoring this one point more than I maybe would have just as a tribute to the work done to make this car sound the way it does, which if you sit and think how long we’ve been trying to make cars quiet, is a delightfully perverse thing.
The Mustang has a good set of toys, and some aren’t even the usual ones you find in cars today. Sure, it has all the expected Ford stuff, the nav, Bluetooth, SYNC, Sirius XM, multiple, full-color LCD screens, backup cameras, collision detect and all that — it’s well equipped. But it also has a few toys that serve no purpose other than to heighten the drama of the car, and for the job this car is designed to do, I think that’s great.
Like the puddle lights. They shine a silhouette of the running Mustang on the ground, and, while some think they’re silly, I think they’re great. It’s just fun, it gets attention, and people like it. It’s an illuminated horse on the ground — what’s not to like about that? If it’s too frivolous for you I suppose you could swap out the scrim and have it project a metric-to-English conversion chart or something.
It’s for basically the same reasons that I like the Mustang’s sequential rear turn indicators. They’re just prosaic turn signals, we all (ideally) have to use them — so why not make it a little party when you do? You don’t buy this car to hide, and Ford seems to know that, and isn’t afraid to have a little fun.
The whole point of the EcoBoost Mustang in the first place was to make a less-thirsty Mustang, and they absolutely did. Even with my week of driving it hard and with an emphasis pretty strongly on the second half of the EcoBoost name, I still returned between 24-25 MPG. And that was mostly city driving, too, not long, easy stretches in 6th gear.
It’s pretty remarkable, when you think about it. This Mustang doesn’t feel or perform like some econobox, but it’s returning MPG numbers that aren’t far off from what you’d get out of a 90s Corolla. We’ve come a long way.
The EcoBoost Mustang starts at $29,300 and the one I tested was right about $34,410. For some reason they make you pay almost $500 for the yellow? For me, that’s worth it, but still, why is yellow so much more than, say, red?
Cool color tax aside, I think this Mustang is a pretty good deal. I found it got as much positive attention as many much more expensive cars I’ve had, and the fun-to-money ratio comes out pretty good. Factor that in with actually decent gas mileage, and you end up with a pretty appealing package.
So, overall, I had a blast driving this car for a week. And, even with half the expected cylinders, I still felt like I was getting the muscle-car experience — rubber-smoke inhalation, a wildly inflated sense of my own appeal, and lots of smiles or glares from people as I roared by. The only thing I was missing was the inane fuel consumption, but a well-placed nail in the gas tank can fix that right up.
Engine: 2.3L Turbocharged I4
Power: 310 HP at 5,500 RPM/ 320 LB-FT at 3,000 RPM
Transmission: Six Speed Manual
0-60 Time: 5.2 seconds (est)
Top Speed: 160 MPH (total guess)
Drivetrain: Rear-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight: 3,532 LBS
Seating: 4 people (2 you like, 2 you don’t)
MPG: 22 City/31 Highway/24-25 observed
MSRP: $34,410 (base: $29,300)
(thanks to Gary Holeck for letting me shoot next to his lovely ‘64.5 Mustang!)