It never could catch a break, the V6 Ford Mustang.
Ford just killed the V6 Mustang for 2018. It’s the quiet and undignified end to one of America’s longest-running models, but it’s not surprising. Never has one car so painfully lived in another’s shadow as the V6 Mustang, forever below its V8 sibling.
The existence of the six-cylinder Mustang was certainly not a bad idea from Ford. Back when it came with a straight six instead of a V6 back in the early 1960s, it was a lower-cost entry point for all of the people who wanted to buy the style of a Mustang more than the outright performance. The V8 became an aspirational option. The whole system was wildly successful, ensuring the car had wide appeal. The Mustang bathed the house of Ford in a warm and wealthy light.
But the V6 was never the engine the performance-hungry masses wanted; it was the tradeoff, the excuse to get in, that was it. The six-cylinder Mustang always had to be the one left out in the cold. For reasons I have trouble explaining, I will miss it.
Never has one car been so synonymous with rental car duty as the V6 Mustang. What is a rental car? It’s a vehicle that nobody wants to personally own. Ubiquity in rental car fleets intensified the V6's second-tier status in the Mustang world. It’s hard, even, to find a picture of the V6 Mustang on Ford’s website. There are tons of pictures of the V8 GT, many of the new turbo four cylinder. Ford’s disinterest in selling you a V6 Mustang did not start today. The writing was on the wall when the much more contemporary and buzz-wordy EcoBoost Mustang debuted in 2015.
No matter how much power the V6 Mustang made, the V8 always made more. No matter how good the V6 Mustang sounded, the V8 always sounded better. The V6 Mustang was always a “Mustang Lite,” no matter how good it got.
Ford’s most recent V6 Mustang makes a good 305 horsepower from its 3.7 liters of displacement. That’s great! That’s plenty! A V8 Mustang made that much back in the car’s triumphant retro re-branding back in 2005. But a current V8 Mustang makes 435 horsepower. There’s no point for anyone who wants a speedy Mustang to opt for the V6.
And this is what gave the V6 Mustang at least some heroism, even if it was the engine people settled for. The V6 Mustang was a fundamentally nimbler platform, given that the V6s have less heavy, stubborn front ends than the bigger V8s. That meant that plenty of people tuned V6 Mustangs for country road and track-day duty, working on the suspension and handling of their better-balanced cars rather than brute power. It’s not exactly an underdog spirit, but it’s not far off. You see the same trend with the V6 Camaro.
The only difference, really, is that those Chevrolets have always sounded better than their Ford rivals.
What I mean to highlight is that the V6 Mustang had a flash of sophisticated cornering pride against the more brute, Americana V8. I adore that attitude, but I also see why it was always a niche subculture, second to the status-implying V8 burble.
Ford could have helped the V6 Mustang out. Ford has a new twin-turbo 3.5 liter V6, an Ecoboost motor that you find in the Ford GT supercar. Even in the F-150, the 3.5 liter Ecoboost makes 365 horsepower, which gives an outright performance advantage to the car while giving it some corporate synergy and high-tech cred.
But Ford decided to kill the V6 altogether, letting its economy roots slump to the eminently tunable 2.3 liter four-cylinder model instead. As that model begins to clog rental fleets, so too will accompanying sadness creep in on its status. There will be no hope for it.
The cheaper, simpler, more classic way to performance will always with be the top-tier V8 version, and the ‘lesser’ motors will always remain dismissed. But I will often think of the V6, and its little brother spark in the back of the parking lot.