On the Road Review: Ford Mustang EcoBoost Coupe

Since April of 1964, the Mustang has been America’s favorite pony car. Initially based on the Falcon compact car platform, the Mustang came to represent “economical sport” with cars that had fuel-efficient small engines as well as fire-belching V-8 engines best suited for racing. Along the way, American drivers have bought a lot of Mustangs as they embrace the image, style and expressive persona of this iconic two-door.

The latest Mustang moves the bar significantly higher from a popular retro-designed vehicle that debuted in 2005 to great fanfare. Yet sales had recently been slipping since archrival Chevy’s Camaro stole a lot of the Mustang’s thunder with its latest redesign in 2010, with Camaro besting the Mustang for several years in a row on the street and in the showroom. This new Euro-influenced “world-car” Mustang (with both left and right-drive models in production for 50 different markets) appears well positioned to stem that tide and reassert the Mustang’s dominance.

Not only does the latest Mustang have a new face, complemented by an aggressive front splitter on our EcoBoost Premium model, as well as racy side streaks and a wider stance, the two-door coupe and convertible also sports a new chassis, a completely new interior, plus a host of new electronics that improve performance, safety and comfort.

From the first day aboard the latest Mustang, the sleek coupe exhibits much improved driving dynamics with its new independent rear suspension providing better manners on all surfaces. This car is more responsive, tracks better, corners better, rides better and generally drives like a more refined automobile. Steering feel is improved and braking power is stronger. If you love your “old” Mustang, you will be mightily impressed by the new car’s on-road performance.

Aiding this chassis is a plethora of new electronic driving aids that create greater operator confidence. Click on the new instrument panel toggle buttons and a selectable menu reveals “sport, track and snow” driving modes, that alter engine performance as well as traction control limiters to increase the Mustang’s tractability. Further engage the optional “track-apps” and the instrument panel displays, and records, various aspects of your driving — especially helpful for those enthusiasts who spend weekends pushing their Mustangs around America’s various road courses.

From the safety side, there is new cross-path and lane change detection systems, while laser-guided adaptive cruise control is a first on the latest Mustang. Select your speed, the gap from forward traffic, and the Mustang accelerates and brakes on its own.

All of these systems help the Mustang keep up with the latest technology and make the car more user-friendly. However, the interior upgrades will be what customers notice most because that is where their physical contacts will occur daily. One-touch power windows, a plethora of new steering wheel buttons, better instrumentation, plus more instrumentation, give the car a whole different feel from the last Mustang. Rear view camera, the electronic start-button and the row of toggle switches low on the center panel are all new, while an improved MyFord Sync panel works much better. The effect is modern, and the Mustang feels technologically appropriate for a new generation of users.

For a large cross-section of Mustang buyers, what’s under the hood still matters a lot and Ford will have four different motors available by the time you read this. The base 3.7-liter V-6 now makes 300 hp and will make up the majority of sales. The upgrade engine is our sampled EcoBoost 2.3-liter turbocharged-four-cylinder, spinning out 310 hp and 320 pound/feet of peak torque — more power than the previous generation’s 4.6-liter GT V-8 engine in 2005. Naturally, the current GT model still offers a V-8, now a 5.0-liter with 435 hp, while a brand-new 5.2-liter 526-hp V-8 with a flat-plane crankshaft (like Ferrari) debuts in the new GT350 and GT350R Mustangs coming this October.

The EcoBoost motor is an unassuming four-cylinder when trundling around town. The clutch is easy to modulate, including hill-holder action, and the six-speed manual gearbox is a nice, precise unit that rewards quick shifting action. But spin the tachometer past 4,000 rpms and the little four-cylinder comes alive and things start to get interesting. Premium fuel is recommended, and makes a notable difference, as the EcoBoost makes impressive power and out-accelerates those earlier GT V-8 Mustangs. Strangley, this EcoBoost motor is the only one of the Mustang’s powerplants that makes more torque than horsepower — the component that helps with relaxed cruising and efficient driving when full throttle just isn’t necessary.

Another oddity is the lack of aural sensations from the EcoBoost engine — there just isn’t any sense that an enthusiast’s powerplant is working. There are dual exhausts out back, but the Mustang’s engine note under strain is muted, subdued, subtle. VW and Subaru have made their GTI and WRX turbo-four cylinders sound a whole lot better; seems like room for improvement here.

Adorned with 19-inch Ebony wheels shod with Pirelli P-Zero radials, the EcoBoost Ford sure looks the part of a performance Mustang. The dark Guard Metallic paint, the wide tires, plus the front splitter and rear diffuser panels all complete a low, mean stance that seems to shout speed. The absence of any labels or badges leaves viewers wondering — a strategy that creates more interest if you are a Ford salesman.

All of these changes added weight to a car that really needed a diet. There is no mistaking that the Mustang is getting big; its exterior dimensions match the footprint of a Camry sedan, while the interior accommodations are constrained for four occupants. Minimum weight is now over 3,700 pounds, with most models closer to two tons. Ford has done a commendable job of creating a new chassis that masks the car’s girth, yet how great would a lighter Mustang be, perhaps a partially aluminum Mustang like the new F-150?

Fuel economy ratings for the EcoBoost are 22/31/26-mpg, with recommended premium fuel. As noted, upgrading from regular to 93-octane Shell V-Power changed the car’s character noticeably.

Mustang hits: the manual transmission/clutch tandem are excellent, steering feel is much improved and the ergonomics and controls in the cabin are a huge upgrade. The push-button ignition is user-friendly and all of the new features are welcome: navigation, Sirius radio, track-apps, etc. They do exact a cost penalty, but you would regret not selecting.

The sequential rear turn signals remain with the transition to this edition, as well as the Mustang side market lamps that cast the pony shadow on the ground.

The Mustang’s driving balance is impressive, as this coupe feels much closer to a BMW than it does an older Mustang. Credit the new independent suspension, a limited-slip rear differential, plus the new electronics. Chevy’s Camaro is getting upgrades this fall, too, so this pony car battle will certainly continue, while Dodge’s Challenger has seen its sales grow very nicely this year as well.

Ford misses: the exhaust note will please owners who don’t want expressive sound, but will disappoint those who do, and the optional Recaro seats are very comfortable, yet entrance and exit never proved graceful as the over-sized side bolsters force some unusual body contortions. Rear seat space is much less usable than in many other coupes.

Mustang pricing starts at $23,895 before destination fee. EcoBoost models begin at $25,395, GT V-8’s start at $32,395, while the GT350 will list for $47,795 if you can find one that isn’t already sold. Our EcoBoost Premium listed for $38,585 with $8,480 worth of options.

The Mustang has been with us for 51 years. The latest edition paints a very positive outlook for the next generation of Mustang fans to savor the best models yet.


Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.
Tim Plouff

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