Ford’s 2.3-liter EcoBoost Mustang is about as far a cry as you’ll get from a Prius and still be considered fuel-efficient, but that it is, at least within qualified terms.
Its turbocharged four is the first in three decades since the ’84-’86 SVO was dreamed up to offer better fuel economy in an era still reeling from the Arab oil embargo and aftermath the decade prior.
Not unlike that powerful-for-its-day 175 horsepower model, the 2.3-liter EcoBoost is an upgrade over the base Mustang. It’s been received as a driver’s car, and we even beat the EPA fuel economy rating when nursing it in a very un-Mustang-like driving style.
With 0-60 time around 5.2 seconds, and up to 31-32 mpg highway for the manual and automatic respectively (21 or 22 city), the sixth-generation Mustang tries to span mutually opposing goals of high mpg and high mph – in this case, governor limited to 149.
Design and function-wise, it also attempts to be faithful to a lineage begun over 50 years ago that since 1964 has garnered nine million buyers, not to mention countless published photos and movie appearances.
But this is not a history lesson. This is about the Mustang’s future, one in which the company has taken its legend one step closer to eco-friendly even as it’s mulled diesel and hybrid options in the face of tightening fleet fuel economy mandates.
Ford’s decision to downsize and turbocharge follows that of its other mainstay, the F-150, which has gotten a 2.7 liter V6 EcoBoost – relatively small for a full-size pickup.
So far we’ve not seen anyone use politically incorrect descriptors to pan the new 2.3-liter Mustang, although one mainstream car mag wrote “a four-cylinder, no matter what its output on paper, is nothing short of the downright emasculation of the American dream.”
That was before it and others favorably reviewed the balanced new four-cylinder Mustang which packs more power than the 2009 V8 GT while offering EPA mileage a mpg or two above the U.S. median.
And we can see why …
The DOHC 2.3-liter is one of many “EcoBoost” engines ranging to six and eight cylinders, but while low on pistons, it’s not on power. Rated at 310 horsepower and 320 pounds-feet of torque, it tops the 3.7-liter V6 and its 300/270 combo, and falls dutifully behind the appropriate-to-traditionalists 5.0-liter V8 with 435/400.
Tricks beyond turbocharging include direct injection, four valves per cylinder, and twin independent variable camshaft timing. The heads and block are aluminum, intake manifold is composite.
Peak torque comes in at 2,500 rpm and is flat through 4,500. Horsepower hits high in the rev band as one might expect at 5,500 rpm.
Fuel capacity is 15.5 gallons and this car is designed to run fine on regular, but expect up to a 40 horsepower penalty if you do; premium is otherwise required for full advertised pony power.
EPA-estimated fuel economy is 21 city/32 highway/25 combined mpg for the six-speed automatic; 22 city/31 highway/26 combined for the six-speed manual.
Exterior design cues call to mind some of the most popular Mustangs of old as has been the trend with neo-retro American muscle cars also from Chevrolet (Camaro), and Dodge (Challenger, Charger).
But this “Fastback” has been yanked into the modern age with all sorts of lovingly crafted attention to detail and we were struck by the degree of design cuteness approaching that of a Mini Cooper.
It abounds with touches highlighting the “aviation” inspired cockpit from the commemorative plaque, to nifty yet functional gauges, cool toggles, blended with a tasteful color palette, and ambient lighting (at night). Open the door and even a puddle lamp in the shape of a Mustang logo lights the ground. This is a car that wants you to know you’re not just driving a new Ford, you’re now part of the legendary history.
Materials do feel closer to premium and it’s comfortable, at least for two, though the rear seats are better as storage, or young kids, or someone else tiny who likes to sit in the Lotus position; seriously, sliding the seat back on the track could pinch an adult’s legs at the knees. But, this is the rite of passage for one of America’s most beloved home-grown sports coupes, and while some will bash a four-passenger Chevy Volt for it, probably fewer will call the four-passenger Mustang’s tight back seat a hardship.
Back in the driver’s seat, to the right of the tilt and telescoping steering wheel with paddle shifters and pushbutton start on our automatic Premium model is SYNC with MyFord Touch infotainment and connectivity.
Outward visibility is OK, but the big hood does cut somewhat into the view compared to an utterly sensible car like a Camry, and out back the C-pillars truly reduce the visibility.
While reversing you can still twist and look like your dad did with his Mustang, or you can now rely on the standard backup camera and also available is blind-spot monitoring while moving forward down the road.
In sum, the new Mustang tries to recreate the look of what was, but it’s been re-formed with current technologies – some of them evident, some not as much. It all works, and we like it for what it is.
All Mustang models now get four-wheel independent rear suspension for the first time and since a few thousand Cobras SVTs did from 1999 to 2004. Big deal, you say? Yes, but for this pony car always budget limited to offer bang for the buck, it’s big news that here after all these years it’s shedding its live axle rear to complement the double-ball-joint front MacPherson strut.
The new geometry is now promised to generate twice the anti-squat and anti-lift force for better pitch control to keep the body level under hard acceleration and braking.
What’s more, the EcoBoost model may be better balanced, with at least 100 pounds less under the hood, and 52 percent front, 48 percent rear weight distribution.
Other latter day tech includes hydroforming, laser welding, high-strength steels, aluminum hood and front fenders.
Some of the other components made of aluminum include rear suspension knuckles, rear axle housing on automatic transmission versions, rear control arms and brake calipers.
Curb weight however is not paltry, starting at 3,532 for the manual, and 3,524 pounds for the auto – and we’ve seen reports of kitted-out ones pushing over 3,660 pounds.
That said, the vehicle rides on an all-new platform, and the body structure has 28 percent more torsional stiffness for the fastback and a 15 percent improvement for the convertible.
Wheelbase is 107.1 inches, overall length is 188.3, width is 75.4, height is 54.4 and the vehicle rides on standard 235/55-17 tires, and 18- and 19-inchers are available.
Brakes are sizable too with standard 320mm (12.6-inch) by 30mm vented discs pinched by twin-piston floating aluminum calipers up front, and in back are same-diameter solid discs and a floating aluminum caliper.
A Performance package upgrades the front brakes to 352mm (13.9 inches) with four-piston fixed aluminum calipers.
Also offered with the Performance Package are stiffer springs, monotube dampers, thicker hollow rear sway bar, additional chassis braces, additional cooling capability for track-days, K-brace connecting strut towers to bulkhead, unique 9×9-inch alloy wheels painted Ebony Black with Pirelli 255/40R19 Y-speed-rated tires front and rear, 3.55:1 final drive ratio, and center gauge pack. It costs $1,995.
While its looks are pure new-age American muscle, one is immediately thrown by the four-cylinder engine note. This piece of American iron blurs the image with the heart of a Focus RS.
But traditionalists who say the only proper Mustang has a V8 will just have to get over it because this car is refined, satisfying, and Ford knew the critics would be looking for ways to nit pick.
The car’s clocked a 13.9 second quarter mile at 98 mph, and aftermarket performance tuners have boosted them into the 11s by installing more cubic dollars under the hood.
As delivered, the vehicle is poised and balanced. Throw it into a series of curves, and you get the hang of it pretty soon. Goose it in a bend, and you can get the tail out. For fun, we’d prefer the stick shift any day.
The drive can be tailored a bit via toggles below the center stack. These can customize steering effort just a bit, or turn traction and stability control on or off, or even adjust for different driving conditions from normal, wet and snow, sport driving and track duty.
Bump attenuation is smooth enough, and ride is quiet and comfortable – sort of quiet anyway, if not for the piped in fake engine sound as is the practice these days with some automakers.
Of course they did not make it sound like a 5.0, but it sounds like the hi-po four that it is. This is obviously for people who do not aspire to the new age of silence such as offered by a Tesla or Volt in EV mode.
Needless to say it’s a fine highway car also, and it was here we gamed the system to see 35 mpg. All it took was doing 55 mph and hitting the adaptive cruise control.
Combined the car could get 26-28 mpg without too much trouble, but of course, 310 horses do need to be fed, and these will drink the premium when called to run.
On that note, when calculating cost to operate versus the V6 which takes regular, if you plan on using premium, you will want to factor cost of fuel as it does offset the extra mpg.
The Mustang combines “Eco” with “Boost” and is really a lifestyle car blending performance with a nod to the environment. The EPA’s latest data from 2013 says the average new passenger vehicle mpg was 24.1, meaning the EcoBoost is probably still at or above the curve.
If driven with care, one can save fuel and its sub-$30,000 entry point makes it competitive with other sporting cars in this price range. Among pony cars it is unique as the only four-cylinder so a bit of a niche product though reportedly the 2016 Chevy Camaro could soon get a four too, as could others.
Pricing including destination starts at $26,125 for the EcoBoost Fastback, and $30,125 for the EcoBoost Premium Fastback like we drove. Our $35,665 car was equipped with Rapid Spec Equipment Group 201A ($1,795), automatic transmission ($1,195), Adaptive Cruise Control ($1,195), as well as security package ($395), Reverse Park Assist ($295), and voice-activated navigation ($795).
Overall, the Mustang with EcoBoost is relatively refined while giving you a new rendition of an automotive legend.
It’s not the ultimate fuel sipper, but could be just the balance for someone wanting OK fuel economy merged with head-turning looks and driving fun.