May the four be with you
You can get almost the full Mustang experience, minus the roar, for about $10K less than the V8
THE frown comes first, then disbelief. That’s what happens when you tell people the new Ford Mustang they’re admiring is a — gasp — four-cylinder.
To many Americans it’s like finding out their favourite WWF wrestler lacks the strength to lift a fork, let alone put someone on the canvas. Welcome to the brave new automotive world of downsized engines.
We are still coming to terms with the growing number of three-cylinder hatchbacks and six-cylinder performance cars yet the four-cylinder Mustang is the starkest example of just how far engine technology has come.
Sure, the V8 accounts for the majority of the 3000 Mustang orders already placed by Australians. But I’ve just covered 3000km behind the wheel of the four-cylinder version in the US and you know what? I’d buy one.
The engine is called “Ecoboost” (to avoid the Fword, four) and was primarily introduced to broaden the Mustang’s appeal in Europe, where cars are taxed according to their emissions.
In Australia, the fourcylinder will join the V8 to give buyers 90 per cent of the Mustang experience for about $10,000 less than the V8’s cost.
The four-cylinder version starts at about $45,000, which prices the Mustang in what was once Toyota Celica territory.
V8 purists may have smoke coming out their ears at this thought. But without the fourcylinder to boost Mustang production volume there would not be a V8.
The first ever right-hand drive Mustangs to roll down a production line in Detroit are on their way to Australia by ship as you read this. A shipping delay in the Panama Canal means the four-cylinder versions may arrive before the V8s, which are now due in showrooms next month.
The Mustang may not arrive with a V8 roar after all. The four-cylinder is as quiet as a Toyota Corolla — and to be frank, that’s about the only serious criticism I could level at it. The four-cylinder doesn’t even sound appealing by fourcylinder standards.
For examples of fours with attitude, look to the VW Golf GTI, Renault Megane RS and Ford Focus ST.
I’m keen on the four because it’s cheaper to run, better balanced in corners because there’s less weight over the front wheels and — my main reason — because there was not one single time in 3000km of driving that I needed V8 power to get me into or out of trouble.
It’s worth noting this same engine will power the coming Focus RS, the fastest hot hatch ever produced by Ford.
The untrained eye won’t pick the difference between the four-cylinder and the V8. Both come with dual exhaust outlets and the V8 gets a “GT” badge on the boot and “5.0” badges on the front fenders. And that’s it. Of course, the Mustang’s not perfect. The driver’s side mirror is too small, the door lock switches need a tiny LED to confirm they are locked and either I couldn’t find the digital speed display or it doesn’t have one.
The audio “volume” and “tuning” dials appear to have a button in the middle — when you press the centre they make an awful imprecise clicking noise without achieving anything other than causing unnecessary concern that you’ve damaged something.
The rear window needs a wiper; it’ll clean itself with the breeze at freeway speeds, but around town you can’t see what’s behind you in a downpour.
But there was much to like during this long distance US test.
The boot is much bigger and more useful than expected, capable of taking one large piece of check-in luggage and two carry-on size roller bags, with a little room to spare. Anyone who has rented a Mustang in LA for an adventure will know most of the luggage ends up on the back seat.
The optional radar cruise control (which can maintain the distance to the car in front) took the stress out of long freeway drives.
And the optional Brembo racing brakes had superb bite and pedal feel, though they squeaked badly when cold.
The ride over sharp bumps was better than I remember from my first experience with Mustang, even though the car tested this time was equipped with optional sport suspension. Ford has clearly made a running change — for the better.
Despite spending a fortnight couped up in the coupe, I didn’t feel cramped at all.
But the time I appreciated the four-cylinder Mustang the most came when least expected.
I was refuelling late one night on my own at a remote petrol station, where the cashier was behind a security screen inside. Two shady-looking characters materialised from behind the pumps, looking me up and down and peering inside the car, one asking whether this was the “five-point-o”.
When I told them it was “only the four-cylinder”, they lost interest in the car and, much to my relief, in talking to me. From that moment, I loved it just a little bit more.