As you fire up the Ecoboost, you’re suddenly reminded that this isn’t your typical Mustang. Instead of the V8 growl, a small pop and a gentle burble remind us we live in a time when we’re told to worry about the impact our decisions have on the planet. The Ecoboost Mustang is powered by the aforementioned 2.3-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine, which puts out 310hp (231kw) — this car is not to be sniffed at. That’s several more horses than the original Shelby GT350 and the same as the early fifth-generation GTS. This is not the Mustang’s first foray into four-cylinder glory. The third-generation Mustang was also released with a 2.3-litre turbo four-pot in the late ’70s (the later version of which served up a meaty 132hp [98.4kw]) and, eventually, as the fuel crisis took hold, became the sole performance model in the line-up. Although it suffered many issues with reliability, Ford persevered with the four-cylinder / eightcylinder line-up until the release of the fourth generation in 1994, when it went back to the tried-and-true six or eight formula. This lower emission Ecoboost model is built to attract a new audience to the Mustang, including environmentalists and cyclists, and opens the door to key markets, especially China.
While this is a big car, the convertible version obviously does away with a significant amount of boot space to accommodate the roof when it’s down, although there is no need to mess around and reconfigure shelves to bring it down, as the housing is in a separate compartment.
Ford has certainly stuck to the mantra that ‘ big is best’ with the Mustang. As you jump behind the wheel, you notice that the nose of the Mustang seems to go on forever in every direction as a reminder of what is and what can be under the bonnet. While it’s is pitched as a four-seat two-door coupé, I’m not sure who the two people in the back are intended to be, but I would strongly suggest this is a car built for the comfort of the front-seat passengers. Once again on the move and getting onto some slightly better roads, the Ecoboost came to life. With muffled whizzes and pops, the turbo-four demanded it be known that it’s not just there as a little brother to the big V8 — it’s there to dance. Any turbo lag present has been pretty well minimized to the point where, if the Mustang had the ability to pipe in fake
noises — as some European manufacturers like to do — you could be forgiven for thinking that you’re in a V8. The Ecoboost certainly has more of a focus on economy, and it almost feels like the on-board computers are challenging the driver to drive more frugally, which does seem odd in what is essentially a muscle car. This is reinforced when using the steering wheel–mounted paddle shifters and realizing the ability to start off the line in third gear.
After arriving at the photo-shoot location, we jumped out of the cars to compare notes and spend some time eyeing up both cars, getting to know their ins and outs. Ford has gone all out in terms of standard options on both cars with full leather upholstery, an eight-inch touchscreen with reversing camera, and Mykey proximity key as standard. Both Mustangs also offer identical driver set-ups called 'Track Apps' featuring myriad driver options and outputs — from an accelerometer measuring Gs to triple split-lap timers and brake-performance meters. One thing the V8 has that the Ecoboost doesn’t is launch control. We thought it prudent not to give this particular feature a go in the kindly loaned test car, but reviews show that it can be a lot of fun when driving a car that one owns outright with warranties in place.
There are several steering settings on both cars — Comfort, Normal, and Sport — and this is good. The Ecoboost’s steering felt too light in Normal and Comfort modes compared with the GT feeling a touch heavy in Sport. Also common to both cars are the drive modes: Snow/wet, Normal, Sport, and Track. Once you’ve selected what you’re after, driving modes appear independent of steering mode, so, if you decide you want the Track set-up with Comfort steering (because, perhaps, you’re wildly unhinged), so be it. This can be somewhat confusing, and the menus stay on screen wherever you’ve left them rather than defaulting back to the time or trip computer.
Under the bonnet, the 410hp (306kw) V8 snugly fills the front of the engine bay with enough room to move for burly Ford engineers’ hands and those armed with superchargers (Roush and Ford Racing have a kit on sale pushing the power to 670hp at the engine. The Ecoboost is a lot smaller, and the engine bay looks cavernous. This is where I believe the smaller car may come into its own. There are already a number of very clued-up operators transforming the Ecoboost into something quite special.
Now, it must be said that I went into this test preferring the Ecoboost. Before I’d driven the GT, I was impressed but not quite sold on the idea of the Ecoboost. Our GT V8 test car was the six-speed manual, which has proven far less popular with Kiwi buyers so far (just 15 per cent of the 550 pre-orders were manual), but it was great for us to get an idea of all options available on the cars.
I now openly admit that there is just something about a Mustang that needs to be V8. With 50 years of heritage steeped in eight-cylinder noise and fury, it’s hard not to be excited at the prospect of driving the newest version, and it didn’t disappoint. The clutch on the GT was heavy, but not to the point of being a burden. The steering felt just right to me in Normal drive mode, and the traction-control button stayed firmly on. Following some sedate motorway kilometres spent getting a feel for the car, we peeled off to see how the GT dealt with some Kiwi back roads. The answer was very well indeed. You don’t feel the need to throw the Mustang around as much as you might a smaller car. The gearbox is smooth and short, although heel/toe rev-matching is difficult given the distance between the accelerator and brake pedals. With a bit of pace up, the GT feels planted and sturdy on the road. Through the bends, it feels at home and not as if it’s about to lose rear traction and hurtle you into the bushes. Of course, as with any manual, as soon as you hit traffic, things become a bit of a pain, and it does require some patience stopping and starting without letting the revs drop too low.
Ford has obviously worked hard to ensure that the Mustang is providing enough luxury and technology to compete with the likes of … well, what exactly? Of course, in the States, this is an important market segment with the Dodge Challenger and the Chevrolet Camaro competing with the Mustang head on. In New Zealand, a sub-$80k big coupé is a bit like no man’s land. So, this begs the question: is there a market for the Mustang in right-hand drive in New Zealand? The first shipment of new Mustangs arrived on our shores in November last year with, as mentioned, over 550 pre-orders made. Perhaps unsurprisingly, 60 per cent of these were for V8 GTS with 15 per cent of the total being convertible and 15 per cent being manual. These numbers would suggest that there most certainly is a place in our hearts and on our roads for these icons of motoring.
As I mentioned earlier, I really wanted my verdict to be in favour of the Ecoboost but perhaps predictably, I fell for the V8 although I’d opt to pair it with the auto box and take advantage of the Line Lock feature (yep, that’s a thing).