Wild horses: Coming to grips with the 2016 Mustang range
The Mustang is a motoring icon, but even icons need to change and evolve with the times. For Ford, that meant turning to EcoBoost power and (finally) dropping the live rear end for a fully independent setup. But has it worked, and is it sacrilege to stick a Mustang badge on a turbocharged four-cylinder car? Gizmag spent time driving the whole Mustang range to find out whether the V8 still rules the roost, or if the little turbo is the pick of the bunch.
Initial signs are good for the EcoBoost, which looks almost identical to the V8 save for its wheels and badges. Good thing, too, because the new Mustang looks absolutely fantastic. There's more than a hint of Aston Martin in the windowline, which flows beautifully into a neat bootlid spoiler, and there's nothing quite like a proper long bonnet to create a bit of drama on the road.
Down back, the three slit-like taillight can be had in red or with clear lenses, which was something that caused a bit of debate among journos on launch. We love the look of the clear ones, but others think they look cheap, especially when the car's parked. Everyone has their own opinion, of course, so it's something to keep in mind as you're filling out the order form at the dealership.
The other big question you'll be asking yourself is what your 'Stang should be packing under the hood. After all, in the past the only Pony worth parking in your stable was the V8 – unless your stable was a Hertz parking lot, that is.
It's not quite as clear cut anymore, because Ford's EcoBoost line of engines is excellent. We loved our time with the punchy little Fiesta ST, and a brief spin in a Focus ST proved the magic has rubbed off on its bigger stablemate. Perhaps the best endorsement of the motor is the fact Ford has reworked it and stuffed it under the Focus RS' hood.
With 233 kW (310 hp) on tap, and a meaty 432 Nm (319 lb-ft) of torque, it's no slouch in a straight line. What's more, 90 percent of peak torque is available from just 1,720 RPM, which means you'll never struggle when it comes to overtaking on the freeway.
From the driver's seat it feels quick, albeit in a very different way to the V8. You get a nice shove in the back through the midrange, but the feel through the seat of the pants is more "hot hatch" than it is throbbing pony car. It's the same story with the engine note, which is well and truly shaded by the RenaultSport Megane we drove last year for four-cylinder fireworks.
If the engine is effective but uninspiring, the EcoBoost well and truly redeems itself in the bends. In the process of cutting the cylinder count in half Ford has also done away with 75 kg (165 lb), which makes a huge difference on turn in. It's not the sort of difference that's only noticeable when you're getting carried away at high speeds either – from the second you take off in the EcoBoost that sense of lightness is clear.
That said, the four-cylinder Mustang isn't a rock-hard, razor-sharp corner-carving machine. There's still an initial bit of bodyroll, as the car's 1,666 kg (3,673 lb) makes itself known. But there's plenty of grip, and any understeer can be easily dealt with by your right foot. After all, the engine might feel a bit hot-hatch, but this is still a proper rear-drive muscle car.
So the EcoBoost is a bit of a surprise package in the corners, but does that mean the V8 is a wallowing mess, not fit for "driving enthusiasts" who use words like "spirited" and "dynamic" to describe their Sunday drives? Er, no.
It's not as fast to turn in, and you are aware of the extra metal hanging over the front end compared to the EcoBoost Mustang, but the difference simply isn't enough to turn us off everything else the V8 has to offer.
Thanks to 306 kW (435 hp) and a chunky 530 Nm (391 lb-ft) of torque, flooring the accelerator will pin you back in the seat, accompanied by a noise that gets better as the revs climb. That said, we'd still prefer a bit more volume. After all, Mustang buyers generally aren't shrinking violets, and there's always the EcoBoost for those people who don't want to ruffle too many feathers.
Noise aside, the V8 revs cleanly all the way from idle to redline thanks to new cylinder heads, intake manifolds and a forged steel crankshaft that cuts down on vibration at high revs. You won't want to spend too much exploring the upper reaches of the rev range on the road though: second gear sees you up around the legal limit in Australia, and the top of third will put you deep into license-losing territory.
Your right foot can also get you into trouble with the police if, like in Australia, they're not particularly keen on tail-out shenanigans. No, we didn't turn off the ESP and try to emulate Ken Block, but we can confirm the car will slide if you want it to. Thankfully for ham-fisted buyers (okay, and ham-fisted Gizmag journos) the stability control will allow a bit of slip in Sport+ mode before neatly trimming the power to tidy everything up for you.
There's a section of petrolhead fandom that hates stability control because it undermines the "purity" of the driving experience, but we'd much rather the system stepped in and prevented a pure, unassisted accident on the road.
Thankfully, if your license is a bit worse for wear you can slot the chunky gearlever into top gear and cruise without the Mustang feeling like it's straining at the leash. In fact once you're done entertaining your Steve McQueen fantasies and trying to drive the doors off it, you could sit back in the fantastic bucket seats and cross a country in perfect comfort.
Left in normal mode the suspension won't rattle your teeth out, and the cabin is a nice place to spend time, although there are still some questionable materials scattered around. Also, drivers in right-hand drive markets shouldn't expect to get much use out of the centre cupholders for anything other than phones and wallets, because they sit directly behind the gearlever in manual cars.
And you don't want to get in the way of that gearlever because having a big V8 connected to three pedals and a stick is a privilege that's fast fading from the motoring landscape. If you absolutely must have an automatic, the Mustang's six speeder gets the job done with a minimum of fuss. Downshifts are sharp in track mode, and the paddles generally do what's asked of them, although we did have the car flat out refuse to change down under heavy braking, which was frustrating considering a quick heel-and-toe downshift would've done the job in the manual car.
If two-pedal cruising is your thing, there's heaps of space in the boot, more than enough for two people's bags on a long-haul roadtrip. You'll notice that, despite the 'Stang being a four seater, that's two people's bags. If you've get legs or a head, there's simply no use even trying to squeeze into the rear seats, so any family jaunts cross-country are out of the question unless both the kids are circus-grade contortionists.
You might have noticed the Mustang sounds like a bit of an all-rounder. You can forget the last few generations of Mustang, which cashed in on the brand's heritage without ever truly taking the spirit of the original car and making it relevant today. This is a car that, as well as looking fantastic, can play sports coupe, grand tourer or daily driver.
And the equation becomes even more persuasive when you consider the car's rivals. In the USA there's the Chevrolet Camaro and Dodge Challenger, but in Europe, Japan and Australia there's almost nothing that lines up alongside the Mustang. With a starting price of around US$25,500 (AUD$46,000 in Australia), the EcoBoost's price puts it up against hot-hatches like the Golf GTi – and I know which car I'd rather have sitting in my driveway.
Product page: 2016 Mustang