When it came to picking a rental car for a recent trip to Los Angeles, my criteria was simple; it needed to be fast, it had to carry my girlfriend’s full-sized luggage, and it needed to be cheap. That brought me to the American rental car; the Ford Mustang. However, unlike nearly every Ford Mustang of yonder, this one didn’t come equipped with a thumping V8 or a measly V6, but with a sacrilegious 2.3L turbo-charged four-cylinder. More so, I had this car in Los Angeles, a city featuring everything: massive six-lane freeways, autocross-like mountain twisties and fast sweeping canyon passes, giving me an opportunity to put the Eco-stang to the test.
Disclaimer: Ford wanted me to review their two-year-old Mustang so badly, that they built it. Then a lady walked into a dealership, didn’t check off a single option except for “automatic transmission”, and bought it. She then listed it on Turo, and I paid $600 to borrow it for a week.
Since this is a Ford Mustang, this little four-pot has two jobs; make gobs of torque all over the powerband, and sound damn good doing it. Let's start with the torque.
You get 320ftlbs of it, and it comes on about as early as a turbo-charged four cylinder making this sort of power can be expected to. That’s good enough to move the 3526lb ‘murican coupe to 60 mph in a little over five seconds. That’s 4.6l v8 Mustang territory, and it’s just a second off its 5.0 v8 big brother.
But numbers are only half the story, because this is a Mustang. That implies that you can plant your right foot in any gear, at any RPM, and ride a wave of never-ending torque to redline. In that context, 'great for a turbocharged four-cylinder' feels like the compromise that it is.
A tiny turbocharger means that torque comes on quick, giving you full twist at 2,500 rpm. Drive around town gently nudging the throttle in the meat of the powerband, and you can trick yourself into thinking you’re driving something beastly. Unfortunately, the torque party doesn’t last and the Ecoboost falls on its face after 5,000rpm. If you were hoping for a high-strung turbo screamer, this isn’t it. The Ecoboost Mustang has the same problem as the Golf R; its power plant does the job, but it feels bored.
Then, there’s a problem with the sound.
Everyone's already said this; it’s not that this car sounds bad, it’s that it sounds like nothing. If you find yourself in a tightly packed parking garage, open the window and mash the gas (not recommended), you’ll hear an engine note – it sounds like a Camry with turbo noise layered on top. However, if you find a tunnel, roll down your window and mash the gas, you’ll be greeted by the sound of sweet disappointment
However, you’d be forgiven for not noticing this because speakers fill the cabin full of this strange, deep, five-cylinder-esque exhaust note. It sounds okay, but it’s phonier than a Volkswagen “clean diesel”. That’s a shame because the Ford Focus RS (that utilizes the same engine) sounds badass.
That all said, this engine does the job of ‘Mustang-ing’ well. Feel like lighting up your rear tires at a stoplight? It’ll do it. Blasting through rows of Priuses on the freeway at triple-digit speeds? Done. Dust a Volkswagen Golf R in a roll race? Easy.* Stomp on the go-pedal and this car moves.
*It happened in Mexico, I swear.
Does it finally handle?
Much like Trump’s presidency, it's handling depends on your expectations. I chased DriverMod fan Michael in his drift-prepped SC400 up and down Angeles Crest highway late one night. It’s fast with wide sweepers, gentle s-turns, chicanes and most importantly, a 45 mph speed limit. I drove home in awe. The car felt balanced and poised with little body roll and a surprising amount of front grip. Generous suspension travel and independent rear suspension (finally) allowed it to soak up bumps and put torque to the floor easily on corner exit.
The next morning, I took the car through Latigo Canyon Road; a winding, tight Malibu pass – think of an autocross course, except down a mountain, without guardrails. I caught myself audibly begging for a Miata. Quick changes in direction make the Mustang understeer like a pig. If you’re smooth with your steering letting the car’s weight transition between corners, you won’t be slow, but you won’t ever forget that you’re piloting a heavy, imprecise slab of metal down a mountain. A good portion of the blame can be handed to the rental car-spec 500 treadwear 235 width tires which give the base Mustang a worse tire-to-curb-weight ratio than a Toyota Echo. Spring for the Ecoboost Performance Package and you’ll get stickier 255s, or fix this problem in the aftermarket by bolting up some 305 Nittos, bro.
Oh yeah, that electric steering rack. In terms of feel, it’s neither terrible nor particularly impressive. More feel than a BMW 2-Series, and less than a Ford Focus RS. Steering can either be set to “Comfort”, “Normal” or “Sport”, quickening it and increasing the amount of effort required.
And the other stuff?
Exterior? Without masquerading as a couch-taught automotive designer, I think it looks bitchin’. With its three-dimensional taillights, sequential turn signals, pronounced hips and sharp hood lines, it looks like a modern Mustang.
All you really need to know is this: park your budget, four-banger Mustang next to a pedestrian econobox, and you’ll feel like a million bucks, especially in this Grabber Blue paint.
I think the best way to explain the Ecoboost Mustang is to tell a story. It’s 4 am. The city of Los Angeles is just waking up and we’re getting ready to leave for the airport. I stop at Shell station; fill the tank for forty bucks, and next thing I know I’m on the freeway, dodging Priuses at 90 mph. I look down; I’m barely cracking 2,400 rpm, the onboard trip computer estimates I’m getting 27 mpg and my girlfriend’s nearly asleep in the passenger seat. My exit’s approaching. I stomp on the gas, move over six lanes of empty highway, get to the bottom the off-ramp, and I’ve got a green light. Stab the brakes, rotate the car on its nose, and mash the go pedal again. Do that over and over and over again, and congrats, you've successfully Mustang-ed. You won’t win an autocross, the lack of top end torque will disappoint at the racetrack but it’s a damn good car for ripping around town.
It’s fast, it’s cheap, it’s comfortable, it looks good, gets decent fuel economy, and handles decently, and it’s as American as firearms and bacon cheeseburgers. It’s a Mustang.