I grew up in an era of coupes during the 90s so it's always a pleasure to spend some time behind the wheel of a sports car as a change from all the SUVs and crossovers on the market. Ford has kept the Mustang going for 55 years now despite coupe sales trending down in today's automotive market. The current generation was unveiled for the 2015 model year and was slightly refreshed for 2018 which then included the introduction of a new base engine. The base engine is a 2.3L 4-cylinder EcoBoost (direct-injection turbocharged) that produces 310 horsepower and 350 lb-ft. of torque. New for the 2020 model year is the addition of a high-performance variation of that EcoBoost engine. Five Mustang trim levels are currently available known as EcoBoost, GT, Bullitt, Shelby GT350 and Shelby GT500. GT and Bullitt models are powered by a 5.0L V8 and the Shelby models get variations of a 5.2L V8. Prices start at $26,670 for the base EcoBoost fastback, $35,880 for a GT, $47,705 for a Bullitt, $60,440 for the GT350 and $72,900 for the Shelby GT500. This review will focus on the base EcoBoost Mustang.
Let's start with the obvious question, is a 4-cylinder Mustang worth it? In short, yes, it is. For starters, it is one of the few manual transmissions left so that is a plus to begin with for auto enthusiasts. The 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine is turbocharged and has direct injection giving the Mustang solid power. While there is a brief hesitation in throttle response just off idle, it is engaging as you aim for its 6500-rpm redline. The engine really kicks in around 3,000 RPM and the car feels grounded on the pavement. The manual shifts are more notchy than smooth when shifting adding to the thrill of driving a manual. Its power easily accelerated in highway traffic and handling maneuvers were smooth.
There are six drive mode options including: Snow/Wet, Normal, MyMode, Sport, Track, and Drag Strip. The electronics shift focus as you select the various modes for the appropriate level of performance. The 310 horsepower and 350 lb-ft. of torque can best be appreciated in the Sport (or track or drag strip) mode which also pair nicely with a Mustang exhaust note. The adjustable modes can be selected via a toggle switch in the center stack or through one of the many steering wheel controls. With it raining for the majority of my time in the Mustang, the Snow/Wet modes limited the power to minimize slippage on wet pavement and the Advance Trac system adjusted for maximum grip. When the sun came out, the most fun was had in Sport mode which stiffens the steering but keeps the car grounded with Advance Trac. Selecting Track or Drag Strip modes, which are intended for their name, will be the most aggressive setting and eliminates the traction control altogether.
New for 2020 is an optional high-performance version of the 2.3L which is tuned by Ford Performance and is a $4995 package. This version comes with a slightly larger twin-scroll turbo compressor, fresh engine calibration, and larger radiator. Horsepower and torque remain the same, but 90% of the available torque is from 3,000 rpm to the red line. Included in the package is a 3.55 limited-slip rear axle, 19-inch x 9-inch machine-faced aluminum wheels, GT performance package, large brake rotors, large radiator, performance rear wing and more. Also added is an active exhaust with quad tips. An Ecoboost Handling Package is also available which increases lateral acceleration grip and stopping power. Note that the handling package must be paired with the high-performance EcoBoost engine.
Ford hasn't forgotten that steering is a crucial piece to the handling of a sports car. There are three steering modes available that can be switched through one of the toggle buttons on the center stack. The steering switches through normal, comfort and sport modes. Opt for normal (default setting) around town for daily driving. Comfort softens up the steering feel and is ideal for extended drives or highway cruising. And if you want a firmer steering experience, the sport setting will stiffen up the steering input and provide more steering feedback to the driver.
Overall, my driving impressions of the Mustang were positive. At 3,542 pounds, the Mustang is a fairly heavy sports coupe and you do feel that compared to lighter coupes such as the Chevy Camaro, Toyota 86 or Subaru BRZ. Only the Dodge Challenger comes in with a heavier weight. Add the rear-wheel drive component to the manual 6-speed transmission and this is not a car many are used to daily driving so it will take some getting used to. Gas mileage is estimated at 21 MPG city, 31 MPG highway or a combined 25 MPG. After a week of primarily suburban street driving (city) I averaged 19 MPG with it primarily in the snow/wet drive modes due to inclement weather. Premium fuel is recommended in the Mustang, if you opt for a lower grade fuel you can expect loss of power.
The original pony car continues to be unmistakable on the outside with a somewhat timeless design that is a true evolution of car that debuted 55 years ago. While the current generation is five years old, it still looks fresh with the help of new wheel designs in multiple sizes and new colors such as Grabber Lime, Iconic Silver, Rapid Red Metallic, and Twisted Orange. Also available for 2020 are high-performance package hood stripes which give the EcoBoost model even sportier looks. The signature Mustang three-strip taillights are integrated into the rear design and connected through a black strip in the middle with the pony prominently on display in the middle. The taillights function with a sequential lighting design when the signals are in use which further highlights the three-bar design. The side profile has remained similar for the past two generations, it sits low with a long front-end and the fastback roof blending right into the trunk line. And up front, the Mustang's three-bar light design from the rear are re-used and blended nicely into the daytime running LED signature within the headlight casing.
Standard on EcoBoost models are LED Headlights with the LED signature lighting, LED front park turn lamps, hood vents, dual bright exhaust with polished tips and 17" sparkle silver painted aluminum wheels. 18 and 19-inch wheel designs are also available. Opting for the EcoBoost Premium model adds 18-inch machine-face aluminum wheels with black accents riding on 235/50R all season tires, LED fog lights, pony projection lights, and a blade decklid spoiler. The pony projection lights are a fun add in which an image of the Mustang pony is projected from the sideview mirrors onto the ground in dimly lit garage or at night when the doors are unlocked.
Inside, the Mustang seats were surprisingly padded and comfortable for the front two passengers. The Mustang has a 2 + 2 seat layout accommodating only four passengers. The rear seats are nearly useless for even the average adult. At 5' 9" tall, my head was bent forward and resting against the fastback roof. My kids, however, seemed plenty comfortable in the back seats and it even accommodated a car seat with a built-in latch system. Folding the seats forward to get to the back was easy but flipping them back took more effort than necessary. While cargo capacity likely isn't of the utmost importance if you're shopping in this category, the Mustang does offer a respectable trunk capacity of 13.5 cu. ft. which is more than most competitors except for the Dodge Challenger which offers 16.2 cu. ft.
Behind the steering wheel is a class exclusive 12-inch configurable LCD digital cluster. The customizable display automatically changes with the selection of various drive modes and can further be customized to personal preferences including color. The center stack consists of a large 8" LCD Capacitive Touchscreen with Swipe Capability and Pinch-to-Zoom capabilities. Ford's SYNC 3 infotainment system is one of the easiest and most intuitive systems out there. SYNC 3 is compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto which can be controlled via the touchscreen, voice commands, or steering wheel controls. While I can usually appreciate steering wheel controls, I found those on the Mustang to be awkwardly placed and therefore relying primarily on the easy to reach touchscreen and volume knob.
Also available on the Mustang is FordPass which is an app you can add to your phone to provide detailed information on your car, allow you to start/stop the car, lock/unlock it or locate it in a parking lot. A nice bonus feature is that you can even check your fuel levels and oil life from your phone which can come in handy. Speaking of technology, the Mustang is available with a Ford Safe and Smart packages for an additional $1,000. The Ford Safe and Smart Package includes features such as adaptive cruise control, auto high beams, lane-keeping assist system, pre-collision assist with pedestrian detection, auto-emergency braking, forward collision warning with brake support and rain-sensing windshield wipers.
While many sports coupes have disappeared from the automotive world, the Mustang stays true to its heritage by offering an affordable, fun-to-drive car with all of the modern amenities. While the Mustang has reached icon status, so have its competitors such as the Dodge Challenger and Chevrolet Camaro which round out the modern muscle car category. Other affordable sports coupes still available include the Hyundai Veloster, Subaru BRZ, and Toyota 86. If you're in the market for daily sports coupe, the Mustang EcoBoost is one to consider and will still turn heads for anyone who appreciates the Mustang brand.
With a wide array of prices and models, spend some time at https://shop.ford.com/build/mustang/#/chooseyourpath/ to configure a Mustang to your liking.