How can a muscle car be a muscle car without a big V8 under the bonnet?
That’s the question thousands of potential Mustang buyers are posing to Ford about its Ecoboost four-cylinder base model.
But I think that’s the wrong question to be asking. For me, I see the Ecoboost Mustang in two lights: a weekend cruiser, or a tuner’s delight.
I spent a week with a convertible Ecoboost Mustang in its automatic form, giving it a good go as a daily driver, a spirited mountain runner and a highway cruiser.
The first thing you notice with the Mustang – with any Mustang – is just how much people notice you. Even in the Ecoboost form, people are commenting from the side of the road, pulling their phones out to take pictures and ask to take a look when you get out. If you like your car turning heads, I don’t think I’ve been in one that does so as much this side of a Lamborghini.
It’s the car that money can’t buy, with up to an 18-month waiting list, so gazers are guaranteed.
Under the bonnet of this car is a 2.3-litre turbocharged engine that puts out 231kW of power and 433Nm of torque, significantly less than the V8 model’s 306kW and 530Nm. But it’s definitely no slouch; torque comes from very low in the rev band and the smaller engine means it’s 80kg lighter than its big brother.
It’s actually a spectacular engine, with an almost instant push of torque and a large power band leaving you with some go no matter where the tacho is sitting. It could do with a louder exhaust system though.
There’s loads more potential in it too and wouldn’t take engine tuners much to extract enough power to exceed that of the V8, all with the added benefit of being lighter and being able to turn in tighter.
Despite its weight, it’s actually quite a good handling car. The lighter front end helps immensely with the turn in, while the new rear suspension means you can get some feel from the back too. It’s no Mazda MX-5, but you can still have some great fun pushing through some mountain roads. But just be careful with your speed, the darn thing doesn’t have a digital speedo and you’ll quickly find yourself over the limit without realising.
But man, is that automatic gearbox a shocker, and unfortunately if you want a convertible model it’s the only choice you have.
While no one expects a traditional automatic box to have lightning fast shifts, the tradeoff is meant to be a smooth every day driving experience. But the gearbox in this was far from that – it was constantly confused about which gear it wanted to be in, noticeably lurching with each shift and like a lost puppy in sports mode. The only time I found it a positive experience was on a highway where it the consistent speeds didn’t confuse it.
And on the coastal highway, that’s where this car’s at home. The leather seats are comfortable and they even have a cooling featuring for hot days.
Then there’s the ride that’s relatively smooth, an easy to use convertible system and a decent (for the price) stereo system. But easily the best part is stopping at a cafe or pub, parking the car out the front and just watching one of the best looking cars to hit the market in years.
Would I recommend the Ecoboost Mustang? The superb engine, the road presence and the way it makes you feel leaves me saying a resoundingly big yes.
But just make sure it’s a manual fastback model. That auto box can sap both a big chunk of comfort and fun away from it.
It’s also much cheaper, at $45,990 versus the $54,990 for the convertible.