The Happy Middle Ground of Ponycars
In the past, base-level Ford Mustangs were seen as secretary cars because they didn’t have the performance to back up their looks. If you wanted all-out performance from your Mustang, you jumped straight to the V-8-powered GT. Starting with the 2011 face-lift of the fifth generation to the current sixth generation, Mustangs have grown into solid performance machines.
The last time the Ford Mustang had a turbocharged four-cylinder engine was in the third-generation model produced from 1978 to 1993. Unlike the Mustang SVOs of the 1980s, the Mustang EcoBoost is a volume model that slots above the V-6-powered car, which is essentially a rental-lot beauty queen. Does this mean that the Mustang EcoBoost is made just for the sake of sales volume? Will your friends laugh at you for not getting the V-8-powered Mustang GT? Read on to find out.
Secretary Car No More
Get behind the wheel of a manual-equipped Mustang EcoBoost with the Performance package like our tester, and you’ll find that this pony is pretty nice to drive. Compared to the GT, which has a heavier front end, the EcoBoost feels lighter up front and changes directions more willingly. The unique suspension tuning, a 3.55 axle ratio on the limited-slip differential, heavy duty front springs, and larger rear anti-roll bar help make the car feel more stable at high speeds. This is especially evident through twisty roads where the car feels right at home and is more than willing to play.
At the track, the 2016 Mustang EcoBoost proved it had the handling chops, posting a figure-eight time of 24.2 seconds at an average of 0.79g. The upgraded brakes also help the car scrub off speed better; it was able to stop from 60 mph in 102 feet, a shorter distance than in the last Mustang EcoBoosts we tested. On the skidpad, the car produced an impressive lateral acceleration of 0.95g, proving it grips the road well.
On winding roads out near Malibu, the Mustang EcoBoost demonstrated it’s a great handling machine. All the goodies added with the Performance package make the car better balanced and great fun to pilot without sacrificing ride quality. Even with the 19-inch alloy wheels and summer performance tires, the EcoBoost proved to be an enjoyable cruiser that rode well and handled Los Angeles’ pothole-marked roads with ease, making it a happy medium between ride comfort and agility.
However, at 3,622 pounds, the Mustang EcoBoost is on the heavy side, and its weight does hinder it. This is especially evident in understeer when the road gets a little too tight and twisty. The Mustang’s steering does help make it feel a little more engaging when it’s set in Sport mode, where it has acceptable feel, weight, and some feedback. The other two modes, Normal and Comfort, are devoid of any sensation or communication and make the steering wheel feel like it’s a controller for “Gran Turismo” or “Forza Motorsport.” (Read: Keep the steering mode in Sport.)
The Turbocharged Steed
The Mustang EcoBoost’s 2.3-liter direct-injected and turbocharged mill produces 310 hp and 320 lb-ft of torque, and it can be paired to a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic gearbox. The manual-equipped example we tested is EPA-rated at 22/31 mpg (10.7/7.6 L/100km) city/highway. Unlike most modern turbocharged engines that tend toward the quiet side, the EcoBoost engine makes cool turbine sounds once you hit the gas to accelerate.
On the road, you’ll immediately notice that the car has lots of midrange torque but not much else. Below 3,000 rpm, there’s little power available due to a prodigious amount of turbo lag, but once it gets going, there’s plenty to work with. Rev the car above 5,000 rpm, though, and all you’re making is noise because it loses steam. Switch the drive mode selector over to Sport, and you get slightly improved responses from the engine and throttle, but the turbo lag is still there. Keep the car in its sweet spot between 2,500 to 4,500 rpm, and you’ll be able to get the most out of it. Should you decide to take the car for a track day, there’s a Track mode that turns off the ESC and lets you really push the car to its limits.
During acceleration tests at the track, the Mustang EcoBoost did the 0 to 60 mph sprint in 6.3 seconds and the quarter mile in 14.5 seconds at 98 mph (158 km/h). Compared to a manual-equipped 2015 Mustang EcoBoost we tested last year, this car was 0.7 second slower to 60 mph and 0.1 second slower in the quarter mile. The 2016 tester could have been adversely affected by constantly changing weather conditions and the fact that the engine’s power ratings are achieved with 93 octane fuel, which isn’t available in California.
The six-speed manual in our test vehicle was a good gearbox that offered decent feel and somewhat long throws. As in every Mustang, however, the shifter is very notchy and it reminds you of someone eating something crunchy every time you go through the gears. In traffic, thanks to a light clutch, the gearbox was easy to work with. But the point at which it starts to bite is very late, meaning your foot is almost off the clutch pedal and it’s barely engaging. The Mustang’s clutch felt similar to an on/off switch because the range where it starts to engage is narrow and high up in the travel.
Spacious for Two, not Four
If you’re planning to carry four passengers in a Mustang, make sure the two sitting in the back aren’t claustrophobic because the rear seats have little headroom and barely any legroom. A better use of the rear seats is as extra storage space should the 13.5-cubic-foot trunk not be enough. Up front, the driver and front passenger will have an easy time getting comfortable thanks to the ability to make extensive seat and steering wheel adjustments. The standard front seats also hold you in place well during enthusiastic driving and don’t sacrifice comfort. On the Premium trim, the Mustang EcoBoost comes with heated and cooled front seats for that extra upscale touch.
Ford’s Sync 3 infotainment system is a big step forward compared to its old interface. The voice command understands everything very well, making it easy to do everything from changing the climate controls to playing a specific artist from the flash drive plugged into the USB port. Response from the unit’s 7-inch touchscreen is excellent, making it a breeze to use even on the go. However, its low placement in the center stack forces you to take your eyes off the road if you don’t want to use voice commands. Visibility out of the car, on other hand, is good except out of the rear window because the fastback roofline. The addition of blind spot mirrors also means you won’t need to get the blind spot warning system because they can give you a clear view of what is not in your field of vision.
A Balanced Ponycar?
The Mustang EcoBoost is more of a jack-of-all-trades, master of none. The easy-to-drive Mustang is a good introduction to driving sports cars. No, the Mustang EcoBoost isn’t going to match the GT in performance, but it still offers up plenty of thrills behind the wheel. Turbo lag and notchy shifter aside, the Mustang EcoBoost is a nice “in-between” model that manages to balance daily drivability with fun-to-drive dynamics surprisingly well even with the Performance package. Additionally, you won’t need to sacrifice on-board technology with the much-improved Sync 3 infotainment system.
If you’re the type who wants all-out performance and handling, then get a Mustang GT with the Performance package—better yet, a GT350 if you’ve got the cash to spend. But, as a whole package, the Mustang EcoBoost offers great performance and handling, daily drivability, respectable fuel economy ratings, and user-friendly tech. This is the Mustang for someone who wants one that can do everything well. With an as-tested price of $32,540 USD, the EcoBoost is a great value, making it a solid choice among more affordable sports cars.
|2016 Ford Mustang EcoBoost (Premium)|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$32,540|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, RWD, 4-pass, 2-door coupe|
|ENGINE||2.3L/310-hp/320-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||3,622 lb (53/47%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||188.3 x 75.4 x 54.4 in|
|0-60 MPH||6.3 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||14.5 sec @ 98.0 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||102 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.95 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||24.2 sec @ 0.79 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||22/31/25 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||153/109 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.77 lb/mile|