The last time Ford ran a turbocharged four-cylinder engine in their Mustang (labelled “SVO”), Lionel Ritchie, Patti Labelle and even Eddie Murphy—yes, THAT Eddie Murphy—were on the Billboard Top 100, Steve Jobs had just formed Pixar studios and the Chernobyl disaster was hot off the presses.
Perhaps more applicable, when the SVO debuted, it had been just five years since the 1979 Oil Crisis following the Iranian Revolution. North Americans were seeing massive hikes in the price of fuel and there just wasn’t as much room out there for big V8 power. Sound familiar?
However, what this all-new 2015 Mustang is being asked to do, and what the original SVO was not, is to be marketable in, to quote Ford directly, “every continent except Antarctica.”
Like the Focus, Fiesta and Escape before it, the Mustang has now fallen under the “OneFord” banner, whereby a single platform is used for multiple world markets.
So, a 310 horsepower, 320 lb.-ft. EcoBoost four-cylinder joins the long-standing Ti-VCT V6 (300 hp, 280 lb.-ft.) and V8 Coyote (435 hp, 400 lb.-ft.) powerplants for this new chapter in the annals of Mustang.
New markets, new looks
The 2015 Mustang features more European styling with its longer hood, narrowed headlamps and grille, a more tapered rear deck and edgy rocker panels that are unlike anything we’ve seen from Ford’s pony car before.
Not to worry, Mustang folks; you still get your funky progressive rear turn signals (they do make for slightly lazy turn signal intervals from inside, however), hood bulge (reduced, with added vents on GT V8 models), twin-outlet exhaust and, of course, the classic Mustang roofline.
Inside, the three-spoke steering wheel is still present, as are the deeply-recessed retro gauges (easier to read, now) and metallic pedals. A set of faux-aluminum toggle switches four your traction control, drive mode and hazard lights now appear at the base of the centre stack – a very cool touch, despite being a little tough to read.
There is also more room inside than previous generations, and the massive subwoofer that comes with the optional 12-speaker ShakerPro audio system no longer takes up as much room in the trunk. That is a very important step forward, considering that at 382 litres, there isn’t a huge amount of room for storage to begin with.
Have no fear, your turbo is here
As luck would have it, the first car we set off in from our starting point in Los Angeles, CA—the very 1950s, very Pulp Fiction Mel’s Diner on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood—happened to have the aforementioned EcoBoost four-cylinder engine, only with a slight twist; it also had the Performance Package, a $3,000 option that adds special 19-inch black wheels (making it easier to identify from the outside than a similarly-equipped model from last year), bigger rear sway bars, special chassis tuning, a 3.55 rear axle ratio, heavy duty front springs and a larger radiator. Make no mistake; this Mustang is a serious machine.
Slip into the optional Recaro leather sports seat (even with the Performance pack, Recaros cost an additional $1,500 for cloth, $1,800 for leather), punch the start/stop button mounted alongside those toggle switches, and—nothing. Well, not nothing but even with exhaust tuning, this here sounds unlike any Mustang you’ve heard before.
More an off-beat burble than a real growl as emitted from the V6 or V8 engine options, it takes some getting used to; when the turbo kicks in you can hear a slight whistle that seems more appropriate for a Volkswagen Golf GTI than a Ford Mustang.
Then again, maybe it won’t take that much getting used to, because once you delve into the drive experience, you’ll have little time to fret over exhaust notes.
The media drive began in the heart of Los Angeles, but it did not take long to get from there to the Angeles Crest that cuts through the Traverse Range mountains, where we’d be performing the bulk of our testing.
There are some steep climbs there, and as you get higher and the air gets thinner, you might expect the turbocharger to struggle a little. If it did, it was not noticeable. Steep climbs were handled in fourth gear, with no hesitation from the powertrain.
Let the turbocharger get on boil, and it carries you from 2,500 to 5,000 r.p.m., riding a flat torque curve. Even when testing fifth (there are six speeds total, whether you select the manual or the now paddle-shift operated auto transmission) the Mustang would amazingly just pull, and pull and pull.
At 3,532 lbs. the 2015 Mustang is no lightweight, and coupled with a hint of turbo lag, it does take a little to get going from rest. However, once you reach the meat of the powerband, all that is forgotten.
The V8 also remains impressive, however, there was no way it could surprise the way the four-cylinder did.
For the V8, power is up 15 hp and torque up 10 lb.-ft. for 2015, so you can be sure that it will have you torching freeways as it always has. The big plus, however—and this goes for both Mustangs—is Ford finally got the transmission interface right; no more truck-like clutch, no more sticky gearlever.
Instead, what you get is a much lighter feeling, easier to slot set-up that makes both open-road and in-traffic driving much easier.
Solid rear axle be gone
The EcoBoost model is also lighter up front, meaning it’s a little easier to point than the V8, although both models are definite steps up from 2014.
As much as I’d like to say it’s all about the new independent rear suspension, it’s that aspect of the chassis update’s job to actually soften the ride as opposed to adding in-corner performance. It does that (and, along with the re-tuned front suspension, helps reduce dive and squat as well) and reduces the rear-end bounce Mustangs have always been associated with. It does soften things up, however, which may not be to the liking of the most hardcore Mustang enthusiasts.
A little more steering feel would also be nice; you can modify the drive mode (Normal, Sport+, Track, Snow/Wet) as well as the steering on its own. It is as nice touch, but “Sport+” mode could have been a little weightier.
With the re-jigged transmission, the 2015 is so much more tractable around town and it’s very quiet, too. Of course, especially in the case of the V8, there’s plenty of hooliganism to be had if that’s what you want.
In fact, with one tiny little addition, Ford is pretty much asking that you do push things a little. That addition called Line-Lock, is available only on V8 models and is a hot-rodder’s dream. Basically, when Line-Lock is activated, the front brakes are held for a time as you plant the throttle, allowing the rear tires to put on a smoke show that would make any trans-braker proud.
The biggest takeaway from the event, still, was just how well the turbo motor actually works.
I was skeptical when I arrived; when you consider the fact that one of the Mustang’s bigger rivals, the Hyundai Genesis Coupe, will do without a four-cylinder for 2015, this move by Ford seems at odds with the industry.
However, with the Euro ties, OneFord and just how well it performs, it becomes more clear. Add the fact that, while the EcoBoost comes at a premium over the base V6, you can get this much car for under 30-grand, you have to see the logic.
They’ve managed to create a Mustang with a four-cylinder engine that’s still very much a Mustang.
Who woulda thought?