NO QUESTION, THE LOCAL ARRIVAL OF THE 2016 FORD MUSTANG RANGE CAUSED A STAMPEDE. In the first five months of this year no less than 2117 ‘Stangs bolted out the gate, out of Ford showrooms and into driveways.
This success has moved Ford Australia to call the US and politely request another 2000 units, these to arrive later this year.
At TMR, thus far, we've tested the ‘reasonably decent’ $48,490 Mustang Ecoboost automatic coupe, the ‘truly excellent’ $57,490 Mustang GT manual coupe and the ‘not so impressive’ $66,490 Mustang GT auto convertible.
Now it’s time to turn to the base model, the $45,990 Mustang Ecoboost manual coupe. It’s a muscle car with a four-cylinder turbocharged engine that plays in the pricing spectrum of hot-hatchbacks – so can it become more than just the sum of its parts?
Vehicle Style: Sports Coupe
Price: $45,990 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 223kW/432Nm 2.3 litre 4cyl turbo petrol | 6sp manual
Fuel Economy claimed: 8.5 l/100km | tested: 12.5 l/100km
To the naked eye, the Ford Mustang is instantly recognisable regardless of how many cylinders sit under the bonnet. So $46k buys you a lot of presence and character.
Peek a little closer and the Ecoboost lacks a ‘5.0’ badge on its front guards. Look closer again and the 19-inch rear tyres are 255mm wide rather than 275mm wide as with the V8, and there are no Brembo brakes hiding behind the black alloy wheels.
The 330mm front disc brakes are the same on every Mustang, but the Ecoboost gets smaller 325mm discs rather than 380mm units on the rear.
Inside, every one of these Fords scores a bright touchscreen, soon upgraded with Apple Carplay and Android Auto connectivity as part of an MY17 update, plus standard leather seats with heating or cooling function. Again, not bad for $46K.
Oh, and the Mustang Ecoboost gets a spare tyre – the Mustang V8 misses out.
- Standard equipment: leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearknob, leather trim with heated and cooled electrically adjustable front seats, dual-zone climate control air-conditioning, cruise control, power windows and mirrors, multi-function trip computer, auto on/off headlights and wipers
- Infotainment: 8.0in touchscreen with digital radio, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, USB/AUX inputs, satellite navigation and voice control
- Options fitted: none
- Cargo volume: 383 litres
We won’t say it smells like a glue factory in here, but the US-made Mustang does seem to have an aroma to match its swathe of cheap plastics and vinyl-like leather trim.
Still, all this is much more acceptable at $46K rather than the $66K pricetag the Mustang tops out at.
There is plenty of character to this ‘Americool’ interior as well, with neat toggle switchgear and one of the best steering wheels in the business.
The front seats are broad and supportive, but owners of traditional Aussie large sedans best not look over their shoulders – behind the front seats there is scant legroom and limited headroom.
The rear seats in this Mustang are reserved for the young only. Still, plenty of mum and dad buyers will have small kids who will fit just fine.
Likewise the small-ish boot can be extended thanks to a foldable rear backrest.
Buyers will like the low-slung seating position, the digital radio backed by excellent nine-speaker audio quality, and, on entry/exit, the frameless doors and ‘pony’ graphic that shines from the door mirrors onto the footpath at night is a really nice touch.
It’s difficult to say the Mustang feels cheap inside when it is actually quite cheap to buy.
For hot-hatchback money the coupe not only has presence in its size and styling, but also some of those neat little touches that many often smaller competitors reserve for the options list or don’t offer at all.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 223kW/432Nm 2.3 petrol turbo inline four
- Transmission: 6-speed manual, RWD
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, independent rear
- Brakes: ventilated front and rear discs
- Steering: electrically assisted mechanical steering, 12.2m
Every Aussie Mustang gets uprated suspension (compared with US cars), in addition to a limited-slip differential mounted between the only driving axle, the rear, of course.
Select the 2.3-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine, though, and buyers not only save $10,000 over the 5.0-litre naturally aspirated V8 petrol engine, but also 75kg in kerb weight.
Compared with the weightier Mustang GT, it is like politely asking your average Australian male to remove himself from sitting on your bonnet, and there you have the Mustang Ecoboost. At least in theory, that should enhance dynamics.
The 1629kg four-cylinder coupe is still not light, but unlike the 5.0-litre that needs 4250rpm showing on its tachometer before 530Nm of torque is delivered, the boosted 2.3-litre tested here delivers its 432Nm at 3000rpm.
It also packs on 233kW of power between 5600rpm and 5700rpm, where the V8 requires 6500rpm to make its 306kW. By that time the Mustang Ecoboost has called it quits on revving, yet the Mustang GT has another 1000rpm to go…
What it all means is the Mustang Ecoboost feels brisk without feeling fast. Despite the lower-down torque, the throttle calibration robs the 2.3 Ecoboost turbo of some of its character and sporty feel, as it can feel doughy at the lower end of the rev range.
Conversely, the engine can feel a tad breathless right up top.
The best work of the four-cylinder is in its thick, lush mid-range where it delivers a smooth surge… but without the soundtrack to match. Even a Focus ST sounds rortier, with the Mustang Ecoboost being too grainy and whooshy.
Unlike the unintuitive automatic though, the manual is an absolute driver’s delight. With a short throw and snickety-snick action, it is a highlight of the drivetrain. The fact you save $2500 by choosing it is a bonus.
If it all sounds like the throaty V8 has the tinny four-cylinder on the floor by this stage, just show each Mustang some corners.
Then, starting hunting down the apexes, and the extra power of the 5.0-litre can show-up some shortcomings in the suspension. The V8 doesn’t feel quite as settled at the front end and there is also a degree of twitchiness from the short wheelbase.
On a winding road, the 2.3-litre feels far better balanced.
Steering feel seems to be improved, although it is still not the last word in tactile feedback, but it guides the lighter front end through corners with much greater conviction.
Choose to use the throttle after initial turn-in and the Mustang Ecoboost more comfortably settles onto its rear axle without becoming flighty. This is an upside to a turbo engine that has a soft rather than spiky delivery.
ANCAP rating: (Not yet tested by ANCAP)
Safety features: Eight airbags (including dual-front, dual front knee, front-side, and full-length curtain), ABS, switchable ESC, rear parking sensors, reverse-view camera
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The Mustang has no direct rivals in this country. The family man will choose Holden’s excellent Commodore SV6, while drivers seeking a sportier drive than this Ford will likely sniff out a Subaru WRX, Falcon XR6 Turbo or Toyota 86.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Many deride the sheer existence of a four-cylinder Mustang, but that is being stuffy, like disapproving of a rock star going into politics. (Er… actually…)
Frankly, only the buyer can decide whether the $10,000 stretch to a V8 Mustang is worthwhile for the extra speed, the V8 sound and ‘traditional purity’. The sales figures – 60 percent biased to that more expensive model – would indicate the people have spoken.
Of course, that may be an upside for others who prefer the different path of a singing turbo.
If only the four-cylinder Mustang sounded better. But, tipping the scales at just $46k (plus) when tied with a manual transmission, there is a lot of really enjoyable driving here.
Perhaps call this the thinking person’s ‘Stang, and an extremely balanced and enjoyable option for the money.
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