2015 Mustang Chief Engineer Interview: Can't Wait for People to Drive It!

Dave Pericak aboard his favorite car 1 photo
Photo: original image by autoevolution
The Triple Yellow hue on the spinning 2015 Mustang in front of us is definitely an eye catcher. However, we're here at the Detroit Motor Show to go below the skin of the new 'Stang with its chief engineer, Dave Pericak.
Last time Ford reinvented the Mustang, they went for the retro revival approach, a guaranteed sucess. Having played that card, the automaker now has to rely solely on the car's assets to win people over. And this time around, we're talking about folks from all over the world, as the Mustang is going global. We sit down with Dave, a Ford veteran, in a pre-production 2015 Mustang Convertible to find out exactly what this 'Stang is made of.

autoevolution: Let's start with the development phase. We know you've benchmarked the ex-gen BMW M3 and the Porsche 911. The M3 is pretty much self-explanatory, but why the 911?

Dave Pericak:
We were putting an IRS (Independent Rear Suspension) in this car and we wanted to make sure that we raise the bar quite a bit. So how do you do that? It's by putting aspirational vehicles out there. We weren't trying to be like the 911, but we wanted to use that as one of the benchmarks. We said "they do a great job at certain things, so to understand how they're handling it, how they're managing their suspension setup and how that's relevant to Mustang." Again, this is about stretching yourself beyond where you are today so that you can actually get better.

ae: However, you (personally) must've spent quite some time behind the wheel of the Porsche 911, so what did you find out about it?

DP: There were a couple of things. The 911 does a great job when you change its driving modes, all of the systems change pretty dramatically. We have a new selectable driving mode feature in 2015 and so we're going to allow you to choose between Snow/Wet, Normal, Sport and Track. And to understand how Porsche separated all of their systems and made all those important changes. And then on some of the tight hairpin turns, to understand how the 911 stays relatively flat.

Again, not trying to be the 911, but reaching beyond. And we used the BMW M3 (E9X) we beat it with our Boss 302 on the track.

ae: Speaking of these modes, how do they affect the stability and traction control?

: Well, quite a bit. When you select each, you change three main things. One is the steering effort, the other is the Electronic Stability Control (the level that it's set at) and then the engine and throttle response calibration.

ae: For instance, what's the setup for the "in-between" Stability Control mode?

DP: even in the current Mustang, you have Full On, or Sport Mode. With the new one, if you go in Sport, you have about between two to seven degrees of yaw before it steps in. If you go into Track mode, you have like between five and nine degrees of yaw - how much it will let the car hang off, before it will actually correct you. And, of course, you can go into Full Off.

ae: Let's get into the details of the steering. Both your benchmarks, the M3 and the 911, score remarkably well in this area, so, besides the adjustable effort, what have you done for the 2015 Mustang, for the actual feel?

DP: the entire suspension system on the 2015 is different. When we put the independent rear suspension in, we found out very quickly that the front suspension, which we did not intend to change, was not going to keep up with the rear. So there's an all-new front suspension, a double ball-joint setup and there's a full subframe up front. What that allow us to do is really take a lot of the compliance out of the car and really tighten things down.

Now you get more precise, more accurate with the steering. All of that working, gives you better road feel and better overall handling.

ae: Let's move under the hood now. Focusing on the engines heading over to Europe, will the V6 be confined to the US?

DP: Yes, the V6 will stay in the US, except for some minor export markets. Generically, when we export to Europe and the other countries, it will be the 2.3-liter Ecoboost and the 5-liter V8.

: We want to talk top speed - generally, European cars with the level of HP you offer on the three versions of the Mustang, have higher top speeds than what you offer, at least on the current Mustang. Are you going to change these?

DP: The top speeds have been increased at every level. The V8 does 155 mph (250 km/h), the V6 doing 121 mph (195 km/h), and then the Ecoboost base doing 121 mph, but the Ecoboost Track Pack doing 145 mph (233.5 km/h).

ae: Still, what is the source of these limitations - Speaking roughly, these HP to weight ratios, with the aerodynamics factored in the equation, should deliver superior top speeds.

DP: Well, you get into a situation where cooling becomes a huge concern. We have very stringent requirement we have to meet. So engine cooling is the main factor here.

ae: Staying in the Ecoboost zone, the four-cylinder has a twin-scroll turbine and we wanted to know what's your policy towards tuning. The aftermarket world has always had a special place for the Mustang and they are going to play with the Ecoboost. Do you encourage this, try to limit it, or are you neutral?

DP: We embrace all of the customization that goes on and we embrace our aftermarket attempts. I pride myself and my team on putting out the best engine with the best calibration we can possibly do. I don't want to leave anything on the table. A lot of times producers come up with an engine and they will leave something unexploited. Then the tuners can come in and they can gain that. But I want to give everything that I can to the customers.

So do I discourage the aftermarket scene? I don't discourage it, but I also can't stand here and say that we would stand behind it. We stand behind these cars when they come out of the factory, we're pushing them to the limits and they're still durable. Anything that gets done post when we give it to you, it's probably not that durable and you're taking that risk upon yourself. But I know people like to do it and as long as they understand the risk they have to take...

ae: Have you changed the positioning of the engine within the platform? Many new car developments place the front-mounted powerplants further behind the front axle and/or lower for better weight distribution and a lower center of gravity. How about the new Mustang?

DP: When you do an all-new platform, which is what we've done and you're trying to put three different engines in there, every one of the units has gone through a bit of a tweaking to fit in that space. Is there something major? No, but it's not in the exact same location where it's been before.

: How about the weight? We're expecting something like 200 lbs (90 KG).

DP: We're not discussing weight right now. One of the things that you'll see is that we've set very high performance targets for this machine and we are more than hitting those targets. Having said that, we'll discuss weight when we're ready - we built a couple of prototypes, we'll build more prototypes and we'll finalize the weights as we go through. But we have the best brake systems ever on a Mustang, we've got all of the right hardware to make it perform. That's what we've focused on - setting a high level of performance and it's more than achieving that.

ae: So it's still a bit of a work-in-progress here, around the edges. You're still developing the final bits.

DP: Yes, we're fine tuning, but as far as weight goes, you can imagine, we have a weight target set for the Mustang, but we're now getting actual parts to come in from the suppliers, so we're weighing everything.

ae: You mentioned the independent rear suspension, are you going to do a version with a solid rear axle? The Mustang has quite a history with drag racing and that would fit in nicely.

DP: No, we do not plan to offer a solid rear axle. It would be a fairly significant tear-up to try to even get a rear axle in there. All of the floor and how you position your exhaust is completely different. You'd almost be cutting the whole back end and redoing it. So we know our customers love to go out and drag race in the weekend and we'll make sure it's all durable. And if somebody's going to be a professional racer, they're going to put a solid rear axle in anything they drive anyway.

: Speaking of this, let's zoom in on the take-off. Have you done something special to the clutch to withstand launches?

DP: We've made a significant update in our clutch and gearbox and the IRS is allowing to get twice the anti-squat and anti-lift we have in today's car. So the vehicle stays a lot flatter. So during braking and acceleration the car doesn't lean nearly as much. We also have launch control, which is going to be standard on V8s. Through the steering wheel, you'll be able to set the rpm level that you'll be launching at every time.

ae: And as for the automatic, do those get launch control too?

DP: No, only the manuals receive launch control.

ae: With the IRS, the Mustang becomes better for the time attack. Thus, do you see a potential stripped-out version that would reduce weight and costs for track enthusiasts?

DP: We don't have anything specific in the works at the moment. As of right now, we're not intending to strip it down.

ae: 2015 marks the 50th anniversary of the Shelby Gt350, is it time for something special?

DP: right now we're enjoying the brand new Mustang, so I would ask you to stay tuned. The Mustang is going to continue to do what it's always done, which is to provide a steed for every need.

: You explain that the new Mustang is quicker, more refined and more economical. That's excellent for Europe, but here in America people don't go out and buy a Mustang for that, the badass-ery is paramount. So what have you done about that driving spirit?

DP: It still retains all of its badass characteristic and even gets to a new level. So, number one, like you said, our current customers are traditionalists, they wanted something fresh, but from a performance perspective, we've raised the bar. We've made the whole car perform better than a Mustang has ever done in the past. In fact, one of our internal targets was to take the 2015 Mustang GT Track Pack and beat a Boss 302 out on the track. And we are definitely going to do that.

Besides the Launch Control and Track Aps we're going to have some new ones we haven't even talked about and customers are going to love it. When it comes to being badass, this car is going to deliver it and it's going to do it better than it's ever done in the past.

ae:What makes the Mustang a global car?

DP:The demand for Mustang has always been there. The world was ready for the Mustang long before the company was. Still, we did not design a global Mustang, we designed a Mustang and we're taking it global. People want a piece of Americana, they want what the Mustang stands for, which is the badass car you've asked about. We're ready to take it global and we're ready to do it in a right-hand drive version and we're working on the right now.

: Will European dealers have to meet a special level in order to receive the right to sell Mustangs?

DP: Our marketing team will have to give you the official answer on that. But my answer is: no, we're looking for the 2015 Mustang to help build the Ford brand, so, to my knowledge, there's not been any criteria placed on a particular dealer selling or not selling Mustang. This car is for everybody.

ae: Since the new Mustang came out, we've heard a lot of positive stuff, but we've also heard people saying they're afraid it's become diluted due to this globalization.

DP: the people who have made those comments probably haven't seen it in person. I don't personally believe that we've diluted anything. I thing that what we've done is take the Mustang everybody loves and we've been able to make it very modern, something that's looking forward into the future and not always try to live through the past. I accept the criticism, I think you're going to get that no matter what you do. A lot of times you get guys who said things like the ones you mentioned, they also are the same people that come back and tell us "you didn't change it enough for me to go buy a new one." People love what they have and they do feel a little uncomfortable when there's something new.

Well, when you see the car in front of you, that is very much Mustang -  people will fall in love with it. We know our customers, we know our car and I think we hit it.

I've been asked if I'm nervous about the first people going out and driving the 2015 Mustang. No, I'm not! I can't wait for people to get behind the wheel, because the Mustang drives even better than it looks.
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About the author: Andrei Tutu
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In his quest to bring you the most impressive automotive creations, Andrei relies on learning as a superpower. There's quite a bit of room in the garage that is this aficionado's heart, so factory-condition classics and widebody contraptions with turbos poking through the hood can peacefully coexist.
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