OUR TEST CAR: 2015 Ford Mustang (S550) V8 manual, EcoBoost manual
The 2015 Ford Mustang is backed by half a century of heritage, but the American pony car is like wine: instead of aging, it gets better. Not only that, but the sixth-generation Ford Mustang has gone global, as the Blue Oval decided European customers should also benefit from the Mustang's distinctive appeal. Therefore, the car grew up, matured and became ready to perform in foreign markets. So, is the Mustang still a Mustang or has it changed? Well, this is what we recently set out to discover.
In historical terms, the 1960s were a pigmented patch of time in America's history. 1961 saw John F. Kennedy being elected as president of the United States and two years later, in 1963, Martin Luther King gave the famous 'I Have a Dream' speech in Washington D.C.
In automotive terms, the '60s in America were a time when carmakers would try to reinvent themselves. No, they would not build SUVs like we have seen in recent years. The emphasis was heavily placed on appearance, but the new class of cars had to be affordable at the same time. Pony cars were born, a new class of American automobiles with long hoods and short rear decks led by the Ford Mustang. The path to the American icon status was hasty and upright, which allowed the Mustang to sell more than one million cars in just one year and a half.
50 years later, Ford considered the sixth-generation Mustang is ready to make a leap from the American car scene and become a global car. Yes, the Mustang set foot in Europe, a strategy that adds even more intricacy to an already conspicuous car.
Although you never know what subject to tackle first when it comes to the Mustang, let's set off with the pony car's exterior, shall we? The 2015 Ford Mustang is wrapped around in a metal shell radiating more American testosterone than a sweaty professional wrestler, but here comes the first cliché: it was imagined by a Scottish designer, namely Ford's design chief Moray Callum. So in those moments when you can't help yourself but admire the new Mustang's silhouette, bear in mind that the added dose of athleticism is one of Ford's design artifices aimed at improving the car's desirability outside US territory.
You can have the new Mustang in both fastback (coupé) or convertible egos. While driving, quick glances in the side mirrors help you get a taste of what the 'Stang has to show to those you leave behind on the road.
Design-wise, the coupé is the most piquant version, and you've got the sloping roofline ending with an angled rear adorned with the signature tri-bar taillights to testify that.
I'm talking about a pair of broad, bulky hips, but there's also a striking resemblance to what the Chevy Camaro has to offer in this department. Those in front get a taste of the Mustang's shark mouth-like grille, but instead of a serious bite with three rows of teeth, they will have to withstand visual haunting until you decide to overpass.
All in all, visual appeal is where it should be with the new Mustang. It takes a unique type of car to make children stop and wave while you're waiting to make a left turn, even if you're test-driving the Mustang in Bavaria, home of BMW and methodized design. Also, ladies smiling at you while they sit in family-serving Audis are a clear pointer that the 2015 Mustang is a spring break party while all the other cars are just museums on a Monday morning.
We got our hands on both the convertible and the coupé, each one carrying a different engine. The cabriolet was the home of Ford's new 2.3-liter EcoBoost plant while the fastback brought the heavy artillery. I mean, the 5.0 badge on the front wheel arches and the GT emblem on the trunk lid made sure we knew from a distance there's a V8 waiting under the hood. Also, the V6 will stay here in the US which means Europeans will only get the EcoBoost and the V8. But I'll address engines later on.
So, what's it like on the inside? The Mustang's cabin can be briefly described as a combo of good and evil. In some places, Ford used quality materials, but in other areas the overall class is rather weak. Naturally, the driver's area and some zones adjacent to his driving position are the most polished ones. The steering wheel looks and more important feels good once you grab it. Also, Ford applied an injection of modernism with the generous touchscreen placed above a row of retro-styled knobs and switches.
However, I would have liked it more if the tactile display were set a bit higher up on the dashboard. The reason? Whenever you want to use it, you're forced to take eyes off the road for too long, and that's not an ideal situation. Otherwise, the sat-nav and the rest of the functions provided by the infotainment system manage to run smoothly, graphics are decent, and I couldn't spot any glitches during driving sessions.
Overall, you can see an improvement in quality over the previous Mustang generation, but it's still a mixed affair when it comes to plastics in the cabin. In the convertible, the canvas roof does an excellent job of covering the space left after the metal roof went AWOL. You'll need to twist a handle to unlatch the retractable roof as if Ford wants you to build strong forearms even if you skip a day or two at the gym. After that, a press of a button retracts the roof and folds it behind the rear seats. The movement is done in a swift fashion as it takes less than five seconds to complete, but the trick will only work when the car is at a standstill.
However, Ford doesn't offer a wind deflector but with all the windows up your hairstyle has a chance of coming out with minor changes, provided you won't go faster than 70-80 km/h (43-49 mph). The front seats are well-designed, a tad too soft I might add, but they do a helluva job when you want your back kept in a proper posture. For the EcoBoost version, the driver is spoiled with a 6-way power adjustable seat with power lumbar support while the front passenger benefits from the same treatment, minus the lumbar support feature.
In the V8-powered Mustang GT, Ford brought Recaro know-how for the front seats. In other words, once you are seated, the overall treatment is similar to being hugged by a mother who hasn't seen her boy in a while. At the back, passengers will have to measure less than 1,60 m (5 ft 2 in) to enjoy a decent trip.
In that department, the Mustang isn't the most welcoming car, but that stands for all the coupé and convertibles out there, so I wouldn't tag this aspect as a drawback; even though legroom is nowhere to be found and taller passengers will have to keep their chins in the chest if they want to avoid hitting the roof with their heads.
Ford says you can fit two golf bags in the trunk (cargo volume is 13.5 cu ft / 382 liters for the fastback and 11.4 cu ft / 323 liters for the convertible) and there's a high level of enthusiasm displayed every time they advertise that. As I see it, that number is just another confirmation that the Mustang should be considered a 2+2 and not a complete four-seater.
On the road behavior is quite different for the convertible and the fastback, so we’ll be discussing such issues separately. The lack of metal from the cabriolet produces what any petrolhead would expect: a lot of wobbly movement, especially when the Mustang has to travel over a bumpy surface. With so much torsional rigidity becoming extinct, you'll want to approach the open-top Mustang with low-speed rides. Do the opposite and you'll fell like you've just bought one of those weird-looking massage devices housewifes order from teleshopping channels.
The steering has been revised, and you can feel an increase in precision although feedback is not precisely coming in generous amounts. It's also easy to steer the Mustang around the city, but at some points you'll feel the broad and long body kit working against you. Blame that on poor visibility, which is not what you want on busy or narrow streets.
As promised before, let's talk engines. I'll start with the 317 HP 2.3-litre EcoBoost mill, which animated the Mustang convertible for our test drive. I'll say this from the start: this engine has one big fault - it's not a V8 engine, but for Europe Ford decided to drop the V6 and use this four-cylinder pot instead.
There's nothing wrong with the engine itself. I mean, yes, Ford also knows it's not a V8 and augmented its sound through the audio speakers using specialized software. But other than that, you get a decent sound, and respectable performance, as long as you keep your expectations under control.
Mated to the same six-speed manual gearbox as found in the V8-animated Mustang GT, the EcoBoost is the choice for those customers whose driving style favors a cruising experience, instead of an energetic ride. Otherwise, acceleration is linear, and the engine is well-behaved most of the time.
Negociate turns with an enthusiastic attitude, and you'll have to swallow fat chunks of body roll as well as pitching whenever you decide to press the pedal with a weighty foot.
However, now and then, the convertible seems a bit too ponderous for the EcoBoost plant, and you feel the need to overwork the engine like a personal fitness instructor would do with his wannabe-in-shape students. According to Ford, maximum torque (230 lb-ft / 312 Nm) is available from 2.500 rpm. But that's hardly what real life conditions teach you, as you'll have to stay within the 3,500-4,500 rpm interval to unleash the full buzz.
Moreover, drivers can switch between four driving modes (Normal/Sport+/Track/Snow & Wet), but we all know which one will be used by the typical Mustang buyer, right?
The manual transmission is precise, gear shifts are made in a swift fashion, and the overall feeling here is that you're handling a well-calibrated device. During our test drive, the EcoBoost drank on an average 10 l/100 km (23.5 mpg US / 28.2 mpg UK).
The V8 is for the Ford Mustang what the water is for the fish. It is the engine to have in a Mustang, and the sixth generation of the pony car makes no exception. It packs 421 HP of mechanical sugar and spice - to be read as 'waves of power' - equally spread from low to high rpm. As a result, it propels the Mustang GT from 0 to 60 mph (96 km/h) in 4.5 seconds.
Put the rpm gauge needle on the 3,500 mark and the engine will barely start to yawn. You'll feel and hear that, but to entirely wake up the machine go over 4,000 rpm. Once you do that, get ready for the power pinata to burst in your face with 386 lb-ft (523 Nm) of torque as you accelerate your way up to 7,000 rpm.
The 5.0-liter V8 will inevitably make you grab the car by the throat and start hitting the gas on those corner exits. Which is entirely achievable now, thanks to the independent rear suspension that puts some distance between the car and terms like craggy and insecure. You could argue it has a compact flavor about it at times, and that's because of the GT Performance Pack Chassis Tuning which comprises stabiliser bars, springs, and dampers. But it still feels more like an American pony car and not a European sports car. And I reckon that's a good thing.
The V8 does strange things to your eyes. Instinctively, you see a flat-out opportunity in every straight patch of road, and the V8's music is the devil on your shoulder telling you 'go for it'.
The angel, however, lies in the Brembo six-piston front calipers biting 380 mm vented rotors, courtesy of the standard GT Brake Package. They can slow down and stop the car whenever you need it the most; plus, they bring an extra needed dose of confidence.
Speaking of which, the S550 Mustang did an excellent job in every test performed under the New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) evaluations orchestrated by the NHTSA and received five stars for every aspect, including overall safety.
In the United States, the cheapest 2015 Mustang money can buy is the V6 Fastback for a starting sticker of $23,800. In case you're the convertible type, be prepared for a starting price tag of $29,300.
For the EcoBoost Fastback, Ford will need $25,300 from your bank account. The EcoBoost Convertible can be had for $34,800 while the V8-pumped GT starts at $32,300 in fastback guise and $41,900 in convertible form.
Cross the ocean to Europe, and you get different and heftier pricing. The V6 will not be carried out with the Mustang in Europe, which means the roads on the Old Continent will be shared by the 2.3-liter EcoBoost and the 5.0-liter V8. The EcoBoost Fastback version starts at €35,000 while the EcoBoost Convertible can be bought for €39,000. In the GT department, the fastback is evaluated at €40,000 while the convertible adds an extra €4,000 to the mix, for a total of €44,000.
All in all, the Mustang Convertible EcoBoost is an attractive car, but it will appeal more customers in Europe. The legacy is there; the Mustang DNA is there, and that's an advantage in Europe. However, the V8 is the engine that works like a charm on the Mustang, and the extra money you have to pay for doubling the number of cylinders makes sense. In the end, it's a V8 GT you want, and Mustang aficionados know that.