Fifty years in and Mustang is still behaving like a teenager with his first set of wheels and looking as sexy as ever.
The previous sizzling Mustang design was so reminiscent of the 1960s icon that some felt Ford had taken a step back, just to glom on to sales from us Baby Boomers. So what? But the 2015 model keeps Mustang’s styling heritage, a long hood, fastback styling a pony on the grille and tri-bar taillights. Wisely it also kept Mustang’s long-popular profile.
But indeed Mustang looks leaner and sleeker now from the front, a bit more youthful with its smoother sides. In back I like the way its tri-bar lights lean forward, but its rump has been broadened visually with accentuated wheel flares, shades of J Lo! The bet is the overall effect will still appeal to Boomers, but will increasingly lure younger buyers. Works with the Kardashians!
Looks may go a long way to broaden interest in the Mustang. The car is gorgeous, but its refinement also makes it less rough around the edges and that will help too. The big upgrade starts with a fully independent rear suspension, something racers and enthusiasts have been calling for to replace its older live rear axle. While Ford had gone a long way to perfect the live-axle’s ride, this is better.
The new Mustang corners well and the rear-drive car feels more planted in tight turns at speed. But for daily driving, the big plus is ride comfort. The independent suspension, even when the car is in Sport setting cushions the ride and yet remains firm enough to give the driver good road feel. The new dual ball-joint front suspension also aids the car’s handling.
I tested a racy Deep Impact Blue (dark metallic blue) I4 coupe in Premium trim and that included selectable drive modes, controlled by metal toggles on the center stack, similar to those you find on a MINI. Two toggles control the steering feel and the car’s ride. There are three modes for steering and four for drive mode, including one for winter snow and slop.
In Normal mode the steering and ride are near perfect for our road conditions and daily driving. Steering is responsive, but less heavy, suspension firm but comfortable. Comfort mode lightens the wheel more than needed and Sport gives it a racier, higher turning-effort feel. Track is available for drive mode, but unlikely you’ll need it unless you race the car.
I like Mustang’s handling and controlled ride along with its new 2.3-liter EcoBoost turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, which is strong, but not a beast like the V8 Mustang offers in GT versions. The V8 makes 435 horses and growls like you’d expect from a V8. The turbo 4 is relatively quiet, but the turbo kicks up the torque when needed for quick acceleration. In theory that also aids gas mileage.
The EcoBoost is a fine engine and gives the car 315 horses, sufficient for highway entry ramp speedups and such. It feels quick, but never rock ‘n’ roll fast. I also managed just 21.5 mpg using preferred premium fuel, a bit disappointing considering the EPA rates the car at 22 mpg city and 31 mpg highway. Most of my driving was city at 30-45 mph. I admit to a heavy foot at stoplights though when driving a sporty car.
A base Mustang comes with a 3.7-liter V6 that makes 300 horsepower and 280 ft.-lbs. of torque (vs. 320 for the turbo I4), so entry-level would deliver decent performance too. Being non-turbo the gas mileage suffers a bit at 17 mpg city and 28 mpg highway.
Making this Mustang even more fun was its 6-speed manual transmission, standard here. It shifted smoothly and the clutch was of moderate weight. Throws are fairly long though, not like a short-shift tranny in sports cars, like Mazda’s Miata.
Inside, the test Mustang benefitted from a few upgrades, but even in base mode the overall dash and control layout is good.
This one added Recaro leather racing seats with red stitching for $1,595. If you plan to push the performance of your Mustang this is the way to go. Recaro seats are super supportive with side bolsters top and bottom that keep both front seat occupants firmly planted. Seats are manually adjusted, including a pump handle to raise and lower the driver’s seat. You can’t feel any more snug than you do in this car. While I liked it, that snugness could prove a problem for larger drivers who may find the seats too confining, especially in the hips. Larger drivers should test drive a model with these seats before committing to a buy.
Premium models also feature pattered aluminum trim on the dash and doors that give the interior jewel-like sparkle and while the trim is a bit reflective it actually is not as blinding as straight chrome. The glare was never distracting.
As stated earlier, the layout of gauges is good and the center stack with large nav screen is easy to see and use. The push-button for starting is white, so stands out from the rest and this model also features oil and boost pressure gauges above that nav screen to enhance the interior’s sporty look.
There are big chrome radio volume and tuning knobs, dual climate controls that sort of toggle and then the four toggles below that for the drive modes and other functions, like flasher lights.
Not much I don’t like here. The steering wheel, a manual tilt/telescope model, is button crazy with 16 on its hub. They are easy enough to figure out, but look overwhelming. Overhead are visors that slide and down low are lighted (blue) kickplates on the door sills. In back is a reasonable 13.5 cubic foot trunk that is deep. But its opening is narrow, limiting the size box you could carry.
Other add-ons included an EcoBoost performance package that includes racier R19 summer tires (so you’ll need others for winter driving) and black painted aluminum wheels that look sharp. But again, that package adds $1,995 to the cost, so is far from a necessity. Adaptive cruise control adds $1,195, enhanced security another $395, voice-activated nav system, $795 and a few others to boost what was a $29,300 Mustang to $38,585, including an $825 delivery fee. I was surprised in all the options and at this near $40 grand price there were no heated/cooled seats included.
Yet overall Mustangs are economical sporty cars, pony cars if you will. A base V6 Mustang starts at $24,425 and moving up to either a GT model with a V8 pushes the list price to at least $36,925, or $46,995 for the 50-year Limited Edition. Even the tested Premier level had a commemorative 50 Years of Mustang dash plate though.
Most models don’t last 20 years in the auto world, but Mustang remains a strong brand and strong performer that gets better with age. Time for another generation to saddle up!
Stats: 2015 Ford Mustang I4 Premium
Hits: Flat out gorgeous, excellent handing and ride with decent power. Super supportive Recaro racing seats, handsome and useful dash and control layout, multiple steering/suspension settings and deep trunk.
Misses: Steering wheel is button crazy (16), trunk opening is narrow and no heated/cooled seats at nearly $40 grand.
Made in: Flat Rock, Mich.
Engine: 2.3-liter, EcoBoost turbocharged, 4-cylinder, 310 hp
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Weight: 3,532 lbs. (Ford est.)
Wheelbase: 107.1 in.
Length: 188.3 in.
Cargo: 13.5 cu.ft.
MPG: 22/31 (EPA)
MPG: 21.5 (tested)
Base Price: $29,300
Dealer’s Price: $27,735 (includes delivery)
Group 201(Shaker Pro audio system w/12 speakers), $1,795
Enhanced security package (active anti-theft system, wheel lock kit), $395
Adaptive cruise control, $1,195
EcoBoost performance package (R19 summer tires, 3.55 limited-slip axle, rear spoiler delete, Ebony black painted aluminum wheels), $1,995
Premier trim w/clear accent group, $396
Reverse park assist, $295
Recaro leather seats, $1,595
Voice-activated nav system, $795
Test vehicle: $38,585
Sources: Ford, www.kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage