Test Drives

2019 Ford Mustang Ecoboost review: Mild Horses



The Ford Mustang Ecoboost is the most “sensible” American car to come to Singapore, but can it make people embrace red, white and blue?

 

SINGAPORE

The Americans may not be known for regularly making great cars, but it’s hard to argue they consistently make some of the coolest. Muscle cars are the epitome of that notion – powerful V8 engines, stylish bodies and affordable price tags made muscle cars attainable objects of desire for many people; and perhaps the most famous specimen of this species is the Ford Mustang.

Even though the Mustang was never sold outside of North America until 2015, it’s still a well-known template around the world, thanks to its ubiquity in American pop culture. But in order to succeed on showroom floors globally, and not just in the hearts and minds of fans, it needed a less thirsty and uncouth alternative to the big V8, particularly in places that frowned upon big engines.

Enter the Mustang Ecoboost. Trading raw brawn for financial prudence, under its thrusting hood (that’s ‘bonnet’ in Yank-speak) you’ll find an engine that’s more hot hatch than muscle car: a 2.3-litre turbo four-pot that’s shared with the Focus RS, and in the big coupe it develops 310hp and 447Nm of torque.

Redneck purists might call “sacrilege!” (or perhaps more likely, “what in tarnation?!”) at the idea of a four-banger Mustang, but Ford has actually been here before: the mid-1980’s Mustang SVO also used a turbo’d four-cylinder, and was actually the fastest Mustang at the time.

Besides, it’s not like the Ecoboost is slow. It’ll will dust the century sprint in just 5.5 seconds (thanks to launch control and a ‘drag strip’ mode), a competitive time for something longer than a VW Passat and heavier than a Mercedes-Benz E-Class.

That’s helped by the close ratios of its new-for-2019 10-speed automatic transmission (only the Lexus LS and LC have a similar number of gears), which is actually perfectly geared for our highways – 90km/h in top gear equates to about 1,500rpm. It doesn’t feel overly complicated either despite the ability to skip multiple gears at once; it’s as quick and seamless as the ubiquitous ZF 8-speeder found in BMWs, Jaguars, and more.

But though the Mustang Ecoboost has appropriate pace, it’s thoroughly lacking in the drama and feelings of hedonistic excess that can only come with a huge, shouty V8 that’s stout enough to rock the entire car with each blip of the throttle.

So the Ecoboost engine isn’t all that exciting, that’s no surprise. Perhaps that’s the tradeoff for better handling? After all, a smaller engine equates to less weight up front.

Having not driven a V8 Mustang, we can’t make a comparison, but it’s fair to say the Ecoboost is no nimble corner carver either. Singaporean cars are equipped with a Performance Package that includes upgraded suspension, brakes and steering, as well as a limited-slip differential, but the Mustang is still a big, heavy car.

Driven hard, its size leaves you with the impression that the two axles aren’t exactly in sync with each other – you can feel the front end reacting to inputs before the rear does. The steering is also overly sensitive just off centre, which makes it difficult to be precise and to judge exactly where the limits are.

Other faults include difficulties in containing body movements over large bumps, a woeful infotainment system (though it does have Apple CarPlay/Android Auto), and rear seats that are a no-go for anyone taller than 1.6-metres.

That said, these foibles haven’t prevented the Mustang from being the best selling sports coupe in the world bar none for four years on the trot now, and it’s easy to see why.

It might not have a larger-than-life powertrain, but the Mustang Ecoboost still has plenty of unpretentious charms and is a showboater at heart. The locking diff and long wheelbase make powersliding a cinch, and a Line Lock function allows you to indulge in the simple and childish fun that is a big, smoky, tyre-vapourising burnout.

You’d also need to get used to having eyes following you everywhere you go, as the Mustang turns more heads and attracts more photographs than any Audi or BMW this side of an R8 or i8. For all its space and dynamic shortcomings, the Mustang’s aggressive face, retro rear end and classic long bonnet/short rear deck/fastback roofline make it a seriously badass looking car.

Unfortunately, being able to flaunt a Mustang in Singapore requires the ability to flaunt a healthy bank balance; this slice of Ameri-car-na will set you back S$255,888 with Certificate of Entitlement – in the same ballpark as a BMW 4 Series or Audi A5.

To its credit though, the Mustang enjoys a massive performance advantage, and boasts an extensive list of active safety tech like adaptive cruise control and automatic emergency braking.

But for all its fun and exuberance, the Mustang Ecoboost suffers from a case of mistaken identity. It’s too big to be a sports car, yet not dramatic enough to be a true muscle car. Fortunately, capitalism equals freedom to indent a V8 Mustang, which costs a surprisingly reasonable S$247,888 without options or COE. The Mustang Ecoboost is a charming car, but ultimately proves that for pure thrills, there’s no replacement for displacement.

Ford Mustang 2.3 Ecoboost

Engine 2,261cc, inline 4, turbocharged
Power 310hp at 5,400rpm
Torque 447Nm at 3,00rpm
Gearbox 10-speed automatic
0-100km/h 5.5 seconds
Top Speed 233km/h
Fuel Efficiency 10.0L/100km
VES Band / CO2 C2 / 225g/km CO2
Agent Regent Motors
Price S$263,888 with COE
Availability Now

 

Verdict: More My Little Pony than rampaging stallion, the Mustang Ecoboost is nonetheless brisk on the road, and a hugely stylish and unique alternative to a BMW 430i or Audi A5 2.0 Sport. But deep down, you know you really want the V8…

 

about the author

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Jon Lim
CarBuyer's latest addition is its fourth historical Jonathan. Old-fashioned in all but body, he thinks car design peaked in the '90s. He also strongly believes any car can be a race car if you have a sufficient lack of self-preservation, which explains why he nearly flipped a Chinese van while racing it.