September 15, 2016 @ 05:12 PM

Road Trip: Bronco busting

We nervously strap in to try our hand at taming the wild Mustang. Instead, we discover that this pony is now easily straddled but still one hell of a ride.


Never has euphoria been extinguished quite as abruptly as the afternoon my colleague found out we were getting the keys to the Ford Mustang EcoBoost instead of the brash and ballsy things-that-make-America-great Mustang GT with the stonking 5.0 V8.
 
Mustang EcoBoost I hear reverberating from behind the pages. Sure Ford makes a turbocharged V6 proudly adoring the EcoBoost wordings, but that engine isn't the one in the new Mustang. Contrary, a further two cylinders have been castrated from that count to give us a 2.3-litre inline-four EcoBoost engine powering the Mustang.


 
“Blasphemy! How can the land of the free and home of the brave give us a pony car with a four banger? How dare they emasculate the quintessential American muscle car and obliterate our Bullitt and Gone in 60 Seconds fantasies?”
 
Well, what’s done is done and contrary to popular belief outside America, not every Mustang rolled out the factory with a fire-breathing V8 and the hopes of a tyre-shredding nation on its shoulders. In fact, most of them packed either a V6 or inline-four. Yes, you read that right. This isn't the first four-banger Mustang; that honour goes to the Mustang SVO.


 
However, this 2.3-litre EcoBoost mill; based on the 2.0-litre engine from the Focus ST, boosts some serious tech such as direct-injection and a twin-scroll snail. Its performance credentials are clear to see and Ford aren’t offering this as a watered down entry-level variant, the EcoBoost pony is billed as a performance motor.
 
Holding some 313bhp with 432Nm of torque, it’s evident that Ford are milking the torque to keep it on pace. And it works. The century sprint comes up in 5.5-seconds, only a second behind the GT. Quarter mile performance? 13.9-seconds with a trap speed of 158kmh. So this is as much Boost as it is Eco.


 
However, pouring all the torque in early does see it pick up pace quite hastily. Pulling hard from around 1500rpm all the way past 5000rpm leaves you breathless at the top end and to compound that misery further, missing half the cylinders of the GT means it’s missing half the orchestra. The engine note isn't so much lacking as it is droning and Ford tried to cheekily remedy it with faux sounds from the stereo. We’re not falling for that Ford.
 
Turbolag is apparent, taking a split second or so to breathe in before leaping forward due to the twin scroll turbine. As we mentioned, this lump might power a classic American icon but its spec sheet reads like the future. Direct injection, cam phasing and a lighter aluminium block are just some of the aces up its sleeve.


 
Power delivery is creamy smooth and hardly any dramatic creep into the cabin as the needle climbs to the redline. We know Ford was aiming for refinement but too much of a good thing can be a downfall, especially in a muscle car.
 
Only the six-speed automatic was available to sample and it suited the new-age Mustang’s grown up demeanour.


 
Lightning quick it wasn’t but the shifts were solid and gave you the confidence that it would be able to handle the flogging that hoons would throw at the car. Interesting bit of information we picked up during the drive, the six-speed automatic here is the very same unit as found in its workhorse, yee-haw Ranger twice-removed cousin.
 
It doesn’t pack the wallop of torque its V8 brother brings to the table but the EcoBoost was meant to be a more polished brute that graduated etiquette school at the top of its class.


 
Simply put, the engine gets the job done splendidly but even its contemporary quips don’t completely eradicate the signature lazy revving nature of the V8 lump that has become synonymous with the Mustang. Powerplants such as the inline-four that motivate the Volkswagen Golf R accelerate with more ferocity but the EcoBoost never once appears incapable of burnouts and indulging riff raff.
 
As for fuel consumption, Ford said the EcoBoost Mustang can achieve around... the figures were lost in the smoke from said burnout.


 
Undeniably, the biggest improvement to the new Mustang was the untying of its shoelaces. No, it hasn’t gone Velcro, the Mustang now gets a multilink rear suspension and bins the tragically misplaced-in-this-ear live axle.
 
Does that mean it can actually corner now? Absolutely. All EcoBoost variants sold here sport the EcoBoost Performance package that comprises black 19-inch wheels wrapped in sticky Pirelli P Zero performance rubber, a fatter rear anti-roll bar, sportier steering, brakes, and suspension tuning, an upgrade to larger GT-spec rotors and four-piston calipers, a 3.55:1 limited-slip differential and a larger radiator.


 
It’s worth noting that the Mustang is essentially a grand tourer and not an outright sports car. The improved ride and handling accurately reflected this during our sprint to the tight and off-camber trails of Bukit Tinggi.
 
Between the two, the EcoBoost’s ride is more forgiving and pliant. Even the stiffer anti-roll bars can’t prevent its heft from leaning slightly in turns but the shift in weight doesn’t unsettle the car. Its grand touring credentials simply mean the weight needs to settle before it continues tidily tracking through the corner. Its poundage is impossible to ignore but learnt to use to its advantage, the Mustang’s girth could very well work in its favour and temporarily blind you from the American dimensions.


 
Bump steer is tuned out via the electric power steering that isn’t the quickest but communicates the front wheels doings to the driver undisturbed. Aggressive and sudden inputs will not be rewarded with fast times but could very well flick the rear end out for some skids if you desire to. Deft and neat steering work that allows the weight to settle is key to extracting the most from the car.
 
This new Mustang wasn’t just designed for crashing on its way out of Cars and Coffee in America. The multilink rear and turbocharged small-displacement block signal its global aspirations, especially in Europe.


 
Describing the cabin as quality is quickly done and dusted with. However, a few more moments inside is testament to the Mustang’s impeccable build calibre. Every surface and trim exudes a premium-ness to it. The dash is distinctively Mustang and the switchgear unmistakably Ford but every detail has been given a sense of purpose to it; and that purpose is to bump it up a step higher in appeal.
 
Nonetheless, its origins remain and simple aesthetic indulgences such as the toggle switches and speedometer labelled as “Ground Speed” are throwbacks to its raw muscle days of yonder.


 
Previous Mustangs had interiors that were bargain bin but Ford had to step up its game here if it wanted to make good on its promise of a more global car.
 
Styling is a case of evolution rather than revolution. The old cues of the previous Mustang are still front and centre but have been updated with some modern strokes of the pen. A sleeker but more muscular front end sets the tone for styling updates that bring it up to speed with current wants.


 
At the end of the day, the Mustang EcoBoost is all about opening new doors into untapped markets such as Europe and Asia.
 
This revolutionary Mustang variant pretty much stands for everything its V8 predecessors vehemently frowned upon. It has half the cylinders, zero noise and more refinement than any other Mustang.


 
A cowboy in a suit is still a native of the Wild West, albeit a polished diamond in the rough. The civility and toned-down nature of it is a perfect fit to the EcoBoost mill that has Europe and Asia squarely in its crosshairs.
 
So much more than just a smaller engine to the GT’s “no replacement for displacement,” the EcoBoost’s sole purpose is to elevate the Mustang to a higher rung on the automotive hierarchy. Gone are the days of fraternising with riff raff, the Mustang now keeps some more esteemed company in its social circle.



Ford Mustang 2.3 EcoBoost
Price: RM488,888
Engine: 2261cc, inline-four DOHC 16V, twin-scroll turbocharger, direct injection, variable valve timing, 313bhp @ 5500rpm, 432Nm @3000rpm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Performance: 5.8sec 0-100kmh, 233kmh
Dimensions (l/w/h): 4784mm, 1916mm, 1381mm

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