Payne: Ford offers affordable, high-performance 2020 Mustang
The passionate heart of the Ford Focus RS is still beating. It’s under the hood of a Mustang.
Ford Motor Co. unveiled its first, turbo-4 cylinder-powered performance Mustang Monday to complement its lineup of V8-powered beasts like the GT Performance Pack, GT350 and GT500. Called the Ford Mustang EcoBoost High Performance, the entry-level pony resurrects the ferocious, 2.3-liter mill from the discontinued RS — a victim of Ford’s exit from sedan segments.
Armored with aerodynamic tools like a front splitter and rear aerofoil, gummy tires from Pirelli, and bigger brakes, the EcoBoost High Performance will be priced well below the retired, $41,000 Focus RS (not to mention the GT Performance Pack which can easily run north of $45,000) when it hits dealers this fall.
“At the heart of this Mustang is the engine,” smiles Mustang Vehicle Product Manager Tom Barnes. “This is really a fun car to drive. It’s for the guys who like to so the same thing that RS customers do.”
Mustang sales left its crosstown, Chevy Camaro rival in the dust last year, 75,842 units to 50,963. Mustang sees a chance to pick off even more buyers with its new performance model.
The new pony is aimed squarely at the Chevy Camaro 1LE, a similarly-styled muscle car powered by a 275-horse, turbo-4. Since their recent upgrades to more athletic chassis, Mustang and Camaro have been in an expensive arms race to produce the fastest track weapon with Mustang’s 700-plus horse, $70,000 GT500 due later this year to battle the $70,000, 650-horse ZL1.
The Camaro 1LE and EcoBoost High Performance take the war to a more affordable battlefield.
Ford engineers say the new model came together quickly in the last year in order to make Mustang’s 55th birthday this week (the car debuted on April 17, 1964 at the World’s Fair). Reminiscent of the gen-one Mustang's development six decades ago, the car began as a five-person skunkworks project in the Ford Performance garage.
You’ll know it by its unique grille, black “hood whisker” stripes, 2.3-liter side badge, and wicked black wheels.
Mated to either a 10-speed automatic or a 6-speed manual transmission, the RS engine is not only more powerful than the Camaro, but offers entry-level Mustang buyers a second engine choice above the standard, 310-horse 4-banger. Built in Valencia, Spain, it has been spun around from the front-wheel-drive, Focus application to fit the Mustang’s longitudinal, rear-wheel-drive demands.
Where the AWD RS put down 350 horsepower/350 pound-feet of torque the Mustang version will pump out 330 horses and the same torque through the rears. Expect the new model to be 300 pounds lighter than a V-8-powered ‘Stang — but about 100 pounds more than an RS.
“The lighter weight up front really makes this car turn in quickly,” says Mustang and Ford Performance Chief Engineer Carl Widmann, who says the EcoBoost High Performance straps on an engine brace for added stiffening.
Sticky, 19-inch Pirelli rubber will aid that turn-in. Mustang contracts with the Italian tiremaker for its turbo-4 cars and Michelin for its V-8s. A sprint to 60 mph will blow by in about 4.5 seconds — arriving a half-second quicker than the standard ‘Stang. Top speed? 155 — 34 mph quicker than the base car.
For those who want more, options abound. The EcoBoost High Performance will come in coupe and convertible trims. Coupe buyers can also opt for an EcoBoost Handling Package which adds wider tires, MagneRide shocks, limited-slip rear differential and stiffer sway bars.
Interior options include a digital tachometer, leather seats, and bigger infotainment screen that will run the latest version of SYNC 3 as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Four new colors are available including Grabber Lime, Iconic Silver, Red Hot Metallic, and Twister Orange.
Mustang sales have been split 50-50 between V-8 and turbo-4 engines, but the quieter 4 hasn't gained the sex appeal of the V-8 with its baritone exhaust and storied racing history. The EcoBoost High Performance may change that with its more aggressive engine note and gurgling backwash.
Look for the new pony in Ford’s New York autos show corral this week. It will be dressed in Velocity Blue.
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at email@example.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-2 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.