Recently, I decided that American Muscle Cars do not work in the UK. They are too big, too brash and too thirsty to work as a sensible alternative to a similarly priced Euro-mobile. Why buy a lazy 6 litre V8 when you can buy a faster BMW with the added advantage of having the steering wheel on the correct side?
Well, since then I have had the chance to drive Ford’s idea of a compromise. The 2018 Ford Mustang… with a 4-cylinder EcoBoost engine. This is Ford’s attempt at making the Mustang work in a European environment.
Immediately there was a big problem…
A muscle car is all about drama. About torque, about the experience and about being over the top. A straight 4 will always struggle to cut it. The engine itself is actually a peach. Making nearly 300bhp from a little over 2 litres is a technological marvel and surpasses most of the 2 litre hatchbacks on offer in the UK today, but the Mustang is very “not-a-hatchback”. At 1.7 tons, there is a fair whack more weight to get up to speed, and as such you end up feeling short-changed when it comes to performance. If you work hard, even the convertible will get to 60mph in under 6 seconds, but in a week of driving I was only able to achieve this once.
“you end up feeling short-changed when it comes to performance”
There is an artificial soundtrack that accompanies the EcoBoost engine that does well to lure you in to a false sense of drama and performance, but for the most part you feel disappointed whenever you chose to dabble with full throttle. The Mustang EcoBoost just doesn’t have the bite to back up its bark and will leave you wanting more. You might also think that without the V8 at least your fuel bills will be acceptable… after a week of driving (both sensibly and silly), we averaged just 19mpg, and this included some significant motorway miles. Its marginally better than the V8, but 19mpg is well shy of the quoted 30mpg combined fuel consumption from Ford. It certainly doesn’t make the decision between V8 and non-V8 anymore obvious.
Moving away from the engine, the Mustang is quite a comfortable cruiser. Once up to speed, with cruise control engaged, the engine noise fades away and you can relax in to the accommodating leather seats, taking in the stereotypical muscle car interior. Jetfighter-esque buttons and switches pixelate the centre console, and the well spec’d infotainment system that comes as standard won’t fail to keep you occupied. With a fully digital 12-inch dashboard in front of you, with seemingly endless amounts of information to scroll through and various layouts to choose from, you might struggle to settle on which display works for you, but criticising for providing too much information would be unfair. What I will criticise is the amount of choice you have in the car’s setup. With 6 possible drive modes (including “Drag” and “Track”), plus 3 steering modes and a choice of navigating the ten-speed gearbox automatically or with paddles, you will spend a very long time just getting settled. It’s too much choice, Ford!
The ride of the Mustang is improved over muscle car incarnations of the past, and without the heavy V8 sitting upfront the car feels nimbler and more settled in the corners. This is an American car that can handle being thrown around a bit. Sure, it lacks the finesse of its European rivals, but Ford are moving this model line in the right direction. The ride quality of the convertible suffers slightly with the added chassis bracing and softer springs but opt for the coupe and you’ll be happy. And as for having the car behave in the way a muscle car should… well look elsewhere. The 10-speed gearbox and turbo lag of the EcoBoost soon put a stop to any reckless rear-wheel-drive-ness. Part of me thinks this could be resolved with the optional LSD and choosing the manual ‘box, but then again, the turbo lag from a standstill is frustrating and always present.
The rear seats of the Mustang serve no real purpose, with legroom at a real premium even with the front seats all the way forward. As with all Muscle cars, this is not intended to be used to move more than two people around. Visibility through the small rear quarter windows is restricted, so the blind spot monitoring system is a must-have optional extra. And whilst boot space is plentiful for a car of its class (especially given the convertible nature of the example I was driving), the entry to the boot is frustratingly narrow. A standard suitcase would fit in the space but doesn’t fit through the entry. This means the only real use for those claustrophobic rear seats is as a boot extension.
The Mustang EcoBoost is a car I get. I understand what Ford are doing. I understand what they are trying to achieve. But I don’t think it will be achievable. Not with a 4-pot. Not with a turbocharger. A muscle car works because it has muscle. It has oodles of torque everywhere, and a childish soundtrack to match. There is a time and a place for an inline 4-cylinder turbo, but that place doesn’t belong in the Mustang’s body. Opting for the EcoBoost over the V8 will leave you with a feeling of “what-if?” and you will constantly be justifying that choice whenever you’re asked what car you drive. If you want a muscle car, buy a muscle car. If you want a hot hatch, buy a hot hatch. Don’t settle for a compromise.
|Car||2018 Ford Mustang EcoBoost|
|Price||Starting at £33,645||As tested, £39,240|
|Fuel Economy||30mpg (Combined)||As tested, 19mpg|
|Exterior||The somewhat subdued yet iconic mustang styling is retained, with aggressive elements||****|
|Interior||Comfortable, but busy. Too many options and buttons detract from the driving experience||**|
|Performance||You have to work hard to get the best out of the 2.3 litre turbocharged EcoBoost. If you want the real performance, pick the real engine.||***|
|Comfort||Ride quality is improved over previous generations, and handling is definitely better than the old model.||***|
|Value||The £4000 saving over the V8 doesn’t really make sense. For a fast, turbocharged 4-cylinder, opt for a European hot hatch. If buying a muscle car, buy the muscle car engine.||**|
|Overall||Too much setup choice, and disappointing power delivery mask the great leaps made in chassis performance. The EcoBoost doesn’t work in the UK, but for entirely different reasons to the V8.||**|