2018 Ford Mustang EcoBoost Prototype First Drive: Is The Turbo Pony Worth Boosting About?
When discussing the current EcoBoost-labeled trim of Mustang, it is likely that the acronym “SVO” will be mentioned. How could it not be? Starting back in 1984, the members of Ford’s Special Vehicle Operations Department sought to create a top-tier level Mustang that would not only rival entry-level sports cars from Europe, but also beat out the performance of the esteemed 5.0-liter V-8 which debuted in the Mustang in 1968. Like the SVO, the modern-day EcoBoost uses a turbocharged inline four-cylinder. The two engines even displace the same volume, that being 2.3 liters. So, these two Mustangs may be separated by a rather large age gap (roughly 31 years to be exact), but they use very similar formulas: drop in a small, efficient engine into the Mustang without sacrificing its pony-car performance. So, does the 2018 model EcoBoost Mustang have every right to beat out its beastly 5.0-liter big brother?
Thankfully, there is a simple answer to this question. The answer is no. That became clear after about five minutes behind the wheel of a 2018 prototype ‘Stang fitted with the newly revised 2.3-liter turbo-four. So why would anyone choose this engine over the burly Coyote V-8? Let’s look at the numbers. The 2017 model makes 310 hp and 320 lb-ft of torque, which is about on par with the previous S-197 generation 4.6-liter V-8. That amount of power is certainly respectable, and if you’re worried about numbers the sprint from 0 to 60 mph still happens in under six seconds (except the convertible variant, which does the run in 6.1 seconds). The buyers seeking the most high-performing Mustang will buy the GT, or maybe even the GT350. They will most likely not consider the EcoBoost for they’re precious track weapon. Serious aftermarket attention might be necessary for that. After spending hours cruising on the highway, I found that the four-cylinder pony car is much better suited to grand touring. The engine is smooth, the cabin is aesthetically pleasing and free of scratchy plastics (for the most part), and the standard leather seats are supportive enough and offer heating and cooling functions. It is important to note that unless you are planning on doing some serious driving, there is no need to buy the optional RECARO bucket seats. With the adjustable steering set in the Comfort setting, the EcoBoost Mustang is an easy car to drive long distances. Of course when the time comes, the engine packs enough passing power to surge you past slower traffic. Around town, the Mustang is even more well-behaved. The brake, gas, and clutch pedal all work linearly. This allows for smooth and easy driving in stop-and-go traffic. Additionally, the 6-speed shifter pulls of nice, crisp shifts when driving both casually and aggressively. For 2018, there will be an optional 10-speed automatic transmission, but the current Getrag stick is no doubt the enthusiast’s choice. The 2.3-liter turbo is mostly quiet, especially under 3,000 rpm. In Sport Plus mode, things get slightly more noisy in the cabin. Blame this on the induction noise played through the interior speakers. Under hard acceleration the fake noise (yes, it is fake) can sound a bit overwhelming and ridiculous. We know we aren’t driving the V-8, Ford, don’t remind us with fake Subaru boxer-engine sounds. Accelerate with the windows down and you’ll hear the turbo whistle joyfully as the revs climb, followed by a subtle blowoff valve spurt. These are the noises people want to hear when they buy a boosted engine. When the desire to drive more aggressively arrives, the Mustang performs. The prototype I piloted wore relatively capable Pirelli P Zero tires measuring 255 millimeters on all four corners. With the steering in its Sport setting, the Mustang dives into corners confidently and holds its line without unwanted tire squeal and chassis drama. The engine offers so much low-end torque that downshifting is practically unnecessary when entering a corner. The power is delivered linearly and is always at your disposal. Something important to note is how usable a car’s horsepower is on regular roads. 400 hp is harder to stretch than 300, therefore the EcoBoost’s output of 310 hp feels just right on the street.
Aside from the driving experience, the upcoming 2018 model Mustang is loaded to the brim with impressive technology, regardless of the engine you choose. The SYNC Gen 3 infotainment system is spot on when it comes to usability and information accessibility. You are able to get live updates on major league sports scores, skiing conditions, satellite weather radars, gas prices, and movie listings. Not to mention the response time is quick and pairing your phone is one of the easiest functions to perform. Yes, I know, why praise the infotainment system so much in a car meant to please driving enthusiasts? Because the engineers at Ford have done an incredible job and they deserve a shout-out. The technology does not stop there, though. For 2018, the Mustang receives an all-new fully digital 12-inch LCD gauge display. The driver is able to customize the color, size, and information displayed on the screen at any given moment. The feature that wins the “coolest thing to show your friends” award is the drive-mode selector switch. The car starts in Normal, but by pressing the switch the mode changes to Sport Plus, Race Track, Drag Race, and Wet/Snow. Each mode changes the layout of the main screen. For example, in Race Track mode the circular speedometer disappears to make way for a rather large rectangular tachometer display. Very cool. Customers will also have the option to equip the 2018 Mustang with returning technology including adaptive cruise control and new safety features such as Pre-Collision Assist with pedestrian detection, distance alert, lane-departure warning, and lane-keeping assist.
All the tech and tweaks added to the Mustang only strengthen its ability as an incredible daily driver, but why would a buyer choose the turbo-four over the V-8? Simply for practicality and usability. The EcoBoost is more fuel-efficient than the V-8, and more tame. It surges you and your passengers around town without drama and tire smoke (although who doesn’t love those things). The EcoBoost appeals to the older crowd who might not require the muscle of a V-8, or the younger buyers who either can’t quite afford the extra power or want a more friendly pony car alternative. For a road trip across the country, the EcoBoost might be the smarter option. But whoever said V-8’s were smart? Despite the two engine choices, the Mustang continues its quest to become the most versatile pony car for the 2018 model year. It might disappoint the old SVO as far as being a performance benchmark, but this turbo horse is going in an entirely different direction. This modern Mustang proves that regardless of the old saying, in some situations, there might be a valid replacement for displacement.
Thanks for reading!