Welcome to the nightmare. Blinding snow swirls over Iowa’s chilly flatlands as I white-knuckle along the freeway at 20 mph. Frustration wells up as the tick-tick-tick of hazard lights persist in metronomic mockery. My plan to book it through corn country with maximum haste has gone to hell, as fear creeps in that thousands of miles before I ever reach the Pacific’s sandy shores, I might instead end up a human Popsicle in a ditch.
Since the day the 2015 Ford Mustang rolled up to our Detroit office, I ached for a cross-country escapade. An all-American road trip with Ford’s classic sports car seemed inevitable, after all. But it also struck me as the ultimate test for this new turbocharged Mustang, whose EcoBoost four-cylinder engine has carved a modern niche out of the once-impenetrable V-8 stronghold. I thought the first challenges would come when the roads turned mountainous and twisty, when the Mustang’s muscle and agility would need to step up to the plate. I was wrong.
After 500 miles of smooth sailing across Michigan and Illinois, the storm swoops in with heavy sleet, which soon morphs into fat flakes. I reach for the fighter-jet-inspired toggles in the center stack, flipping the drive mode switch until it settles on Snow/Wet, desensitizing the throttle a bit and preparing the traction and stability control systems for extra slip. Fortunately things never get anywhere near that dramatic, thanks to the new set of Michelin Pilot Sport A/S 3 all-season tires we (in a rare moment of wisdom) slapped on before setting out from Detroit. The Michelins carve through the snow with poised confidence I could only have prayed for from the stock Pirelli P Zero summer tires that came with the optional EcoBoost Performance Pack.
The skies soon open up in Nebraska, and so does my appetite. “Seems like the right time for an Omaha steak,” proffers photographer Steve Pham, who’s riding shotgun. I enthusiastically agree, and soon we’re parked outside the Drover, a ramshackle-looking establishment strangely nestled in a commercial office park. It’s dim and dingy inside, but not even the askance stares from locals spoil the divinely tender whiskey ribeye that’s soon steaming on my plate. If there’s anything more American than devouring Nebraska beef served rare while on a cross-country Mustang adventure, I haven’t experienced it.
Endless flat roads dominate the next day, giving us plenty of time to take stock of the Mustang’s cabin. With the rear seats folded, the car’s 13.5 cubic feet of cargo space easily swallows two suitcases, two backpacks, cases of camera equipment, two garment bags, and lots of snacks without blocking visibility out of the fastback rear window. Extra knickknacks such as phone chargers, maps, and sunglasses fit into the side compartments, but the storage goes so far back into the door that stuff consistently gets pushed awkwardly out of reach. While reaching for a chocolate-chip Clif Bar, a rumble strip warns me I’m on the verge of driving off the road.
As the Mustang cruises mile after corn-flanked mile, the Allman Brothers and “Jessica” keep me company, pumping strongly through the optional Shaker audio system. The EcoBoost engine is quiet and mellow, happy to cruise around 2,600 rpm at highway speeds. But when I step on it to pass 18-wheelers and dawdling pickups, the turbo-four responds lazily, sounding strained and wheezy like an old Dirt Devil. There’s plenty of passing power even in sixth gear (the turbo-four makes its peak torque at just 3,000 rpm), but there’s a laziness and thrashiness here that make me yearn for a natural-breathing V-8. Passersby don’t seem to know or care this isn’t a full-blown Mustang GT—truckers honk and give the thumbs-up, and kids strapped into minivan back seats point with jaws agape. Little do they know the muscled coupe is averaging about 32 mpg, stretching single tanks of fuel for more than 400 miles.
Snow-capped Colorado peaks finally loom in the distance. I’m soon climbing steep grades, dropping into fourth gear with the Mustang’s precise and mechanical-feeling shifter as Breckenridge comes into view late in the evening. It’s black and silent at the top of the mountain, but the Mustang’s super-bright HID headlamps flood the way forward with light, and the dozens of pale blue interior trim lights make the car’s cockpit feel like it was plucked from the set of “Tron.” The night ends with delicious Mexican pub fare at Oscar’s in downtown Breckenridge, washed down with a hearty local IPA. When I nearly fall off my stool dizzy, I’m sure I’ve been roofied when Steve reminds me we’re at 9,600 feet, and I’m definitely worse for wear from the elevation. I gratefully hand him the keys to take us to our hotel, marveling at our 8,600-foot climb since Omaha.
It’s a brutal 3 degrees outside when I leave the rustic Wayside Inn the next morning, and overnight frost has crawled atop every inch of the Mustang’s creased body. Thankfully the car starts right up despite an unsettling sputter, and the heat is on full blast within a few minutes. From there it’s onward to Vail, where a friendly bus driver pulls over to admire the Mustang. “Hope you’ve got traction control,” he clucks. “What’s that V-8 make, 400 horsepower?” He’s genuinely confused when I tell him it’s a turbo-four making 310 hp, but he seems merry enough to have learned something new before spinning yarns of his Subaru Forester and its “unstoppable” all-wheel drive.
The descent from the Rockies yields the best road so far to flex the Mustang’s muscles, as I follow the Colorado River through Glenwood Canyon. The road flows swiftly through tunnels and over cliffside vistas, leading into Moab, Utah, and on to Sedona, Arizona. A gorgeous sunrise peeks over the dusty red mesas on the Red Rock Scenic Byway, washing the pumpkin-colored pony in a much warmer shade of orange glow. Chasing the sun west, the winding path continues up Route 89A toward Jerome, a once-booming 19th-century mining town that went bust by the early 1950s. The Mustang, looking like an official vehicle of the Philadelphia Flyers, feels gaudy in this mountainous haunt, which is an odd blend of Wild West and Brazilian favela.
Past Jerome is the most mouthwatering stretch of pavement yet, a harrowing narrow mountain pass with slow hairpin turns and long sweeping bends. Finally the Mustang EcoBoost really shines, and its athletic and agile chassis belies its size and wide stance. The Performance Pack-specific brakes bite hard, refusing to fade. The car’s long hood dives down as I stomp on the pedal into a seemingly endless barrage of sensational curves, moving up and down the gears with joyous repetition. Up here, the Mustang GT and its V-8 are the last thing on my mind. I just wish the road would never end.
When it finally does, I look upon a desolate desert landscape with nothing but a gas station in the way of occupied human civilization. It feels like I’ve driven into Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic “The Road,” until I see another vehicle come around the corner—a faded, old Datsun pickup with a mythically huge wolf dog hanging out the passenger-side window. The dog and his owner barely glance my way as they pass by, correctly identifying the Mustang as just another ball of tumbleweed blowing through.
I cross California and finally see the Pacific Ocean at El Segundo Beach. “Hell of a sight,” says Steve. Never more have I craved digging my soles into hot sand, but I realize with a bit of sadness this means the end of the line, at least for me and the Mustang. The great American road trip was just that—great—and it’s with a newfound respect that I hand over the turbo-Stang to our California headquarters, where it’ll live out its remaining months. Undoubtedly it’ll spend an unfortunate amount of time in Los Angeles traffic, but it’s perhaps an earned retirement for a chariot that saw it all, from snow to sand, Great Lakes to crystal-blue sea.
Detroit to L.A.
Duration: 3.5 days
Distance: 2,536 miles
Gallons of fuel consumed: 99.902
Encounters with law enforcement: 0
Moments of praise for radar detection: 12
Snowstorms braved: 2
Thumbs-up/down received: 7/1
Bags of beef jerky consumed: 6
- Body style 2-door coupe
- Accommodation 4-passenger
- Construction Steel unibody
- Base price (with dest.) $30,125
- As tested $36,700
- Engine 16-valve DOHC turbocharged I-4
- Displacement 2.3 liters
- Power 310 hp @ 5,500 rpm
- Torque 320 lb-ft @ 3,000 rpm
- Transmission 6-speed manual
- Drive Rear-wheel
- EPA Fuel Economy 21/32/25 (city/hwy/combined)
- Steering Electrically assisted
- Lock-to-lock 2.2 turns
- Turning circle 37.8 ft
- Suspension, Front Strut-type
- Suspension, Rear Multilink, coil springs
- Brakes F/R Vented discs
- Wheels 19-inch aluminum
- Tires Pirelli P-Zero summer
- Tire size 255/40R Y 19
- Headroom F/R 37.6/34.8 in
- Legroom F/R 44.5/30.6 in
- Shoulder room F/R 56.3/52.2 in
- Wheelbase 107.1 in
- Track F/R 62.3/64.9 in
- L x W x H 188.3 x 75.4 x 54.4 in
- Passenger capacity 84.5 cu ft
- Cargo capacity (rear seats up/down) 13.5 cu ft
- Weight 3,532 lb
- Weight dist. F/R 52/48%
- Fuel capacity 15.5 gal
- Est. fuel range 496 miles
- Fuel grade 91 octane (premium unleaded)
- Front and rear independent sport suspension
- Limited-slip rear axle
- Front and rear disc brakes
- Selectable drive modes
- Leather-trimmed seats
- Heated and cooled front seats
- Tilt-and-telescopic steering column
- SYNC touchscreen display with MyFord Touch
- Push-button start
- Universal garage door opener
- Satellite radio connectivity
- Track apps
- USB/iPod interface
- Cruise control
- Front daytime running lights
- Air conditioning
- Heated, manually folding mirrors
- HID projector headlights
- Automatic headlights
- Rear diffuser
- 60/40-split folding rear seats
Options on this vehicle
- Package 201A: Shaker Pro 12-speaker premium sound system, Blindspot monitoring – $1,795.00
- EcoBoost Performance Package: 255/40R19 Summer tires, rear spoiler delete, 3.55 ratio limited-slip axle. Torsion bar, rear sway bar, 19-inch ebony black painted aluminum wheels — $1,995
- Premier trim with color accent — $395.00
- Recaro leather sport seats — $1,595.00
- Six-speed manual transmission – $0