West Hollywood, CALIFORNIA – It’s been a hot day, yet the 2015 Ford Mustang EcoBoost is looking pretty cool poised against the canopy over the entrance to the Sunset Marquis, one of those quietly trendy, oh so snappy hotels in Hollywood.
We started out this morning with the Mustang at Mel’s Drive-In, a very 1960s place with Googie-style architecture that is probably not more than a couple hundred yards from here on Sunset Boulevard. And all it took the Mustang to get from there to here has been about five hours and 50 years.
That’s because the Mustang is driving away from that place where it was just a ride to the malt shop, and now it is moving toward a place where it has the looks, technology and personality to been seen at a fine hotel. In fact, the 2015 Ford Mustang is the kind of car that you can drive to Mel’s Drive-In and the Sunset Marquis in the same day and feel pretty hot and pretty cool at both places.
Technology and the four-cylinder engine
The 2.3-liter EcoBoost, with 310 hp and 320 lb-ft of torque on tap, is not the first four-cylinder engine in a Mustang, but it is certainly the best. Since 1974, when the Mustang II was just a Pinto in a ponycar costume, Ford has tried to give the Mustang a powertrain with smart performance. It hasn’t been an easy thing to do, and even the 1984 Ford Mustang SVO, with its 175-hp, 2.3-liter turbo four, didn’t make any friends with its unpleasant noise and vibration.
So we’re surprised that the EcoBoost 2.3 turns out to be pretty darn good, as you might expect from its turbocharged output. The 16-valve DOHC cylinder head is meant to squeeze as much power as it can from every drop of gas, while its forged-steel connecting rods and crankshaft are up to the stress of turbocharging. A balance shaft quells engine vibration, a tall compression ratio of 9.5:1 enhances throttle response, and a twin-scroll turbocharger helps ensure plenty of boost across a wide rpm band.
This sort of hardware is rally car tech, really, but sadly we’re creeping along in traffic on Sunset Boulevard trying to get out of town, so we’re not able to use everything on hand. But it turns out that this engine is pretty friendly during town driving, delivering plenty of thrust despite being wrapped in a 3524-pound ponycar.
Since the EcoBoost is matched in this particular car with a six-speed automatic transmission, we’re not surprised that the powertrain lets the Mustang creep effortlessly in stop-and-go traffic (maybe just a bit too quickly, though). The transmission shifts smoothly and the engine is fairly quiet. Of course, things are far from quiet when you need a burst of power, as you can hear and feel all those mechanical bits thrashing around inside the engine. But since there’s no fan noise or transmission whine, the total effect is not so bad.
Escaping to Angeles Crest
With all the chatter about the 2015 Mustang’s new engine selections — the EcoBoost is joined by Ford’s 300-hp, 3.7-liter V-6 and 435-hp, 5.0-liter V-8 — we kind of forget that one of the most important bits of new technology is the independent rear suspension. Words can’t express our relief at the Mustang’s composure across the worn concrete slabs of the freeways around Los Angeles, as the car seems to magically pick up its feet across the seams between the slabs. The Mustang still pitches a little, yet a long 107.1-inch wheelbase manages to make the car feel very stable.
We’re extra happy to be driving the 2015 Ford Mustang EcoBoost when we hit Angeles Crest, the famous road for fast driving in the San Gabriel Mountains above Pasadena. Sure, we have to work the turbocharged four-cylinder engine harder than we would a V-8, but we can feel less weight on the front wheels, as if we were magically free of that annoying guy from next door who always wants to go for a ride when he sees a fast car in our parking space.
Shift paddles on the steering wheel give you some manual control, although the transmission is still plenty lively with the ratio swapping, even in automatic mode. You can change the calibration of steering effort, throttle action, shift points, and stability control engagement with the toggle switch on the center console, which gives you the choice of Normal, Snow, Sport+ and Track. The suspension calibration remains the same, though. If you want a different feel from the tires, then you buy different sizes, as the standard 17s can be replaced by 18s, 19s or even 20s (cheaper and better than adjustable dampers, we think).
Sports coupe or econo-box?
Ford wants us to believe that the 2015 Mustang EcoBoost is a sports coupe, not an econo-box. It pains us to admit Ford might be correct, even though we haven’t yet been able to drive this chassis and engine combination with the optional Getrag-built six-speed manual transmission.
It begins with the way in which the chassis calibration has changed. The body’s high-strength steel construction feels solid. The suspension action, with its double-ball-joint front struts and multilink independent rear setup, feels precise. Its supple, predictable dynamics feel like a revelation.
As we climb through the long horseshoe curves toward Mt. Wilson and then cross the little crest and swing down through the long stretch of esses that comes afterward, the Mustang is completely impressive. As the front end steers into corners athletically and the electric-assist steering communicates effectively, the chassis rolls predictably and then squats its outside rear tire so you know where the power meets the pavement.
Once we arrive at Newcombe’s Ranch (est. 1939) at an elevation of 5340 feet, it’s as if the 2015 Mustang has left behind all those stereotypes from 50 years of bad behavior back at the Bob’s Big Boy in Burbank. Apparently it just takes a while for some kids to grow up.
Part Mustang, part Thunderbird, and part GT40
So we’re thinking about this the whole rest of the day as we drive down Big Tujunga wash, take the old Box Canyon road into Simi Valley, cut across the heart of the San Fernando Valley, cross the Malibu Mountains and drive along the beach, and then survive the long commute on four-lane Sunset Boulevard from Pacific Palisades to West Hollywood.
And now the 2015 Ford Mustang EcoBoost is back sitting in front of the Sunset Marquis, and it’s just in the right place, we’re thinking. It’s still a Mustang, just like the Sunset Marquis is still the place where the musicians who played on the Sunset Strip used to behave badly. But now this car has a more fully developed personality, just like the Sunset Marquis. The 310-hp Mustang 2.3 EcoBoost is youthful, not cheap. The 435-hp Mustang 5.0 V-8 is powerful, not brutal. And the forthcoming 300-hp Mustang V-6 should be stylish, not silly.
Maybe there will be people who will be disappointed that the 2015 Ford Mustang has a full range of active-safety technology, or when you lay into the gas pedal it moves forward instead of just jumping straight up into the air.
But for us, driving the 2015 Ford Mustang is like being greeted in the Sunset Marquis’ lobby by guest services manager Francois Martin. You can tell that this car has been places, and it will tell you stories of travel, romance, and its past mischievous ways. But it’s finally learned to relax a little, and it brings a casual, yet deeply professional personality to everything it does. And we think it’s always cool to be around a professional who knows how to enjoy life.
2015 Ford Mustang EcoBoost
- On Sale: Fall 2015
- Base Price: $29,995
- As Tested: $36,490
- Engine: 2.3-liter, turbocharged, 16-valve DOHC I-4/310 hp @ 5500 rpm, 320 lb-ft @ 3000 rpm
- Transmission: 6-speed automatic
- Layout: Two-door, 4-passenger, front-engine, rear-wheel-drive coupe
- EPA Mileage: 21/32/25 mpg (city/highway/combined)
- Suspension: MacPherson struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar/multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar
- Brakes f/r: Vented discs/discs
- L x W x H: 188.3 x 75.4 x 54.4 in
- Wheelbase: 107.1 in
- Weight: 3524 lb