America’s New Definition of a Muscle Car

Ford’s four-cylinder turbo Mustang is a statement about the present and future of the auto industry.

Sitting in the Recaro seats, the sides wrapping me in track-styled “comfort,” my eyes level over the dash and zero in on the car in front of me. I hold my shift — along with the high whirring — then move up to fourth, and a turbo woosh triggers the dumping of air. The engine gasps like a swimmer stealing air mid-stroke. I press past that first car, then head on to the next. These are the sounds of a four-cylinder turbo dropped inside a muscle car. And though it feels sacrilegious to have such an engine in such a vehicle, after my week with the 2015 Ford Mustang EcoBoost Fastback, I started wondering if I needed a new definition of “muscle.”

Let’s start with the controversial part: the EcoBoost engine. It’s a 2.3-liter four-cylinder turbo outputting 310 horsepower and 320 lb-ft of torque, yet gets 31 mpg highway. Yes, this is a Mustang and it’s meant to make its presence felt even at idle — with this choice of engine, that sensation is somewhat lost. But when I really got on the throttle, it sang and people took note. It’s arguably more fun to drive than the V6 or V8, unless you have a wide-open airport runway ahead of you. A high rev in first gear brings a symphony of familiarity, though it sounds more STI than GTO. It’s a bit comical when you pop the hood and see a tiny engine barely taking up the space, but that’s part of the paradigm shift of Muscle Cars 2.0.

A high rev in first gear brings a symphony of familiarity, though it sounds more STI than GTO.

My loaner Mustang was Oxford white and had 18-inch magnetic gloss wheels, dual exhaust, a rear diffuser and rear spoiler and the performance package — which doesn’t affect engine power but does tweak suspension, brakes and rear axle ratios. This setup lead to surprisingly flat steering through low-speed neighborhood turns, yet stayed rigid enough for spirited, high-speed interstate and backroad driving. The downside to the stiffness is a rougher ride than your traditional Ford buyer is used to, but, potholes be damned, it’s still plenty of fun.

Ford Mustang EcoBoost Fastback Specs

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Engine: 2.3-liter four-cylinder turbo
Transmission: six-speed manual
Horsepower: 310
Torque: 320 lb-ft
Drive System: rear-wheel-drive
0-60 mph: 5.5 seconds

The premium trim brought selectable drive modes as well as selectable steering feel (comfort/sport), both of which can be toggled through via a ’60s-inspired set of switches at the base of the center console. Track apps, a limited-slip rear axle, an audio upgrade with the Shaker pro system (including a rear-mounted sub and 12 speakers) and the upgraded 8-inch touchscreen with MyFord Touch rounded out the extra goodies. All in all, the car had nearly $8,500 in options bringing MSRP to a grand total of $37,800 — about $1,500 less than a ground-shaking V8 GT. Ford is creating a car for a new type of owner, one who’s willing to plunk down as much cash for tech as they would for cylinders.

It’s elegant in a well-fitting leather work glove kind of way.

In addition to the tech, the $1,600 Recaro leather race seats, contrast stitching and short-throw shifter also move the interior luxuries away from the spartan, basic guts found in muscle cars of the past. It’s elegant in a well-fitting leather work glove kind of way. The well-sculpted seats are firm, the clean lines and symmetric layout of the buttons give off a European flair without losing the lightheartedness of American design (the speedometer reads “ground speed”). While the center console is clean, it seems all excess buttons were dropped on the steering wheel — it’s the veritable kitchen junk drawer of function. There are 17 buttons, ranging in function from setting the adaptable cruise control to navigating the small screen between the gauges; then there’s phone and volume control, and voice command. It was distracting and overdone.

The Mustang is and will continue to be an icon, and what Ford has done with this new generation is nothing short of historic. From the EcoBoost engine I drove to the high-tech/high-cost packages, this iteration of Americana proudly functions as their “global Mustang” (it will be on dealer lots looking more or less the same in about 130 countries). And for this driver? I’ll take a fuel efficient, four-cylinder turbo outfitted with performance and convenience tech over the much bigger and more expensive V8. It’s not what I once had in mind for a muscle car, but in today’s climate, it’ll do. That said, the 526 horses in their Shelby trounce every square inch of the EcoBoost and its 8-inch touchscreen.

Buy Now: $25,395

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