If you’re a luddite who insists a pony car must have eight atmospheric cylinders, stop reading now. Otherwise, if you enjoy front-engine, rear-drive fun regardless of what’s under the hood, let me tell you about the Ford Mustang EcoBoost Turbo High Performance Package.

What started as a weekend project among some of Ford Performance’s biggest Mustang geeks evolved into a sport-focused production car meant to bring a unique experience to the historic nameplate. Using a decommissioned Focus RS test engine and an extra S550 chassis collecting dust in the division garage, the team set to work, digging into the Mustang parts bin to pick n’ choose their favorite bits to add—which subsequently bring its starting price to $33,405.

First came adapting the 2.3-liter turbocharged I-4 from transverse orientation for front-wheel drive application, to longitudinally mounted and sending juice to the rear wheels. Initially proven in the base Mustang EcoBoost, the next step was bringing the power closer to RS levels. That involved modifying the engine block with high-tensile cylinder liners, improving piston rings, and designing a bespoke cylinder head. A new head gasket handles the increased pressures created by an enlarged turbocharger cramming 22 psi into the intake and reduced 9.37:1 compression ratio. The result is 330 hp at 6,000 rpm and 350 lb-ft of torque at 3,000 rpm.

Driving off from Sausalito, California, I skirted along the base of Mt. Tamalpais through a thick layer of signature San Francisco fog. On initial roll-out the hi-po turbopony struggled to put that lump of torque down on the cold, slick pavement. It would seem Pirelli’s engineers who developed the car’s summer tires never heard Mark Twain’s quote about supposed warm months in the City by the Bay. To the point, 19 x 9-inch wheels all four corners wear 255/40Rs—wider than a basic Mustang GT’s.

Rubber and weather warmed as the route took me north along coastal Highway 1, and I sought out chances to prod the engine. After a blink of delay as boost builds, power is robust; the midrange torque crest passes over seamlessly to the near-redline horsepower peak. True to Ford Performance’s ambition, it feels stronger the higher it’s revved. Still, it never feels snappy or raw—and that’s a good thing. With this vehicle Ford targets drivers who may not have much sports car experience, who want accessible power that doesn’t overwhelm. You know, everyday enthusiasts like me, or maybe you. To be clear, this four-banger ain’t a slouch. Powering through gears, it delivers a hearty press into the seats and a blatty engine note accompanied by plenty of turbo whistle. Coming off the gas near redline induces some delightful exhaust crackles.

Transmissions are a six-speed manual or a $1,595 ten-speed automatic, shift points of which were brought out by about 500 rpm to better engage that peaky power. The standard shifter pairs nicely with the car’s character. Heavy and a bit rough, working it through the tight gates is a satisfying exercise. Pedal positioning allowed easy heel-toe downshifts, but auto rev-matching is absent from this purportedly novice-friendly setup; supposedly, the associated componentry wouldn’t fit in the transmission case. Ten is a somewhat mind-boggling gear count to manage, but it’s fun exploring through them to keep the engine in its sweet spot. The plastic paddle shifters feel cheap, but they’re sufficiently responsive and allow rapid ratio dumps when slowing into corners. With either gearbox, final drive is 3.31:1 via a Torsen limited-slip differential.

Undoing acceleration is left to brakes cribbed from the Mustang GT. Front 352mm vented rotors are clamped by fixed four-piston calipers, while 330mm solid discs out back are 10mm larger than those on standard V-8 cars. These stoppers feel well matched to the power delivery: strong but not grabby, responsive yet predictably progressive. Ford Performance rewrote the ABS module’s programming based on learnings from the GT350 to allow better trail-braking, again, the goal being to benefit drivers who may have never owned a rear-drive car or might attempt their first track day.

Want to see inside? Check out our in-depth review of the Mustang’s interior.

OK, but you’re a toughie who knows how to wrestle V-8 muscle. Want the extra pudge that comes with it? MotorTrend testers have critiqued 5.0 Mustangs’ handling balance, and this car’s 200-ish-pound front-end weight savings over the GT is constantly appreciable. The steering possesses a certain delicacy, smooth on turn-in and stable through tight hairpins and long sweepers. No Mustang driver wants to end up bent up and plastered across enthusiast meme pages, and this car’s 53/47 front/rear weight distribution should help eager learners keep both ends in check.

Supplementing poise is a $1,995 Handling Package, which brings a thicker rear anti-roll bar, dark-painted and half-inch-wider wheels with 265 section tires, and stronger brakes. It also adds new magnetic dampers featuring logic developed for the GT350. The effect is a more buttoned-down ride, providing more road sensation to the driver while reducing body roll. It’s not a crucial add to make this Mustang live up to its name, but the Handling Package does what it says on the tin.

As the sun crested through the afternoon, clouds burned off and I eagerly let the top back on a convertible variant, which starts at $38,905. Trade-offs instantly ensued. The car felt floppy, bouncy, and somewhat disconnected front to rear; the Handling Package isn’t available on droptop cars. Simultaneously, the exhaust became more audible, and seeing sunshine filtered through trees lining the curvy road was just so pleasant. For sure, this isn’t what you buy when you want the sharper driving experience, but damn if it wasn’t nice on that lovely California day.

Upon my return to the starting point I learned that my flight home had been delayed by several hours. No matter—Ford graciously offered me time with a Mustang Bullitt brought to support the event. Its V-8 burble and stonking power were intoxicating, but the dulled reflexes and skewed balance that accompanied that bigger, heavier engine were equally apparent. It was fantastic fun, but more so than the Turbo High Performance Package? And for $48,905? I still can’t say.

That’s proof, therefore, that Ford Performance succeeded in creating a unique, distinct, and enjoyable driving experience with the Mustang Turbo High Performance Package. Whether it’s better than a base, $37,370 V-8 GT will come down to individual preferences—and budget. It’s absolutely worth consideration by enthusiasts willing to accept engines other than a classic eight-pot in their pony car. If you’ve read this far, I suppose that’s you.

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