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The Ford Mustang is turning 50, and now it’s available as a hybrid.
No, not the gas-electric kind. One that mixes American flair with import-style power.
In an effort both to improve fuel economy and to appeal to younger customers here and abroad, the 2015 ’Stang is the first since the 1980s to offer a turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Ford is taking the car global in a big way, even building a right-hand-drive model for those quaint little countries – a few of which are very big – where people still drive on the wrong side of the road.
Don’t worry, there’s still a V8, and a V6 for the rental car set, but the turbo is the headliner this time around, and it could be a make-or-break proposition for the car. Sporty coupes aren’t exactly the big sellers they once were here, so go west, young salesman, and whatever other directions you can.
All of the engines come tucked into a new chassis, with a body that blends classic Mustang cues, including a fastback roof, long hood, blunt nose and sequential tri-bar taillights, into a very modern form that’s lower, longer and sleeker than before.
It’s the same story inside, where crisp lines create a double cockpit setting accented with metallic trim, toggle switches and a speedometer labeled “Ground Speed” that is a tip of a hat to the Mustang’s WWII fighter plane namesake.
There are a lot more soft surfaces than before, but there’s still quite a bit of hard plastic, the center console a particularly egregious example. Nevertheless, it’s an improvement over the outgoing car, which wasn’t exactly coach class.
But the Mustang’s most radical change is hidden from view, unless you spend a lot of time lying on the ground. For the first time ever, the entire lineup comes with an independent rear suspension instead of a solid axle like you’ll find on a pickup truck.
It’s more complicated and costly, but the payoff is a great ride with fantastic handling. The extra components, though, contribute to a small weight gain over last year’s car, bucking today’s trend toward trimming the fat – something even an aluminum hood and front fenders couldn’t fully overcome. Fuel economy for the eight- and six-cylinder engines suffers a couple of MPG as a result.
That’s where the turbo comes to the rescue. For $25,995, the high-tech 2.3-liter motor features direct fuel injection and a twin-scroll turbocharger to deliver 32 mpg highway plus 310 horsepower and 320 lb-ft of torque. That’s as much power as the Mustang GT’s 4.6-liter V8 delivered a decade ago.
As with all of the engines, including the 300 hp V6 that goes for $24,425, it comes with a choice of six-speed manual or automatic transmissions. I spent half a day in a stick-shift turbo fitted with a stiffer, optional performance suspension on Malibu’s legendary canyon roads, and it didn’t disappoint.
The power came on strong, and there was no turbo lag worth mentioning. Shifts were short and crisp, but with the wide power band to tap into, my left foot and right hand never got too busy, even on a road affixed to the side of a mountain by a series of hairpin turns.
It’s still a big car. That long hood takes some getting used to, but it goes right where you point it. The pair of distractingly tall creases running down it doubling as target sights.
The sound of the engine is not very Mustang at all, however, even with some electronic enhancements pumped through the speakers like all the cool kids use today. It wooshes around with a muffled exhaust note that should be familiar to import fans while appealing to folks just looking for a cool car doesn’t guzzle too much gas or make a lot of noise.
Finding one might be tough. Turbo Mustangs don’t get much in the way of branding to set them apart. Not even a little EcoBoost logo, like many of Ford’s other turbocharged vehicles. I’d suggest replacing the pony on the trunk lid with the word MUSTANG spelled with a big red T. Either that or bring back the old “2.3” badge from the Fox Body Mustangs in all of their 88 hp four-cylinder glory. (My first car, thank you very much.)
The GT’s fenders proudly display “5.0” to note the displacement of the Coyote V8 between them. It’s learned some heavy breathing techniques since last year and now pumps out 435 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque.
Base price for the GT is $32,925, and the loaded manual I drove from West Hollywood's Mel’s Drive-In deep into the middle of the Angeles National Forest on a 100-degree September day checked out at $45,885. That included leather Recaro sport seats, a performance package, navigation, radar cruise control and a few other goodies. That’s about what you’d pay for a less powerful BMW M235i, and 20 grand short of a stripped M4. The comparison is relevant because I’m told BMW owners are among the Mustang’s top draws. I know, it’s as surprising as that weather.
No surprises on the road. Ford promised this was going to be the best Mustang ever, and it is. Period, end of story, the check’s in the mail, etc. and so forth.
Forget the extra weight, the V8 brushes it off like DeAndre Levy carrying a preemie in a Baby Bjorn, and it changes direction like him too. The steering is quick and responsive, the grip is unyielding and the acceleration is everything you’d expect from a Mustang GT plus one or two. Even on the stiffer shocks and summer tires that the performance pack brings, the ride is well-damped and all-day comfortable, but so neutral in the turns that it’s almost traitorous to the muscle car cause.
The GT also has launch control, which lets you floor it and drop the clutch for perfect getaways, and an electronic line lock that holds the front brakes so you can unleash ultimate burnout without dancing on the pedals. It’s buried in a couple of on-screen menus, and while I personally couldn’t get it to work, I’ve seen it in action and it’s as awesome as it sounds.
Ford definitely chose the right time to export its brand of American exceptionalism, the car is an ace, but it’ll be interesting to see which version, if either, conquers the world. The GT is pure apple pie, while the turbo is more like strudel shaped like apple pie. I’m not sure anyone out there ordered either of those, but they’re both pretty sweet.