Or at least, it’s not necessary to have a V8 to beat a muscle car.
Two frames of reference will make the point – about what a four cylinder modern muscle car like the EcoBoosted 2016 Mustang can do to an old V8 muscle car.
First frame of reference: My ’76 Pontiac Trans-Am. One of the biggest V8s ever put into a muscle car resides under its hood: 7.4 liters, 455 cubic inches.
But just 200 hp (well, when it was new).
Second frame of reference: The 1995 Mustang Cobra R – built as a full-competition (SCCA road racing) car, 5.8 liter (351 cubic inch) V8 (the last of them), a Tremec five-speed manual and not much else.
Not even a radio.
But the Cobra R – as serious a car as it was – only had 300 hp. And did zero to 60 in the fives.
And so does the new turbocharged four-cylinder Mustang. With a stereo. And climate control AC, too.
What doesn’t it have?
A few hundred more pounds of deadweight on the nose (vs. the V8 GT) so it handles better than the GT, too.
Did I mention 32 MPG on the highway?
Yeah. It does that, too.
WHAT IT IS
People think of the Mustang as a muscle car – but that’s not exactly it. And not just because the version this review will focus on has a leetle (2.3 liter) four cylinder engine instead of the usual (in muscle cars) big V8.
The Pontiac GTO (’60s version) … that was a muscle car. An intermediate-sized, two-door sedan upgraded with a full-size car’s V8. There were many others that followed in its wake. Super Bees and Chargers, Chevelles and 442 Oldsmobiles and Cobra Jet Torinos. Etc.
But the Mustang is – properly speaking – a pony car.
What’s the difference?
Pony cars (the others being Chevy’s Camaro and the Dodge Challenger) are smaller and lean closer in looks to sports cars, but still have four seats, rear-wheel-drive and – historically – big V8s.
The term “pony” car derives from the Mustang’s name. It and its imitators (Mustang appeared first, in 1964; arch-rival Camaro came out in 1967) were – and still are – called “pony cars” in homage to the ground-breaking Ford.
This review will focus on a new breed of pony car – the four cylinder (turbocharged) pony car – as a counterpoint to the traditional (and still available) V8 powered iterations.
Both Ford – and Chevy – now offer this strange new animal.
The turbocharged (“EcoBoosted”) Mustang coupe starts at $25,645 with the six-speed manual transmission; a six-speed automatic is available for $1,195.
For another $1,995 (money very well-spent) you can add the Ecoboost Performance Package, which is basically all the V8 GT’s enhancements except for the V8 engine. It includes a 19×9-inch wheel/”summer” tire package, beefed up suspension (larger diameter rear sway bar, HD coil springs), a 3.55 limited slip rear axle, accessory gauge package, upgraded brakes, heavy-duty engine cooling and performance-tuned ABS and stability control.
Which brings the tab to $27,640 (with the six-speed manual) … which is a steal compared with the V8 GT’s base price of $32,395.
The EcoBoosted Mustang’s primary rival is the turbo four-powered Camaro, which starts at $25,700 for the coupe.
But there is no convertible version of the just-updated 2016 Camaro… at least, not yet.
Dodge’s Challenger – the other pony car – does not offer a four cylinder option (and like Camaro comes only as a hardtop coupe) so it’ll be excluded from this comparison.
The Mustang was “all new” – had a major redesign – last year, which was the first year in many years (since the ’80s) that a Mustang has been offered with a turbocharged four cylinder engine.
For 2016, the big news is that Ford’s awful MyTouch interface has at last been thrown in the woods. A much-improved Sync3 system replaces it.
The GT performance package upgrades are also now available with convertibles.
Quicker/faster than most V8 muscle cars of the classic era; gets twice the gas mileage, too
Hardtop or ragtop. Camaro comes only in hardtop form.
Burnout-friendly traction control; power slide-enabling stability control.
New Sync system isn’t a PITAS to use.
Costs about $1k less to start than equivalent Camaro.
Has usable back seats and a viable trunk; Camaro doesn’t.
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
No turbo whistle or wastegate pop; much too quiet intake/exhaust sound for a performance car.
Heavier than just-redesigned Camaro – so the Chevy’s just as quick, even though it has less engine.
History repeats – but with a twist.
Back in the ’80s and through the ’90s, Mustang outgunned arch-rival Camaro. Same now, only we’re talking fours rather than eights.
The Mustang’s Ecoboost turbo four is larger (2.3 liters) than the Camaro’s four (2.0 liters) and it’s stronger, too: 310 hp and 320 ft.-lbs. of torque vs. 275 hp and 295 ft.-lbs. of torque.
Up to 21 pounds of boost at full tilt makes it happen.
The just-redesigned Camaro (which shares a platform with the Cadillac CTS) has been lightened up by several hundred pounds vs. the previous model – which was a biggie…. and a fatty.
The four cylinder Camaro’s curb weight – 3,339 pounds – is lower than the Mustang’s curb weight of 3,523 lbs.
Back in the ’80s and into the ’90s, the Mustang had the weight and the power advantage – and so was quicker.
It’s a dead heat between the two.
Each car is capable of a mid-five-second 0-60 run and a 13-something second quarter-mile. This will be a kick in the nut sack to the True Believers, but these cars perform better than the V8-powered version of the Mustang and Camaro did back in the ’80s and well into the ’90s.
The V8s also never delivered anything close to the four cylinder Mustang’s 21 city, 32 highway (22 city, 31 highway with the manual transmission). I averaged 27.3 MPG during a weeklong test drive… driving a lot faster and a lot harder than the government bureaucrats who do EPA’s mileage testing. Given what I managed, I have no doubt the Ford is capable of averaging at least 30 if you drive it a bit less eagerly than I tend to.
Possibly, better – because the new Camaro is available with an eight-speed automatic while the Mustang’s optional automatic has two fewer gears.
The manual transmissions that come standard in both cars are six speeds.
Both turbo fours – the Mustang’s and the Camaro’s – like premium unleaded. You can run the cheap stuff and it won’t hurt anything… except the power/performance. Knock sensors will notice you filled up with low octane swill and dial back the boost, which dials back the power on tap.
The last time there was a quick four cylinder Mustang was back in ’84-’86, when Ford offered a special version of the Mustang called the SVO.
Interestingly, it was also powered by a turbocharged 2.3 liter four.
But the SVO’s power peaked at 205 while the 2016 Mustang’s 2.3 liter four produces 310 hp – about 100 more hp than the ’80s-era V8-powered Mustang GT offered.
The thing moves out, as you’d expect – given the numbers.
Turn off the traction control (it turns all the way off) and – if you’ve got the automatic – select Trac mode. Hold the brake pedal down and throttle up. The tires will begin to spin and smoke will billow. Hammer it – and let off the brake. You’ll be at 80 faster than the Cobra R (5.8 liter V8, 300 hp) I tested out 20 years ago got to 60.
But the turbo Mustang moves out quietly – and that’s the car’s sole flaw.
This is, after all, a performance car. Ja? People who buy performance cars appreciate the sounds of performance.
But there’s little of that in evidence. No turbo whistle … no wastegate pop.
Even the exhaust is econo-car quiet.
The 2.3 engine is a miracle of output-per-liter, courtesy of the 21 pounds of boost generated by the turbocharger.
Unless you order the optional accessory gauge package, the only way to even know there is a turbo is by scrolling through the secondary digital menu in the main gauge cluster. It’s as if they are trading to hide the fact that you’ve got boost on call.
Why not accentuate this?
Instead, you hear very little – either from the engine or the exhaust. You feel thrust. And gear changes as firm as any old muscle car’s automatic with a bang plate installed. It launches hard and pulls hard (the only reason the tires don’t chirp on the 1-2 is because of the 19-inch whees/tires my test car had).
But some turbo whistle would be nice.
As would a factory available performance exhaust package.
Ford gets kudos from me for managing to make this car look distinctive – like a Mustang – in spite of the general homogenization of car design caused by the federal government’s Inspector Javert-like micro-management of the car industry.
It’s gorgeous – and obviously a Mustang. Retro-new. Numerous styling elements (rear panel and brake lights, front clip; the Steve McQueen/Bullitt vibe) bring back memories of the classic-era cars; but the proportions are entirely modern.
It may be the best looking Mustang ever.
One thing that’s objective is the car’s surprising superiority to the Camaro in terms of overall usability.
Chevy crows that the new Cadillac platform-sharing Camaro is hundreds of pounds lighter than the previous version – which it is. It is also several inches shorter overall – which is also good, because the previous car was just too damned big. Driving it sometimes felt like driving a very fast M1 Abrams tank, with 19 inch rubber instead of tracks.You felt like you had to straddle the center line to keep the thing on the road.
Well, the new Camaro is lighter and shorter… so much so that it’s almost a Corvette.
It still has rear seats (Corvette does not) but they are so embarrassingly useless that GM doesn’t even publish legroom specs. It’s that bad. And you don’t even want to know about the “trunk”… in air quotes to emphasize the absurdity of describing a space that’s 9.1 cubic feet small using that term.
The old car had an 11.3 cube trunk – which wasn’t huge. But not ridiculous, either.
Both cars are exactly the same length now – 188.3 inches – and nearly the same width through the hips (75.4 inches for the Ford vs. 74.7 for the Chevy) but the Chevy’s much more cramped inside.
In both rows.
Mustang has 44.5 inches of front seat legroom vs. 42.6 for the Camaro – while the Mustang’s backseat legroom (30.6 inches) is at least publishable while the Camaro’s isn’t. Headroom is also a problem in the Chevy: 36.6 inches up front vs. 37.6 in the Mustang and – again – the rear seat number for the Chevy is so bad it’s literally unmentionable. You will not find it in the official press kit – or anywhere else. That says something.
These cars are supposed to be “2 plus 2s” … meaning, they are supposed to capable of carrying four people, for short hops at least.
Weirdly, the Camaro’s got a much longer wheelbase (110.7 inches vs. 107.1 for the Mustang). Which means more space in between the front and rear wheel centerlines. Which ought to mean more room in between …in at least one row.
And then there’s the Camaro’s Pagliacci tragic “trunk.”
Mustang’s is a usable 13.5 cubic feet. Worthy of being described as a trunk. No air quotes.
Another Camaro design weakness – this one the same as before – is too high door tops and a too-low roofline – which results in horrific outward visibility. It may look cool when you’re viewing the car from outside… but the Camaro’s a handful to manage in a busy traffic environment.
It’s a car that needs side cameras as well as a back-up camera.
Mustang doesn’t need any of that – although the back-up camera is included (because the government mandated them).
Its door tops are low enough that you can almost lean your elbow on them, like back in the ’60s. And the roofline is higher (54.4 inches vs. 53.1 for the Chevy) so there’s more glass area.
So you can see.
I love the Mustang’s retro-modern interior. Which – like the exterior – is both classic and modern at the same time.
You sit in front of a dual breadbox dashpad, looking at ’60s fonts on the speedo and tach.. looking out over a long hood with secondary turn signal indicators built into each forward corner. H.G. Wells’ Time Machine went into the future; this one takes you backward in time.
But then you discover the Track Apps – including accelerometer and lap timer – and the toggle switches that let you alter the drivetrain’s personality without popping the hood and turning wrenches first.
And you realize it’s not 1969.
In a good way.
Ford finally gave up on the god-awful MyTouch interface that probably cost the company a bunch of sales, despite the appeal of cars like Mustang.
Tiny, inscrutable buttons you felt like you needed a Rosetta Stone to decrypt. And which were all but impossible to punch up accurately (see earlier point about them being too small) with the car actually moving.
Well, happy day – MyTouch has been sent off to the island of broken toys. The new Sync system is as good as the old system was terrible. Large, not-inscrutable buttons. Simple, intuitive menus. Pinch/swipe inputs, too.
So, no complaints.
The Ecoboosted Mustang – in addition to its punchy EcoBoosted engine – also gets upgraded from the base V6 Mustang’s 17-inch wheels to 18s, gets GT-style foglights and racy-looking aluminum dashboard trim.
Buy the Performance Package to add all the other GT-esque goodies mentioned earlier, including the more aggressive (3.55) axle and chassis/suspension/brake upgrades.
You might also want to insurance cross-shop the turbo vs. the V8.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The new Camaro’s better in some ways, but arguably more compromised in other ways than the previous version.
The Mustang, meanwhile, does everything a latter day muscle car ought to do exceptionally well.
Except sound the part.
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