High Performance in a turbocharged 4-cylinder 2020 Ford Mustang

By Jim Prueter

(August 28, 2020) Back in 2014 when Ford introduced its sixth-generation Mustang it created no shortage of controversy with its retro styling design. It also made news with the return of a four-cylinder under the hood after nearly three decades and for the first time it was being sold globally in places like Europe, Asia, and Africa.

The first four-cylinder Mustang dates back to the 1974 model, when Ford introduced the second-generation calling it the Mustang II. By all critical acclaim it was deemed a disaster with its downsized power rated engines and a name change. Even bigger news was that Ford discontinued the V-8 powered Mustang in favor of a V-6 and introduced an 88-horsepower 2.3-liter four cylinder with a measly 116 lb.-ft torque — the same engine Ford used to power the Pinto. The V-6 with its 105-horsepower wasn’t much better.

Fast forward to 2020 and the folks at Ford have added a Mustang High Performance Package for the EcoBoost-equipped model powered by Ford Performance’s high-revving 2.3-liter turbo four-cylinder engine that cranks out 332-horsepower and 350-lb.ft of torque making it the most powerful four-cylinder sports car by an American automaker. For the record, this is the same engine that Ford used to power the Focus RS.

The High-Performance Package adds $5,000 to the base $26,670 EcoBoost Mustang price that includes aero, suspension and brake components from the Mustang GT Performance Package along with special performance tuning. An available High-Performance Handling Package adds MagneRide® dampers, higher-performing 265/40R Pirelli P Zero™ Corsa4 summer tires on wider 19x9.5-inch rims, stiffer sway bars and a TORSEN 3.35:1 limited-slip rear end. The High-Performance Package is the only way to get summer tires on a 4-cylinder Mustang.

The 2.3 High Performance Package is more than just an engine. It gets 13.9-inch front brake rotors and 4-piston calipers from the Mustang GT, a strut-tower brace, heavy-duty front springs, a larger rear sway bar (21.7 mm instead of 20), and a larger radiator.

There’s also both interior and exterior treatments including the GT splitter up front, a belly pan along with a black grille and the tri-bar pony logo to the right which is then mimicked at the rear of the Mustang. A charcoal accent stripe that fades from front to back along the hood lines was initially objectionable grew on me as the week passed. There’s also mirror caps and a rear spoiler finished in the same charcoal grey and four exhaust tips for the active exhaust system similar to what’s found on the GT with four different modes that include a choice of quiet, track, sport or normal.

It’s OK but nowhere as pleasing as the deep throated burble of a V-8 under acceleration. It’s more like a “tuner-car” sound than real performance. I’m certainly no fan of the fake engine notes but I think Ford would have done better by piping in more of a GT V-8 sound than those they chose.

The interior is modestly simple bordering on straight out economy looking. The infotainment system both looks and operates like one you would have found ten years ago. It has a number pad and the 4-inch LED display screen is the tiniest we’ve seen in any vehicle. It also serves as the display for the rear backup camera making it functionally near useless.  The performance package does give you some gauges with both oil pressure and Vac Boost located mid dash between the air vents. There’s no automatic climate control so you just dial in temp and fan until you feel comfortable with either the air conditioning or heat levels.

The seats are fabric and not heated but comfortable, nonetheless. The back seat isn’t meant for adults who’ll surely bump their head against the inside of the rear window glass. Its best used for kids, packages, backpacks or small dogs. There’s also a plaque on the dash above the glove box that says, “High Performance 2.3L” and indicates the chassis number. Our test car was number 0009 - the ninth one built.

There isn’t much tech or advanced safety features on vehicle save airbags and a post-crash alert system. No automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, rear cross traffic alert or parking sensors. The audio system is as basic as they come — AM/FM stereo with 6-speakers. No Satellite radio, navigation, Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. There is Fordpass connect with 4GWI-FI and pushbutton starting.

What you do get is what Ford calls Track Apps with all the performance readouts expected like acceleration timers for 0-30 MPH, 0-60, MPH 0-100 MPH, 0-1/8 Mile etc. braking performance like 60-0 and 100-0 times, Lap timer, and Launch Control. There’s a manual button by the pushbutton starter to adjust the steering feel, but there is no adjustment for adaptive suspension.

We recently spent a week behind the wheel of a Twister Orange High Performance Premium Fastback Mustang Ford provided for our testing. The last time I drove and tested a Mustang it was the super high-performing Shelby GT 350. Know up front that these are two absolutely different Mustangs but each one worthy of its own praise.

Our 2.3L Mustang came equipped with a six-speed manual shifter. Buyers can opt for a 10-speed SelectShift automatic transmission that adds $1,595 to the MSRP. Ford says the 2.3L paired with the automatic transmission will reach 60-mph in just 4.5 seconds, an impressive number by any measure.

On the road the ride is extremely firm that pays off however with exceptional handling. There’s little to no body lean, steering is especially sharp, predictable and communicative. The suspension does absorb bumps and road imperfections and delivers quick turn-in response. There’s an available option package for those who want even sharper handling.

On twisty Arizona mountain roads, it was easy and rewarding to push the Mustang hard, and the car relentlessly handled the push with no washing out or succumbing to understeer. Grip was awesome thanks to the Pirelli P Zero summer tires and performance from the 332-horsepower energetic as we clicked up and down through the gears of our 6-speed manual shifter.

Overall, I appreciate what Ford did with the 2.3L High Performance Mustang but at a cost of just over $37,000 MSRP for the 4-cylinder with available performance packages it’s essentially the same price of a base Mustang GT with the 460-horsepower and 420-lb.-ft torque. My choice would be to skip the four-cylinder and opt for the GT. You’ll get more bang for your buck and it sounds much better.

Vital Stats
Base Price $26,670
Price as Tested: $37,765
Engine/Transmission: 332-horsepower 2.3-L turbocharged four-cylinder engine paired to a 6-speed manual transmission.
Fuel Economy: 20/27/23 mpg – City/Highway/Combined
Seating: 4

Where Built: Flat Rock, Michigan

Crash Test Results: Highest possible overall 5-Star rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and “Good” rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Competes With:
Chevrolet Camaro
Dodge Challenger
Hyundai Veloster N
Nissan 370 Z

Fab Features:
Potent 4-cylinder engine
Mustang Shelby GT-like handling