Ford Mustang EcoBoost High Performance — Fun, fun, fun

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Over the years the Ford Mustang "Pony Car" has been all about a beefy V-8 engine under the hood. For 2020, it's still the 5.0-liter V-8 that grabs most of the attention with 460 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque. But sharing the spotlight is a modern turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that can stand on its own without apology.

Ford inserted a 2.3-liter 4-cylinder into the Mustang way back in 1974 and it turned out to be a miserable failure. That was in the days of gas shortages and high prices (for the time). It made a paltry 88 horsepower and 116 pound-feet of torque. Today, it would be the slowest car on the road with a published 0-to-60 time of 12.2 seconds.

Ford's latest 2.3-liter 4-cylinder is a different beast altogether thanks to technology that includes turbocharging. The EcoBoost Mustang cranks out a stout 310 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque through a 10-speed automatic transmission and is capable of 0-to-60 runs of under six seconds with gas mileage measured at 25 miles per gallon.

Ford has cranked the volume up for 2020 by adding a High Performance package that pushes the 4-cylinder closer to the vaunted V-8 in performance. The Focus RS-derived engine delivers 332 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque spread across a wider rpm range than the standard engine. The package includes larger brakes derived from the V-8 Mustang. In addition, a Handling Package is available, which adds MagneRide suspension, stiffer sway bars, a Torsen 3.35:1 limited slip rear end, and performance-oriented Pirelli tires on wider 19x9.5-inch rims.

You also get what Ford calls Track Apps with all the performance readouts like acceleration timers for 0-30 MPH, 0-60, 0-100, and braking performance like 60-0 and 100-0 times, Lap timer, and Launch Control. There’s a manual button next to the pushbutton starter to adjust the steering feel, but there's no adjustment for adaptive suspension.

We found the EcoBoost Performance Package — which comes in Premium trim — mated to an easy-to-shift 6-speed manual transmission a hoot to drive. The engine is willing to go hard and fast. It was eager to hit 60 mph and then surge over 100 mph in a quarter mile. Ford claims 0-to-60 will come in 4.5 seconds with the automatic transmission.

The rather firm ride pays off in exceptional handling. There’s little to no body lean, and steering is especially sharp, predictable and communicative. The stiffer suspension does a decent job of absorbing bumps and road imperfections and delivers quick turn-in response.

If you long for a good 6-speed manual transmission, this Mustang will reward you with loads of fun on winding road America, and you will save $1,595 over the cost of the 10-speed SelectShift automatic transmission. While we enjoy a good manual shifter, if the Mustang was our long-term driver we would opt for the 10-speed automatic.

Inside, the Mustang is much the same as it has been for the past few years. Highlights include an attractive retro design fitted with the latest technology options such as Ford's Sync infotainment system, dual-zone climate control, a voice activated touchscreen with navigation, and SiriusXM radio. There are drawbacks including limited rear-seat space and a small trunk,  and a stiff ride when you opt for the high-performance suspension.

Although our test Mustang came with a good amount of standard safety including adaptive cruise control, blind spot warning with cross-traffic alert, and a full complement of airbags, it was missing such commonplace features as automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, and lane keeping assist.

While the standard 2.3-liter EcoBoost Mustang starts as $29,865 including destination charge, the addition of the go-fast performance goodies seriously elevates the bottom line. The Performance Package adds $4,995 and the Handling Package tacks on another $1,995. And the Recaro leather trimmed seats in our tester added on another $1,595. That's a lot of money for little comfort; we could live very well with the standard chairs. We did save nearly $1,600 by opting for the manual transmission

This all adds up to $43,465 including a $1,195 destination fee. With the automatic transmission — which we presume most buyers will want — the price is inflated to $45,060.

A conundrum for Ford is that with all the performance options the 4-cylinder will run about the same price as a Mustang GT 5.0-liter V-8, which starts at $36,825 and in Premium trim, $43,025. But if you want a nimble Mustang that puts an emphasis on handling, offers better fuel economy and remains rewarding to drive, then the High Performance 2.3 might prove to be the way to go. It’s a fun car to drive that rewards you every time you push the starter button.

2020 Ford Mustang 2.3 High Performance


Base price: $37,875; as driven, $43,465
Engine: 2.3-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 332 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 350 pound-feet @ 3,000 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Drive: rear wheel
Seating: 2/2
Wheelbase: 107.1 inches
Length: 188.5 inches
Curb weight: 3,500 pounds
Turning circle: 36.5 feet
Luggage capacity: 13.5 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 15.5 gallons (premium recommended)
EPA rating: 20 city, 27 highway, 23 combined
0-60: 4.5 seconds (Ford)
Also consider: Chevy Camaro, BMW 2 Series, Dodge Challenger

The Good
• Excellent performance
• Sharp handling traits
• Modern cabin, retro styling

The Bad
• Stiff ride

The Ugly
• Price can escalate to 45 grand