by Gerhard Horn
A large part of the Ford Mustang's appeal is muscle car performance and iconic looks at an affordable price. Traditionally, this meant a V8 engine like the 4.6-liter mule used in the previous-generation car. It was a terrible engine with outputs a modern-day entry-level hot hatch would laugh at, but it had the V8 growl, and that's all that mattered.
To achieve the same affordability levels in the current Mustang, Ford had to resort to engine sharing. It needed an engine that was already developed and in production that could easily slot into the Mustang's front. Such an engine existed, but it was *pause for dramatic effect* a turbocharged four-cylinder. Now, pick grandma up off the floor, and let's continue this road test.
Most of us want a GT or Bullitt, but the budget only allows for four-cylinders. Considering the 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine delivers 310 horsepower in the base model, that's not necessarily a bad thing. The previous 4.6-liter V8 could only dream of those figures.
The truth is, even with a four-cylinder engine, the Mustang Coupe is better than ever before and can easily grapple with the Chevrolet Camaro.
The big news is the return of the Mach 1, which we review separately. As for the more sedate models, Ford is making Co-Pilot 360 standard across the entire range. This package consists of auto high-beam headlights, a rearview camera, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keep assist, pre-collision assist, auto emergency braking with pedestrian detection, and dynamic brake support.
See trim levels and configurations:
Over the years, there have been many attempts to drag old iconic designs into the modern era. Think Mini, Volkswagen Beetle, the BMW Z8, and the Ferrari 430-based Lancia Stratos. Some of these designs were successful, and others weren't. The world took one glance at the now-defunct Beetle and said, "no."
The Mustang's design is polarizing, but to our eyes, it's spot-on. The most critical design elements of the '60s Mustang are present, but Ford also added some new design features. Most might think the Mustang is a coupe, but Ford will tell you that in fact this is a Fastback, harking back to the original sloped-roof design. All models come standard with LED lights at the front and rear. The base model gets 17 inch wheels, while the Premium gets a set of 18s. Dive into the options list, and you can go all the way up to 20 inches.
The modern Ford Mustang is much bigger than the old model, which seems to be a source of contention for those who believe the old car is the holy grail. The fact is, you can't build a modern car with proper crumple zones and creature comforts without making it bigger and heavier. Both models weigh 3,542 pounds, which isn't all that bad. The overall length is 188.5 inches, though the wheelbase seems oddly short at only 107.1 inches. It's 75.4 inches wide excluding the mirrors and 54.3 inches tall. That means the Mustang is on par with the Chevrolet Camaro but smaller than the Dodge Challenger.
There are ten colors to choose from, and you can add a variety of extras to make the exterior even more enjoyable. Eight of the colors are no-cost options. They include Race Red, Velocity Blue, Iconic Silver, Antimatter Blue, Carbonized Gray, Grabber Yellow, Oxford White, and Shadow Black. Rapid Red retails for $395 extra, while Twister Orange adds $495 to the price. In addition to so many funky hues, you can also add an Ebony or White racing stripe for $475 and hood and side stripes in Metallic Gray, Silver, or Ebony. The hood stripe options can be confusing, as all of them require you to add some sort of package. They may appear to be no-cost options, but you either have to upgrade to a high-output model or add the Wheel and Stripe package for $895. Choosing what color combination you want can be tricky. Some of us like the idea of an Antimatter Blue Mustang with a white stripe, but Twisted Orange with a black stripe looks even more striking. Deciding on a color will likely take hours, but it's an excellent problem to have.
The 2021 Mustang family consists of a wide variety of engine options. You can go full electric in the new Mustang Mach-E SUV or get an old-school V8 in the GT. Shelby offers even crazier options like the GT350 and GT500. We review these Ford Mustang derivatives and the convertible separately, so as far as the dedicated Mustang sports coupe goes, the starting point is this, a 2.3-liter turbo four-pot.
As mentioned earlier, the Mustang is meant to be the people's muscle car, and to make it more affordable, Ford borrowed the engine from the Focus RS. In the now-defunct RS, the 2.3-liter turbocharged engine delivered 350 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque. Ford changed a few bits, and the result is 310 hp in the base coupe and 330 hp when you opt for the High-Performance Engine. The torque output is 350 lb-ft on both models, matching that of the RS.
Does it provide enough power, especially in a car as revered as the Mustang? The answer is yes. This supposed sacrilegious four-pot Mustang will give the previous-generation V8 a proper hiding in a straight line and on a track. Independent tests have shown that the 310-hp version can sprint from 0-60 mph in five seconds flat. Ford still hasn't released official figures for the high-performance engine, but it mentioned a figure of 4.5 seconds last year. That makes it faster than the V8 GT launched in 2005 and just about every Mustang prior.
Compared to its modern rivals, it does well. It beats the base Camaro and its 275-hp turbocharged four-cylinder, and it humiliates the base Challenger and its ready-for-retirement 3.6-liter naturally aspirated V6 engine. The Mustang is only available in the rear-wheel-drive format, as it should be.
The EcoBoost engine is equipped with a 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine producing 310 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque. A High-Performance Engine upgrade is available, increasing the horsepower figure to 330, while torque remains the same. A six-speed manual transmission is standard, but a ten-speed automatic is available if you intend to use the Mustang daily.
We'd go the manual route every single time, as the ten-speed tends to delay shifts when you pull on the paddles behind the wheels. Ford's ten-speed 'box also tends to hunt for gears when you need a sudden burst of speed.
Is the upgrade to the High-Performance engine worth it? On paper, it seems silly, offering only 20 hp extra. You'd get way more than that from a decent aftermarket tune. The secret is the tweaked torque curve, which is linear from 3,000 to 5,300 rpm. At those speeds, 90% of the torque is available.
A manual gearbox is also a beautiful form of self-expression. No need for silly driving modes and MacGuffins rev-matching and the line-lock function. (The Mustang has all of these, but you can switch it off.) You can heel-and-toe, double declutch, and dip the clutch to provoke oversteer.
The only downside is the lack of a V8 soundtrack. We don't want to sound old and miserable, but a Mustang and a V8 is one of the most iconic duos in existence, right alongside Woody and Buzz, Cheech and Chong, Jay and Silent Bob, and Negan and his baseball bat.
To illustrate the point, a quick anecdote. Soon after the launch of the current Mustang, we were driving the EcoBoost model. Stopping at a traffic light, we noticed a bunch of kids standing around at a bus stop. Recognizing the all-new Ford Mustang, they urged us to pin it, which we did. Obviously for educational purposes. We'll never forget the looks of disappointment on their faces as the Mustang stormed from the lights sounding like an overexcited smoothie maker.
It's important to remember that the Mustang is a sports car first and foremost, so in this department, it truly shines. It now famously has independent suspension at every wheel, front and rear roll bars, and a steering rack that's both quick and provides loads of feedback. You can further enhance the experience by adding the Handling Package ($1,995), which comes with Pirelli Corsa tires, a Torsen limited-slip differential, magnetic damping, and premium brakes. The High-Performance package also adds heavy-duty front springs, larger brakes and radiator, and unique tuning for the ABS and stability control. This Package is only available on the Fastback Premium.
The Mustang offers a compliant, controlled, and confidence-inspiring ride. In fact, we actually prefer the ride and handling of the four-pot with the above options included over the standard V8 GT. It might not provide an awe-inspiring soundtrack, but you can feel the weight saving when you push the EcoBoost Mustang through a series of corners. The four-pot engine weighs 200 lbs less than the V8, making it less prone to understeer. The four-cylinder Mustang also feels more nimble and agile.
If you spend a lot of time at the track, we urge you to drive both models back-to-back. You'd be surprised at how better suited the basic four-cylinder is to track duty.
Yet another feather in the EcoBoost Mustang's cap, the six-speed manual's EPA-estimates is 21/29/24 mpg city/highway/combined, decreasing to 20/27/22 mpg for the high-output engine. The 2.3-liter is most frugal when paired with the ten-speed auto, with EPA-estimates of 21/32/25 mpg. You notice the difference turbocharging makes when comparing figures with the naturally-aspirated 5.0-liter V8 manual. According to the EPA, it can only manage 15/24/18 mpg. The Ford also beats the base Camaro manual (19/29/22 mpg) and the 3.6-liter base Challenger's 19/30/23 mpg.
The interior layout is two-plus-two, which is an excellent way of saying that Ford only really bothered making it comfortable for the front passengers. Space in the rear is restricted, and it's tricky to get in and out. Still, we won't complain too loudly as the 'Stang isn't marketed as family transport.
Base models are equipped with manually-adjustable cloth bucket seats, upgraded to power-adjustable leather bucket seats in the Premium. Top-spec models also get seat heating, ventilation, and lumbar support. The base model receives a six-speaker setup, while the Premium adds three more. Single-zone climate control is standard on the base, upgraded to dual-zone in the Premium.
Our favorite part is the Mustang logo on the steering wheel. It's a friendly reminder that you're driving an homage to one of the USA's most famous and successful vehicles.
Let's be honest for a second. You're not buying the Mustang to do the school run, so it makes sense that Ford would pay more attention to comfort up front than in the rear. This is reflected in the measurements. Front passengers get 45.1 inches of legroom and 37.6 inches of headroom. Rear passengers only get 29 inches of legroom and 34.8 inches of headroom.
The luxurious amount of space up front makes the Mustang a joyous cruiser, even on long trips. You can get small kids in the back, but constantly moving the seat forward to get them out is a nuisance. Instead, use the rear seats for storing extra luggage. If you regularly require more space, we recommend a crossover or SUV instead. Ford also makes a lovely ST version of the Edge, packing 400 hp.
On the base model, cloth is the only option available in Ebony or Ceramic. Premium models come standard with ActiveX leatherette available in Ebony, Ceramic, or Tan. If you want genuine Ebony leather, you have to upgrade to the Carbon Sport Interior Package, costing an additional $1,195. The Premier leather trim requires an upgrade to the 201A equipment group, which costs $2,300 and comes with many other extra accessories. Color choices include Ebony, Showstopper Red, and Midnight Blue with Grabber Blue stitching. A set of Recaro leather-trimmed seats in Ebony costs $1,595. The Recaro Premier Leather options cost $3,895 and are available in Ebony, Showstopper Red, and Midnight Blue with Grabber Blue stitching.
As alluded to earlier, the Mustang wasn't built with practicality in mind. Still, it's impressive to find a reasonably-sized 13.5 cubic feet of cargo capacity in the trunk. That's more than the 9.1 cubes found in the Camaro but less than the 16.2 cubes provided by the larger Challenger.
The rear seats of the Mustang can fold flat in a 50/50 split, which is how we'd keep it all the time. This provides ample space for not only monthly grocery shopping or a weekend away for two, but also all the stuff you need for a day at the track. Interior storage consists of two cupholders up front, a storage bin under the center armrest, and door pockets.
This year, the Mustang packs an impressive list of features from the base level. On the comfort side, you get single-zone climate control, cloth bucket seats with manual adjustment for the driver and passenger, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, an illuminated glove box, and keyless entry with a push-button start. The Premium model adds dual-zone climate control, and leather-trimmed power, climate-controlled front seats. With Ford's Co-Pilot360 now being standard across the range, both models come with auto high-beam headlights, a rearview camera, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keep assist, pre-collision assist, auto emergency braking with pedestrian detection, and dynamic brake support.
The base model is equipped with a disappointingly small 4.2-inch touchscreen running basic SYNC software. It features voice recognition and Bluetooth connectivity, paired with a six-speaker sound system. In the Premium model, you get a larger eight-inch touchscreen running the more advanced SYNC3 operating system. This allows for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration. The sound system is upgraded as well, adding three speakers and an amplifier. Voice-activated navigation is available, as is a 12-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system.
The 2021 Mustang received a stellar rating from the J.D. Power Survey, scoring 86 out of a possible 100 points. Owners were most impressed by the driving experience, giving it 90 points.
According to the NHTSA, one recall was recorded in 2019 for an instrument cluster going blank. This only affected models equipped with the optional digital instrument cluster. A total of four recalls were issued in 2020, with a brake pedal bracket that may fracture being the most serious. Other issues included a warning chime that was too short, an improperly calibrated front-facing camera, and a distorted rearview camera. Ford covers the Mustang with a three-year/36,000-mile full warranty and a five-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty.
The NHTSA gave the 2021 Ford Mustang a total five-star rating. Even more impressive is that it scored five out of five in each category, including rollover. The IIHS also gave the Mustang a decent report, with only the small overlap front crash test receiving an Acceptable rather than a Good rating.
The standard safety kit consists of eight airbags, ABS, stability control, and a rearview camera. You had to pay extra for driver assistance features in previous years, but Ford's Co-Pilot360 is now standard across the range. The full suite consists of rain-sensing wipers, auto high-beam headlights, a rearview camera, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keep assist, pre-collision assist, auto emergency braking pedestrian detection, and dynamic brake support.
No doubt. This American icon remains a good car, even when equipped with a turbocharged four-cylinder engine. You most likely clicked on this review hoping that we'd confirm your suspicions that a four-pot Mustang is a perfectly reasonable choice, and we can confirm. The only thing you're losing out on is the V8 soundtrack. Granted, an angry noise plays a significant role in performance, but we think the light-footed handling and improved fuel consumption are a worthy trade.
The Mustang ticks all the right boxes associated with a decent daily car. It's comfortable, well-equipped, fun to drive, and much safer than before. The only thing that counts against it is a lack of rear space, but we're willing to bet you weren't interested in that anyway.
Ford's EcoBoost Mustang can wear that famous logo on its steering wheel with pride.
The base EcoBoost Mustang has an MSRP of $27,155, while the Premium model retails for $32,175. Adding a ten-speed automatic transmission adds $1,595 to the price of the Ford Mustang sports car in either trim. These prices exclude Ford's destination fee of $1,195.
There are two trim levels to choose from: Fastback or Premium Fastback. Both Ford Mustang sports car models are powered by the same 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed manual gearbox. A ten-speed automatic transmission is available.
The base model comes with 17-inch alloy wheels, cloth bucket seats with manual adjustment, a 4.2-inch infotainment system with a six-speaker sound system, keyless entry, push-button start, and single-zone climate control. Ford's Co-Pilot360 is standard from this year. It includes auto high-beam headlights, a rearview camera, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keep assist, pre-collision assist, auto emergency braking with pedestrian detection, and dynamic brake support.
The Premium Fastback adds Ebony leatherette seats with power adjustment, heating, and ventilation. Dual-zone climate control is standard, as is an eight-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. A nine-speaker sound system with an amplifier channels the audio.
There are various packages available, but only two worth investing in if you want the ultimate driving experience. The first is the High-Performance Package, which retails for $6,095. We care less about the extra 20 hp than the other stuff that comes with this package. You also get a limited-slip differential, 19-inch alloy wheels, a performance exhaust, gauges for oil pressure and boost, heavy-duty springs, larger brakes and radiator, unique chassis tuning, and model-specific tuning for the ABS and stability control. The $1,995 Handling Package (only available on the Premium Fastback) adds high-performance Pirelli tires, a Torsen limited-slip differential, magnetic dampers, and premium brakes. It's worth pointing out that there are various style packages and a technology package that comes with voice-activated navigation. Given how much functionality Apple CarPlay and Android Auto add to a car, we wouldn't bother.
While most people want a 5.0-liter V8 Mustang, the base model costs around $36,000, and that's before you add the $6,295 Performance Package. We maintain the EcoBoost offers a sharper driver experience, primarily due to the 200 lbs removed from the car's front-end.
We'd go for the Premium model because it comes with everything we need in a car. The seats are power-adjustable, heated and ventilated, and the added functionality of an eight-inch touchscreen with SYNC3 removes the need for navigation.
Naturally, we'd keep the six-speed manual. Then we'd add the Handling Package and High-Performance Package. These additions take the price up to $40,265, which is slightly more than the V8 Premium. So, your choice is between a V8 soundtrack or a lithe track-ready four-cylinder with bigger brakes, better cooling, and a limited-slip differential.
We'd probably go to the dealer, convinced that the four-banger is the better option. And then we'd forget all about that as soon as a V8 model barks to life.
Chevrolet followed the same recipe with the Camaro as Ford did with the Mustang by fitting the base model with a turbocharged four-cylinder engine. However, in the Camaro, you only get 275 hp. Still, the Chevy is excellent in the handling department, making the most of the available horses.
The Camaro is just as impractical as the Ford, though it comes with more comfort and convenience features as standard. Ford hits back hard by offering a comprehensive safety suite as standard. If rumors are to be believed, the Camaro will be declared dead in 2023. With that in mind, we'd rather spend our money on the Mustang.
With a name like Challenger, you'd expect the Dodge to be a worthy adversary. And on paper, it seems to be a better car. You get a semi-decent 3.6-liter V6 engine, which should at least prove to be more characterful than the turbocharged four-cylinder. Alas, the Ford comfortably beats the Dodge, even without the High-Performance Package. The two cars have similar power outputs, but the older naturally aspirated Chevy engine just can't keep up with a new turbocharged engine.
The Dodge is bigger and, therefore, more practical, but that hardly matters in this segment. It does come with more creature comforts as standard, though. As a daily car, the Dodge is perhaps a better buy, but the Ford has a way of turning every trip into an event, and surely that's the purpose of owning a car like this?
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