Sometimes to make something better, you have to make it worse.
A little while back I was given the opportunity to drive a 2015 Ford Mustang EcoBoost. The brave Ford representative let me open up the 310 horsepower, 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder on the back roads of Los Angeles’ downtown area so I could see what the beast was made of. I had read about the car beforehand and knew that I was getting into a new breed of "refined" muscle car. There was plush leather everywhere, the stereo sounded good, and metallic buttons made the environment feel upscale.
The car had smooth upshifts whether I floored it or drove slowly and the steering felt like there was WD-40 in every joint to make the wheel glide. Much to my excitement and the horror of the Ford representative, I got to hurl the 3,500-pound beast through narrow alleyways filled with parked cars. It was fun, but the whole time I felt as if I were safely cocooned in a world of my own. This wasn't a bad thing but the lack of danger made it so something was missing from the experience. The reason for this was that just weeks prior to my modern Mustang escapade I had driven a 2002 Mustang GT. This is a car that’s name doesn’t do it any justice, but its hardcore, bare bones, lack of refinement does.
The catalytic converters had been (illegally) removed to let the 4.6-liter V8 roar. The interior was spartan except for a radar detector on the dash. And if you want to know how the clutch pedal felt, go outside and stomp on a large rock. The car had infamy among neighbors who loathed the cold starts and left notes telling the driver not to rev the engine (the car was only idling). Red lights would invite gearheads to race and rainy day drives would mean that worried onlookers thought the car was on fire. In reality, the steam was just water evaporating from the scorching hood. Despite having less power than the 2015 Mustang, you would never leave that GT without feeling like you saved a city from destruction.
This feeling of being a badass is what was missing from the modern Mustang, the feeling of getting out of a car like you just wrestled a bear and won. This was reinforced to me later when I rode in a 2015 Mustang GT while it did laps around a makeshift track. The car gave an amazing performance, but you weren’t at risk of a concussion at every upshift like in the older GT. It isn’t the automaker’s fault that regulations and consumer demands are pushing away testosterone-laden cars, but it is indicative of a new time where everything is designed for comfort and optimized for ease of use. Dodge tried to counter this with the Hellcat, but it isn’t enough just to add more horsepower. The key lies in the lack of refinement.
American cars are always pinged for their lack of refinement, and while it's great that they are gradually getting better, the entire point of a muscle car is that it lacks finer things. Ford needs to understand that it is only when you’re flirting with death that you feel most alive. The modern Mustang is a fantastic car, but for the die-hard enthusiast, a Mustang is the type of car that should make you thankful that you just survived the ride. Hopefully Ford will one day realize this and make a Mustang variant for those who want to live life on the edge without buying a LaFerrari.