04 FORD MUSTANG ECOBOOST

Dressed to impress, but fails the cylinder count

BY ē TRENT GIUNCO + PICS ē ALASTAIR BROOK

THE MUSTANG ECOBOOST IS A TALENTED, REAR-DRIVE PERFORMANCE COUPE. BUT ITíS NOT A V8. AND THATíS WHAT COUNTS

IT WAS AN ORDINARY Monday night, just a quick trip to the supermarket before heading home. Ahead of me as I walked to the car park was a family. Mother and father were reluctantly squabbling in public as their young son walked within earshot, unaware of the escalating feud.

He was transfixed on a red Mustang - Ďmyí Ford Mustang. ďDad look, itís a MustangĒ, said the boy, grabbing his fatherís arm for attention. Literally pulled out of his confrontation, the response was short, but cutting.

ďMate, itís not even a V8.Ē Despite the authoritative response from his elder and a two-door coupe sans 5.0 badging, it didnít stop the beguiled boy watching wide-eyed as I drove away.

Thatís the visual appeal of the iconic ponycar. The current design (with updates in line with the GT) is such a successful throwback to the past while still being bang-on in a modern context. Yet unlike America, where the fuel crisis meant four-cylinder Mustangs have been a thing since the í70s, weíre yet to fully grasp the notion of a íStang with only ďhalf an engineĒ.

However, maybe it should be viewed as a Focus RS-powered Mustang - just in a milder tune, with that grunt sent to the rear 255-section P Zeros and not all fours. And with 224kW and 441Nm from its alloy, 2.3-litre four-cylinder turbo, thatís exactly what the Fastback is - itís also $13K cheaper than the GT. You can select a reworked six-speed manual or the hyped 10-speed auto in either Fastback or Convertible guises.

Just donít expect the same levels of straight-line prowess as either of its Blue Oval siblings. Down the drag strip, a 6.23 second 0-100km/h time was all she wrote, thatís combined with a quarter-mile in 14.38sec at 151.85km/h.

It isnít blisteringly fast and itís a stark reminder that the boosted four-pot still weighs 1705kg. A careful management of wheelspin off the line is required with precisely timed shifts as second gear tops out at 104km/h. Although it does sound a lot better while doing it with the quad-tipped exhaust offering a far louder and tuneful bark than before.

Away from straight lines, itís out in the real world where the EcoBoost comes alive and makes more sense. It feels faster on the run with dollops of torque to relax into while holding onto taller gears. Speaking of, the shorter ratios used for the manual should be fitted to the brawny GT. Given itís a $3K premium, the hyped 10-speed auto isnít a better pick as the manual provides a superior user experience.

Point to point, the EcoBoost íStang strides with the kind of dynamic verve that would match a GT caught in its lower rev range. Itís competent and composed, but the optional MagneRide is $2750 well spent. Sans adaptive dampers, the ride quality lacks the ultimate duality of comfort and control.

While the lighter front-end is tangibly keener on turn-in, the steering isnít tactile enough and itís a bit dead straight-on. Toggling through the modes doesnít really help as it simply adds artificial weight. The long nose seemingly exacerbates the feeling of disconnection from the front axle.

While being spirited, thereís never quite enough grunt to overpower the rear axle, meaning once youíve got past the neutral mid-point of the corner, exciting the rear-end for a bit of fun on corner exit is difficult - even with a limited-slip differential.

The initial travel in the brake pedal is sharp and the touchy nature it returns isnít for everyone. Acclimatise to it and the Brembo stoppers are excellent.

Despite upping the fit-and-finish game as well as adding better materials, like the exterior, the cabin remains a retro homage with varying degrees of success. Itís an apt interior for the exterior in terms of presence. SYNC3 infotainment (with a large 8.0-inch screen) and a 12.4-inch digital instrument cluster are highlights, while all 2019 EcoBoosts come with an, ahem, banging B&O sound system and Autonomous Emergency Braking.

Itís hard not to look at Mustangs with the same lust as the aforementioned boy - and thatís not via rose-coloured glasses. Thereís something about American muscle that just works.

However, itís tied to a V8 narrative; one made even more resolute with the death of Aussie, rear-drive V8s. Be in no doubt, the EcoBoost Mustang Fastback is a talented, rear-drive performance coupe that, at $49,990, makes a strong case. But itís not a V8. And thatís what really counts.