ON FACE value, ‘but’ seems such an inconsequential word; simply three letters and one syllable Yet, it has great impact. What follows said ‘but’ is usually the kicker, the part of the sentence that goes for the jugular. And in the case of the four-cylinderpowered Ford Mustang 2.3-litre High Performance (HP), it has a big ‘but’, commonly served up in a broad Aussie drawl: “Yeah, but it’s not a V8, mate.” Therein lies the caveat it cannot escape.

It seems as though Ford knows this all too well. How could it not? The local arm admits that around 80 percent of all Mustang sales Down Under are for the Coyote 5.0-litre V8. And while history might reveal a greater acceptance of differing powertrains in the USA (a fuel crisis will do that), in Australia, Sally has always been seen to be powered by a bent-eight. Still, that hasn’t stopped the Blue Oval from trying to change our minds with this MY20 update for the four-pot.

Visually the update generates a new four-cylinder-specific front grille with a more aggro front splitter and silver bonnet spears. The badging has also changed, with the front quarter panel gaining a 2.3L High Performance badge in lieu of the dropped EcoBoost nomenclature. And the machinefinished 19-inch alloys expose the red Brembo brake calipers more than ever.

There is more power under the long bonnet, with the turbo four now endowed with 236kW and 448Nm, up from 224kW/441Nm. Yes, it’s notably down on the 339kW/556Nm V8, however, it’s also cheaper, with the $50,990 six-speed manual costing $12,700 less than the equivalent Fastback GT. We’re testing the $53,990 10-speed automatic (co-developed with GM), and despite its headline-grabbing number of ratios, the thriftier six-speed  manual is what we’d opt for.

At that price you’d expect a little more than hot-hatch pace, yet, with the two-door coupe tipping the scales at 1716kg, it’s roughly what you’re getting given the estimated 6.0sec 0-100km/h time. Essentially a detuned Ford Focus RS engine (with the same 63mm twinscroll turbo), the HP provides the odd sensation of feeling like you’re going faster than you actually are. Adding to this is the extended meaty mid-range (90 percent of torque is delivered between 2500rpm and 5300rpm), meaning revving out to the 6500rpm cut-out offers little benefit.

What isn’t lacking is a soundtrack – in Sport and Race modes, the HP is properly loud. It’s just a case of whether or not you like its tones. A V8 burble it does not have, but the spools and whistles are entertaining, with a gravelly roar under full load any Renault Megane RS owner would admire. Overrun histrionics aren’t omitted, either.

The HP has fuel consumption in its favour over the V8, but start pushing it and you’ll struggle to get close to the quoted 9.6L/100km figure.

The hyped 10-speed auto is a little disappointing, even with its revised gear ratios and final drive. While the gearbox helps keep the boosted four in its sweet spot – and amazingly it doesn’t feel like ratio overkill with the steering wheel-mounted paddles – it isn’t always swift to react to inputs and can be jerky at slow speeds. The manual just seems to marry better with the four-pot package, especially with its more involving handling.

With an alloy block and highperformance heads, the four-pot is more than 60kg lighter than the V8, helping to provide a front-to-rear weight distribution of 53/47. Therefore the HP delivers a keener front axle that sniffs out apexes and a rear end that’s willing to rotate when provoked. Helping this is the standard Torsen limited-slip differential, although there isn’t quite as much grunt on tap to attain yaw angles as easily as you can in the V8 GT. On the flipside, the HP’s steering offers much more tactility.

Grip is catered for via Pirelli P Zero (255/40 all-round) tyres, while the optional MagneRide adaptive suspension is a must-tick option.

Inside, improvements to cabin build quality and materials are evident. A 2.3L HP-specific plaque marks your build number. The 12.4-inch digital instrument cluster and optional bodyhugging Recaro seats are highlights.

The 8.0-inch infotainment screen features Ford’s SYNC3 system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. In terms of space, the rear seats are only for occasional use, though the boot is a generous 408 litres. AEB with pedestrian protection, lane-departure assist and adaptive cruise control are standard, yet the Mustang only carries a three-star ANCAP safety rating.

The irony is that the HP ’Stang is now the better handling option compared to the V8. But you don’t buy a GT purely to corner carve or head to the track. It’s also a car to be seen in while being engrossed in the eightcylinder soundtrack. The four pot never comes close to that kind of melodic crescendo or relaxed, long-legged GT-car vibe.

Is saving cash what buying a Mustang is all about when you have to forgo so much of its narrative? It’s like eating a prawn chip; your eyes are tantalised, yet your stomach isn’t satiated. And that’s always going to be the conclusion to the four-cylinder Mustang’s story in spite of the myriad ways Ford tries to improve it. No matter how good the newly coined 2.3L High Performance has become, it’s never going to escape its ‘but’.



Mustang cachet for less cash and thirst; dynamics; ride quality 


Not quick enough; it doesn’t sound or go like a V8; perception

The Rival


Okay, the Kia Stinger isn’t a two-door coupe, however it is a tasty alternative should you require a more usable rear seat. A four-pot version is available, though we’d go for 3.3-litre V6 for its hefty performance advantage (272kW/510Nm vs 182kW/353Nm). Doing so blows the price out to $60,790, but the Kia offers straight-line performance the ’Stang can’t match. Plus, the roomier rear seat carries a higher ANCAP rating. The Stinger isn’t without fault, with its rear end often feeling a little unhinged, yet with adaptive dampers it offers comfort, space and grace in one car.

Model Ford Mustang 2.3L High Performance

Engine 2261cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo

Max power 236kW @ 6200rpm 

Max torque 448Nm @ 3800rpm 

Transmission 10-speed automatic

Weight  1716kg

0-100km/h  6.0sec (estimated}

Economy 9.6L/100km

Price $53, 990

On sale Now