The Unsung Ponies



To many, the Ford Mustang is THE original “pony car” and that is an apt perception (it was responsible coining the phrase to begin with) since the car took the world by storm in 1964-65 and rattled off record sales numbers beyond any expectation. That image is held dear by purists that see the Mustang as a V8 powered beast (some insist with a manual transmission) and anything else is a worthless fake.

Not so…
The reality is that somewhere between 60-70% of all Mustangs built were equipped with engines OTHER THAN the V8. That says an awful lot about how many people love a Mustang for reasons other than dragstrip times or all-out horsepower. The original concept behind the new Ford venture was a small, affordable, sporty car that offered the feeling of freedom and fun. Lee Iacocca noticed the number of small European sports cars that made their way to our shores after WWII and combined with some savvy research, nailed the market answer. It might have been based on the lowly Falcon, but as always, project budget is an unavoidable factor.
Through its roller-coaster history, the Mustang has seen a variety of engines shoved under the hood. There was a time when a humble 2.3 normally aspirated 4cyl was the base engine, but the halo engine has always been some form of V8, and well it should be. Literally hundreds of different cars over the years served up a potent top line model but the bread and butter sales have always been from the mid-to-lower models.
Since 2011, Ford offered the 3.7 Cyclone V6 as the lower level engine and bargain buyers never had it so good. With 300hp on tap, the lesser Mustang delivered a spirited and fun driving experience without breaking the bank. These are some of the chief reasons the V8 GT has never been the overall sales leader.
Since CAFE standards went into effect, any auto company must sell more fuel efficient model to offset the thirsty performance products. Second, the GT is simply out of the purchase budget of a large number of buyers, especially if they are trying to justify the cost of an impractical coupe as a second car. Third, while technology has squeezed more mpg out of V8s than ever before, they can never match the economy of the smaller engines. Last, insurance cost is a required evil we all must deal with and unless you’re over 50 with a clean record, the cost to cover a V8 muscle car simply ain’t cheap…which is a bum rap if you’re not driving the car very often.
When Ford began their project for the S550 Mustang, one of the many goals was to make it a world market car. That meant right-hand-drive capability and fuel efficiency/ engine size that came under the high tariffs imposed by other countries on large displacement gas-guzzlers. It’s an ugly truth Americans have become insulated from via low fuel prices. The harsh reality is we probably pay a third less for fuel here than anywhere on the globe. In many countries, diesel power outsells gas by a 2-to-1 margin, driven solely by operating costs. We’ve seen the threat here before as gas prices spiked and suddenly (big shock) the car lots were littered with full-size trucks and SUVs that people were willing to almost throw away over fuel consumption.
Needless to say, Ford was highly motivated for their new 4cyl EcoBoost to succeed and they made sure of it by only offering the 3.7 powered car in base trim to drive sales down. I admit, the 3.7/ 3.5 engine family was already being replaced in other models due to its size and advancing technology. Many purists never thought the day would come when the F-150 would be powered by a 2.7 twin-turbo, but here we are. The mighty off-road Raptor packs a 3.5TT V6 pumping 450hp and the potent Ford GT supercar rocks 650hp from the same size powerplant.
How much longer and under what circumstances might we see the Mustang GT sporting a 4.0 badge instead of a 5.0? A 4.0L twin-turbo could make power to shame the current Coyote while being lighter and more efficient. Impossible? Never say never. The V8 could soldier on in the GT350 but only time will tell. The forthcoming 2020 Ford Interceptor Utility on its new RWD based/AWD platform holsters a 3.0 EcoBoost and has clocked the fastest times of any police vehicle (including V8s) and reliability is always a requirement for heavy service. Imagine how much fun a 3.0 EcoBoost Mustang would be? Talk about annoying the GT on a road course!
The point of all this is the Mustang GT is a great car if that happens to be your bag and budget, but the reality is the masses buy other models and they still want the experience to be fun. I could say I’ll miss the 3.7 Cyclone but there are thousands in the used market to be had and its been years since I bought a brand new car anyway. The bottom line is the 3.7 is off the table but that doesn’t mean more appealing options aren’t in the pipeline for years to come.
The 2.3 EcoBoost in the Mustang is a whole new animal from the 2.0 in my 2013 Escape with Twin Scroll technology, exhaust manifold internal casting, superior cooling, forged internals and a host of other small features aimed at performance and strength. The engine offers big potential for upgrades as the aftermarket has clearly shown, but if they could only find a way to make it sound better. Purists say the V6 sounds like crap against the Coyote and I won’t dispute almost any V8 sounds better than a V6, but the 4cyl is an acquired taste. There are potent 4cyl cars in the world and many sound vibrant and angry, but there is a fine line between aggressive and punishing your ears. Its the nature of the beast but the V6 has a Euro-flavor that hits a sweet spot for me.
I wont say I’ll never own an EcoBoost Mustang because I’ve driven a couple and they were impressive. I respect the GT and its long heritage but its off my table for cost alone (as it is for many others) So time will tell what winds up in the driveway but its a wider market for the unsung ponies that have carried Mustang for over 50 years. So the fact remains, if you can’t afford a pricey GT, there are two other options to be had if you’re buying used and only one if you’re buying new. Which one will it be and why? The great part is no matter what choice you make, you need not sacrifice fun and the experience of owning a piece of the Mustang legend.
 -T.August Green

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