We went on a Deep Dive, covered the way it looks when it was revealed, detailed the engine specs, got a ride in the EcoBoost and listened to the V8, got rolling footage and watched it do a standard-feature burnout.
The only thing left to do? Drive it. Having now done so for a few hours around Los Angeles, what we can tell you is to forget everything you know about the Mustang. This new car shames the old, redefines the model and gallops far ahead of anything else in the segment.
We drove the 2014 V6 next. Up the same mountain road, its cornering performance was vastly improved compared to the V8, the difference being 255/40 rubber on 19-inch tires. It still jumped around over imperfections and its brakes didn't like their assignment at all, but it was much grippier through turns. The noise definitely sounded like a base model being wound out, but the other 98-percent of the time, the exhaust note was fine.
In both cars, though, the decade-old chassis and ancient suspension could not help but show their age and aversion to such tasks. The Track Pack (retuned suspension and stability control, bigger rubber and much better brakes) would undoubtedly have produced a sweeter flavor. Still, for this author, the heart only starts to beat for the Mustang when getting to trims like the Boss 302, Shelby GT500, a Roush Stage 3 or the Super Snake.
The 2015 has cured our blind spot for the lower versions – well, except for the V6, which might want to find a support group for abandoned models, because Ford cares so little for it. The new entry-level trim gets less horsepower and worse gas mileage than before, and hardly any options – no Premium or Performance Package, no leather or Recaro seats, no TrackApps and no wheels above 18 inches. The Blue Oval wants you to think EcoBoost when you walk in the dealer's door – the V6 is a price leader destined for rental fleets.
Which makes sense, because the EcoBoost is basically the old V6 model, but hugely improved. We started in a Premium car with the six-speed automatic, and through LA morning traffic on the way to Angeles Crest, the inline-four felt just like the six-cylinder – unsurprising since the new motor has virtually the same numbers as the now-discontinued sixer, and Ford's EcoBoost game is strong.
Designed and tuned for Mustang duty, throttle response and power delivery with the EcoBoost are consistent, and with 320 pound-feet of torque available from 2,500 rpm, it pulls without fuss. The 2.3-liter goes so far as to sound like the 3.7-liter; the turbo whine that our own Michael Harley noted was missing wasn't a pre-production quirk. In 90 minutes of driving, the twin-scroll compressor didn't whine once. When you start to push it, it descends into a slight bellow of effort but, just like the six-cylinder, get on it really hard and it starts to thrash.
The smaller-diameter wheel gets the hands into a nicer position. Switch the three-mode steering into Sport for the greatest resistance (Comfort is way light; Normal is fine, anonymous), and while there isn't much for weighting as you apply lock, it's suitably firm at that point and more direct. The front suspension, able to do so much more with the leading wheels, keeps them pushed to the ground and working to go where they're pointed. The result is that you can feel a bond between the steering wheel and tires and you get the assurance of repeatable causation – when you turn the steering wheel you know where the front wheels are going to go, and you get more information about how they're doing and how close they are to the edge of adhesion.
The SelectShift transmission and its conventional torque converter has been improved with a redesigned case with cast-in ribs, revised clutches and less friction. It has reflexes about two beats too slow for hard cornering with the shifter in Sport, but that gets better if you change the drive mode to Sport+ or Track. The paddle shifters are the best route, however. Flick down to set the car up, and the Mustang maintains its composure through very quick, rev-matched downshifts.
Best of all: the suspension has cured the Mustang's allergy to bumps. Short of saying that it will eradicate lupus, it's hard to overstate how much the double-ball joint MacPherson struts in front and the multi-link rear suspension mean to the experience. You don't have to wait for the chassis to settle down before locking into a turn. You don't need to worry about going over into the oncoming lane or over the edge of a cliff when you hit a hole mid-turn, or let off the gas over some rumblies while the car skips around like a 2x4 that fell out the back of a pickup truck. You can power out of a turn on uneven pavement without getting noodly thanks to the car's 28-percent stiffer bodyshell and because the wheels – staying where they work best, on the ground – can put the power down.
The practical result is confidence, and the practical side effect of that is fun. No more tiptoeing through corners, no more having to read the road like braille to figure out where you can go fast and where you need to put the car to avoid nasty sections. Gone is the thrill of seeing a smooth, newly paved stretch and shrieking, "Finally, I can let loose! But not too much..."
The only memories of the previous car are a touch of float if you make throttle or steering adjustments through a turn – something we also found on the V8 without the GT Performance Pack – and the brakes. The two-piston stoppers didn't fade or give up, but keep them at eight-tenths and they'll soon reward you with that delightful brake-pad odor. The Performance Pack for the EcoBoost swaps those out for the four-piston units from the base GT.
Next we got into a GT with a manual transmission and the Performance Pack. Having broken the ice with the EcoBoost, assured that it could live up to its performance aspirations, we threw the GT hard up a canyon we'd recently done in a Ferrari F355 and a Porsche 911 Turbo S. Again, total fun; very different – and massively less expensive – than those other two, but total and proper performance fun.
We had no problem with the previous, 420-horsepower, 5.0-liter V8, but now it's gotten better with updates like a new cylinder head with larger valves and high-flow ports, new cams and forged connecting rods. It's quieter at idle but quick to change personality when you press the throttle; it isn't a GT500 or a Roush, but it's not supposed to be. The shift linkage in the manual transmission has been improved, and although we found the shift knob a little small, gear changing is sweet as ever.
The larger footprint adds more heft to the steering wheel feel, the bracing, the stiffer springs and sway bar, and the staggered rubber (255/40 in front, 275/40 in back) on 19-inch wheels turned the coupe into a one-word epithet: sticky. The six-pot Brembos on 15-inch rotors in front shed speed quickly and consistently. The same uneven road deformities that unhinged the 2014 V8 did nothing to deter the 2015, the body didn't bobble after late adjustments, and we don't remember getting the tires to chirp unintentionally once. You could get them to squeal around a turn, but you were deep into enjoyment at that point and, more importantly, you weren't worried about any sudden undoing. The one-percent difference in balance compared to the EcoBoost didn't even register with us; it's heavier, yes, but it's so much better. And according to Ford, it's quicker around a track than the last Boss 302. Our money would go straight here.
Our final ride for the day was a 50th Anniversary Appearance Package, which adds chrome trim and special badging, in Triple Yellow Tricoat.
The GT Premium does slot in nicely between our two previous drives, as it should be – faster and more engaging than the EcoBoost, not as buttoned down on the limit as the GT with the Performance Pack. Still, when we gave it the spurs up Mulholland in Track Mode (which turns the ESC to its sporty setting, not all the way off) over some terribly bump-riddled asphalt, all we got was more excellent handling and yes, a little float. At one point, we also got an excellent choice: the back will gently arc out as grip diminishes, presenting you with the opportunity to stay on the throttle and let it drift, let up a skosh and bring it back in line, or press the throttle to get the rear to squat down and power out. Good times, rolling.
We really like the exterior of the car – it's all muscle from every angle. Our only nitpick is the two raised creases in the hood, which are mild when viewed from the outside but stand out like reptilian ridges when viewed from the cabin.
What about the interior? It's a major improvement – the variety of lines and materials alone makes for nicer viewing, on top of which it is put together with more care and luxury touches like the available blind spot warning in the (tiny) mirrors, rearview camera with a bright, crisp image and adaptive cruise control are tastes of the good life. We have a few quibbles: the toggle switches at the base of the center console have the kind of metal-finish coating that makes them look even more like plastic, and the too-light markings mean you can't tell what each toggle is for during daylight hours. The sport seats are comfy but a bit squishy; there are buttons, buttons, buttons everywhere you look (one button we appreciate is the exterior trunk release just above the license plate – finally). Make no mistake, though, it's the best factory-standard Mustang interior you've ever been in.
We could say so much more, but this is what you need to know: it's not a new chapter in Mustang history, it's a new book, and you don't need to spend GT500 money or throw a bunch of upgrades at it to get a 'Stang that handles like a proper performance car.
During our back-and-forth with Autoblog colleagues about our experience in the 2014 models, we said of the V8 that it's a great canvas for improvement. "For $34,430 out the door," we wrote, "throw a few grand at it and it'll do some business. Better yet, get one that's two years old, spend the depreciation on upgrades and then torch every new Mustang buyer out there for the same money."
Forget about that script, and forget about the new base-model V6. The premium for the 2015 Mustang EcoBoost over the 2014 V6 is a steal as far as upgrades are concerned – they are roughly $2,500 apart but otherwise useless to compare, and the EcoBoost gets better gas mileage. And the $1,000 bump for the 2015 GT Premium? If a man on the street were giving away this much candy and happiness for so little, instead of Ford, you'd call the cops on him, or a doctor at the very least.
For the money, in the segment, nothing can touch it. Not even excuses. Finally.