Tom Wilson
February 5, 2014
Photos By: Courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Horse Sense: Of the many cultural references associated with the Mustang, most will agree Steve McQueen is the strongest. Ford believes his masculine coolness is a vital Mustang attribute to be designed into every Mustang built.

Because it fades away the moment you see the new car, it's good to recall that originally the sketch pads were blank. Ford could have gone anywhere with the '15 Mustang's design, but as we see, they avoided many temptations and executed a sublimely evolutionary step forward.

Certainly the core Mustang proportions of a long hood and short rear deck remain, but this sixth major iteration of the Mustang expertly amplifies the marques primal masculinity while adding new sophistication. In fact, the gesture is brutal—the green house now disproportionately small relative to the larger, chiseled body—but the details are so elegantly cut as to suggest an Aston Martin rather than some of the cartoonish muscle cars stamped out elsewhere in Detroit.

Chief architect of the '15's beauty is Joel Piaskowski, director of exterior design at Ford. He had the huge task of balancing the conflicting needs of conservative Mustang traditionalists, Mustang futurists, and Mustang intenders identified by Ford's market research. Additionally, Ford's corporate hierarchy wants corporate family cues, such as the Evos grille, all of which seemingly doesn't leave much room for creativity. The sophisticated '15 sheetmetal says otherwise.

Key to the '15's persona is that seemingly smaller greenhouse and larger fender flares. In reality, the greenhouse is approximately the same size—Ford was quick to confirm the interior is actually larger than the previous S197 design—and key to the car's physique is a 70mm increase in rear track width. Coupled with a 15mm increase in front track, the effect is much more three dimensional than before, with a bulge and flow new to Mustang.

Joel explained the effect: "The current car is what I would call more of a two-dimensional design, with a side, front, and rear. Where this has been designed and modeled in such a way that it is three-dimensional. It engages the viewer to come explore, see, and appreciate the sensuality."

Knowing the rear track increase was requested and executed long after the IRS was designed and the associated structure was in place shows just how important it is to the overall design. Joel had to go to Mustang honcho Dave Pericak and sell the rear track increase on its design merits alone. The chassis and suspension engineers had already met their goals and had no dynamic need for the width increase. It meant tremendous re- engineering of everything under the new skin, but everyone, including the chassis engineers who had to put out the extra effort, agree it was worth it.

The Evos grille gives Ford family resemblance, and low-mounted foglamps streamline the grille.

That such a late change was even possible is thanks to an accelerated development schedule that sees design and engineering occurring simultaneously. This requires dedicated packaging teams to provide the liaison between design and engineering, but because the process is completely computerized, the files are easily shared between the two disciplines and can still be changed.

With the rear track widened, the discussion turned to again increasing the front track. For handling reasons, it had been widened 15 mm early in the program; much later the rear track was increased. Ultimately the team decided not re-widen the front track, but it was a close decision.

Not discussed was the obvious need to bring all the tire faces flush with whatever new sheetmetal was decided upon. This has been a weak point of recent Mustang design, allowing something of a muffin top flare over the rear tire, and Joel was determined to be rid of it. Thus, the rear track traveled 70 mm outward, but the bodywork increase is just 40 mm to keep fender and tire aligned vertically.

Joel also amplified that fundamental of Mustang design, the long-hood/short-deck theme. This was done by moving the base of the windshield rearward 30 mm. Ford calls this the dash-to-axle appearance and it does accentuate the Mustangs muscularity. At the other end of the car, the trunk lid was lowered a tremendous 70mm, the better to "plant the car to the ground."

Of course, nothing beats a lowered roofline to visually mate the car to the pavement, and here the chop is subtle—and augmented by the lower bodywork rising 20mm higher than before. As for the recessed channel in the roofline, that's not to suggest a Double Bubble from an Italian exotic or a Cobra Daytona Coupe's Gurney Bubble. Joel put it there to keep the center of the roof from arching too high. This is an issue with first-generation Mustang fastbacks—seen from the three-quarter front they can have an odd forehead bulge in the roofline that the S550's roof channel eliminates.

Of course, to most enthusiasts, a Mustang's general shape is one thing, but it's the cues and jewelry that sets most tongues to wagging. Here Joel had an unexpected need—to remove Mustang cues. After 50 years of Mustangs, there's a closet full of ways to dress the pony car, from running horses to C-scoops, tri-bar taillamps to center rear gas caps, hockey sticks to shaker hoods, slatted rear windows to foglights in the grille, and on and on. No Mustang needs all of these cues, and the newest version needs room to contribute its own to Mustang heritage. As Joel put it, "As we designed the vehicle we tried to edit some of the characteristics. We actually ended up taking off a number of the design cues just to see how far we could remove elements before it wasn't a Mustang anymore."

One of these could be controversial. "[The] hockey stick is not there. It is implied in the filet." We'll give Joel his due here. As much as we missed it on the S197 until Ford returned it to the mix, the at-best vestigial hockey stick—that's the rise in the rear fender top crease just behind the doors—on the '15 is OK with us. The car doesn't need the hockey stick to say Mustang, and to have it there would likely have been more busyness than progress.

In the end, it's that word, progress, that most elegantly sums up the '15 exterior design. Recalling the late-in-the-game rear fender widening headaches, Joel said, "We paid a lot of attention to the right size and right proportion of this vehicle from a standpoint of progressing the aesthetic of Mustang into a modern vernacular. That really came with the support of Dave's [Pericak] team to help us re-architect the car to give it dynamic proportions."

To that we'll add the '15 is destined to be a Mustang classic, a landmark in the evolution on the car at a critical time. Rendered clumsily, the '15 Mustang could have set the brand on a downward spiral no amount of reworking could have put right. But gracefully sculpted as it is, the '15 is taking our favorite car strongly into the future.

Every millimeter counts. And that's what I'm really proud about.

1. The forward-leaning Shark-bite front was taken from the '69 Mustang, the car Joel Piaskowski says donated more cues than any other.
2. Differing from this GT, V-6 and 2.3 EcoBoost Mustangs have a unique grille that is pushed forward. This offers intercooler clearance for the EcoBoost.
3. Active grille shutters control the aerodynamics for improved economy on the 2.3 EcoBoost.
4. Depth and dimension in the power dome expresses the power lurking beneath.
5. The mirrors are moved out of the window frame and onto the door‒the space between improves visibility.
6. The A-pillar is moved rearward by 30mm.
7. Extended side glass eliminates the B-pillar for a lighter, more streamlined roofline.