Evan J Smith
December 8, 2014
Contributers: Evan J. Smith, Ford Motor Company, Evan J Smith Photos By: Evan J. Smith, Ford Motor Company

Push, push, push . . . then push some more, right to the edge of our comfort level.

We pushed deep into the corners, mostly blind ones, yet the all-new Mustang maintained the balance and control of an Olympic ice skater—frankly, it inspired confidence and was a thrill to drive. And so we pushed—hard—harder than we planned, considering we were acclimating to the feel of this long-awaited S550 chassis.

As we carved and climbed through the twisting Angeles Crest Highway outside of Los Angeles, we thought, A mistake right now would be catastrophic. Immovable rock faces flashed by the window. Meanwhile, mountain peaks created a picturesque scene on the opposite side. Our focus, however, was on the road ahead. The EcoBoost Mustang provided insane grip and never jumped out on us. Impressive? We’d say so.

Let’s face it, hordes of Mustang enthusiasts considered the S197 Mustang to be perfect. Since 2005, Ford has blended power, technology, and a slathering of retro into the design. The past, however, only takes you so far. We’re a bit over the whole retro thing. Ford recognizes and acknowledges the vast cross-section of the Mustang faithful—50 years of owners who expect the Mustang to be ripe with forward-thinking technology, connectivity, and uncompromising style and performance. But it must do so without losing a connection to the heritage and styling cues of an American icon.

As you know, Mustang’s reputation was at stake when the slate was wiped clean. “We’re fully committed to building the best Mustang ever,” said Mustang Chief Engineer Dave Pericak. “We spent a lot of time on the proportions to give it a ground-hugging appearance that’s uncluttered and purposeful.”

According to Pericak, the 2015 Ford Mustang has world-class craftsmanship and improvements to enhance the driving experience. “The size of the instrument panel has been reduced by 30 percent. This means more knee room. The steering wheel is smaller, plus it now has tilt and telescopic features. There’s also a clean shift path, memory recline in the seats, the glove box is lighted and lockable, and there is a bin for sunglasses and a phone holder. It has more airbags and a larger trunk, too,” he added. But that just scratches the surface.

We drove both the GT and the EcoBoost and we came away grinning wildly. There’s quite a variance in the “experience” each Stang provides, they are both good, but distinctively different.

2.3L EcoBoost Mustang

We’re not going to lie. We had doubts about the EcoBoost Mustang. There, we said it. While we’ve been impressed by the 3.5L twin-turbo EcoBoost, we feel the 2.0 in the Focus ST underachieves. So we just didn’t think the 2.3L four-banger would properly motivate the Mustang. Boy, were we wrong! It’s capable of high 13s in stock trim. Yeah, that’s faster than your stock Fox-body. And it sounds good, even if the engine notes are piped in through the sound system. Ford has been taken to task over this, but we say, “Who cares?” It doesn’t dampen the driving experience, and that’s what we’re after.

Our tester was Competition Orange and equipped with the six-speed manual and the tight Recaro seats. We kicked off our test drive in stop-and-go traffic in downtown L.A., but it was a good drivability test. The Mustang was nimble and easy to handle around town. Visibility is great. The controls are within easy reach, and it was easy to find a comfortable driving position. Clutch take-up (release) was smooth and had a linear in feel. And the new Hill-Start Assist was a pleasant driver aid. It permits you to release the brake pedal on a hill without rolling backwards, just for a moment until you can apply throttle, release the clutch, and get going.

Soon the road opened and we could feel the power. The more we drove, the more we liked it. We immediately noticed that bumps, bruises, and potholes no longer upset the ride quality. In earlier Mustangs you subconsciously make steering inputs as the rear axle encounters imperfections in the road that often causes the car to twitch. With the IRS you barely feel those imperfections and you don’t have to compensate with steering. It’s a subtle but noticeable improvement.

The newness of the design carries into the amazing interior. The optional leather Recaro seats are supportive and squeeze you tightly,(perhaps too much for daily driving or for larger occupants. To be safe, we’d recommend driving with both seat versions prior to ordering. The 2015 Mustang uses a smaller steering wheel, which provides a sportier look and feel; it also makes ingress and egress easier, especially for those who drive with the seat close to the wheel. Speaking of the wheel, you’ll find much more adjustment with the telescopic feature. In the name of ergonomics, Ford moved the shifter closer to the driver, and engineers slid the cupholders to the right—this, combined with a redesigned shifter, produces smoother shifting with a better overall feel. Ford also added a nice pocket at the base of the center stack that’s perfect for holding a cellphone—finally.

The dash is shorter and has a smart-looking curved shape, which provides more room for your knees. We like the “eyebrows” at the top, and the materials are fantastic. The gauge layout provides functionality and blends nicely with the center stack. All Mustangs now have a push-to-start button and the toggles that activate various features.

Breaking free of traffic’s grip, we attacked the aforementioned Angeles Crest Highway, a spectacular adrenaline-pumping arrangement of bends, sweepers, and straights, with a breathtaking view to boot. We cracked into those ponies, and power was there when we needed and wanted it, even while ascending through 4,000-plus feet. The EcoBoost’s turbo comes on with 20 psi of boost for snappy low-end grunt, and it doesn’t diminish in the mid- and high-rpm range. Actually, we forgot we were driving a four-banger Stang altogether. We were simply driving a fun Mustang.

At speed, however, you can’t get over how remarkable the suspension works. Braking aggressively brought on a whole new experience as we dove into the binders and the chassis sucked downward. No longer does the snout try to kiss the ground under heavy braking; instead there is a wonderful balance. Pedal feel is firm, and we were able to modulate the braking power nicely. All four corners now work in unison to maintain compliance and slow the car. You feel this connection in the seat of your pants!

With improved braking stability, the chassis sets up quickly so you can attack the corners. After a few miles, our confidence grew and we drove with more vigor. The Mustang never balked and we never reached an uncomfortable level. Enthusiasts will realize this pony is very easy to drive at speed.

This improved control comes from a stiffened chassis combined with double-ball-joint independent front suspension with MacPherson struts and a tuned stabilizer bar. The rear features an Integral link IRS with coil springs and a stabilizer bar. Vehicle weight was 3,532 pounds without driver. Our Stang rode on 255/40/19 summer tires with 19x9 wheels.

Turn-in is immediate, with excellent predictability. The electrically assisted steering is also weighted nicely. We found the car to be nimble and stable on switchback transitions, even when we flicked the sprung weight back and forth in tight corners. Ultimately, this results in flatter, faster, and drama-free cornering. It lets you roll the power on quickly to muscle out of the turns, which is what we’re all after.

5.0 Mustang GT

The Mustang GT is clearly the EcoBoost’s big brother. It’s muscular, it rumbles, and with 435 hp it gets with the program. Truth be told, we had hoped for 450 hp or at least 444—we suppose Ford is banking a few ponies for future “feature” models. But 435 is stout, and man, does the Coyote sound good, especially when you wing it up near the 7,000-rpm redline. And it accelerates. Our sister pub Motor Trend went 12.8 in the quarter, so we’re sure low 12s are easily accomplished with powershifts on a prepped track.

On the road, the Mustang GT was everything we expected. We love the styling, especially the Performance Pack, with its mini-splitter and the rear spoiler. The PP also gets you a 3.73 rear gear with Torsen differential, stiffer springs, and matched shock damping, cross-axis ball joints, and wider wheels and tires. (A 3.31 is standard on the GT manual; 3.55 is optional.) You also get outstanding braking performance with the six-piston 15-inch Brembo brakes. Stuff like that is normally reserved for race cars, so track dawgs, head straight for your favorite road course. Quarter-milers will likely add drag radials, a tune, and basic mods that are sure to produce low 11s or high 10s. Of course, boosting your GT could bring 9s under the right conditions.

According to Pericak, you can now option your auto-equipped GT with a 3.55 performance axle ratio (3.15 is standard). If the outgoing GT with 3.15 gears could run 12.80s, we expect a 2015 Mustang with 3.55s to run 12.60s or quicker. At 3,705, it’s heavier, something we expected (despite the ridiculous Internet reports of a 200-plus pound reduction), but you get more standard options increased safety and a better ride.

Pericak also pointed out the S550 chassis is 28 percent stiffer (on the coupe), and this allows the suspension to do its job better than before. It is refined but still has a “Mustang feel.” If anything, compared to the EcoBoost, the GT has a softer, heavier feel in the front suspension. Where the lighter (by 150 pounds) EcoBoost reacts to steering inputs with a surgeon’s precision, the GT wasn’t as sharp. It is important to note that we we’re comparing the Performance Pack–equipped EcoBoost to a Premium GT without the Performance Pack. Despite the weight, steering feel was excellent. There’s just a bit more to think about at the limit.

“The Performance Pack gives you a way different feel,” said Pericak. “The springs on the base GT have a sporty but comfortable ride. The Performance Pack is more tied down. We have goals for lap times or lateral g numbers, and we work hard to optimize the critical areas, keeping in mind the desired feel and character. The Mustang has an edge or rawness,” Pericak added. “You just can’t look at the numbers or the data. There’s a human factor. It’s about the intangibles of the driving experience.”

We agree. Driving a Mustang is a special experience, one that Mustang owners covet. Even with the refinement and the technology, the character is not compromised. It’s 100 percent Mustang from the pony in the grille to the rumble of the 435hp Coyote. We’re anxious to see where Mustang owners take the 2015. The aftermarket will soon be flooded with cold-air and tuning packages, plus blowers, turbos, body kits, and exhaust. And we’ll see international brands entering the market, too. “The world wants a piece of Americana,” Pericak boldly proclaimed, “and we built an American machine to give it to them.”