Shakespeare wrote: “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” But what if the rose kept its name, looked the same but smelled totally different? That’s always been the conundrum of the four-cylinder Mustang. It looks like a Mustang and feels like a Mustang, but the crucial ingredients of a muscle car, the grunt and the noise – aka the sweet smell of a rose – has always been conspicuous in its absence.
In an attempt to rectify this there is now the 2.3L High Performance, which replaces the Ecoboost as the four-cylinder choice in the MY2020 Mustang line-up. To see if it’s worthy we’ve welcomed a manual 2.3L HP to the MOTOR stable for the next few months, which will then become a GT – with perhaps a quick fling in an R-Spec – to cover off the entire ’20 range.
Changes for 2020 are very minor: four new colours – Iconic Silver, Red Hot, Twister Orange and the Grabber Lime you see here – and the option of a Black Shadow Pack ($1000) which adds bonnet and side stripes, 10-spoke wheels and darkens the grille and guard badging. More importantly, all new Mustangs come with a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty and fixed-price servicing, the first four services costing $299 apiece.
The 2.3L HP began as an after-hours project among a few Ford Performance engineers who wondered what a Mustang would be like with a Focus RS engine. Pretty good, apparently, as just 10 months later the most serious four-cylinder Mustang since the 1985 SVO was born. On paper the performance boost is modest, outputs rising from 224kW/441Nm to 236kW/448Nm, but there’s more to the story.
A drop in compression ratio from 9.5 to 9.37:1 allows the five per cent larger turbo to work harder resulting in a wider power band. Whereas beforehand maximum power was produced at a lowly 5700rpm the new peak arrives at 6200rpm and at least 400Nm is available between 2500-5300rpm. The rev limit is 6800rpm in short bursts, though 6500rpm continuously. Ford claims 0-60mph (97km/h) in the “mid four-second range on premium fuel” which is outrageously optimistic, but we’ll strap the timing gear on to discover the true figures in a future update.
Helpfully, the chassis has had a thorough going-over, too. An alloy strut tower brace stiffens up the front end, brakes are lifted from the standard GT – 352mm discs and four-piston calipers up front rather than the 380mm discs and six-piston calipers of the Performance Pack-spec Aussie GTs, combined with 330mm discs and single-piston calipers at the rear – and the front bar improves brake cooling and reduces front-end lift. The 2.3L HP is 65kg lighter than its V8 sibling at 1705kg, which is distributed 53/47 front-to-rear.
Wheels are 19 by 9.0-inch front and rear but wrapped in Pirelli P Zeroes rather than the GT’s Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S. There’s an optional “Ecoboost Handling Package” available Stateside which local HPs score half of; a larger 24mm anti-roll bar (up from 21.7mm, itself an upgrade from the standard Ecoboost’s 20mm) and shorter 3.55:1 diff ratio (3:31 standard) make the grade, but the wider 9.5-inch wheels with 265/40 Pirelli P Zero Corsa4 tyres do not.
There are a few options available and our test car has the works: MagneRide adaptive dampers, Recaro seats and the body colour pack, which deletes the grey bonnet stripes and reverts the rear spoiler and mirrors to, funnily enough, body colour. It’s a good looking car, the nickel-finish wheels providing a subtly different look to the GT.
You don’t miss out on any equipment for forgoing the V8, quite the contrary. There’s the same 8.0-inch touchscreen with SYNC3 infotainment and smartphone mirroring, 12-speaker 1000w B&O stereo, 12-inch digital instruments, dual-zone climate control, eight airbags, adaptive cruise, auto high-beam, auto emergency braking and tyre pressure monitoring. Heated and cooled seats are standard, but selecting the Recaros deletes this capability. You even get a couple of small items missing from the GT, most notably the pony projection lights that shine the Mustang logo onto the ground as you step out of the car. A small touch, but a nice one.
The question is whether this thorough makeover has made the four-cylinder Mustang a viable alternative? The next couple of months will provide the answer, on road, drag strip and track, while the immediate switch to the V8 big-banger will be the perfect reference point. Will the 2.3L High Performance prove to be a rose, or more of a thorn?
2020 Ford Mustang 2.3L HP Pros & Cons
Things we’re loving
1 - Good looks
2 - Lotsa kit
3 - Great ride
Things we’re ruing
1 - Dull sound
2 - Steering feel
3 - Seems thirsty