Ford Mustang 2.3 is fast if not furious
Ford’s pony car is given a welcome makeover but the four-cylinder engine is meek voiced
Quiet Riot’s C’mon feel the noise is a bawdy and rollicking rock song preferably enjoyed at maximum volume. Much like a Ford Mustang should be.
But when I got behind the wheel of the 2.3l four-cylinder Mustang Convertible I was left asking: C’mon, where’s the noise?
The motor sounds like it was made by Singer sewing machines, not Ford’s high-performance division. And that just ain’t right.
As a Saffer who’s grown up knowing the brand only from snarling ‘Stangs driven by Nicolas Cage and Steve McQueen, I found the meek voice jarring in a sub-brand that — at least to my mind — built its reputation on a macho premise. At least that’s the Hollywood trope we’ve been fed; in real life there have always been more humble Mustang versions.
The macho brief is what the loud-mouthed 5.0l V8 Mustang GT derivative and the limited-edition Bullitt version still enthusiastically conform to.
Those who prefer their performance served with aural subtlety will find their happy place in this four-cylinder Mustang. Power-wise there’s little to complain about, especially in the thin air of high-altitude Gauteng where turbos find their groove.
The 2.3l EcoBoost is the same engine that powered the very brisk Focus RS super-hatch, and as part of a recent midlife upgrade to the Mustang range the turbo unit was bumped up by 11Nm to 441Nm of torque. It’s made more responsive by a turbo overboost function that’s triggered under heavy acceleration following upshifts, though maximum power stays the same at 213kW.
What you get is good overtaking torque, effortless cruising, and lag-free off-the-line acceleration, and even though it never sounds angry the car becomes distinctly less mild-mannered in one of its sportier modes (Sports +, Race and Drag Strip). There’s enough power in this rear-wheel drive car to wag the tail when the power’s laid down too early on corner exits — if you switch off the traction control.
The new 10-speed automatic transmission is a big improvement over the very leisurely auto gearbox it replaces. It swaps cogs much quicker and the smooth shifts ensure it doesn’t feel too spasmodic shuffling through all those gears.
Purists will lament that there’s no manual gearbox available in the Mustang range except for the limited-edition Bullitt, but the auto does have gearshift paddles on the steering for drivers wishing to be more involved in the wheelsmanship.
Ford says this gearbox also improves fuel consumption, a claim confirmed by the test car averaging just 10.2l/100km despite some spirited driving. Very impressive.
My issue is with the over-responsive throttle modulation, which makes the car feel like a hyperactive dog straining at the leash. It’s fine when you’re chasing performance but it makes this a snatchy car to drive around the suburbs, always jerking forward at the slightest touch of the pedal. A relaxed commuter it is not.
As part of the 2019 update, Ford has tweaked the suspension to improve cornering stability and reduce body roll. The handling is neat and the Ford slices the bends without feeling soggy, with sufficiently accurate steering.
The ride is generally firm, but not in a spine-jarring way, and we covered a lot of mileage in this car without it imposing on our comfort.
There’s not much scuttle shake in normal driving and the convertible Mustang feels satisfyingly solid, but rougher, rippled roads expose some body judder. It’s not a deal breaker.
The soft roof is well insulated, allowing you to conduct normal conversation instead of having to shout. And it allows you to better hear the one charismatic sound this car makes: the “heartbeat” rhythm of the indicator ticking.
The roof needs to be clipped and unclipped from the window frame by hand, but the rest of the process is electrically operated, and it’s a quick task to get into open sky mode.
The cabin controls are a mix of digital touch screens and aircraft-style metal levers. The analogue instrument panel’s been ditched in favour of a digital one that changes in look according to the chosen driving mode.
The updated interior delivers a more premium feel. Soft touch materials now feature for the door linings and the door handles are finished in aluminium. Leather-trimmed, heated and cooled seats are provided in conjunction with six-way electric adjustment.
Technological tweaks in the updated Mustang include Adaptive Cruise Control and Distance Alert, as well as Lane Departure Warning that can warn when drivers unintentionally drift out of lane, and Lane Keeping Aid that can apply torque to the steering wheel to steer the vehicle back into lane.
The cabin’s become more digitised, with the old analogue instrument panel giving way to a 12-inch digital display.
The update includes the latest version of the Sync 3 communications and entertainment system, which includes a 20cm tablet-like touch screen with pinch and swipe functions, navigation and voice control.
There’s not much legroom in the back seats, but a pair of adults is able to fit there if the front occupants are feeling charitable about moving their own seats forward. There’s no spare wheel, just a puncture repair kit. Boot space is surprisingly decent and we fitted in three big bags for a weekend trip.
The sensible person’s Mustang? Sure. It ticks most of the feel-good boxes of a "poor person’s sports car". It’s rapid, it handles pretty well, it has all-American in-your-face styling, and in soft-top form it has a summer-loving, elbow-on-the-doorsill vibe. It’s also cheaper than its rivals.
But the lack of soulful sountrack renders it perhaps too slick and sanitised, for those who hold that Mustangs are supposed to be loud and lewd, stimulating your senses and ravaging your fuel budget.
MOTORING PODCAST | Racing the Devil
Type: Four-cylinder petrol turbo
Type: 10-speed automatic
Type: Rear-wheel drive
Top speed: 233km/h (governed)
0-100km/h: 5.8 seconds
Fuel Consumption: 10.0l /100 km (claimed); 10.2l/100km (as tested)
Navigation, LED headlamps with auto high beam, power adjustable and heated side mirrors, rain sensing wipers, digital instrument cluster, trip computer, dual-zone climate control, adaptive cruise control, B&O premium sound system, Sync 3 infotainment system with touch screen, leather steering wheel with audio controls, partial leather seats, electrically adjustable front seats, five airbags, ABS brakes, stability control, lane-keeping alert, pre-collision assist with pedestrian detection, parking sensors with rear view camera, keyless entry with push-button start, 255/40 R19 tyres
Warranty: Four years/120,000km
Service plan: Six years/90,000km
Lease*:R17,750 per month
* at 10% interest over 60 months no deposit
Ford Mustang 2.3 Convertible
WE LIKE: Performance, updated interior, fuel consumption, price
WE DISLIKE: Sounds like a sewing machine, oversensitive throttle
VERDICT: Fast and fun, but sanitised
Motor News star rating
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