I’ve been a fan of the current-generation Ford Mustang since its debut in 2015. The S550 Mustang looks great, has a well-done interior, and offers that classic V8 rumble one expects from a pony car. When I hit the Start button in this red 2020 Ford Mustang, though, the V8 rumble was missing. This is the 2020 Ford Mustang EcoBoost High Performance package, and it’s got the same 2.3 liter EcoBoost four-cylinder as the Ford Focus RS under the hood.
Ford wanted me to drive their Mustang EcoBoost High Performance so badly that they brought one to our annual Washington Automotive Press Association rally. I was one of a handful of journalists invited to come along for a day of hot takes.
The idea of a smaller engine in a Mustang isn’t new. Even the earliest Mustangs came with a choice of engines, including then-small six-cylinder options. Ford first dropped a four-cylinder into the Mustang II in 1974, but it only made 88 horsepower. Ford’s Special Vehicle Operations team created a hotted-up variant of the Fox-body Mustang in 1984, using a turbocharged four-cylinder as their engine of choice. The Mustang SVO made, at best, 200 hp for the 1986 model year, which kept it competitive with the V8-equipped Fox-bodies if a bit down on torque.
Today’s turbo-four Mustang is even more of a screamer. Ford offers the “regular” 2.3 liter EcoBoost four-cylinder in the Mustang, and has for several years. New for 2020, the EcoBoost High Performance is good for 330 hp, a 20 hp boost compared to the standard Mustang EcoBoost. Torque is the same in both cases, at a healthy 350 lb-ft. My test car was equipped with a six-speed manual transmission, though a 10-speed automatic is optional.
While the Mustang EcoBoost High Performance may appear to “only” offer a 20 horsepower power bump, the different engine is tuned to make power and torque across a wider range of the rev counter. The High Performance trim also adds a limited-slip differential, stiffer sway bars, bigger brakes (from the Mustang GT) and active exhaust. My test car also had the Handling package, which included adaptive shocks and wider wheels and tires.
Clearly, the Mustang EcoBoost High Performance is more than “just” a mild power upgrade. Moving from the (impressive) spec sheet and slipping behind the wheel, it’s also quite a good car. All of the upgrades come together to form a cohesive, balanced, fast, nimble Mustang. With half the cylinder count of a Mustang GT, the EcoBoost High Performance loses about 200 lbs from the nose of the car. I chose the twistiest roads available on my test drive, and the car turns in to a corner very well.
The only downside, of course, is the sound the Mustang EcoBoost High Performance makes when you’re wringing it out. Nothing can hide the four-cylinder-ness of the engine’s note, and Ford pumps in additional engine sounds through the speakers, which only adds to the mild annoyance.
Though my brief stint behind the wheel wasn’t enough to indicate how this Mustang EcoBoost High Performance would be to live with, both on the street and on the track, it made a very favorable first impression. The Mustang GT still exists and makes glorious noises from its Coyote V8, which is a great thing. But the Mustang EcoBoost High Performance appears to be a different sort of great.