2020 Ford Mustang Ecoboost High Performance Package First Drive - Skunkworks 'Stang

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey

During Ford’s product presentation, held just north of the famed Golden Gate bridge on a chilly Bay Area morning in September, one of the men who worked on the 2020 Ford Mustang EcoBoost High Performance Package trotted out a not unexpected comparison.

He brought up the old LX trim available on Fox-body Mustangs of yore, and compared today’s four-cylinder Mustang to that model.

It’s not the world’s worst comparison, although the LX back then was available with the same renowned 5.0-liter (yes, I know that it’s really a 4.9) V8 that was under the hood of the GT. The LX’s claim to fame was that it was lighter, cheaper, and perhaps less expensive to insure, while still offering V8 power and a five-speed stick. That’s why your author bought a used ’89 example in the late 1990s.

As someone who owned that LX Fox body for five years, I sniggered a bit, since the Mustang parked in front of us had just half the cylinder count, but of course today’s turbocharged four-banger could smoke the V8 of yore. I understood where Ford was going with this, though – the EcoBoost Mustang High Performance Package is meant to be the value performance buy, and not just a rental-fleet darling or the car for Mustang shoppers who care more about show than go.

Of course, when I relayed this spiel to the ne’er do wells in the TTAC Slack channel, contributor Chris Tonn shot back “SVO”, typed out repeatedly, a la Nicholson’s manuscript in The Shining.

Regardless of which comparison works best, there’s no denying that this ‘Stang offers a lot of what the GT does for less money. Not to mention while passing more fuel pumps.

(Full disclosure: Ford flew me to San Francisco, put me in a nice hotel, and fed me, so that I could drive this Mustang.)

This Mustang started out as a bit of side project, after Ford engineers, perhaps feeling a bit cheeky, did some experiments involving putting the Ford Focus RS motor in the Mustang. This lead to the development of a new version of the RS’ 2.3-liter turbo four, meant specifically for Mustang.

The final result? Three-hundred thirty-two horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque when running premium fuel.

Other performance goodies include a larger twin-scroll turbo and radiator. Ford brings over chassis and aero bits from the Mustang GT’s available performance package. There’s an alloy strut tower brace, and the four-piston calipers are larger. The front brake rotors are the GT’s 13.9-inch units. A front sway bar is at 32 millimeters, and the rear at 21.7.

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The car’s electric power steering is tuned for performance, Ford says, as is the ABS, stability control, and drive modes. There’s a 3.55:1 limited-slip rear axle, and the 19-inch aluminum wheels host 255/40R summer rubber.

A large black front splitter and belly pan are on hand to make the car look more aggressive, along with the GT’s brake-cooling ramps. The latter isn’t just for looks, they actually do cool the brakes and work to reduce front-end lift.

You’ll know the High Performance Package by its side badges, raised rear spoiler, gray hood stripe, gray side mirrors, serialized dash plaque, and blacked-out grille.

An available handling package includes semi-metallic brakes, MagneRide dampers, and a Torsen 3.55:1 limited-slip rear axle. The wheels are half an inch wider and shod with 265/40R Pirelli P Zero Corsa4 summer tires. The rear sway bar is 24 millimeters, instead of 21.7.

Handling package or no, you have a choice in transmissions – a six-speed manual or 10-speed automatic.

Ford tossed my drive partner and I the keys and pointed us north towards Bodega Bay on California Highway 1. It was an out-and-back route over a highway that offers both tight, twisty corners and straightaways that allow you to open up the throttle, provided the CHP isn’t lurking nearby. Elevation changes abound.

I spent my first leg in a manual, finding this pony to be stable and planted in cornering, and relatively nimble, given that it weighs over 3,500 pounds. The coupe is heavier than a Camaro LS or LT coupe, either with the turbo four or the V6, although Chevy does not break out the weight for the 1LE package cars, which would be the most directly comparable, in its spec sheets.

I’d love to compare the 1LE to this Mustang, but alas, the last time I drove one was over half a decade ago.

Stable with nicely weighted and tight steering that manages to tamp down any artificial feeling. That’s in normal mode – I was a dope and forgot to toggle over into Sport mode, or even to flick the steering into Sport feel (which can be done without selecting the full Sport drive mode). When I remembered to engage Sport feel and Sport mode later, in the automatic, the feel tightened up even more.

Ride isn’t much of a consideration in this class, but the ‘Stang was never unduly stiff on pristine California byways. Some tire noise crept in here and there, usually on the less well-kept patches of pavement.

The stick is satisfying to row through the gears, snicking into place quickly with no slop. The heavy clutch has good feel but a slightly wonky engagement, and both my drive partner and I kept making the car bounce as if we were in driver’s ed on the 1-2 upshift. To be fair, it had been a month or so since I’d last piloted a manual, and neither one of us stalled it.

There’s enough torque on hand in the first four gears to make you forget about the V8 Mustang GT. But if you’re cruising in fifth or sixth and forced to slow down, you’ll need to downshift. At one point, I had to back out of the throttle to avoid a Lance Armstrong wannabe and when I dug back into the throttle the car acted like a teenager being forced out of bed for school. Just no motivation whatsoever. Drop to fourth, pop clutch, problem solved.

The more challenging parts of California 1 are best navigated in third gear, with occasional forays into second and fourth, at least if you’re interested in doing anything more than lazy cruising. The Mustang seemed happy in the middle of the rev range.

Proponents of the V8 will remind you that a four-banger just doesn’t sound as good, and they are correct. The exhaust sounded decent enough in the stick, but it was downright annoying in the automatic, for whatever reason. It does get louder in sport mode, so perhaps increasing the volume decreased the sound quality. Whatever – that and the lack of low-end torque might be enough to entice buyers into the V8.

The automatic offered up crisp shifts that bordered on harsh, and it holds on to gears longer in Sport mode, unsurprisingly. That’s your job, should choose the manual.

Unfortunately, neither car I drove had the handling package.

As is usual with Mustangs, the dash is expansive, as is the use of hard plastics. The back seat is almost useless (I feel like my Fox body had more room back there) unless you’re transporting young children, pets, or parcels. The interior still has the mix of retro and airplane-cockpit themes.

Available features include dual exhaust, LED headlamps, keyless entry and starting, Sync infotainment, track apps, dual USB ports, satellite radio, rear-sensing system, dual-zone climate control, fog lamps, in-car Wi-Fi, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto.

I’ve had build-quality concerns with Mustangs of recent vintage, but the two cars I drove exhibited little in the way of cowl shake, nor did they feel as loosely screwed together as previous ponies. This seems to be the new trend – a Bullitt I drove this summer similarly felt solidly built, as did the last GT I sampled.

EPA estimated fuel-economy is listed at 20 mpg city/27 mpg highway/23 mpg for the coupe with a manual, 19/26/22 for the convertible with a stick-shift, 20/28/23 for the coupe with a slushbox, and 20/27/23 for the convertible with the 10-speed auto.

We didn’t measure fuel economy, but in the manual I was seeing around 22 mpg via the computer and with the automatic, about 19 mpg.

One needn’t buy a Premium-trim EcoBoost to get the High Performance Package, but depending on how you build it, the EcoBoost HPP can get close in price to a GT. I drove a fairly base car that started at $26,670 and came to $35,250 with options and $1,095 destination fee, and later the well-equipped automatic that started at $31,685 and tested out at $39,370, including the $1,095 destination fee.

Ford provided us with price sheets for each car that was on the drive, and some were pricing out at close to $45,000 dollars. While the EcoBoost is likely cheaper to insure than the GT (it was for me, I ran a fake quote via Progressive, using my real info and including my most recent speeding ticket, and the EcoBoost was a little cheaper), if you’re going to be coming that close to GT money, why not just get the V8? Heck, one can spec a GT out for less, if one shows restraint when it comes to options.

If you can keep your EcoBoost HPP in the mid-$30K range, you’ll find yourself with a fun four-cylinder Mustang that handles well and is no slouch in a straight line. You won’t get a V8 soundtrack, though.

The HPP EcoBoost is a pretty good performance buy, and there are logical reasons to opt for it over its big bro. If you don’t need a V8 to be happy, this Mustang will do quite nicely.

[Images © 2019 Tim Healey/TTAC]

Tim Healey
Tim Healey

Tim Healey grew up around the auto-parts business and has always had a love for cars — his parents joke his first word was “‘Vette”. Despite this, he wanted to pursue a career in sports writing but he ended up falling semi-accidentally into the automotive-journalism industry, first at Consumer Guide Automotive and later at Web2Carz.com. He also worked as an industry analyst at Mintel Group and freelanced for About.com, CarFax, Vehix.com, High Gear Media, Torque News, FutureCar.com, Cars.com, among others, and of course Vertical Scope sites such as AutoGuide.com, Off-Road.com, and HybridCars.com. He’s an urbanite and as such, doesn’t need a daily driver, but if he had one, it would be compact, sporty, and have a manual transmission.

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  • Dividebytube Dividebytube on Sep 23, 2019

    I belong to a 3.7L Mustang enthusiast site and a lot of them are not fans of the 2.3L engine, calling it coarse. I never have driven the Ecoboost version so I have no opinion but I do wonder how true it is. I believe C&D called it more tractor-like than sports car - ie, like a like of turbo engines of this era it doesn't like to rev.

    • Ponchoman49 Ponchoman49 on Sep 25, 2019

      I drove my friends 2015 Mustang rag tops back to back numerous times, the white car had the 3.7 and the current black one has the 2.3. I would pick the 3.7 every time if I had the choice. It feels quicker down low, sounds way better and is smoother and easier to live with on a daily basis. The 2.3 sounds like a bad cheese grater in comparison and actually shakes the wheel on cold morning startups. They also got nearly identical mileage in everyday driving. But the 3.7 isn't considered cool because it doesn't have a turbo so there you go.

  • Fordson Fordson on Sep 23, 2019

    Lack of low-end torque? Under full boost, it's making 300 lb/ft at 2,000 rpm. I don't think the GT is making that much at 2,000 rpm. Turbo engines - it's not all about rpm. 2,000 rpm with the turbo spooling down and 2,000 rpm with the turbo spooling up are two different things. Yeah, if you're cruising in 5th or 6th anywhere there's likely to be a cyclist joining the traffic flow (surface streets), and you back out of the throttle in those gears, there's going to be nobody home if you just dip into it again, at what - 40-45 mph? Don't we all know that? Even in 5th, at 45 mph this thing is at 2,000 rpm...with the turbo spooling down, it's an atmospheric 2.3 liter engine at 2k rpm - the GT is an atmospheric 5.0 liter engine at 2k rpm - sure the V8 is gonna be better...but with the boost up at 2k rpm, the 2.3 is better. If you rev-match by poking the throttle when you downshift, which is what you should be doing in any MT car, that brings up the boost and when you re-engage the clutch, you're gone. When you rev-match downshift in a N/A car, you do it so the engine's at the right speed to re-engage the clutch...when you do it in a turbo car, you do it so the engine and road speed match upon clutch engagement...AND because you want the engine to be making power.

    • PrincipalDan PrincipalDan on Sep 23, 2019

      Torque curves are why I like turbo engines. It's a shame that Subaru isn't offering the new 2.4 ltr turbo with a manual trans. That sucker is making 270 lb ft from 2000 - 4800(!) RPM. That's not a torque curve that's a torque replica of Ayers Rock.

  • ED I don't know what GM is thinking.I have a 2020 one nice vehicle.Got rid of Camaro and was going to buy one.Probably won't buy another GM product.Get rid of all the head honchos at GM.This company is a bunch of cheapskates building junk that no one wants.
  • Lostjr Sedans have been made less practical, with low rooflines and steeply raked A pillars. It makes them harder to get in and out of. Probably harder to put a kid in a child seat. Sedans used to be more family oriented.
  • Bob Funny how Oldsmobile was offering a GPS system to help if you were lost, yet GM as a company was very lost. Not really sure that they are not still lost. They make hideous looking trucks, Cadillac is a crappy Chevy pretending to be fancy. To be honest, I would never step in a GM show room now or ever. Boring, cheap ugly and bad resale why bother. I get enough of GM when i rent on trips from airports. I have to say, does anybody at GM ever drive what everyone else drives? Do they ever then look at what crap they put out in style fit and finish? Come on, for real, do they? Cadillac updated slogan should be " sub standard of the 3rd world", or " almost as good as Tata motors". Enough said.
  • Sam Jacobs I want a sedan. When a buy a car or even rent one, I don’t want to ride up high. I don’t want a 5-door. I want a trunk to keep my stuff out of sight. It’s quieter, cars handle better, I don’t need to be at the same height as a truck. I have a 2022 Subaru Legacy Touring XT, best car ever, equipped as a luxury sedan, so quick and quiet. I don’t understand automakers’ decisions to take away sedans or simply stop updating them — giving up the competition. The Camry and Accord should not be our only choices. Impala and Fusion were beautiful when they were axed.
  • Spamvw I think you need to remember WHY the big 2 and 1/2 got out of the car business. Without going political, the CAFE standards signed into law meant unless you had a higher gas mileage fleet, you couldn't meet the standards.The Irony is that, the law made sedans so small with low roof lines, that normal people migrated to SUV's and Trucks. Now we get worse mileage than before.
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