2024 Ford Mustang EcoBoost Review – Cheap(ish) Speed

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey

2024 ford mustang ecoboost review cheap ish speed

For most car enthusiasts, a Ford Mustang without a V8 under the hood is sacrilege. This despite the fact that V6 and four-cylinder Mustangs have long ago shed the pejorative label of “insurance beater.”

The EcoBoost version of the Mustang has offered over 300 horsepower since 2015. Still, it’s the V8-powered GT that gets most of the attention.

There are reasons for that, which I will elaborate on tomorrow when the embargo on GT drive impressions lifts. For now, I’m going to focus on the four-cylinder – and tell you why the EcoBoost at least deserves a look, especially if you don’t have the scratch for V8 muscle.

(Full disclosure: Ford flew me to Southern California and fed and housed me. I did not take the proffered water bottle but did use the notebook they gave us to take notes.)

The changes start with the exterior, which has a more angular design – it’s especially noticeable at the rear taillights. The gaping grille is meant to evoke the first-generation Mustang, and the LED headlights have a tri-bar design that is traditionally Mustang.

Other exterior changes include a new rear diffuser and widened rear wheel wells. The rear overhang is shorter now.

There are two new available paint colors – Vapor Blue and Yellow Splash – and buyers can also choose the color of their brake caliper. There’s a whole new array of available wheel options.

Inside, the changes center around screens. Depending on how you option your car, you get either two separate digital screens or a one-piece curved glass screen with the gauges in front of the driver (duh) and the infotainment stuff angled towards said driver. Ford says it is using the Unreal Engine 3D platform that is used in computer gaming.

Ford claims younger buyers want to see physical buttons removed, so remove buttons and knobs it did. There’s a volume knob and a few buttons ahead of the shifter – a “pony” button is key, more on that in a sec – but most of the HVAC controls are now controlled by the touchscreen. The good news is that these controls work better than you’d expect – and they aren’t haptic touch – but it still feels like a needless complication. Please, automakers, leave us some basic buttons/knobs for volume, tuning, fan speed, and temp. PLEASE.

Digital controls may look a little cleaner, but sometimes simple is better – and digital controls tend not to be as simple as physical controls.

The steering wheel has a flat bottom for a sportier look, and the gauges are customizable. You can match them to the drive mode or pick what you like – including a setup that is inspired by, though slightly modified from, the gauges on the Fox-body cars that were in use from 1987 to 1993. You can also set up auxiliary gauges on the center screen or put the exhaust into quiet mode. Just press that “pony” button to get started.

There are overhead USB ports for those who like to mount GoPros, and Ford says it’s now easier to enter the car with a helmet on – you’re less likely to bump your noggin. I seemed to get in and out just fine with a helmet on during some of our testing.

For all that’s new, the car still has a lot of carryover underneath, and you can feel it, for better and worse. The driving experience is immediately familiar, with driving dynamics that feel similar to, but improved over, the previous-gen car.

The EcoBoost remains a way to get pony-car fun at a relative bargain, and a lot of credit goes to the 315 horsepower, 350 lb-ft of torque available from the 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. You won’t get the sound and fury of the V8, but if you can live without that aural experience, you’ll still have plenty of punch available to shorten straightaways in the canyon roads – or for freeway passing, which is how the power will likely be used 95 percent of the time.

The engine has a few changes: There's a new turbocharger, new port and direct fuel-injection, an external EGR, and an updated cylinder-head design.

The biggest bummer here is that EcoBoost loses the available six-speed manual transmission. This is not a surprise – and, indeed, Ford confirmed to me over dinner that the take rate was minuscule – but it’s still sad. Not just because manuals are more fun, but because the last manual-transmission EcoBoost felt a bit livelier than the automatic version.

Now, the sole transmission is a 10-speed automatic.

Before turning us loose on the famed highways in the mountains above Los Angeles, Ford set up an untimed autocross at Irwindale Speedway that would allow us to get a sense of the car’s handling. I borked my first laps – I didn’t see a cone and was just sort of cruising, with blissful ignorance, way off course – but once I got back on track after a polite talking-to, I found it easy to settle in with this car. It’s big, or at least feels big, thanks to the long-hood/short-deck layout, but it’s easily placed between the gates, and if you need to scrub speed, a quick tap of the brakes will get you back on line. The car I autocrossed had the available paddle-shift setup for the automatic, and it held the appropriate gear.

The car felt like it would be willing to rotate its way around the slower, tighter corners had I been a bit more forceful with the throttle. Weekend warriors who attack coned courses will still do better in a smaller, lighter car, but the EcoBoost can hold its own.

We were also given the chance to use the available drift brake – which is available with both engines, including with manual-transmission GTs. It’s not super hard to learn to use, but it does take practice to get drifting right. After a few runs I was making some nice James Rockford-style J-turns, but I never did get the sliding sideways stop right. Still, it’s a fun feature.

The EcoBoost was easy to hustle smoothly in the canyons. The steering does feel artificial, which is common with most cars these days thanks to electric power steering systems, but it’s appropriately heavy and accurate. I didn’t need to saw at it to make mid-corner corrections often. Generally, I could come in a bit hot, tap the brakes if need be, find the line, and keep it smooth through the turn while getting back on the boil.

I ran Sport mode for most of this time – though the car still seems spry in Normal mode.

The around-town ride is unsurprisingly a little stiff, though not too bad on smooth Southern California roads.

As per usual with Mustangs, the backseat is useless for adults, but headroom and legroom are acceptable for most adults up front. The passenger seat is especially accommodating to the long of leg.

Drive the car gently and the EcoBoost is quiet. The automatic shifts a tad harshly in Sport mode but is sedate in Normal. This version of the Mustang is really a sporty commuter car for those who don’t need to place adults in the backseat often – it’s not a pain in the ass in urban driving, but it can hold its own on a canyon road. It does, however, lack some of what makes us want the V8 – stuff we can’t discuss til tomorrow.

I liked the customizable gauges and the Fox-body setup, which even turns green at night, is cool as hell. I didn’t like having to dive into the menus so much to set them up, and I also don’t like how the home screen isn’t customizable. It would be nice, for example, to swap the phone “tile” for the auxiliary gauges.

The EcoBoost is available in coupe – “fastback” in Ford speak – or convertible body styles and in base or Premium trims. Standard or available features include the drift brake, leather seats and steering wheel, interior trim upgrades, wireless phone charging, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, the curved screen, navigation, satellite radio, Bluetooth, Brembo brakes, remote start, Ford Co-Pilot360, Nite and Bronze appearance packages, and 17-, 18-, 19-, or 20-inch wheels.

Other options include an active exhaust, a decklid spoiler, and magnetic damping. Enthusiasts will want the Performance Package that includes a 3.55-inch Torsen rear-axle ratio, 19-inch wheels, summer tires, larger brakes, performance brake linings for the Brembo brakes, wider rear wheels and tires, the drift brake, heavy-duty front springs, sport tuning for the chassis and electronic systems like EPAS, ABS, and stability control, and a larger rear sway bar.

One note – if you want the magnetic ride package, and I think you do, you need to first buy the Performance Package.

Yet another note: The car I drove was a pre-production unit.

Available ADAS features include smart adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, speed sign recognition, lane-centering assist, evasive steer assist, and reverse brake assist. I found the lane-centering assist to be occasionally, though not consistently, intrusive when hustling the canyons.

The EcoBoost I drove was a Premium with the Bronze Appearance Package ($995) and active exhaust ($1,225), along with the Premium High options package ($3,000; includes Bang & Olufsen premium audio, memory driver’s seat, color accents, Ford Co-Pilot360, and illuminated door sills, among other items). Total with the $1,595 destination fee: $43,905. The base price for an EcoBoost Mustang is $30,920 -- $39,020 for a convertible.

Opt for a Premium fastback, and you’ll be starting at $36,445, while the Premium convertible is $41,945. I built a Premium with the Performance Pack, active exhaust, magnetic ride system, and Premium High Package for a tick over $48K, before destination, using the online configurator.

Fuel economy for the EcoBoost is 22 mpg city/33 mpg highway/26 mpg combined, and 21/29/24 with the Performance Pack.

The EcoBoost offers a lot of sport for a lot less money than the V8 GT. It’s almost like the LX was for the Fox body – sans the V8 option, of course. But those who want more power, a stick-shift option, and a true muscle-car soundtrack will need to add cylinders.

If you can’t afford a GT but really, really want a Mustang, the EcoBoost is a nice consolation prize. It will be a pleasant surprise to folks at the car-rental counter, too. That’s not sarcasm or a pejorative – I’d be happy if Enterprise threw me the keys to one of these.

Its biggest flaws mostly carryover from before – the backseat is a child-only zone and interior storage is limited. The newest flaw is that the infotainment screen can require some menu diving and some key controls move to the touch screen. Some of these flaws involve the standard trade-offs one must make for a sporty car, others seem like avoidable errors.

It’s not perfect. Mustangs never really have been. It used to be about style for the base cars and cheap speed for the more-powerful ponies. That ship sailed long ago – now the base car offers sport for cheaper, though not cheap, while the GT is more about pure muscle. Oh, and GTs are no longer inexpensive. You buy a Mustang, you know what you’re sacrificing.

And if you buy the EcoBoost, you give up a few things to the more muscular GT. But one thing you won’t give up too much of – driving enjoyment.

[Images © 2023 Tim Healey/TTAC, Ford]

Become a TTAC insider. Get the latest news, features, TTAC takes, and everything else that gets to the truth about cars first by  subscribing to our newsletter.

Join the conversation
6 of 60 comments
  • Conundrum Conundrum on Jul 25, 2023

    Well, aside from getting lost on the track by not noticing the cones, I think Ford got its money's worth from this semi-rewrite of their press materials. A review it is not. But you'll be invited back even if all the sturm and drang driving stuff tou claim to have indulged in only happened in your head. "Tim Healey noticed understeer at the limit," said no independent headline ever.

    A 3.55 inch Torsen differential in the Performance Pack? Gee, what's that when it's at home? Nope, the 3.55 refers to the rear axle ratio, although I have my doubts you know what that means. This car technical stuff is hard sledding, eh? So darn much of it to remember! And you the mere editor of an automotive website wouldn't be expected to know such down and dirty stuff.

    The car itself looks effeminate, and the front-three-quarter view shows that the wheelbase is too long for the styling, with the aft end not sitting well with the rest of the car. The interior is indescribably awful cheap black and shiny! plastic vinyl. Well, after all, this 4 cylinder model is Ford's rental special for the airport counter, usually in structurally weak convertible form that flexes with the road. So who cares, beyond the rental companies who charge a premium for renting this dross? It's their money-making baby for trying to be cool uninformed vacationers in Florida and they got what they wanted, more of the same but new, shinier and worse.

    • See 3 previous
    • SPPPP SPPPP on Jul 25, 2023

      He's being rude, but to be fair, it was a technical error, and it's actually still there. There is nothing "3.55 inch" in the rear end. It's a 3.55:1 ratio gearset in an 8.8 inch housing. The "8.8-inch rear end" has been around since the Fox-body Mustang. But Ford has upgraded it over the years, and is calling this version since 2015 the "Super 8.8". https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ford_8.8_axle

  • Gary Gary on Aug 01, 2023

    This piece is just full of errors, even on things as simple as design elements ("traditional" three-headlight front-end design? I can't recall another Mustang having three lamps per side, unless you count the triple scallops flanking the grille. And the grille evokes second-gen Mustangs, not first.) Technical errors, too. Ford should have paid to keep this writer home.

  • Dusterdude The "fire them all" is looking a little less unreasonable the longer the union sticks to the totally ridiculous demands ( or maybe the members should fire theit leadership ! )
  • Thehyundaigarage Yes, Canadian market vehicles have had immobilizers mandated by transport Canada since around 2001.In the US market, some key start Toyotas and Nissans still don’t have immobilizers. The US doesn’t mandate immobilizers or daytime running lights, but they mandate TPMS, yet canada mandates both, but couldn’t care less about TPMS. You’d think we’d have universal standards in North America.
  • Alan I think this vehicle is aimed more at the dedicated offroad traveller. It costs around the same a 300 Series, so its quite an investment. It would be a waste to own as a daily driver, unless you want to be seen in a 'wank' vehicle like many Wrangler and Can Hardly Davidson types.The diesel would be the choice for off roading as its quite torquey down low and would return far superior mileage than a petrol vehicle.I would think this is more reliable than the Land Rovers, BMW make good engines. https://www.drive.com.au/reviews/2023-ineos-grenadier-review/
  • Lorenzo I'll go with Stellantis. Last into the folly, first to bail out. Their European business won't fly with the German market being squeezed on electricity. Anybody can see the loss of Russian natural gas and closing their nuclear plants means high cost electricity. They're now buying electrons from French nuclear plants, as are the British after shutting down their coal industry. As for the American market, the American grid isn't in great shape either, but the US has shale oil and natural gas. Stellantis has profits from ICE Ram trucks and Jeeps, and they won't give that up.
  • Inside Looking Out Chinese will take over EV market and Tesla will become the richest and largest car company in the world. Forget about Japanese.