A Ride in a V-6 Ford Mustang Convinced Me It's Underrated

You can't buy a new one anymore, but the "rental grade" Mustang was still a surprising performer.

Ford

If you wanted a new Ford Mustang with the 3.7-liter V-6 engine, it's too late. Not that many people wanted one. All eyes are looking forward to the new 2018 model, which drops the V-6 option altogether. Few are shedding tears over that. But was the V-6 Mustang really all that bad?

Since 2015, the V-6 option has been an unusual choice for the Mustang. Many of the Mustang faithful believe that the only real Mustang is one with a V-8. For everyone else, there's the efficient and capable 2.3-liter EcoBoost. Having two fewer cylinders, it weighs less than the V-6, yet produces 310 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque, compared to 300 horsepower and 270 pound-feet from the V-6. The only people who would choose the V-6 instead of the EcoBoost were mainly rental fleets, and that was by design. The V-6 lacks the complexity of a turbo system, and the Duratec 3.7 can be found all over Ford's lineup, as well as Lincoln. It's cheap to get, cheap to run, and reliable, if not exciting.

So imagine my surprise when I discovered that my student's black Mustang I had just gotten into at Sunday's MassTuning Trackfest was not an EcoBoost as I suspected from the lack of GT badging, but a V-6–and automatic, no less. It even wore its original all-season tires. This was the true rental-grade Mustang. My expectations were accordingly low.

This Mustang was no track monster, but 300 horsepower is still nothing to sneeze at. Even better, my student knew how to handle it well. I had expected to have time to read a book between the time he gave the transmission the command to shift gears and the shift actually occurring, like the Mercedes CLK430 I'd ridden in earlier in the day. But shifts were rapid, sharp, and smooth, much smoother than the E46 BMW M3 SMG I rode in—though to be fair, the E46 was a much older car. Speaking of BMWs, before the end of the session we had caught and passed an E39 BMW M5. The M5 has two more cylinders, nearly 100 additional horsepower, and handles much better than the Mustang. Yet there we were, passing an M5 in what was essentially a rental Mustang. 

The E39 M5 is an amazing car. If this particular driver had been in the M5, the Mustang wouldn't have has a chance against him. But in the Mustang, he was able to demonstrate to me just how capable the "worst" Mustang is. The S550 chassis is excellent, whatever engine sits under the hood. It took the corners well, and anytime the driver made a small mistake it was easy for him to correct.

The V-6 engine will not be missed in the 2018 model. The remaining engine options are better and the EcoBoost has been reduced in price to barely more than the V-6 cost. But as V-6 models appear on the used market, don't count them out. Their unpopularity means prices could be quite low. Already I can find some in the Boston area starting at $17,550. These prices will only drop more as the 2018 models start rolling out of showrooms this fall.