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Unpopular Opinion: The EcoBoost Ford Mustang Is the Best Mustang

Forget the 5.0-liter V8. You really want a four-cylinder muscle car.

Welcome to Unpopular Opinion, where one of our writers takes a long, hard look at conventional wisdom, and then says ‘nah, eff that noise, yo.’ The views expressed here are very much the author’s own—because, really, who would agree with this sort of crazy nonsense?

In a throwback to the model lineups of the 1960s, there are now 10 different Mustang models and four different engine options. You can have a 2.3-liter EcoBoost; a 3.7-liter V6 and 5.0-liter V8 (in coupe and convertible body styles); and the GT350’s 5.2-liter “Voodoo” V8 (in two flavors of coupe). Despite the 5.2’s ludicrous 526 hp, the 5.0 is Mustang’s halo engine, the sort of lightweight, high-output, small-displacement V8 that Jeremy Clarkson always said America didn’t make.

Yet that 5.0 Coyote engine is old news. It’s been in Ford’s pony car since 2011, when you could still buy a new Cadillac DTS or Ford Crown Victoria off of a dealer’s lot. In all that time they’ve discovered another 35 hp from it, up to 435 hp. So, yeah, it’s a good V8. As Mr. Clarkson himself would probably point out, though, it’s really not that much more power than Mercedes-Benz gets out of their 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder that puts out 375 hp in a CLA45 AMG.

Fortunately, Ford also has a turbo four, the 310 hp, direct-injection 2.3-liter EcoBoost.

I happen to have the December, 1969 issue of Car and Driver sitting here. This is at the end of the golden age of the classic muscle car, and it has a road test of Ford’s CobraJet 429-powered Torino Cobra. That’s 7.04 liters of 375 hp V8 packaged in a 4,185 lb. coupe. It hit 60 mph in 6.0 seconds (and returned 7-10 mpg). Check that against the 3,532-pound EcoBoost Mustang: 5.9 seconds to 60 mph, and in dyno tests the EcoBoost put 275 hp to the rear wheels—which in the real world is probably more than any Hemi, CobraJet, or Stage One actually got to the ground in the Sixties. The last time I drove an EcoBoost Mustang, I had to absolutely hammer the thing to keep the mileage down into the high 20s.

But that’s not why the turbo Mustang is better than the 5.0. It’s better because it’s more fun. Losing the big engine takes over 130 pounds off the front wheels and changes the car completely. It becomes, for the first time ever, a true sports car.

A sports car isn’t about pure power. No one would call an MG TD anything other than a sports car, and it made 54 hp. As with the original, four-cylinder BMW M3, it’s about maintaining pace—and the littlest Mustang truly loves to dance. Aside from the very American view outside the windows, it feels like a classic European sports car but with none of the drawbacks. You can spend hours going far too fast on tight, curvy roads, but still move happily in heavy traffic on a hot day. It even sounds good. The turbo whine isn’t loud (I’d really like it louder) but it’s addictive. Whistle-shift. Whistle-shift. Whistle-shift. I want to be driving one right now.

This is the purist’s car, the driver’s car. The one that rewards skill while never threatening to put you into a guardrail; a nearly impossible trick to pull off. An EcoBoost Mustang with a stick isn’t just a fun car, it’s the best Mustang that Ford has ever made.