Ford Mustang 2.3 High Performance Review

Ford Mustang 2.3 High Performance

It looks the part but it misses out on a V8, so, does that make the Ford Mustang 2.3 High Performance any less of a Mustang? We find out.

Meet the Ford Mustang 2.3L High Performance. It’s the updated version of what we used to know as the EcoBoost, meaning it’s a turbocharged four-cylinder and the entry to the Mustang lineup. It’s priced from $50,990+ORCs if you go for the manual or $53,990+ORCs for the auto (which we’re testing)…the convertibles add almost $10k more.

But there’s more to this Mustang 2.3L than just being a turbo four or being a renamed EcoBoost, the High Performance part of its new name should be enough to tell you this isn’t the old four-banger Mustang. This thing has its own personality and so shouldn’t be dismissed just because it isn’t a V8.

See, Ford has put considerable effort into helping this Mustang 2.3L High Performance stand out. For a start there are some subtle styling tweaks to help it stand apart from the V8 range, like red-white-and-blue tri-bar badging, the unique grille, borrows the GT’s more aggressive front splitter, and the 2.3L High Performance badges on the front fenders.

Ford Mustang 2.3 High Performance

You can get the 2.3L High Performance as both a Fastback and Convertible. And in a range of colours, including Grabber Lime and Twister Orange, Rapid Red and Iconic Silver as well as a few other colours.

Looks are always in the eye of the beholder but for me, the Mustang is a ripper; the perfect blend of retro and modern design. It nods at the Mustang of old rather than being a caricature of the 1960s icon.

Ford Mustang 2.3 High Performance

This thing is all about what’s under the bonnet and that’s because this thing borrows its engine, more or less, from a car we like very much; the Ford Focus RS. RIP. Okay, so it’s not exactly the same engine in that it’s been tweaked for a north-south orientation instead of the east-west setup in the Focus RS.

The 63mm turbo is straight off the Focus RS and it’s built on the same aluminium alloy block and high-performance head as the engine in the Focus. Indeed Ford US flew its Mustang team to Valencia where the 2.3 is made to work on the project.

Ford Mustang 2.3 High Performance

The beefier turbo has seen power and torque jump to 236kW at 6200rpm and 448Nm of torque at 3800rpm; this is the highest torque of any four-cylinder Mustang. Okay, so the numbers aren’t huge but the 2.3L’s party trick is its spread of torque, see, you’ve got 90% of peak torque on tap from 2500rpm and it hangs around until 5800rpm. And that’s what makes the Mustang 2.3L High Performance so easy to drive. That and the shorter gear ratios compared with the old EcoBoost engine make for a more energetic experience all round.

The fact the four-pot engine is about 68kg lighter than the V8 also helps with how more agile this thing feels. That said, it’s still not exactly a lightweight at 1716kg with our car running the 10-speed automatic transmission. You can also get a six-speed manual for the thing and, of course, it’s a little cheaper.

Before we go on, let’s delve into a little history, see, this current Mustang isn’t the first time Ford has built a four-cylinder Mustang. After the world went weak at the knees over the first Ford Mustang, the second-gen model of the 1970s was a little, well, how to put this kindly, crap.

Deep in the energy crisis and with fuel prices going through the roof, Ford dropped the V8 from the Mustang and any and all of the first-gen’s muscle car cool and dropped in an underwhelming, wait for it, 2.3L four-cylinder in 1973. It didn’t take Ford long to realise the sluggish four-cylinder was a mistake and the V8 was reintroduced in 1975. The four-pot was killed off in 1978.

Ford Mustang 2.3 High Performance

But it made a return in the 1980s in the form of the 1984 Mustang SVO and this thing was also powered by a 2.3L four-cylinder engine (although this time it was turbo’d). Unlike its predecessor the Mustang SVO could match it with its V8 sibling for grunt but was better balanced and arguably the better driver’s car.

And it’s this Mustang SVO that the current 2.3L High Performance is channelling although it looks a hell of a lot better than those Fox-bodied Mustangs.

Back to the present. Just like that Mustang SVO, the Mustang 2.3L HP offers a better front to rear weight balance than the V8 Mustangs (53:47) and that means this thing turns in keener than any V8 Mustang. And that’s the key to this Mustang, its balance and poise rather than its outright aggression.

Ford Mustang 2.3 High Performance

That’s not to say it’s slow. Thanks to all that torque on tap from just off idle and the shorter gear ratios on the automatic the 2.3L HP feels quicker than quick enough. Give it the full right foot and it’ll boogie off into the sunset as well as anything else, just with not the same drama as a V8 Mustang.

But it’s when you tip the thing into a corner that you’ll be both surprised and delighted and that’s because the lighter four-cylinder engine and the tricky suspension mean the nose tucks in more keenly, holds onto the chosen line and shrugs off mid-corner bumps like a gem.

In fact, the ride and handling in general is excellent regardless of whether you’re travelling at high or low speeds. That said, it does feel better the quicker you go. Besides the weight distribution and the lighter engine, the 2.3L HP gets a 32mm front stabiliser bar which is thicker than the one on the old EcoBoost and the rear stabiliser bar is up from 21.7mm to 24mm.

Ford Mustang 2.3 High Performance

Our test car was running MagneRide suspension (adaptive dampers) and this is a cost-option you should absolutely tick because via some form of black magic it’s able to be soft when you want and hard when you want, all with you doing absolutely nothing at all.

But what some people might miss is the noise of a V8, see, the 2.3L HP is pretty quiet. Sure, you’ll get some pops and crackles when you get off the gas into a corner and you’re playing with the flappy paddles, or running down through the gears on the manual, but it’s nothing like the V8. And it shouldn’t try to be, I get that. But the 2.3 HP runs an active exhaust but no matter how you tickle it it’s always pretty quiet by V8 or even hot hatch standards…shame Ford didn’t tune in the sound from the Focus RS…

Might sound as if I’m harping on about it, but the ride, handling and the way the 2.3L HP turns in is excellent. And it’s incredibly stable and forgiving too; get on the gas too early out of a corner and the backside won’t try and overtake you. Rather, it’ll iron out all your driving kinks with traction and stability controls that have been tuned to keep you going rather than slapping you on the wrist. Yep, most of the time you’ll never notice their intervention. And that’s just how it should be. The result is the Mustang 2.3L HP feels flattering to drive.

Ford Mustang 2.3 High Performance

Briefly to the interior because there’s not that much to talk about that you won’t already know. Everything’s pretty much as it was meaning you won’t want for anything when it comes to creature comforts.

The infotainment system is excellent, the climate controls work well and I love the round vents that have a retro yet properly functional feel. Everything, in that well-worn journalist cliche, falls easily to hand and the dashboard layout is both functional yet stylish in a muscle car feel. And, beyond the handbrake being on the left-side of the transmission tunnel everything is where it should be.

The seats are comfortable with the right amount of grip in the sides and base and there’s excellent adjustment on them with good vision right the way around the vehicle. Being a two door you could forgive the back seats for being nothing more than a glorified parcel shelf but they’re not. I managed to transport four people around relatively easily with ‘enough’ leg and head room. And while climbing over the front seats can be a pain, the back seats are comfortable to make the initial struggle worthwhile. And the boot is big.

Ford Mustang 2.3 High Performance

So, there you have it, Ford’s other Mustang. Sure when you think of Mustang you think of a thumping big V8 but there’s nothing wrong at all with this 2.3L HP variant. It’s a more convincing non-V8 Mustang than the EcoBoost version was, and thanks to the Mustang SVO of the 1980s even has heritage.

If you’re worried how others might think of you… unless someone leans down to look at the 2.3 High Performance badge on the fender or keeps an ear out as you slide by, they’ll never know it’s not a V8. And even if they do, who cares, this thing is accomplished enough and better to drive than the V8 when the road gets twisty that you can be proud if you buy one of these four-pot Mustangs.

In fact, and take a seat, because there’s a big call coming…there’s no other sports car for this sort of money that comes close to the way the Mustang looks or the way it drives. And there are even a few hot hatches that are a little cheaper that I’d ignore in favour of this Mustang. The end.

2020 Ford Mustang 2.3 High Performance

Price From $50,990+ORCs Safety three stars ANCAP Warranty five years, unlimited kilometres Engine 2.3-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine Power 236kW at 6500rpm Torque 448Nm at 3800rpm Transmission six-speed manual or 10-speed automatic Drive rear-wheel Dimensions 4789mm long, 1916mm wide, 1387mm high, 2720mm wheelbase Wheels/Tyres 9.0x19in, Pirelli P Zero Fuel Tank 59 litres Thirst 9.6L/100km claimed combined (95RON)

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Isaac Bober has been writing about cars and 4x4s for more than 20 years, has worked on some of the country's biggest motoring magazines (remember what they were?), and launched Practical Motoring. Now he's back, back again... to share dad jokes and much more.