Words and Photos by Anne Proffit
It was a late request for a review vehicle, and I was lucky to find four wheels and an engine for a late-January trip to the 2017 Rolex 24 at Daytona. Ford kindly lent the 2016 Ford Mustang 2.3L Premium coupe in Competition Orange, enhanced by ebony black leather-trimmed seating. At first glance, I notice it has more than 23,000 miles on it; second thoughts after an hour’s worth of driving to Daytona Beach shows this Ford Mustang is tight as can be and ready to prance.
Ford’s Ecoboost 2.3-liter inline four-cylinder engine didn’t feel used up, as this turbocharged and intercooled directly injected power plant happily emitted 310 horsepower at 5,500 rpm, with an even more robust 320 lb-ft of torque at 3,000 rpm, right where it’s useful in cut-and-thrust traffic. Redline occurs at 7,000 as is accompanied by by whinnies and snorts from the dual pipes. “Do you know how to drive a stick?” the vendor asked prior to pickup? Well, yeah, especially if it’s a six-speed manual with nice, tight internals and sweet gear spacing in the 2016 Ford Mustang. Doing 80 and sitting just over 2,000 rpm feels just right…
This 2016 Mustang’s suspension feels just right, helped by the addition of the Ecoboost performance package that gets rid of a rear spoiler and adds a 3.55 ratio limited slip axle for the rear-wheel-drive coupe. With traditional MacPherson struts and integral independent links front and rear, this car is firmly planted. Doesn’t hurt that it’s got juicy 255/40ZR-rated Pirelli PZero rubber attached to 19-inch twinned black polished five-spoke alloy rims. Brembo brakes complete the package and the adaptive and selectable electric power-assisted steering is as direct as can be, especially when toggled from normal to sport settings.
Speaking of toggles, there’s four of ‘em at the base of the center stack, which gives the Mustang a bit of a retro feel. Also giving this bright orange coupe a retro feel is the presence of a plaque at the upper righthand corner of the dash, which announces Mustang’s born-on date “Since 1964.” Carbon fibre-look accents adorn the cabin and the interior, primarily in black is as business-like as a true driver would want.
As ever, this 2016 Mustang is big and brawny; it seats four, provided the rear-seat occupants are exceptionally good friends. The front seats do not recline fully, even when moved forward. Both front-seat occupants have power settings for fore/aft movement as well as height adjustment; the driver has lumbar operation, which keeps the operator comfy on long trips like the three-hour jaunt post-race from Daytona Beach to Sarasota. All seatbacks are manually operated to aid access to the rear.
An enthusiast Ford Mustang driver that opts for this car pretty much has it made, as concentration is demanded with the six-speed manual, particularly with the steering in sport mode. There are four driving modes that one can enjoy: normal, sport, track and a fourth for snow and mud. This driver kept the car mostly in sport mode but did, on a winding road (yes, there are winding roads in Florida) check out the track mode and loved the running gear’s response. I like a car that is tight and responsive; this Mustang fits that bill.
The ride is smooth, even on rough city streets and this Mustang can be serene to drive, even in city traffic. Power is sufficient but not overpowering. It’s easy to keep track of the amount of turbocharger boost thanks to a boost gauge at dash central that sits next to the oil pressure gauge. Directly in front of the driver are standard speedometer, tachometer, water temperature and fuel. Mileage is quite good for this 3532-pound coupe at 25/31/22 from the 16-gallon tank, which uses Ford’s wonderful capless filler door. Returning the Mustang to Orlando after my night and afternoon in Sarasota, I easily achieved 30mpg over the road. In-town was as stated, in the mid-20s. This Mustang performs best when using premium fuel and loses both power and economy on regular.
If you remember, the 1964-1/2 Ford Mustang had a list price of $2368. Fees have gone up, way up since then but one thing still holds true. Ford starts with basics and then tacks on options, lots of options. This 2016 Mustang starts at $30,200 including freight. There were a whopping total of $7340 in options on this car that pushed the total to $37,540. What’s included? Heated and cooled front seats, active anti-theft system with wheel locks, an over-the-top racing stripe (for $475!), adaptive cruise control, the Ecoboost performance package that includes the black ebony painted aluminum wheels, premier trim with accent group, reverse park assist, leather-trimmed seats and the voice-actuated navigation system. Ford’s Shaker audio system with 12 thumping speakers and subwoofer in the trunk is pretty darn amazing and, yes, another option.
Lots of stuff but some of it could have been included in the initial list price of the car, rather than tacking on additional costs, because so many of these items are in a common build sheet. This is the way Ford prefers to operate, even if the consumer wants some but not all of the options.
I used both the seat heaters and coolers, the latter to keep a gift of chocolates cool on the two-hour commute to Orlando in the passenger’s seat. The racing stripes, which aren’t terribly bold are quite nice. The adaptive cruise control can be fixed so that the following ratio isn’t terribly long. I do appreciate the 3.55 ratio limited slip differential in the Ecoboost performance package; my host in Sarasota didn’t like the black wheels but they sure don’t show dirt when one hits those Brembo brakes. We all love parking assist and leather trimmed seats.
The navigation system on this car is very well conceived and accurate. It led me to my AirBnB and to my friend’s Sarasota home without drama. The screen never fades in direct sunlight – but since the Mustang has a compressed cabin with very little light, it shouldn’t have those difficulties. Ford puts its Homelink into the visor, leaving the windshield header as a clean area. There’s good soft plastics about the cabin, but some of the seam variances are noticeable, both inside and out of the car.
The cabin of this vehicle makes it easy for any driver to be comfortable, starting with the superbly bolstered leather seats. The leather-covered steering wheel offers trip information and cruise control on the left side while audio and phone are controlled on the right; pairing the phone is accomplished with ease. The Shaker audio system offers superb clarity and it’s easily paired with Android Play and Apple CarPlay, which I used because the XM/Sirius subscription was over and done. The HD radio access is excellent.
Doors can be opened and closed with sensors on the handles, as can the somewhat shallow 13.5 cubic-foot trunk, which doesn’t have a spare beneath the floor but does have a kit. The rear seats, laughable as they are (lacking both air flow and cup holders), do fold 50/50 and the trunk is nicely appointed. Had it not been so cold and wet, I might have slept in the trunk of this car during the 24-hour race as I ordinarily do, but instead I opted for the media center floor this year.
As a fun vehicle that’ll whip generic cars all over the road, the 2016 Mustang 2.3L Premium hits all of its marks. It’s quick, it handles like it’s on rails and it’s comfortable for long stays behind the wheel, no matter what size you may be. Having a manual transmission requires the driver to pay attention and the reward is a genuinely gratifying vehicle to drive.
In fact, the only quibble with this car is its incessant insistence of telling a driver how to operate the vehicle. In particular (and it’s not just for this car, but for many others) the red, in-windshield BRAKE warning when a driver gets close to the vehicle in front. A real driver operates a coupe of this nature and pays attention. Rant over.
If you’re looking for a Ford Mustang coupe and don’t want to feed a V6 or V8, but do want sufficient power because yes, you deserve a speedy, good handling sports car, this 2.3L Ecoboost coupe with a six-speed manual will definitely fill the bill. it sure did for me.