Ford’s Spiritual Successor to the Mustang SVO

The 2020 High Performance Mustang EcoBoost is a hidden gem.

It seems like not long ago, because my recollection of the event is still quite fresh. But back in 1985, I was in a Ford showroom waiting for the dealership’s owner to finish a meeting so we could go to lunch. On that day, the new car display’s highlight was a Mustang SVO, a limited production offering from Ford’s Special Vehicle Operations. The SVO was powered by a turbocharged 2.3-liter, four-cylinder engine and sported a window sticker of $16,500. Nearby, a well-equipped Mustang GT with its 5.0-liter V8 was available for under $14-grand. That seemed completely illogical to a shopper who exclaimed in full voice “This is crazy! More money for a four-banger?” Yep buddy, more dough and less tire smoldering. Go figure.

When Less is More

The oil embargo of the mid-1970’s had ended Detroit’s enthusiasm to produce the rambunctious muscle cars that defined American performance, at least in a straight line. But it’s hard to kill enthusiasm, so in the early ‘80’s, a skunk works team of engineers at Ford created a sports coupe that would attack a twisty road as well European rivals. The formula included less weight, better balance, Koni adjustable shocks, four-wheel vented disc brakes and a host of other modifications to create a worthy sports coupe.

Fast forward to 2020 and I find today’s version of the SVO in my driveway for a week’s worth of evaluation. I had no idea Ford offered such an interesting Mustang and I’ll bet few others are in on what seems a well-guarded secret. That’s because this turbocharged, 2.3-liter high output coupe with quick manners is not today’s Mustang model topper, that would be the Shelby GT500 with its supercharged 760HP 5.2-liter V8. But our EcoBoost Coupe Premium with its optional High Performance package can easily cost a bit more than its Mustang GT cousin. And I’ll bet a few shoppers scratch their heads in today’s showroom when they discover that reality.

Rally Roots

Today, nearly every automaker offers turbocharged four-cylinder engines in their cars and some light trucks to deliver reasonable performance while meeting fuel efficiency targets. For Mustang, the 2017 base model was a 3.7-liter V6 that produced 300HP with a combined EPA fuel economy of 21MPG. On the other hand, the 2.3-liter EcoBoost turbo-four added ten horses while improving economy to 25MPG combined. So four cylinders may be an adequate but not necessarily an exciting solution.

The magic occurs when the High Performance box is checked and Ford plucks the high-revving engine from the former Focus RS model and points it in the proper North/South direction to drive the rear wheels. This race-developed motor is detuned slightly from 350 to 330HP, but when it speaks through a dual, low-restriction exhaust system with four pipes and a bypass scheme, it’s just the right message. 

Road Work

The GT may be faster, but our EcoBoost High Performance felt quicker, especially in our twisting back roads. Our test sample was Mustang’s Premium trim level and an optional 10-speed automatic gearbox was added, perhaps to accommodate car reviewers who can’t shift for themselves. My vote would be to save the automatic option or spend it on a Sync3 and stereo upgrade since Ford’s six-speed manual, with rev-matching downshifts, is standard gear.

When I took to the backroads and dialed in sport settings the Mustang was a hoot to push through the turns. While I prefer to do my own shifting, the automatic picked the right gear and added its own rev-matching when needed. And 2.3-liter EcoBoost’s lighter weight and placement behind the front suspension nicely balances this coupe.

Our test car nearly reached $40-grand and if you wish to add even more it’s possible to select Recaro seating with soft leather and other bling to a reach mid-forty-grand MSRP. But it’s also possible to keep it simple, by checking the $4,500 High Performance option on the base Mustang and drive off with those 330 ponies connected to a six-speed, rev-matching proper gearbox for under $32-grand. Those are nice choices.

THE FINE PRINT

2020 Ford Mustang Premium HP

TYPE:  Front-engine, rear-wheel-drive

ENGINE:  2.3-liter Turbo I-4

HORSEPOWER:  330 @ 6,000-RPM

TORQUE:  350 lb.ft. @ 3,000-RPM

BASE PRICE: $31,685

AS TESTED:  $39,370

FUEL CONSUMPTION:  20-city, 28-highway, 23-combined