2018 Ford Mustang EcoBoost First Test: Chip On Its Shoulder
We’ve tested nearly half a dozen first-gen EcoBoost Mustangs around here, so we’re pretty familiar with how the car drives and performs. The 2018 model, a midlife refresh, has picked up a 10-speed automatic, an extra 30 lb-ft of torque, and a whole lot more attitude.
To date, the EcoBoost-equipped Mustang has been a confident performer, especially equipped with the optional Performance package. In a comparison test against the turbo four-cylinder Camaro, I wrote it “can be driven as fast as its motor will carry it down a winding road with complete confidence.” Apparently, that’s too tame for the Mustang engineering team. This new car drives like it has something to prove.
It’s obvious the moment you start driving the car hard. The optional limited-slip differential locks up aggressively, and the optional summer tires don’t always have the grip to handle it. You must be careful with the throttle in tight corners; it will try to put all 350 lb-ft down at once and pop you sideways. Leave the stability control on until you’re familiar with the car because it’ll let you rotate more than you expect before it steps in. This car now requires a delicate touch. Manhandling it turns a race horse into a bucking bronco.
You can make life easier on yourself by staying away from the Sport+ and Race driving modes. Both make the throttle hyperaggressive and the steering too heavy, making it needlessly difficult to drive the car smoothly. Those modes also lock out the selectable steering settings, so you can’t customize the car to your taste. Sport or Custom modes are best but don’t let you change the firmness of the optional magnetorheological dampers, which work best in Sport+ and Race. In Sport and Custom, they leave the car underdamped and a little too bouncy for serious driving.
The new 10-speed auto is one thing that doesn’t need fixing on the street. On our favorite roads, it was perfect. Even with its software update, the EcoBoost still runs out of breath at high rpm, but you wouldn’t know it because this transmission knows exactly how to use all its gears to keep the engine in the meat of its power. That include both shifting at the horsepower peak and downshifting under braking so you’re right at the torque peak when you’re ready to accelerate out of the corner.
Regardless of which mode you prefer or how you dial in the settings, there’s no denying the EcoBoost Mustang is damn quick on a back road once you figure out how to drive it right. It’s a sweaty-palms experience, but it’ll surprise a lot of fast cars.
This was born out at the test track, as well. At 5.3 seconds to 60 mph and 13.9 seconds in the quarter at 97.2 mph, this is the quickest EcoBoost Mustang we’ve ever tested and nicely reverses a trend we discovered and reported of EcoBoost Mustangs getting slower. Our test team found Drag Strip mode, unsurprisingly, returned the best results, though it surprisingly doesn’t have launch control. A little brake torque up to 1,500 rpm netted the best launch. If you’re curious, the last V-8 Mustang we tested hit 60 mph in 4.4 seconds and ran a 12.6-second quarter mile at 115.1 mph.
We’ve long praised the EcoBoost Mustang’s braking for being stronger and more precise than you’d expect in what is now the base model, and this one is no exception. Its stop from 60 mph in 106 feet is right on par with its predecessors.
Things didn’t go so well in our handling tests, though. Pulling 0.96 g on the skidpad and lapping the figure eight in 25.1 seconds at 0.75 g average, it did about as well as the last EcoBoost with an automatic transmission we tested. Thing is, it’s significantly slower and pulling a lot less g than the best EcoBoost Mustang we’ve tested, and it’s not just the numbers. The test team reports things started out all right, with great braking, good road holding, and strong traction coming off the corners, but the laps were still nearly a second off the pace. Going for another try, everything “went pear-shaped,” as the notes have it. “Times did not improve, and the transmission started really hiccupping,” our test team wrote. “A couple of times, after pulling the paddle for a downshift, it literally freewheeled, no throttle response, as if it was in neutral. Then it popped into second and the revs jumped (no matched revving), and it totally upset the car. Also, I don’t think the LSD was working properly because going to throttle at the same rate in the same place spun the car once—a really slow-mo spin, but still it was a surprise.” No doubt, our Figure Eight test is very hard on cars, but these sorts of things don’t usually happen.
The test team’s notes end with, “Feels like a good eight-tenths car, but ask ten-tenths and it won’t like it.” Which, really, kind of jibes with our road impressions. Although we had no mechanical issues on the road, the car did not like to be driven to within an inch of its capability. My own notes read, verbatim: “This thing grabs you by the collar and screams in your face, ‘I’m sporty, mother******!’ It’s like trying to wheel a classic Mustang hard. You’ve gotta know what you’re doing.”