Sporting sharper lines and a 10-speed ’box, does the four-cylinder Mustang edge closer to the V8 headliner?

The supporting act: in the world of performance arts, an up-and-coming artist or troupe tasked to entertain the audience before the main event. In the case of the sixth-generation Ford Mustang line-up, this duty is assigned to the 2,3 EcoBoost model. The top-billed ensemble is the GT-badged version employing an atmospheric 5,0-litre V8.

Tested alongside the latter (in Fastback guise) back in 2016, the soft-top Mustang fell short; not quite matching the character of its rumbling stablemate. Since then, the Pony Car has remained largely unchanged. With the introduction of the facelifted version, Ford has ditched the six-speed automatic transmission and mated the – now slightly tweaked – 2,3-litre inline-four turbopetrol engine with a 10-ratio self-shifter. Has the American automaker sufficiently honed the entry-level Mustang to be the star of its own show? Dressed in Race Red, an updated Ford Mustang 2,3 EcoBoost Convertible arrived at the CAR offices for its audition.

The Mustang is all the better for this bright hue as it highlights the chiselled bodywork. The LED headlamps look sharper and two air vents have been placed towards the end of the elongated bonnet. At the rear, below the stunning tri-bar taillamps, is a new bumper, replete with a diffusor-like insert. It cuts a handsome figure when the roof is folded down. CAR’s testers did call the operation of the roof old-fashioned, though, as the car has to be stationary (although not necessarily in park). The canvas top must be manually unlatched and the button held down before the electrically operated item will stow away.

Peek into the interior and you’ll find the Mustang 2,3 EcoBoost comes fully equipped with Ford’s intuitive Sync3 touchscreen infotainment setup featuring screen mirroring functionality, Bluetooth connectivity and sat-nav. A CD slot is present, too. Although this derivative is four-cylinders short of a sonorous V8 soundtrack, the standard Bang & Olufsen system sounds good. Thanks to dual-zone climate control, and heated and cooled leather front seats, top-down driving in summer or winter is comfortable.

The pleasingly thin-rimmed steering wheel is trimmed in hide and manually adjustable for rake and reach. Here, a button marked with the Mustang badge accesses a special menu on the crisp 12-inch LCD screen where line lock can be activated; a prospect which had one tester beaming with joy. This locks the 352 mm front brakes, keeping the car in check as the road eats away at the spinning Pirelli P Zero rubber at the rear. The result: a theatrical screen of smoke. Initiating sport+ or drag race driving modes also adjusts the display’s layout.

As with the pre-facelifted Mustang, the cabin’s finish remains a concern. Fitted with myriad hard plastics, the Ford’s interior build quality does not match that of its similarly priced German rivals. However, most criticism went towards the 2,3 EcoBoost Mustang’s engine-gearbox combination. Thanks to European emissions regulations, the twin-scroll turbocharged 2,3-litre mill now churns out 20 kW less. Fortunately, torque output has increased by 11 N.m. One tester was surprised by the engine’s performance, considering the vehicle’s mass; another noted it would have been better coupled with a six-speed manual ’box. Employed across the range – bar the hallowed Bullitt model, which makes use of the aforementioned transmission – in this application at low speeds, the Blue Oval brand’s 10-speed item felt undecided in its shifts, resembling a CVT rather than an automatic.

Curiously, the claimed fuel consumption is marginally higher than the 233 kW version’s 9,8 L/100 km. However, our test unit returned a better consumption figure on our mixed-use fuel route. The 0-100 km/h sprint time has improved, too, with the press car reaching the three-figure mark in sub-seven seconds, while the 80-120 km/h dash took 3,76 seconds. Braking remains excellent.

As with many a car of its ilk, scuttle shake is present. Even when negotiating the slightest road imperfections, the drop-top’s ride can feel fidgety and, at times, unforgiving. It belongs on billiard smooth roads.



TEST SUMMARY

The Mustang is certainly an eye-catching vehicle. However, it cannot be judged by its looks alone. As an ensemble, it falls short in the refinement and build quality offered by the Germans, and character of its V8 sibling. The 2,3 EcoBoost Mustang Convertible has, however, thrown off its title of warm-up act to feature as headliner. Although not on the main stage, it is an improvement nonetheless.

ROAD TEST SCORE

Mustang Ford Mustang 2.3T convertible
70 / 100
  • Price: R928,800
  • 0-100 km/h: 5.7
  • Power ([email protected]/min): 213 KW @ 5400
  • Torque ([email protected]/min): 441 N.m @ 3000
  • Top speed: 233
  • Claimed cons. (l/100 km): 9.5 l/100 KM's
  • C02 emissions (g/km): 211 g/KM