In the Before Times, prior to Ford deciding to rile up what felt like the entire Mustang fan base by slapping its storied muscle car nameplate onto an electric crossover, the most sacrilegious deed Ford did with the model was offer it with a turbocharged four-cylinder.
Even though it’s no longer the most controversial Mustang model in Ford’s lineup, the base version of the company’s two-door performance offering is still very much alive and well. After a week behind the wheel of the 2021 Ford Mustang EcoBoost Convertible equipped with an automatic transmission – and, crucially, the High Performance package – I’m happy to report that the news is good.
Yes, hardcore Mustang and driving enthusiasts may be tempted to turn up their noses at this car’s downsize engine, casual-driver gearbox, and – for the true motoring geeks – less rigid, open-top setup; but in reality, the four-cylinder ’Stang deserves way more street cred than it gets on account of the same good looks we already know and love, surprisingly good handling thanks to a lighter front end, and, believe it or not, a decent exhaust note.
The current-generation Mustang has been around for about six years now and, aesthetically, likely needs no introduction. I was never a big fan of the softer-looking headlights that came with the 2018 facelift but even so, most of the Mustang remains a delightfully aggressive and good-looking vehicle.
That High Performance pack adds 19-inch aluminum wheels, a front splitter, a more aggressive rear diffuser, a different front grille with an offset pony badge, and a pair of hood stripes that Ford (wisely, in my opinion) deleted from this particular tester. It all lends to a Mustang that looks significantly more special than the automatic convertible Mustang you might typically find on a rental car lot. (Hey, remember those?)
The inside of Ford’s pony car isn’t bad either, with a similarly cool, blue-collar attitude adorned with aviation-inspired touches like the awesome toggle switches that control drive mode, the steering system, traction control, and the hazard lights. The performance package adds spun aluminum dashboard trim, oil pressure and boost gauges, and a fancy plaque in front of the passenger stamped with that particular car’s unique chassis number. Through styling alone, this is the kind of car that makes you feel tougher just by being in it.
Thankfully, the Mustang isn’t just all show because – yes, even with this EcoBoost motor – there’s quite a bit going on under the hood. Based on the same engine out of the company’s defunct Focus RS hot hatch, the 2.3L turbo-four produces 330 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque, with 20 hp coming courtesy of the optional High Performance pack. Despite the relatively low displacement and cylinder count, the Mustang EcoBoost is no slouch when the rubber meets the road and should be quick enough for most reasonable road scenarios.
In a car like this, however, speed isn’t the only thrill the engine is expected to provide. When it comes to sound, no, it doesn’t have the thunderous rumble of a big-displacement, naturally aspirated V8 but it is, by four-cylinder standards, not bad at all. A bit like the styling, the addition of the performance upgrades likely makes quite the difference here by way of an active valve performance exhaust with four available modes (quiet, normal, sport, and track).
At low revs, it sounds a little fart-can-ish, but at high revs the loud, machine-gun-like rips this Mustang spits out are downright hilarious and especially enjoyable from the outside (read: with the top down). It’s undoubtedly been designed to do its best impression of a V8 and, I must admit, it almost works. If the banshee VTEC wail of a Honda S2000 is a quad-cylinder tribute to Formula 1, then the EcoBoost Mustang’s performance exhaust is a four-banger ode to NASCAR. I certainly did not expect this to be the case but listening to this car’s raucous 2.3L approach its 6,500-rpm redline is a little addictive. The cheeky bangs and pops that appear in track mode are another giggle-inducing reward for knocking at the door of this car’s rev limiter. Other fun bonuses include line lock (aka burnout mode) and a handful of acceleration timers – all for track use only, of course. [Winks and nudges implied. – Ed.]
My tester was equipped with the $1,750 10-speed automatic transmission, but a six-speed manual is standard. The 10-speed does an OK job of picking an appropriate gear for the situation and likely plays a big part in this car’s admirable fuel economy (more on that a little later), but it behaves a little sloppily compared to the best auto-boxes in the biz. It takes a beat to engage from a stop and shifts aren’t exactly what you’d call razor-sharp. For my money, I’d stick with the manual transmission, but not even a subpar automatic gearbox can take away from the sheer enjoyment of this engine’s surprisingly good soundtrack.
Driving Feel: 9/10
Perhaps even more surprising than the EcoBoost Mustang’s sound, however, is the way it handles. The current-gen Mustang chassis has been a decent handler from the jump, and the lighter front end afforded by this version’s smaller engine enhances that even more. It negotiates corners eagerly and precisely and the whole car is way more engaging to drive on a twisty road than its muscle car heritage might suggest. There’s even some honest-to-god feel through the steering. It’s great.
No, it’s not as low-slung and light-feeling as, say, the Mazda MX-5 or Subaru BRZ, but then few cars are. But the difference in driving feel between those and this ’Stang aren’t nearly as stark as one may think – especially outside of a closed-circuit environment.
The upgraded performance brakes are more than competent at slowing the Mustang down, but the pedal does take a little getting used to if you’d like to use them around town without jerking your passengers around. With a punchy engine, genuine canyon-carving cred, as well as sights and sounds that make its driver feel fabulously badass, the performance pack-equipped Mustang EcoBoost delivers a surprising standout driving experience. Taking one to a winding road on a sunny day with the roof down (steering and dampers set to sport; exhaust in track mode) is a genuinely joyful indulgence, four cylinders be damned.
The Mustang EcoBoost can be fairly well equipped but it’ll require some generosity when you get to the options menu. The $2,300 201A pack throws in a fancy 12-inch digital gauge cluster, adaptive cruise, a stitched and soft centre console, heated steering, and a three-slot memory driver’s seat. I’ll let you decide for yourself whether that package is worth it or not, but an option I’d definitely go for is the 12-speaker sound system. Adding just $1,000 to the bill, the Mustang’s optional stereo rocks, standing up to upgrade stereos found in some luxury cars that command way more money. It gets properly loud, too – crucial when you’re trying to enjoy your tunes with the top down.
User Friendliness: 6/10
Controlling said tunes, meanwhile, is a relatively small centre infotainment screen that looks low-res and dated. However, Ford’s software runs quite smoothly and switches between screens and functions with a satisfying urgency not seen in many other cars, especially in the non-luxury market. Wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard and the former connects and runs similarly well. That optional 12-inch digital instrument cluster, meanwhile, looks notably more modern and is easy to fiddle with on-the-go via steering wheel controls.
Less positively, the HVAC buttons seem to have been thrown together haphazardly and Ford has perplexingly decided to bury the heated steering wheel function inside the infotainment system. In fact, I was convinced that this tester did not even have a heated steering wheel equipped until I took a look at the options sheet and consulted an online owner’s forum as to where Ford had hidden the switch for it.
The aforementioned, silver aircraft-like switches beside the engine start button provide attractive, useful shortcuts to key driving settings but only move in one direction. If you’d like to toggle from, say, sport+ to normal, you have to circle all the way back around all of the other drive modes, which is kind of a pain.
Latching down the convertible top is another pain point, as it involves pulling down on a handle and twisting, requiring quite a bit more wrist strength than anticipated. Perhaps not a problem for stereotypical, hairy-chested Mustang Men (not a problem they’d admit to having, at least) but people who are older, have limited mobility, or are just plain ol’ noodle-armed like myself might want to test this out for themselves before buying a convertible Mustang.
Being a two-door pony car, space is never going to be one of the Mustang’s strong suits. Leg- and headroom for the driver and front passenger are decent, but the 323-L trunk (59 L less spacious than the coupe) is only enough to fit a couple of carry-ons (remember those?) or golf bags. Anything beyond a weekend trip for two becomes problematic.
Rear seats also exist here and are admittedly more usable than those of a lot of other 2+2s, but that’s a bit like saying A&W is admittedly healthier than McDonald’s. Sure, it could be true, but nobody’s losing weight on a diet of Papa Burgers and root beer.
Miscellaneous knick-knack storage is also not great. There are two cupholders in the centre, a glovebox, small pockets in the doors, and a little nook underneath the airplane switches big enough for a garage remote, some keys, or maybe a pack of gum. And that’s it.
Once you’ve stuffed everything and everyone inside, though, the Mustang’s long-standing premise as a holiday getaway-mobile for folks of all shapes and ages means long-distance comfort is appropriately good. The seats are big and plush yet feel athletic and well-bolstered – a bit like what you’d get if you commissioned a racing seat from La-Z-Boy. It’s positioned properly in relation to the wheel and pedals, too, and sits atop suspension that’s perfectly compliant in normal mode. That ride gets suitably jiggly and harsh in sport and track modes, as it should, but leave it in normal mode and the Mustang can be an immensely smooth cruiser.
The front seats are heated and cooled in this Premium trim, and a heated steering wheel is part of the $2,300 201A bundle. With the top up, highway wind noise is kept at bay remarkably well but because of this car’s lack of any sort of rear wind deflector, having the top down at any speeds north of around 90 km/h is – and this is a technical term – blustery AF.
As tested, the Mustang EcoBoost came with an adaptive cruise control system that did a decent job of keeping its distance from other traffic, as well as a lane departure warning system that vibrates the steering wheel when it thinks a correction is needed.
The United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gave the Mustang Convertible five stars when it comes to rollover risk but has not rated it in any other category. For what it’s worth, the solid-top Mustang is good for five stars in every category and overall.
Fuel Economy: 8/10
In addition to a lighter front end and more spry handling, another big benefit of going for a Mustang with a smaller four-cylinder over the V8 is fuel economy. With the High Performance pack, the EcoBoost convertible has been rated by Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) at 12.1 L/100 km in the city, 8.9 on the highway, and 10.7 combined. After a week of driving it a little more aggressively than average, the Mustang still showed 10.8 L/100 km on its onboard trip computer. Not bad. For reference, the V8 Mustang Convertible with this same 10-speed automatic is government-rated at 13.3 L/100 km combined.
Ford’s pony car – and all pony cars in general, really – have always sold themselves as bargains in relation to the performance on tap and the EcoBoost Mustang can still be that value king – as long as you go for a base model and go easy on the options sheet.
A base Convertible Mustang can be had for as little as $35,745 before destination but, as tested, the Antimatter Blue 2021 Mustang EcoBoost Premium Convertible with High Performance pack tester you see here rings in at $56,970. Does this Mustang provide the performance and driving experience that can justify a sticker of nearly $57,000? I think so, yes. But those who like to maximize their cylinders-per-dollar ratio will find it hard to stomach – especially when you consider a base V8 GT Fastback can be had for less than $40,000.
As it sits, then, this upgraded EcoBoost Mustang can’t really be considered a value-minded choice for those who can’t afford a GT but rather a better-handling alternative that’s priced accordingly.
Ask a Mustang purist who has never driven this car whether the Mustang EcoBoost is a good buy and they’ll very likely say no out of sheer principle. In practice, however, the four-cylinder Mustang – especially with the High Performance package – is a great performance car. It has pretty much all of the style of its V8 siblings, makes a surprisingly decent noise out of its active valve performance exhaust, and, because of that significant weight reduction over the front wheels, is a better handler than any comparably priced V8 Mustang.
It’s comfortable, too, with a ride that’s soft when you want it to be and living-room-armchair-like seats. The infotainment display could probably use an update and, sure, the proposition of spending close to $60,000 on four cylinders will never stop ruffling the feathers of the “no replacement for displacement” crowd. But once you get behind the wheel, put the top down, feel the awesome steering, and bask in the appropriately rowdy noise as the revs climb, the V8 envy quickly melts away.
|Engine Cylinders||Turbo I4|
|Peak Horsepower||330 hp @ 6,000 rpm|
|Peak Torque||350 lb-ft @ 3,000 rpm|
|Fuel Economy||12.1 / 8.9 / 10.7 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space||323 L|
|Model Tested||2021 Ford Mustang EcoBoost Premium Convertible|
|Price as Tested||$56,970|
$11,700 – Equipment Group 201A, $2,300; 10-Speed SelectShift Automatic Transmission, $1,750; 2.3L High Performance Package, $6,500; Premium Floor Liners, $150; 12-speaker B&O sound system, $1,000