Ford’s midlife update to the Mustang’s styling is a fairly discreet but successful one, adding sharply drawn visual attitude to the car’s exterior while also lowering the car’s bonnet and reducing aerodynamic lift at the front axle for better high-speed stability.
The facelifted car’s probably easiest to identify by its revised front and rear bumpers, or by the twin vents that have been added to the bonnet. It looks a bit more tailored than its forebear, fitting into its European surroundings slightly more effortlessly than its predecessor – as you might expect of a car that’s maturing in showrooms and needs to begin to appeal in a more rounded way.
Ford’s efforts to add a sophisticated note to the car’s interior don’t succeed quite as well. Soft-touch materials now appear on the doorcards and centre console, while one or two higher-quality fittings feature here and there – but not widely enough to make a telling difference to an ambience that’s still a way off equalling the perceived quality of an Audi TT or Porsche 718.
The Mustang’s cheap-looking minor switchgear and its shiny low-level mouldings still betray the car’s American working-class roots pretty starkly. While the car’s new digital instruments are welcome for the flexibility they bring to the dashboard, meanwhile, they’re not in the same league as the latest digital displays from Audi, VW and Mercedes for graphical allure.
Having pressed the car’s glowing engine start button, it does seem odd not to feel the rotational fidget of a heavy crankshaft spinning into life, or to hear the delicious rumble of Detroit iron animated by your right foot. So much of the Mustang’s charm as a driver’s car flows from its dominant and effusive V8 that to take it away seems, at first, like removing the car’s greatest selling point. But at length you’ll find that the four-cylinder Mustang’s got very respectable performance, and plenty of sporting character of its own too – handling better in some ways than its bigger-engined sibling.
It helps, to begin with, that Ford’s 2.3-litre four-pot doesn’t sound so ordinary under the bonnet; it has an offbeat thrum that often makes it, at times, more redolent of a five-cylinder motor than an inline four. It’s responsive, too, and pulls hard enough through the middle of the rev range to make fairly light work of the Mustang’s kerb weight, delivering hot hatchback level in-gear thrust that’s more than enough to make the car fairly quick from point to point.
The Mustang’s size and mass make themselves more apparent in the way the car rides and handles than in the way it accelerates – but even here, the four-cylinder car might have an advantage over its V8 sibling. Though we didn’t have a current V8 for back-to-back comparison, the 2.3-litre Mustang had a nimbleness about its handling that you don’t expect to find in such a large car, and which we haven’t always found in bigger-engined Mustangs tested previously.
Turning crisply and feeling lighter on its feet than you might expect, the car corners quite keenly: a change that might owe as much to Ford’s midlife suspension revisions (retuned dampers, stiffer anti-roll bars, new rear suspension bracing) as it does to the relative weight of its engine compared with a V8. It feels balanced, lively and engaging, as you’d hope any rear-driven coupé would, and has a well-met blend of power and outright lateral grip.
The car rides well enough, although without the deft close body control or clever meeting of comfort and poise of some of its European sports car rivals.