Throughout automotive history, pony cars and V8 engines have been a synonymous pairing for enthusiasts. The mere mention of fitting America’s most popular performance cars with another powertrain was met with ridicule and laughter.
Sure, V6 powered Ford Mustangs and Chevrolet Camaros have been available for decades. But for the most part, owners who purchased these models have had to sacrifice performance for fuel economy and a cheaper price tag. The prestige of owning a pony car was diminished heavily when many ordinary sedans could provide the same level of performance.
As turbocharged technology has advanced in the last decade, boosted four-cylinder engines have started to replace the V6 in a variety of different applications—including the fabled pony car lineup.
In 2015, Ford was the first to experiment on a grand scale when the sixth generation Ford Mustang was launched with a 2.3-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder engine. Slotted above the V6-equipped base model but below the range-topping V8-powered GT, the EcoBoost delivered economy car fuel efficiency with the performance you’ve come to expect from a pony car.
Not surprisingly, the success of the new powertrain led to the discontinuation of the 3.7-liter V6 engine for the 2018 model year. With 310 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque, the EcoBoost Mustang can accelerate to 60 mph in 5.1 seconds and complete the quarter mile in 13.7 seconds at 102 mph.
While those figures are impressive for an entry-level model, they are still a far cry from the 5.0-liter Coyote V8 powered GT. For those seeking more from their EcoBoost Mustang, a middle ground was needed.
RS Inspired Performance
Though its production was short-lived, the turbocharged Focus RS certainly didn’t disappoint in regards to performance. With a higher output version of the EcoBoost engine found in the Mustang, the Focus RS was the fastest hot hatchback in America during its production run.
Perhaps Ford engineers were feeling nostalgic. The RS may have already run its course, but that doesn’t mean that its spirit couldn’t live on in another model. Over a 10-month span in the Ford Performance garage, a small team devoted to the special project transplanted the Valencia, Spain-built 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine from the Focus RS into the Mustang. The result is the all-new EcoBoost High Performance package available for the 2020 model year.
Renown for its die-cast alloy block and bullet-proof cylinder head, the RS engine was fitted with an upgraded 63-millimeter twin-scroll turbocharger and larger radiator in the Mustang. The result is only 20 additional horsepower, but the real improvement is drastically improved power band. Ninety percent of peak torque is now delivered from 2500 rpm to 5300 rpm, a 40 percent wider spread from the standard EcoBoost engine.
The results will reportedly be nothing short of staggering, with Ford claiming zero-to-60 mph times in the mid-four-second range on premium fuel. That’s encroaching on GT territory with only half the cylinders— an unlikely phenomenon sure to rustle the jimmies of V8 purists.
Road Course Ready
The heart transplant may be the headliner, but the new High Performance package also adds a series of other upgrades. Braking is improved by adding 13.9-inch front rotors and four-piston calipers borrowed from the Mustang GT, while body roll is reduced with the addition of a front strut tower brace and larger diameter front and rear sway bars. Performance-tuned calibrations are also made to the Mustang’s active dampers, power steering, anti-lock braking, and stability control to give the driver a better sense of control from behind the wheel.
The High Performance package can be ordered with a six-speed manual or 10-speed automatic transmission, in both coupe and convertible models. Exclusive only to the coupe, the EcoBoost Handling package is available as an additional cost option. This package adds MagneRide dampers, a specially calibrated Torsen 3.55:1 limited slip differential, and wider 19-by-9.5-inch wheels wrapped in Pirelli P Zero Corsa4 summer tires. If you plan to autocross or road race the car and want to get the most out of your Mustang, the EcoBoost Handling package is essential.
Exterior appointments are more subtle, and allow the Hi-Po EcoBoost to remain an unsuspecting sleeper on the streets. A fully active quad tip exhaust, a unique blacked-out grille with an offset pony tri-bar emblem, and 2.3-liter High Performance side badges offer the most visible cues that this isn’t an ordinary EcoBoost Mustang.
Pricing has yet to be released from Ford, but they did announce the new hopped-up EcoBoost Mustangs would begin arriving at dealerships this fall. While nothing will ever replace the raucous roar of the Coyote V8, it’s refreshing to see Ford investing research and development into an alternative powertrain option with advantages of its own. If the new Hi-Po EcoBoost Mustang is any indication, the Blue Oval brand is showing that exhilarating performance no longer requires you to sacrifice practicality and fuel efficiency in the pony car segment.