If you’re a die-hard Mustang fan, chances are it’s V8 or nothing for you. But of the nearly 10 million Mustangs that have been built since 1964, we’d wager that the majority of them have six cylinders under the hood. Back in the ’60s, it was the borderline un-killable Thriftmaster straight-six. Then in the ’70s, the vee made its debut in the second-generation Mustang II by way of the 2.8 liter Cologne motor. And while the less said about the II the better, it also marked the first time the ‘Stang got a four-banger, the 2.3 cylinder Lima, which powered the Pinto and would live on, astonishingly, until the late ’90s.
Despite a few rare exceptions (ahem, Mustang SVO), the four-cylinder Mustang served at the bottom of the Mustang line until it quietly died with the third-gen Fox body cars in 1993. If you wanted the boxy goodness that was the Fox, with the economy and, unfortunately, handling characteristics of a Ford Tempo, the Four Banger Stanger was your car. If not, hey, they always made for a cheap project car. As for the V6: It became the base engine. And in the fourth through sixth generation cars, it got pretty damn good. Over 300 horses was big-block territory back in the ’60s; from the ’90s to now, it’s the Mustang’s baseline.
When the current Mustang arrived for 2015, the four cylinder model was brought back from the dead. And in a Shakespearean twist, the new 2.3 liter EcoBoost model moved to the middle of the lineup while the trusty 3.7 liter V6 was held back as the base engine. Much ado was made about the decision — that is, until people drove the EcoBoost. Today, more buyers are taking the four over the six, so much so that there are rumors that the days of a six cylinder Mustang are numbered. So if you’re open-minded enough to look beyond the V8, which Mustang should you buy, the hotshot EcoBoost or the tried-and-true V6? Well, that’s what we’ll be looking at in this latest installment of Buy This, Not That.
Tale of the tape
From the outside, you aren’t going to notice much of a difference between the base six cylinder and the EcoBoost. There aren’t any badges, body kits, or any real cues to what you’re packing under the hood — unless, of course, you count the glaring lack of those chrome 5.0 tattletales on the fenders. Like any Mustang, these cars can seat four, are 188.3 inches long, offer both a six-speed manual or automatic transmission, and weigh within 6 pounds of each other, regardless of gearbox. Inside, it’s the same dark but stylish cockpit you’d find in any ‘Stang, with the handsome engine-turned dash, console-mounted start button, and 160 mile per hour “Ground Speed” speedometer. And in case you get a little too cocky behind the wheel: The Mustang earned an overall five-star safety rating from the NHTSA.
The difference comes in the drive. The V6 is good and powerful — 300 horses and 280 pound-feet of torque. Starting at around $26K, that’s a lot of juice going to the rear wheels. There aren’t many options here (the $1,195 automatic transmission and $255 spare tire are the only real standouts), so the price ceiling for the V6 is low. For the money, you get cloth seats, a rearview camera, a limited-slip differential, and a decent sounding six. This car is rated at 18 miles per gallon city, and 28 on the highway, and can smoke the EcoBoost from zero-to-60 by a full second (5.3 seconds versus 6.3). Unfortunately, it falls short when it comes to fuel economy and top speed.
The EcoBoost is clearly Ford’s favorite here, and it shows almost immediately. The EcoBoost returns an estimated 22/31. And while it would lose in a sprint, the V6 ‘Stang is governed at 124 miles per hour. The EcoBoost’s 310 horses and 320 pound-feet of torque will keep pulling all the way up to 149 miles per hour. On top of the 10 paint options, you can also order your EcoBoost with a black painted roof, and silver or black racing stripes. There are three available rear axles, all with a limited-slip differential, four different wheel options, a RECARO sport seat package, and aluminum pedal caps if you’re feeling especially sporty. And while the budget V6 tops out near the $30K mark, you can spec an EcoBoost to max out at close to $40K.
Ford has worked hard to remove any stigma from the four cylinder Mustang, and we can say with out any doubt that it succeeded. If we have any real gripe with the EcoBoost, it’s that it can get seriously expensive for what it is, and at that level, you’re not only into 5.0 liter Mustang territory, but Focus RS, which is tuned to coax 350 horses and 350 pound-feet from the 2.3 engine. But if you’re looking to experience the joys of the current Mustang and don’t care about the V8, the EcoBoost is the way to go.
And it does almost pain us to say it. Because the V6 ‘Stang spent decades being a fine alternative to the V8 car. But in this generation car, it feels all but forgotten. Compared to the EcoBoost, which punches well above its weight, the V6 feels older and more sluggish. We find it telling that despite Chevy’s release of the excellent 1LE performance package for the V6 Camaro, Ford hasn’t responded at all.
If we were to hedge our bets on the future of big displacement engines, we’d wager that the Mustang would be among the last to give up its V8 engine. But forced induction and small displacement still seems to be the wave of the future for Ford’s ponycar, and it’s chosen to throw its weight behind the EcoBoost. We wouldn’t be surprised if this generation was the V6 Mustang’s last hurrah. If you ask us, it’s bet on the right horse.