“To V8 or Not to V8″
In the 80’s and 90’s there used to be a Looney Tunes skit with two characters called Ralph Wolf and Sam Sheepdog. The general gist was that during the 5 minute skit Ralph Wolf would attempt to take the sheep from Sam’s flock. In one episode Ralph dresses up as a sheep to hide in the flock in the hopes that while Sam was not looking, he would take one of the sheep. He succeeded in his devious plan. However, what ends up happening is that he takes a sheep that turns out to be Sam disguised as a sheep. The result is that Ralph gets a beating like only Looney Tunes could imagine. The moral of the story is that wolves in sheep’s clothing have been a long standing concept in the automotive industry. Vicious aggressive machines disguised to look like the other sheepish cars on the road. That is until you unleash your right foot on the go pedal and both you and onlookers quickly realize that this “ain’t your father’s Oldsmobile”. However, the automotive industry has not historically reversed the concept, i.e. a sheep in wolf’s clothing. Without sounding overly cruel in description, this is what the Ford Mustang 2.3 HP initially presents as. The sacred realm of the muscle car or should I say more specifically, the pony car, screams the need of a V8.
Now give me a moment to consider the mathematics of the modern day Mustang. In its current form the GT V8, produces 460 bhp and 420 lb-ft of torque. It does the quintessential sprint to 60 in or around 4.2 seconds. Now for its half engine brother the HP; the 2.3L Turbo 4 produces 332 bhp and 350 pound-feet of torque, almost all the power is available from 2,500 to 5,300 rpm and torque holds strong up to its 6,500-rpm redline. This all equates to a 0-60 time of about 5 seconds. Hold up, wait a minute, just a one second difference? This is what makes the HP such a compelling option. Now for some brass tax numbers; the HP runs in at an as tested price of $52,665.00, plus taxes. The GT Premium closely specced is going to run you about $57,400.00, plus taxes including the equally fast Twister Orange paint scheme. That’s about a $5,000.00 difference. To some that only begs the question “Why go 4 when you can have 8?”.
I believe the why is answered when you actually get behind the wheel of the HP. The driving dynamics of the HP make it feel nimbler and sharper than its bigger brother. Some of that has to do with the fact that the HP is nearly 200 lbs lighter than the V8. Turn in is sharp and the front end feels alive. Combined with these improved driving dynamics is power delivery that is more easily managed and livable from a day-to-day perspective, but does not detract from the raw straight line numbers. Now the majority of the HP’s fun factor stems from the revised Ford Focus RS heart that has been modified for the extra weight of the Mustang. It delivers power when needed, revs freely and produces its own raspy exhaust note along with boy racer bangs and pops. To bolster the bespoke Turbo 4 the HP adds bigger 4 piston brakes (nearly 14 inches), front tower braces and 19 inch, race inspired, wheels covered in performance tires (Pirelli P-Zeros Corsas).
Opting for the 2.3 High Performance Package also gave our test mule the EcoBoost Handling Package. This adds adjustable MagneRide dampers, a Torsen limited-slip rear differential and a thicker 24-millimeter solid rear sway bar. All of this comes courtesy of the GT350 playbook. From an appearance perspective the exterior gets the GT Performance Package’s splitter and belly pan, a unique black grille with the tri-bar pony logo and fading hood stripes. To round out the look dark exterior mirror caps, quad-exhaust tips and a rear spoiler are added. The interior features a specific boost and oil pressure gauge, an aluminum instrument panel and a dash plaque with the chassis build number.
I consider myself to be very open when approaching my testing of a new vehicle. The numbers and driving dynamics all point to the HP being a truly viable alternative to the V8 Mustang. However, the HP is missing something that would otherwise make me overwhelmingly suggest it to future buyers or enthusiasts. There is a visceral quality to driving a V8 pony car which cannot be replicated by best handling or 0-60 times. It’s that quality that differentiates how you feel emotionally in your gut versus just being surprised while driving the car. The former we can thankfully credit to Mr. Ford, when in 1932 he introduced the masses to the Flathead V8.