Rental Review: 2015 Ford Mustang EcoBoost Premium

Last week, I had the chance to travel to Scottsdale, Arizona for a conference and, as is becoming my habit, the weather on the way out of town was terrible – I got up early to snowblow our driveway at 5:30 before heading to the airport and, four hours later, I found myself in 70° weather with the windows down, behind the wheel of a 2015 Ford Mustang EcoBoost® Premium Fastback.

2015-02-16 10.39.41
Not a bad day for mid-February…

In case you’ve never read my blog before, I’m the current owner of a 2011 Mustang GT, which I’ve owned for 3.5 years now. I’ve loved Mustangs since I was 14 so, while I’ll do my best to be objective, there’s no doubt I’m biased in favor of this car.

The 2015 (internal code S550) is the Mustang’s first all-new model since 2005 ( the S197). There’s been plenty of coverage about what’s new with it, so I won’t spend a ton of time on it, except to say the most significant things about it, to me, are:

  • It’s a world car, being sold throughout Europe, in China, and in other markets. The styling is more modern than it might have been otherwise, though that was needed regardless, in my opinion. For 10 model years (2005-2014), the best of the classic Mustang styling was evoked and there wasn’t much history left to exploit with another retro model, unless you wanted the  bloated ’71-73 car or the boring Mustang II to be the inspiration. Mustang needed to be more modern, as there aren’t nearly enough people my age buying the current car and Boomers aren’t going to be around forever.
  • The solid rear axle is finally, finally, finally gone. Drag racers and Mustang apologists have tried to pretend like Ford was the only car company on Earth that realized how good a solid rear axle still is, but there’s a reason nobody else had used one for 10+ years, other than a few trucks/SUV’s and the Ford Panther cars (Crown Vic, Lincoln Continental, etc.).

While I didn’t get to take the car on a long drive into the Arizona mountains like I might have wanted, I got the chance to drive it on the highway, in traffic and over a couple days and about 150 miles, and here’s my initial thoughts on it:

Pros

  • Styling: I’m still not crazy about the front of it, as the area between the headlights is still too wide & barren (I think the same about the S197 but the GT’s foglights fix that problem for me, which isn’t an option on the S550), but the rest of the car is beautiful. The side profile and the muscular rear flanks are gorgeous, as is the back of the car. It’s classic Mustang, but yet very modern. Considering all the factors that led to the styling, the team did well.
Such a great side profile, but still don't love the front end.
Such a great side profile, but still don’t love the front end.
Love this rear view
Love this rear view
  • The Motor: when news of the EcoBoost 4-cylinder replacing the only-4-years old 3.7 liter V6 came out, I was disappointed, as that V6 was a fantastic engine, making over 300 horsepower and getting 30+ mpg on the highway. It was (and still is) odd that Ford built that motor only to mothball it in less than five years. However, this 2.3 liter turbo four is fan-freaking-tastic. At idle, the sound isn’t much but, once underway, the turbo whistle and the motor’s smooth, quick-revving nature is addictive. (EDIT: I now realize that a lot of that sound was fake, generated through the stereo system as is common on cars from the BMW M3 to the F-150 EcoBoost. I would never have realized that if I hadn’t read about the feature, so it’s definitely well-tuned and subtle.) Anybody that’s driven a high-powered 4-cylinder car previously should immediately embrace the motor, though the sound will take some getting used to for die-hard V8 guys. No, it’s not nearly as good in the aural dept. but the low-end torque, wide powerband and overall 300+ horsepower should make believers out of them too. Even in 6th gear, at 70 MPH, barely putting my foot down accelerates the car quickly, thanks to that torque. Even better, Ford is offering warranty-backed reflashes of this motor to up the power ante! This motor was needed to make the car a legit competitor in Europe and elsewhere, but it’s damn good everywhere. Just as with the old V6, buyers of the entry-level Mustang no longer have to feel slighted. The old rental car low power, lousy gas mileage V6 motors are a distant memory now!
  • The Transmission: paired with that fantastic motor is an equally good 6-speed automatic transmission, finally with true paddle shifters to control it, rather than the silly rocker switch on the last generation cars. It shifts smoothly, quickly and is well-paired with the motor. Even in manual mode, it still downshifts for you, which can be nice at a stoplight but is a bit annoying to me since you never have full control of the shifting. If it were me, I’d still buy the real manual transmission, but this automatic is far, far better than the last gen automatic.
  • Interior Features: I like the interior of my Mustang fine but, again, this car feels more than 4 years newer than mine. It starts with the smaller steering wheel that finally tilts + telescopes, making getting comfortable to drive it easier for me. Then, there’s the MyFordTouch interface, which I’ve used in a Flex, Explorer and Escape without any problems. No, it doesn’t work as well as an Apple CarPlay or Android Auto one would and it’d be nice if it integrated with my device more…but it works fine and the Mustang has enough redundant controls built in for the radio/HVAC that it shouldn’t be an issue for nobody. I love the addition of the customizable screen between the tach and speedometer – you can have probably 20+ different things on that screen, including the traditional stuff and a lot of engine monitoring parameters that will be over the head of 90% of owners. The heated and cooled seats, with three levels for each, are a huge upgrade from the single level heated seats in my ’11.
Love this interior. That big strip of metal-looking stuff on the dash is real aluminum. Love that too.
Love this interior. That big strip of metal-looking stuff on the dash is real aluminum. Love that too.
Great, great seats, making the Recaros probably unnecessary
Great, great seats, making the Recaros probably unnecessary
Love this little detail too.
Love this little detail too.
  • Performance Features: There’s also TrackApps, which lets you record 0-30 and 0-60 acceleration times, braking and handling measures. I can’t believe Ford has those in this litigious world we live in, not to mention warranty claims, but it does! Since this is a rental car with 150 miles, I didn’t use any of them, much as I wanted to! In addition, the three options for steering feel and the four options for driving mode (Comfort, Normal, Sport+ and Snow/Ice) are pretty cool. Having them feels like a definite Premium feature and I could definitely feel the difference when going into Sport+ mode. I imagine the Snow/Ice mode would be really helpful in bad weather too.
  • Interior Comfort: combined with the tilt+telescoping wheel, the seats in the ’15 are fabulous. They’re more comfortable than the old car AND far more supportive, making the $1,600 upgrade to Recaro race seats a waste, especially when you consider you lose power adjustability, memory functionality (important when you’re 6’1″ and your wife is 5’4″!), plus the heat/cool option. At highway speed with the windows up, the car is quiet and rides well – a fantastic road trip car.
  • Mileage: in a pretty even mix of highway and city driving, I averaged almost 27 MPG with the ’15. When I was strictly on the highway, I was hitting 30 with ease going 70 MPH. Considering I was having some fun getting to know the car and it wasn’t even broken in yet, that’s pretty fantastic. I know there are constant complaints across Ford’s lineup right now that EcoBoost motors don’t deliver anywhere near their EPA mileage in the real world, but that’s not my experience. The Escape and the Mustang both got the stated mileage, or better, for me, and I wasn’t driving them like a grandparent.
  • Trunk Space: the trunk seems to be about the same width and length as the old car, but without the solid rear axle taking up space, the load floor is flat instead of having a big hump in the back. Much more usable and easy to fit vacation stuff or a decent shopping excursion too, as long as you weren’t shopping at IKEA for furniture!
2015-02-17 17.59.53
Little tough to see but a good sized trunk, even if the opening is a bit small due to the styling.

 

Cons

  • Interior Room: the overall seating room feels similar, but the roof height seems smaller than the old car. I’m 6’1 and, with the seat all the way down, it felt not quite as roomy inside from a headroom perspective. Not a big deal but something I noticed.
  • Interior Storage: one of the more annoying things about the old car really hasn’t been fixed that well. The cupholders are moved back so they get in the way of manual shifting less, but the center console is still just one big hole. The glovebox seems about the same, as do the too-small door storage pockets. If you want people to buy a 2-door car as a daily driver, not just a weekend toy, in today’s marketplace, it’s got to be as practical as possible and this feels like a missed opportunity to do that.
  • Visibility: though still overall pretty good for a coupe, the blind spot on the ’15 is bigger than my ’11. It’s still difficult to judge distances when parking in the front and out back, though the back is negated by the rearview camera that comes up immediately after shifting into reverse and works flawlessly.
Pony Projector Lamps became an option in '13 - can't decide if they're silly/cheesy or if I like 'em...
Pony Projector Lamps became an option in ’13 – can’t decide if they’re silly/cheesy or if I like ‘em…
The key itself is pretty cool too, if a bit bigger and chunkier than I'd like.
The key itself is pretty cool too, if a bit bigger and chunkier than I’d like.

Overall

In late December, I happened to be at Baron BMW, Kansas City’s only BMW dealer, and they had a just-traded-in 2015 50th Anniversary Mustang GT. The previous owner traded it in with 160 miles on it (1/2 a tank of gas!!) because his girlfriend apparently didn’t like it, so he took a likely $6-8,000 bath on it and got a new BMW M4 instead. The $42,000 pricetag on that almost-new Mustang had me tempted to try and talk my wife into trading in my current Mustang.

After driving this ’15 EcoBoost, I’m kind of glad that 50th anniversary GT is no longer available because I’m even more impressed with the ’15 than I expected to be. It’s a fantastic redesign of an already-great car. It’s more refined, more comfortable, more modern and yet hasn’t lost any of its Mustang essence or appeal, to me. Again, I don’t love the front-end styling but I don’t dislike it enough that it offsets the fantastic total package of car. I can’t wait to see the GT-350 in person, and I can’t wait to hear how well it sells all over the globe. It needs no excuses based on price, heritage or being American – it’s worthy of its pricetag and the tough competition it’ll be up against all over the world. Can’t wait until I can buy another!

Note: my company bought me a cheap rental car and I paid the upgrade cost personally – thanks for having it available, Budget Rent-a-Car! I received nothing from Ford in exchange for this review, though I wish they’d give me something!

Quick Reaction: 2nd Half Automotive Super Bowl XLIX Ads

Earlier, I posted my quick reactions to the 1st half Super Bowl automotive spots, and here’s my reactions to the 2nd half ones:

Toyota “Bold Dad”

Toyota has got to be so frustrated that Nissan ran such a similar spot before they got to run theirs. Just like with their other spot, I think the “bold” thing is a lame stretch for Toyota and this one doesn’t do it for me either.

Lexus “Let’s Play”

Lexus is doing the same thing as Toyota right now – trying to shed their boring, stodgy image and get some of that BMW excitement image. I think Lexus is doing a better job of it, both from an advertising standpoint and the product that backs it up. Based on the reviews I’ve read, this Lexus delivers the goods, and I think the ad does too – lots of fun.

Dodge “100th Birthday”

I am very, very surprised they decided to run this almost-one-year-old spot again, not because it isn’t good, but because it’s not new. I love it though, as I said back in May. I think it’s far better than the Dodge Brothers spots they’ve been running for months, which try to make it sound like the first Dodges were sports cars or something (they weren’t). Those spots being so prevalent makes me even more surprised they went back to this one. Well done Dodge.

Kia “Getaway”

Does Kia realize it’s been over 15 years since Pierce Brosnan was James Bond? I wonder if they tried to get Daniel Craig to do this one and he turned them down. That new Sorento is beautiful, but this spot just felt forced and a “me too” celebrity spot, which this game has been full of.

Jeep “Beautiful Lands”

A visually beautiful spot taking the Jeep brand all over the world, though I’m not sure Americans really get/appreciate showing China and other markets FCA is trying to market the Jeep brand in. Like so many (mis)uses of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” and Martina McBride’s “Independence Day”, the use of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” is not without irony, as pointed out by my friend John:

  More points to FCA for this charitable tie-in too though:

Most shocking to me, now that we’ve seen three FCA spots, and I think they only purchased three, is that none were for the Chrysler brand after they supported it consistently the past few games.

Mercedes-Benz “Fable”
I like that there are accompanying videos featuring Jerry Rice, Mike & Mike and more for this spot, but this felt way too childish to appeal to somebody cross shopping the SLS with the Jag F-Type, Dodge Viper, Corvette Z06, Aston Vantage, etc.


Overall a decent year for ads. Once again, the top automotive spots were done by Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles. Kudos to their team and their agencies – hopefully they get $25M+ in value, as they spent at least that on the space + production costs.

Quick Reaction: 1st Half Automotive Super Bowl XLIX Ads

The first half of Super Bowl XLIX featured some great ads (esurance’s Walter White one) and some not-so-great ones (the Nationwide “Boy” (dead kid) ad. A lot of the biggest brands in automotive were here, though Ford wasn’t. They typically don’t invest in obscenely expensive Super Bowl ads, but I’m surprised they didn’t this year with their two most iconic products (Mustang and F-150) both all-new. Anyway, here’s my quick reactions to the auto industry ones:

Chevrolet  Colorado “Blackout”

I’d derided Chevy for overrunning the Colorado’s launch spot that used AC/DC’s “Back in Black” to basically say you’re less of a man if you drive a Civic, which they backed up with the silly focus group of women spot. However, they redeemed themselves with this one that got a ton of attention. I thought it was pretty weak to start but the hugely positive reaction on Twitter changed my mind.

BMW “Newfangled Idea”

Definitely my favorite ad of all so far – using that infamous 1994 Bryant Gumbel/Katie  Couric clip and getting them both to be in the spot was brilliant, and the message was spot-on for the i3 car and the BMW brand. Loved it.

Fiat “Blue Pill”

This one was fun, though I loathe Fiat following the same product strategy as Mini (over-extending their brand with too many versions of the core model). The spot itself was good though, even if parents may end up having to explain away blue pills to their kids.

Nissan “With Dad”

From a production value standpoint, I loved this spot, especially that it utilized Nissan’s racing investment as an integral part, which doesn’t usually happen in mainstream spots. But, for being 90 seconds long, I wasn’t sold on what the point of the whole thing was.
Dan Bedore of Nissan PR was nice enough to give me a summary of it though:

I guess I see that’s what their intent was, but don’t think they showed the payoff well enough, considering they had 90 seconds to get there. A hug in a new Maxima doesn’t fix Dad being gone so much.

Toyota “How Great I Am”
Not a huge fan of brands using handicapped people/kids to try and make a tie to their brands, though Microsoft’s effort was far better than Toyota’s, personally. Toyota seems to have listened far too much to enthusiast automotive journalists forever calling the Camry boring, so they’ve decided that the Camry is now a bold, exciting vehicle, as demonstrated by this spot, the one where a guy takes a bride away from her own wedding in a Camry, etc. But why, Toyota? Own being the ultra-reliable, comfortable, driving appliance that the Camry is. You destroyed every other model in the segment in sales again in ’14, which makes the “look at us, we’re exciting now!” campaign just seem silly to me.

Weather Tech “America at Work”

It was kind of refreshing to see a brand just try and sell stuff with their spot, rather than reach with some far-fetched story or half-assed tie in with a higher morality/purpose type spot. Weather Tech is great product, made in America and they own their segment. Great reminder to built top-of-mind, though I might have gone down the “terrible winter weather means you should protect your car’s interior” road instead, given that it’s February.

Lexus NX “Make Some Noise”

Completely mediocre and unmemorable. The NX looks so much like the RX that I’m not sure it didn’t just confuse anybody watching. I’m a gearhead and close follower of the industry and I don’t even know for sure the difference.


 

So, what did you think? My thoughts on the 2nd half automotive ads from Chrysler, Mercedes-Benz, Lexus were posted after the game.

Opinions and anecdotes on mostly cars+racing, plus some marketing here & there