2015 Mustang: A new pony lines up at the gate

2015 Mustang: A new pony lines up at the gate

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2015 Mustang: A new pony lines up at the gate

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1969 Ford Mustang Boss 302

It is arguably one of the most popular racecars in American history. While now it seems almost every other car on an American racetrack is a Miata, looking back over the past five decades that distinction would surely go to the Mustang. From B Production and A Sedan in the early days to the great Trans-Am cars of the ’70s to the current fields in SCCA Touring 2 and 3 and American Sedan, NASA American Iron, Pirelli World Challenge GTS and IMSA Continental Tire GS, the Ford Mustang is raced every weekend on road courses, ovals and dragstrips across the country.

And that doesn’t even touch the hundreds of thousands more that unfortunately for the cars’ owners who have no idea what they’re missing never see a track in anger.

With the all-new, sixth-generation 2015 Ford Mustang just introduced  still in prototype form with many specifications yet to be finalized the original American pony car is undergoing perhaps its most radical transition as it enters its second half-century. It seems like a simple thing, replacing the solid rear axle with independent suspension, but it has the potential to take the car to new heights and at the same time bring both calls of “about time!” and howls of derision from enthusiasts.

The Mustang reached its road course zenith with the Boss 302 model that bowed in 2012. Ford engineers managed to design out some of the bad behaviors associated with solid axles and made the best handling Mustang in history. The Ford design team leaves no doubt that that model was the benchmark for which Mustangs are now judged.

“We had some aspirational targets  the BMW M3 and the Porsche 911,” says Mark Ferencz, program control manager for the new Mustang. “But those were aspirational. We were really targeting to get the same performance as the Boss 302.”

Hearing the Mustang mentioned in the same breath as the 911 and M3 seems odd, but those models are often found competing against each other on the racetrack in classes where there are enough allowable modifications to equal them out. In terms of performance straight out of the factory, however, the BMW and Porsche generally outshine the Mustang, albeit at twice the price. Their performance is a pretty small bullseye to hit,

“When we made the commitment to really upgrade the platform and the suspensions, we really took our benchmark vehicles up to an aspirational level vehicles that aren’t really in this class, but a step up,” says Raj Nair, Ford group vice president, global product development. “So a lot of benchmark drives and development drives were doing those comparisons. We set a high standard. Some of the team thought that was a bit unfair of me. But that’s the expectation we have for the sixth-generation Mustang.”The multi-link independent rear suspension, based on the “integral link” design found in the Fusion, includes an aluminum lower H-arm. The front is also new, a double-ball-joint MacPherson strut configuration designed to work together with the new rear. It has the double benefit of enabling larger, more powerful brake systems to be fitted without shoving the wheels outward so steering feel can be preserved.

A new perimeter subframe replaces the individual crossmembers, which Ford says stiffens the front structure while reducing mass. The whole system is tuned to provide more anti-squat, anti-lift and anti-dive force at each axle. While driving will reveal how close the Mustang team came to its aspirations, the new suspension will certainly help the Mustang get into the ballpark.

An upgraded 5.0-liter V8, naturally, is the flagship engine in the 2015 Mustang, providing the motivation for the GT version. However, for the first time since the Mustang SVO of 1984-’86, a turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine joins the V8 and V6 in the engine lineup.

And it’s not the base engine, either. While the V6 is no slouch, producing 300hp and 270lb.-ft. of torque, the 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine is aiming for more than 305hp and upwards of 300lb.-ft. of torque. The EcoBoost features direct fuel injection, twin variable camshaft timing and a low-inertia twin-scroll turbocharger designed to reduce lag.

“This EcoBoost engine delivers the healthy output that Mustang drivers expect regardless of the speed,” says Scott Makowksi, EcoBoost powertrain engineering manager. “This EcoBoost engine might be small in displacement, but it delivers where a Mustang driver expects it with a broad, flat torque curve and great driveability under any conditions.”

The four-cylinder option has legendary Mustang and Indy car racer Parnelli Jones, a guest of Ford at the Hollywood unveiling of the car, considering the possibilities.

“I like four-bangers as well, even though I’m a horsepower V8 guy,” he says. “You can make a lot of horsepower out of the four-cylinder by changing the chip and stuff like that. They’re talking about 300hp and light weight. For short-course races, it might be a winner. Good mileage, too.”

The V8 is still the king, though, and at 420hp, the GT engine nearly equals the current Boss 302 for power. All the engines will transmit power though either a 6-speed Getrag manual or an automatic transmission with paddle shifters.

Adjustable drive modes including performance programs should intrigue enthusiasts, and everyone will be happier that those modes are easily selectable without having to dig deep into menus. Further refining the engine response, stability control and steering feel is possible with toggle switches on the dash, one feature of a greatly upgraded interior. Even better, launch control will be standard on the GT.

Other new features include “track apps.” Although details were not readily available as to exactly what those would be and how they would work, indications in the presentation of the car included lateral acceleration gauges as one possibility.

It’s all wrapped in a sleek new body that is lower and wider, with tires filling the wheel wells nicely. While Ford continues to soften the retro look it introduced in 2005, with the headlights and taillights looking quite modern, the overall shape harkens back to the Fastback design of the early ’70s.

Ford hasn’t revealed the weight of the car, although it’s expected to be a bit lighter thanks to the use of aluminum in the suspension, hood and fenders. Many other details will emerge in the coming months as the design is finalized. The 2015 Ford Mustang is expected to go on sale next fall, and appear on a track near you shortly thereafter.

 

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