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A Little Pony with Some Big Horses

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For better or worse, most of us remember the drastic change in body style that the 1980s brought to the Ford Mustang. From 1979 to 1993, the original pony car underwent the ‘80s modernization that most every vehicle across every manufacturer experienced due to increased safety and EPA standards. And love it or hate it, the third-gen Mustang had 14 years of staying power, meaning a huge number of these vehicles where sold around, many of which are still on the road today. In 2019, we’re very much in the same situation with greenhouse emissions and climate change, so it should be any surprise that Ford decided to try its hand at a four-cylinder Mustang again, but this time, the results are completely different.

The first generation of Mustang never featured a four-cylinder option, although the original 105-hp I6 from the very first generation was grossly underpowered. During that entire first generation, power and displacement consistently increased to push the Mustang towards its legendary muscle-car status. During the second generation, Lee Iacocca introduced a four-cylinder option, which was also the first fully metric engine ever built by a U.S. manufacturer. The Mustang II coincided with the oil embargo of the ‘70s, so the fuel-sipping I4 was actually somewhat welcomed by buyers who were getting crushed at the pump. Also, the smaller size of the Mustang II took it out of competition with the larger and relatively unchanged Camaro and Firebird from GM’s stock and put the Ford in competition with subcompact sports cars and European sportsters.

Then in 1979, Iacocca made a radical change to the Mustang design to further compete with this market. The third generation Mustang was an unabashed entry into the subcompact market to compete increasing pressure from
Japan and Europe. The ‘80s Mustang would also feature two of the wimpiest, most neutered engines to ever grace the series - an 86-hp I4 and a slightly strong I6, still with only 89 horses. This was meant to counteract the extreme pressure from the federal government and the EPA in particular to create highly fuel-efficient vehicles. That same third-gen Mustang also featured a beastly 5.0 that was capable of some crushing power, and there was also some experimentation with a turbo I4 from 1979 to 1981, but it had major problems with reliability and was quickly discontinued.

That brings us to today. The recent spate of Mustangs over the last two generations since 2005 have primarily used big engines with gobs of power to spare. However, since 2015, Ford has once again produced a four-cylinder Mustang; this time, though, it’s an entirely different beast.

Ford has touted their turbocharged Ecoboost engines for quite a few years now, but until this most-recent lineup of ponies, the Ecoboost never had as much room to express itself. That’s not the case with the 2019 Mustang. The turbo I4 puts out 310 horsepower in the Mustang base model, and the incredibly light and nimble new body and suspension dig into corners at speed with the utmost ease. I had the pleasure of driving one over the weekend when my grandfather came to visit, and I was thoroughly impressed. Not only does that 2.3L scream, but it also gets over 30 mpg in the non-sport normal mode. The interior is beautifully bespoke, and the convertible model I drove can lower and raise the top with incredible quickness.

Let’s just put it this way: if I were in the market for a sports car, I would have a hard time overlooking the Mustang I4. This little pony has horses.

-Trey Fennell

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