Is it really worth considering over a GT?
Remember when Ford last redesigned the Mustang? I grew up on the breed, and I’ll come right out and say I wasn’t immediately a fan of the sixth-generation model. It took awhile for me to warm up to the styling, but that wasn’t the truly controversial part. No, that was the 2.3-liter EcoBoost Ford brought in place of the old V6. “What!?”, I exclaimed in a room full of confused onlookers. “A four-banger in a Mustang!?” That’s treason, or so I thought at the time. I thought I would always stick with the crowd that went V8 or nothing with their Mustangs. Give me a GT, or give me…well, not death, but something other than an EcoBoost.
After driving the 2020 Ford Mustang EcoBoost High Performance Package — yes, that is its full name — Ford finally brought me around. Now I get it.
Performance: Quick and nimble
In the video above, I had the opportunity to speak to Carl Widmann, Ford Performance chief, and Mike Del Zio, who’s part of the Mustang’s Vehicle Dynamics team. Both speak of the 2020 Ford Mustang EcoBoost High Performance Package in terms of its performance chops, as that’s what this model is really all about. For $4,995, you get better power, better handling and a unique appearance against the standard EcoBoost model.
These are the numbers. The HPP model gets 330 horsepower, up 20 from the standard EcoBoost’s 310. Torque remains the same, at 350 lb-ft. Power still goes to the rear wheels by way of a 10-speed automatic transmission or a six-speed manual. The High Performance Package adds a 3.55 limited-slip rear end, while the optional EcoBoost Handling Package ups that to a Torsen 3.55 rear end. This is the most powerful four-cylinder Mustang out there, and it sounds absolutely mean with its quad-tip active exhaust. The GT spoilers, tri-bar Mustang logos, black appearance stripe and high performance badges set the HPP apart from the standard EcoBoost Mustang.
What immediately struck me with the High Performance Package is that the turbocharged engine always feels like it’s straining at the leash a little bit. The turbo whistle is an ever-present force, as is the mean-sounding active exhaust, even when driving normally. Driving up the Pacific Coast Highway just outside San Francisco, California, flipping through the selectable drive modes into Sport+ and Track kept the 10-speed automatic on high alert, always keeping the car in lower gears to make the most of the HPP’s improved torque band. The power here really comes on between 3,000 and 4,000 RPM, though Ford’s engineers have retuned the High Performance Package to provide peak torque from 3,000 RPM up to the 6,500 RPM redline.
Acceleration is good, but…
The 2020 Ford Mustang EcoBoost High Performance Package brings a mid-4 second 0-60 time, according to Ford. It also brings a 155 mph top speed, which are both good things. The best possible acceleration comes with the automatic transmission, as is the case with most sports cars these days. However, left to its own devices the automatic transmission delivered a borderline frustrating experience trying to carve the corners on the Shoreline Highway. In Normal mode, the car kept trying to get into higher gears, then kept fishing for the right gear when I tried to call up the power in the corners. Put it in Sport+ mode, and it will hold itself in the lower gears better. That said, it wouldn’t stay in the gear I wanted it to unless I resorted to using the shift paddles. Fortunately, you have that option, even on the base EcoBoost model.
All things considered, my enthusiast nature still leans toward the six-speed manual transmission instead. Not only do you save $1,595 over the automatic, but I can actually row my own gears, keeping that turbocharged four-cylinder right in the sweet spot I wanted it without the transmission short shifting when I don’t want it to.
Handling: Truly excellent
Yes, the Mustang GT has 130 horsepower over this EcoBoost High Performance Package. However, on the handling front this easily won me out over the GT and the Bullitt. As opposed to the nose-heavy 5.0-liter V8, this 2.3-liter four-cylinder kept things nice and light at the front end. Thanks to the handling upgrades on the High Performance Package, the EcoBoost Mustang feels more playful on twisty roads. Surely, that carries over to autocross settings as well. The standard Pirelli P Zero summer tires grip exceptionally well on dry pavement, and the heavy-duty front springs, beefier rear sway bar and chassis tuning helped dial out any understeer I’d experienced in other Mustangs.
Opting for the EcoBoost Handling Package ups the fun factor with Pirelli Corsa4 tires and Ford’s MagneRide damping system. You also get upgraded brakes, 19-inch by 9.5-inch wheels and that 3.55 Torsen rear end. That package takes the handling to a whole new level. But, here’s the rub: It’s certainly not a cheap upgrade. The package is $1,995 on its own, but you also have to get the $2,000 101A Equipment Group (on the standard EcoBoost). That makes the upgrade a whopping $3,995 on top of the $4,995 you’ll also pay for the EcoBoost Handling Package. Fortunately, you can get the Handling Package separate of the higher equipment group on the EcoBoost Premium model. Either way, you’re skirting — or even passing — Mustang GT territory at that price.
Comfort and Convenience: Still a Mustang
When it comes to creature comforts, the 2020 Ford Mustang EcoBoost Performance Package brings most of the same goods as the standard models. You do get the unique badging, as well as a black painted strut-tower brace, and the magnetic appearance on the mirror skull caps, spoilers, and the black stripe along the character line on the hood. Inside, Ford added the engine-spun aluminum trim on the instrument panel like you get on the GT Performance Package. Other than that, it’s pretty standard Mustang fare.
The standard EcoBoost comes with just a 4.2-inch LCD screen and basic controls. You do get Bluetooth connectivity, but that’s about it. To get the more desirable 8.0-inch touchscreen, you’ll have to get the 101A Equipment Package on the EcoBoost model, or upgrade to the EcoBoost Premium. If you do that, you also do get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support. On the latter, Ford’s 12-inch digital instrument cluster is available as part of the $2,200 201A Equipment Group.
Even the normal cloth seats are well-bolstered, while the $1,595 Recaro leather seats in this EcoBoost Premium model were on the tight side. Bear that in mind if you’re a larger person. While legroom is still just as good on the High Performance Package as the standard EcoBoost, it is still a Mustang. In other words, the back seats are pretty much useless except for smaller people. So, the High Performance Package is no more practical than the standard model, but that’s not what we’re here for anyway.
Verdict: I’m (almost) a convert
After a day of driving the 2020 Ford Mustang EcoBoost High Performance Package, I’m very nearly a believer. In this guise, I have newfound respect for just how capable that EcoBoost engine is. It’s gutsy and it has a unique character. The Grabber Lime paint certainly got everyone’s attention, as would colors like Velocity Blue, Twister Orange and Rapid Red. It handles like a true sports car, and on top of all that the automatic version still returned 25 mpg.
As a sharp looking, sharp handling daily driver, the High Performance Package impressed me. However, I still hesitate every time I build this car against a Mustang GT. Getting the HPP as cheaply as possible will still set you back $32,760. Getting it with the Handling Package or the 101A Equipment Package puts you on par with the much more powerful GT. At the end of the day, while I enjoyed the EcoBoost’s spirit, I can’t help but jump at the V8 instead. I had the same experience with the Camaro Turbo 1LE. Yes, it’s a ton of fun, but would I prefer it over a Camaro SS? Sadly not.
Still, at the end of the day, the 2020 Ford Mustang EcoBoost High Performance Package still felt like a Mustang. It has grunt, panache and character, not to mention it’s more forgiving when you push it to its limits. If you’re looking for a sharp and sporty option, it’s certainly worth your time, especially with the optional EcoBoost Handling Package.
Specifications: 2020 Ford Mustang EcoBoost High Performance Package
|Base price:||$32,670 (for base HPP)|
|Engine:||High-output 2.3-liter turbocharged I-4|
|Transmission:||6-speed manual or (opt.) 10-speed automatic|
|0-60:||~4.5 seconds (Ford est.)|
|Top speed:||155 mph|