As the corner approaches, I flick the wheel and yank the parking brake to induce a slide. Then it’s time to drop the hammer and let the fun begin as the rear tires howl in protest and rubber becomes smoke. I am grinning. The 2024 Mustang EcoBoost has won me over.
When Ford pulled the covers off the 2024 Mustang we weren’t quite sure about the styling, and deep down I had hoped for a completely new platform, but the company did wow us with some amazing new tech and impressive horsepower credentials. Fast forward to now and the styling has grown on me, and the reasoning for the iterative move of revamping the previous foundation might be why we still have a gas-burning Mustang two-door at all, so who could complain?
Ultimately revamping the S550 platform into the S650 is much like the transition from the SN-95 to the New Edge back in the 2000s. Not only did it allow engineers to save time and money building on what they know, but pushing the revised platform to a new level of performance as they might typically do near the end of a product cycle.
“We do have a very good idea of what this type of architecture likes and doesn’t like,” Adam Brecher, Vehicle Dynamics Engineer says. “We now have a lot of experience so we can look at it in the early part of the process, and I know this tire is going to work when we finish polishing, so there’s a lot of tribal and learned knowledge there.”
The engineering team leveraged that experience with both hardware and software to push the new Mustang not only to a higher level of performance but did so while making it more pleasant to pilot on the street.
“The 2020 High-Performance EcoBoost car was one of the first MagneRide cars where we got a very good handle on what we wanted to achieve. A lot of that character stays here. I know. Certainly, all of us in the V-Dynamics team love that car and wanted to replicate that here with a little extra comfort, because, occasionally, that car has a little bit of a harder edge, which is fun,” Brecher explains. “I really enjoy that, but not everyone does. So we tried to keep that same playful character but built in a little compliance.”
To find out what that was like we hopped into a base 2024 Mustang EcoBoost convertible and headed for California’s stunning canyon roads. Two things leaped out right away after getting up to speed. With the optional Active Valve Performance Exhaust, it emits a more aggressive rasp that is noticeable from the driver’s seat, but not to the point of annoyance. The other obvious improvement is the sharpened steering and confident on-center feel.
“We went from a cloverleaf design to a spline design, so there is significantly stiffer torsion. Then we also could remove the isolated joint, the rubber isolated joint in the steering column because we’ve transitioned to using the airbag as a damper to keep steering wheel vibrations in check,” Brecher says.
In practice, the latest Mustang offers a balanced feel and more precision. That can also be said of the handling, particularly on those cars equipped with the Performance Pack. Sadly our street driving was limited to the base car — and a convertible at that — so the capabilities and ride quality weren’t as high, and the convertible complained more than the fastback when it galloped over rough surfaces, which elicited a slight undulation from the rear suspension.
The optional MagneRide system mitigates road imperfections while offering an even higher level of grip thanks to its instant adjustments. This is no carryover system, however, as the many changes, like the steering, meant recalibrating it. Brecher and fellow engineer Mike Del Zio dedicated countless hours to driving the S650 over a variety of surfaces to ensure its balance of comfort and performance.
“Between the supplier and ourselves, there are always new our new software versions within the modules, and we get new tools to play with,” Brecher said. “So some of those new tools that we got to leverage to deliver the highway comfort, and especially broaden the spectrum that you can get between Normal mode and Track mode without losing a lot on the comfort side. We spent quite a bit of time playing with the outgoing cars to see where can we leverage some of the new features that are coming in from our software to make this bigger-bandwidth car.”
Those software tools are available thanks to a new onboard electronic architecture that also enabled the deployment of the new digital cockpit, which Ford refers to as the Human Machine Interface. That might sound like a dystopian tale of our robot overlords, but it’s just how the driver interacts with the car through its new digital center stack touchscreen.
While we previously detailed the capabilities of this system, this scribe was never quite sold on the styling of the system, which eschews the classic dual-brow look. However, being the base car allowed spending more time focused on the screens, and it turns out that in practice they are quite functional. The wheel doesn’t obscure them. There is little in the way of glare, and you quickly get used to having all that data displayed on such a generous surface area.
You can easily see how drivers, particularly younger drivers, will grow to love the HMI arrangement, but plan on spending some time dialing in all your custom settings before you hit the road because it can take some time to learn the nuances.
While the tech is undoubtedly cool, there may be some penalty to all the improvements on this car, as the 2024 Mustang EcoBoost fastback registers a curb weight of 3,588, which is 77 pounds more than its 2023 predecessor. However, that is mitigated by a fresh, more potent 2.3-liter engine that can only be paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission.
“There are a few things that are different with this 2.3 versus the outgoing generation. There’s a new, smaller turbo that spools up faster,” Greg Todd, Vehicle Integration Engineer explained. “There’s a new-valve actuation strategy, so rather than the drag of mechanical buckets, like on the last one, this uses a rolling-finger follower, which is good for emissions. There’s a new injection strategy, so this is both port and direct injection, which is good for power and emissions.
In practice, the 315 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque are sporting if not intoxicating. With only 5 more horsepower than its predecessor, the differential isn’t something discernible, but it still delivers ample thrust to make the car fun.
On the tight turns of our canyon drive route, the EcoBoost felt anything but ponderous, with its light front end and sharper steering shining in the tight stuff. It is a regret that we didn’t score a Performance Pack car for this segment, but that was quickly remedied by a stop at Irwindale Speedway for autocross and the first opportunity to try the new Drift Brake.
In the cones, the 2024 Mustang EcoBoost optioned with the Performance Pack shined on a course set up to highlight its prowess. With speedy gates a spacious slalom and only one tight turn in the course, the car was an absolute blast when carving up the cones. The braking was ample and the 10-speed auto kept the car right in the meat of the powerband, while the combination of MagneRide and that light front end teamed up to keep body roll in check and grip in ample supply.
That power was needed as we headed to the drift course, where the RTR Vehicles team, including Chelsea Denofa, demonstrated the new feature and then let us take a crack at it. Run on a tight course with two Drift features, it showed just how well the system worked.
Romp on the gas, lift, yank the handle, release the handle, and hammer it. Suddenly the car is gloriously slideways. More power and better timing from yours truly would have made it more fun, but it works like a charm. The course wrapped up by letting the driver park it sideways in a box using the Drift brake like in a commercial, and it was an enjoyable way to end the demo.
It was so entertaining that we snuck in another tire-slaying lap, but soon after our brief immersion in the base 2024 Mustang confirmed that Ford engineers made a fun car even more fun by refining its hardware and revolutionizing its technology. For those looking for a fun commuter that clocks 24 to 26 mpg, this car will make you smile on the way to work — and literally slide into the weekend. But, if you want to have all the fun, be sure to check that Performance Pack option to score the Drift brake and more.