Ford Mustang 2020 2.3 gtdi
launch-review

2021 Ford Mustang review: 2.3L High Performance Fastback

Rating: 7.4
$45,510 $54,120 Dealer
  • Fuel Economy
    9.5L
  • Engine Power
    224kW
  • CO2 Emissions
    217g
  • ANCAP Rating
    3Stars
It's the iconic name and the iconic shape, but how does the Ford Mustang High Performance stack up without its iconic V8?
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It’s not without a sense of irony that the sound you make by sucking air through your teeth is the same as the induction noise made by the 2020 Ford Mustang 2.3-litre High Performance, as well as being the first thing you do any time anyone asks you what the turbocharged pony car is like.

You know what I mean, a sort of inverted sigh, signifying a moment of hesitation as you try to think of an answer that is perhaps more balanced than it is emotional.

As emotion is what a Mustang is all about, or what it should be about… and sadly emotion is just what the lesser ‘Stang is missing.

Priced from $50,990 with a manual transmission or $53,990 when equipped with the ten-speed auto (prices are noted before options and on-road costs), the ‘High Performance’ Mustang undercuts its muscular V8 GT sibling by a not-insignificant $12,700.

From the outside, the Twister Orange coupe ($650 option, one of ten choices) at least looks the part of the iconic American sports car.

The profile of the long bonnet, swooped turret and little kick-spoiler on the rear deck, is supported by the vertical-slat rear lights, split by the ‘Pony’ motif on the blackout trim panel, and a wide-set and unique grille, to impart from any angle, the timeless appeal that only the Mustang can deliver.

There are 19-inch alloy wheels, creases, scoops, vents and even ground-effect-style skirts to complete the package. Grey highlights on the bonnet, mirrors and rear deck are a no-cost option, and the badging is unique to the High-Performance model.

I personally feel the orange paint needs to come with an Ed Hardy t-shirt in the glovebox, but at least it stands out. The first rule of a Mustang purchase is that you must turn heads! I'd have a red one.

2020 Ford Mustang 2.3L High Performance
Engine configurationFour-cylinder turbocharged petrol
Displacement2.3L (2261cc)
Power236kW @ 6200rpm
Torque448Nm @ 3800rpm
Transmission10-speed automatic
Drive typeRear-wheel drive
Weight (Kerb)1716kg
Power-to-weight ratio137.5kW/t
Fuel consumption (combined cycle claim)9.6L/100km
Fuel consumption (combined cycle on test)11.6L/100km
Fuel tank size59L
Turning circle12.2m
Sales categorySports
Key competitorsMustang GT V8 | Ford Focus RS | really though, a Mustang V8

Inside the iconic tour continues, with the double-hump dash, round dials and rocker switches, and plush leather seats. Out car has the optional Recaro items ($3000) which add a bit of extra sportiness to the cabin and offer great support in the process, but remove heating and cooling.

You get a 408-litre boot – that’s big! You can even fold the seats down 50/50 should you find yourself making an impulse purchase of a 65-inch TV.

Make no mistake, from top to bottom it’s comfy and it's cool. Mustang is as Mustang does.

It’s pretty techy too, the 8.0-inch Sync 3 infotainment system providing an always well-featured and reliable media centre interface. As with other Fords, you get the benefit of DAB radio, smartphone projection through Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as native navigation and voice control.

Rightly too, the Mustang is equipped with a 12-speaker 1000-watt B&O sound system.

The 12-inch digital instrument cluster is pretty nifty as well, offering the ability to modify and personalise what you see and how it’s shown. The data is clear and once you get the hang of the fact the drive-mode rocker switches only rock one-way (it took me a while), it is easy to use and change on the fly.

You can change the interior lighting colour, adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assistance are standard, there’s even AEB with pedestrian detection.

So yes, on the very orange face of it, the High Performance Mustang ticks a lot of boxes and seems far more reasonably priced than the GT.

But then you start it up and find yourself making that teeth-sucking noise again...

2020 Ford Mustang 2.3L High Performance
Length4789mm
Width1916mm
Height1387mm
Wheelbase2720mm
Ground clearance143mm
Boot volume408L
Wheels/tyres19-inch – 255/40 R19 Pirelli

Under the bonnet, and nestled between the naked hinges and exposed chassis rails, is a 2.3-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine. It’s not new, Ford has offered the EcoBoost-powered Mustang since 2016, but it still doesn’t feel right.

Even the Fast-and-Furious movie that dealt with a Mustang engine-swap had the decency to throw in an inline-six RB26DET (it had a big single rather than the factory twins if I recall…), and while I do understand the cost, weight and efficiency benefit of the ‘four, it makes you look at ways to afford that $13k price gap to the V8.

Don’t misunderstand me though; this is fundamentally a great engine.

With 236kW and 448Nm available, and a new 63mm turbo, the High Performance offers an extra 12kW and 7Nm over the previous ‘EcoBoost’ Pony. Peak torque comes on at 3800rpm with power topping out at a rapidly spinning 6200rpm.

They are good figures, and with a slightly different tune (257kW/440Nm), made the 1575kg Focus RS hot hatch a real hoot to drive.

But the Mustang is about 140kg heavier and mated to the ten-speed automatic, just feels a bit bland.

Around town, it tootles around quite happily, and you get a very audible induction noise and whistle of the turbo spooling even under moderate throttle.

It’s sporty enough, and once temperatures build you get a few pops and crackles on downshift, but it does feel out of place. It is as though the car has been overdubbed with a different soundtrack; the opposite of Rendezvous, where instead of changing our V8 Mercedes to match a Ferrari, we’re dropping our old-school rumble for a Silvia.

It’s not just the sound either.

The gearbox is always busy when left to its own devices and never seems to be in the gear you want or need. Shifts are smooth on the way up, but jerky on the way down as the car tries to figure out where you want it to be, and then chooses something else.

For more control, you can tip it into a manual shift setting and change with the steering-wheel mounted paddles, which is certainly the way to get things working in their most cohesive way.

Worth noting too is that with ten speeds and a four-cylinder turbo, you’d almost expect the Mustang High Performance to create its own fuel, it sounds that efficient, but Ford claim 9.6L/100km in a combined cycle and 13.6L/100km around town. Ours settled in at 11.6L/100km, just a litre-less than I managed in the V8 convertible.

And really, running at 9L/100km on the freeway with the engine idling away in tenth is pretty poor form for this day and age.

2020 Ford Mustang 2.3L High Performance
ColourTwister Orange
Price (MSRP)$53,990
Options as tested$3650
Servicing 3yr$897
Servicing 5yr$1540
ANCAP safety rating3-star (tested 2017)
Warranty5 years / unlimited km

So you aren’t buying this to win on noise or efficiency, how about outright performance?

It’s no V8, sure, but once you build up a head of steam the turbo-four feels fast enough.

Manage your gearing to keep things turning above 4000rpm, and there is decent response along straightaways and through sweeping bends alike.

Slow things down though, and you run into a bit of off-boost lag almost immediately. It’s dull off the mark, with the 2.3 really needing the turbo up to pressure to perform properly.

The Mustang generally rides well though, but not with any great refinement.

You hear and feel the thumps and crashes over sharper edges, which don’t make it uncomfortable in any way but act as a reminder that this isn’t an over-engineered European coupe.

You can option-in the MagneRide Suspension package for $2750, which adds variable damping control, but the power mix and 53/47 weight distribution make it predictable and controllable enough, even under power out of corners.

Brakes too are good enough, but not overly impressive.

With its hardware, the orange coupe works best on a winding road where you can enjoy the flexible rev-range and balance the car’s dynamic behaviour through what is a much more analogue driving experience.

It’s a package that does an okay job as a sports coupe, but only a mediocre one as a Mustang.

As an icon, the Mustang is an emotional car. It has been written about, sung about and immortalised in print and on screen. But emotion is what the 2020 Ford Mustang 2.3-litre High Performance is lacking.

The engine and driveline are devoid of passion. They do their job but do it coldly.

You can forgive the shortcomings of the Mustang GT because of the sensory delights the thumping V8 provides, but here you tend to focus on the problems because your heart just isn’t in it.

If you want the buzzy thrills of a turbocharged four-cylinder Ford, hunt down a second-hand Focus RS and never look back.

But if you want the timeless appeal of a Mustang, and you want it with your heart and soul, then there is only one option, and this isn't it.