PowerSteering: 2016 Ford Mustang Review
Everyone knows what a Ford Mustang is. If the Chevrolet Corvette is America’s sports car, the Mustang is America’s sports coupe (and convertible).
Designed to seat two people comfortably and another two people not-so-much, the Mustang was redesigned for the 2015 model year. One year later, this iconic automobile remains a youthful dream car, a 20-something’s reward for successfully entering the workforce, a driving enthusiast’s weekend toy, an empty-nester couple’s celebration of newfound freedom, and in tourist destinations a rented escape from reality.
For this review, our expert evaluated a 2016 Mustang Premium Coupe with an optional turbocharged 4-cylinder engine and the EcoBoost Performance package. The price came to $32,560, including the $900 destination charge.
What Owners Say
Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the new 2016 Mustang, it is helpful to understand who buys this sports coupe and what they like most and least about it.
According to J.D. Power research data, the differences between Mustang buyers and the people who choose models in the Midsize Sporty Car segment are slight. Both groups average 51 years of age, make between $105,000 and $110,000 in terms of median household income, and approximately 80% are men.
Perhaps most notably, the Mustang isn’t quite as popular among members of Gen X (born 1965-1976), perhaps because they too easily recall the disappointing Mustang II, which was sold from 1974 to 1978. Just 21% of Mustang owners are from this demographic cohort, compared with 24% of all Midsize Sporty Car owners. Meanwhile, Pre-Boomers (born 1945 and earlier) and both Gen Y (1977-1994) and Gen Z (1995-2004), choose Mustangs more often than do segment buyers in general.
Additionally, compared with Midsize Sporty Car segment buyer averages, while Mustang buyers are less likely to strongly agree that their friends and family think of them as someone who knows a great deal about autos (45% vs. 42%, respectively), they are more likely to identify themselves as performance buyers (39% vs. 41%).
Mustang buyers are also less likely than segment average to strongly agree that buying a vehicle from a domestic company is preferable (50% vs. 53%, respectively), and they are more likely to agree that they need a versatile vehicle that accommodates their busy lifestyles (60% vs. 57%). In other respects, Mustang owner sentiments align with owners in the Midsize Sporty Car segment.
What Our Expert Says
In the sections that follow, our expert provides his own assessment of how the 2016 Mustang performs in each of the 10 categories that comprise the J.D. Power 2016 U.S. Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study.SM
Handwashing a Mustang reveals design detail that isn’t always evident when simply looking at the car. There is more here than meets the eye, and in terms of retro styling cues the latest Mustang is clearly patterned after the 1969-1970 models. Particularly appealing, the hood strakes look exceptionally cool from the front seats, visually emphasizing the power under the hood and the car’s long, low design.
Design rules over functionality within the Mustang’s interior. The dual-cockpit dashboard theme, complete with large, round instruments, sources inspiration from Mustangs past, and the toggle-switch controls, excessive brightwork, and whimsical “Ground Speed” marking on the speedometer hint at jet aircraft inspiration.
The test car’s optional EcoBoost Performance package equips the Mustang with engine-turned aluminum dashboard trim, which helps mask some of the cabin’s overt inexpensiveness in terms of materials and gloss levels. Adjustable MyColor interior lighting is a nice touch.
Getting into and out of a Mustang is not easy. Long doors and well-bolstered seats demand abdominal fitness. Once you’re in, you’re comfortable…as long as you’re sitting up front. Plus, the seats do a terrific job of holding your body still when exercising the car on a twisty road. Unfortunately, hard plastic hurts the driver’s left leg when bracing it against the door panel for right-hand turns.
The test car’s seats were 2-tone leather with heating and ventilation. Recaro performance seats are an option, complete with 5-point safety harness pass-throughs, making the Mustang a viable racer.
The rear seat is uncomfortable for pretty much everyone, and should be used only when necessary. Even my 8-year-old complained. Plus, on hot summer days, the sun turns the rear-seat leather into a veritable frying pan.
Climate Control System/Infotainment System
Climate Control System
Unnecessarily complicated by buttons mashed too close together and fussy bright rocker switches for temperature adjustment, the Mustang’s climate control system is an occasional source of distraction. The buttons for the seat heating and ventilation systems are large, though, and the round air vents are easy to adjust and aim.
New for 2016, the Sync 3 infotainment system is a big improvement over the previous MyFord Touch technology.
Highlights include improved voice recognition, modern graphics, and faster response times, while features include 911 Assist, Siri, AppLink, and the ability to search for music by voice. Sync 3 still lacks smartphone-projection technology in the form of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but Ford has announced that these will be available for the 2017 model year.
The test car did not have the optional navigation system or the available Shaker Pro premium sound system.
Storage and Space
Storage space is limited in the Mustang. A center bin is awkwardly located far back on the console between the seats, and the glove box is no more than adequate in size. A tray just forward of the shifter near the USB port is best used for smartphones, and remaining spots to stash your stuff include cupholders, small bins embedded into the lower door panels, and a felt-lined coin box to the left of the steering column.
Unexpectedly, the Mustang’s trunk is large, offering 13.5 cu. ft. of space. The liftover height is somewhat high, and the trunk opening is rather small, but this car easily carries road-trip gear for two people.
Visibility and Safety
A long and bulging hood, rakish windshield pillars, and narrow windows make it more difficult to see out of a Mustang than a typical car. The standard reversing camera sure helps when backing up, as do the sizable triangular rear quarter windows that provide an airy feel to the cabin.
Optional driver-assistance and safety systems for this version of the Mustang are limited to adaptive cruise control, a blind-spot warning system with rear cross-traffic alert, and rain-sensing wipers. The test car did not have these upgrades.
In federal government crash testing, the Mustang Coupe earns an overall rating of 5 (out of 5) stars. In fact, the only 4-star rating among the individual tests was for occupants in the rear seat during a side-impact collision.
In tests performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the Mustang receives the top rating of “Good” with the exception of an “Acceptable” rating in the small overlap frontal-impact test. Because the Mustang is not available with an automatic emergency braking system, it gets a “Basic” rating for crash avoidance and mitigation.
One of four engines offered for the various iterations of the 2016 Mustang, the test car’s turbocharged and direct-injected, 2.3-liter 4-cylinder engine makes 310 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 320 lb.-ft. of torque at 3,000 rpm while burning premium fuel. Ford says that it employs a twin-scroll turbocharger design in order to reduce the potential for turbo lag, and based on test driving it would seem that the company succeeds.
In the test car, the engine was paired with a 6-speed manual gearbox. Four different driver-selected modes are available, including Normal, Sport, Track, and Snow, and the EcoBoost Performance package adds a larger radiator and a 3.55 limited-slip differential.
Power and acceleration are generous, and while Ford tunes the powertrain to deliver the most aggressive and pleasing note possible, the EcoBoost engine still can’t match a Mustang GT’s V-8 engine for attitude. Instead of a visceral rumble and roar, the turbocharged engine grumbles while emitting plenty of hiss and snap.
The manual transmission offers unexpectedly short throws for this type of vehicle, and the driver can heel/toe for downshifts. Hill-start assist is standard equipment.
According to the EPA, a 2016 Ford Mustang equipped with an EcoBoost 4-cylinder engine should get 25 mpg in combined driving. During my testing, the car returned 22.4 mpg on the official test loop. Naturally, I did not drive like the EPA would, so this result is not entirely unexpected.
Choose the excellent EcoBoost Performance package and Ford will install a long list of upgrades designed to maximize the Mustang’s handling potential.
The package includes larger 13.9-in. front brake discs with 4-piston calipers; 13-in. rear brake discs; revised ABS and stability control tuning; revised steering tuning (with Comfort, Normal, and Sport modes); chassis tuning specific to this version of the car; and 19-in. aluminum wheels with a gloss black finish and 255/40 summer performance tires.
The result is a sharp, responsive Mustang that performs like no other in history—at this price. Endowed with terrific brakes, accurate steering, impressive grip, and unyielding motion control, it is impossible to classify a modern Mustang as good to drive only in a straight line.
Keep this in mind, though. When equipped with the EcoBoost Performance package, the Mustang delivers a stiff ride in cities and on freeways. The car’s standard setup provides a more forgiving and compliant ride.
Supplying the best mixture of value and performance, a Mustang with the EcoBoost Performance package is the version to get if you want speedy acceleration combined with sharp handling. The turbocharged 4-cylinder engine can’t match the Mustang GT’s menacing rumble for sheer panache, but with less weight over its front wheels the EcoBoosted and performance packaged ‘Stang is ready to carve any canyon or tackle any weekend track event.
Ford Motor Company supplied the vehicle used for this 2016 Ford Mustang review.
For more information about our test driver and our methodology, please see our reviewer profile.