Ford Mustang Ecoboost vs GT: Does a Sports Car Really Need a Big Engine?

Ford Mustang Sports Car


Both pretty badass, and both really fun

I have to admit, when I was offered a range of Ford Mustangs to drive up the Pacific Coast Highway to Malibu, my heart leapt for the 5.0 460-horsepower 6 speed stick shift. In this sexy 2 door fastback, 460 horsepower is way more than enough to have fun.

However, the 2.3 liter Ecoboost has plenty of power, a respectable 310 horsepower. Enough to feel completely Fast and Furious and hit higher-than-you-need speeds, even when going over a hill.

So I had to ask, does a sports car really need 460 horsepower?

Ford Mustang Sports Car

The rear end of the 2018 Mustang Ecoboost. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Who This Car is For

  • Singles, couples or drivers with occasional back seat passengers who don’t mind the tight space
  • Buyers seeking to reward themselves with a beautiful to look at, beautiful to drive sports car
  • Buyers with a passion for the nostalgia that is the classic Mustang; this car is all that, modernized
  • Drivers seeking a thrilling drive experience
  • Buyers who want a fun second car in the driveway
  • Drivers who don’t mind, and can accommodate, the low-to-the-ground seating (investing in a yoga membership is a good idea)
  • Drivers concerned about fuel cost should consider the Ecoboost, which gets  21 MPG city/31 MPG highway, versus the GT, which gets15 MPG city/25 highway
  • Buyers who intend to take the Mustang to the track should consider the 5.0

See our walk through – and take a ride! – with the Mustang’s chief engineer Carl Widmann here.

Ford Mustang Sports Car

The center console of the Ford Mustang Ecoboost sports car; the rear view camera has a great camera with fantastic clarity. Photo: Scotty Reiss

What This Car Costs

  • Ecoboost 2.3 L starts at $30,600
  • Ecoboost 2.3 L nicely loaded: $40,470
  • GT 5.0 V-8 base price: $39,095
  • GT 5.0 V-8 nicely loaded, $45,670
  • GT 5.0 V-8 convertible starts at $44,595

Here’s our tour of the Mustang on Periscope.

Ford Mustang Sports Car

The interior of the 2018, Mustang, streamlined and cockpit-like. Photo: Scotty Reiss

I Went Big, But Did I Need To?

My friend Marcus and I started out in Marina Del Ray and hit the Pacific Coast Highway up to Topanga Canyon, through Calabasas and into Malibu. Cruising through city streets and up the winding, hilly, scenic roads of coastal California, the 5.0 Mustang was awesome. I hated having to turn over the driver’s seat to Marcus but then, taking turns was part of the assignment. Behind the wheel Marcus had fun hitting curves at a confident speed and shooting over hills without losing momentum. That mastery is a thrill.

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You might not NEED the 5.0, but this can happen. It happened to me!

Ford Mustang Sports Car

2018 Mustang Normal Mode View in 12-inch Digital Cluster. Photo: Ford

As It Turns Out, No…

The next day we had the chance to drive the rest of the Mustang fleet, which included the Ecoboost 2.3 liter (did I mention it has 310 horsepower?) and the 5.0 liter automatic, a good choice for track drivers who don’t want the nuisance of a stick shift getting in the way of all the fun. Both the 2.3 and the 5.0 have brand new 10 speed transmissions designed to lessen the perception of the engine shifting gears. This gives the Mustang —either engine size— a bit more giddy-up.

I picked a white 2.3 liter Mustang from the fleet and headed out to the Malibu hills. From the first moment I hit the accelerator I had almost that same seat-of-your-pants thrill that the 5.0 had the day before. I was completely surprised.

We drove the Mustang Ecoboost on the track at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and it was a pure thrill

Ford Mustang Sports Car

The digital dashboard shifts to this speedometer when in track mode. Notice the custom pink and orange colors! Photo: Scotty Reiss

If Sport Mode Isn’t Enough, There’s Track Mode With Line Lock (Keep Reading!)

In sport mode, the Mustang’s natural state and default drive mode, the car is responsive, quick and fun. Then, as I was advised, I put it in drag strip mode. This mode is intended for straight line acceleration the way you might ‘launch’ on a drag strip. It does things like making gear changes extremely smooth so you don’t feel any loss of momentum as the transmission shifts through the gears, and the line lock feature lets the engine gain speed before launching the car. To truly use line lock, press the brake all the way to the floor and when the engine speed reaches ideal power to ‘launch,’ the car will take off.

There are track apps that you can use to measure your speed, launch, gravitational force and more. This is all probably more than I would ever use, but its nice to know the Mustang’s engineers had fun eeking out every bit of performance from the car that they could.

Meet launch control. It’s like driving a rocket.

Hot laps at Mazda Raceway in the Mustang GT 5.0 were fun, too!

Ford Mustang Sports Car

The custom color setup lets you pick your palette for the digital dash and ambient lighting. Photo: Scotty Reiss

What is Your Favorite Color? Mustang Wants to Know

Of course the exterior color of a car matters, but now, you can customize the interior colors. Another thing Mustang’s engineers had fun with was creating a color customization of the driver information system. The dashboard is essentially a computer screen and within that you can customize your settings and also, your colors.

I might love this feature as much as I love the drive experience.

Because color matters.

Carl Widmann, Mustang’s chief engineer, had fun showing me how the custom color system works. There are some preset colors and also, a color wheel that lets you select your own colors. Then, you can set a primary secondary and even third choice, which you see in the driver information screens, ambient lighting and control gauges, which are especially bright at night.

Dear Mustang: I love you. Signed, Maria

Ford Mustang Sports Car

What do girls love more than a sexy car? One with a hot guy in it. Steve McQueen cemented the Mustang’s iconic image in the movie Bullitt.

Modern Classic Design, Just a Little Refined

When Ford introduced the 50th anniversary 2015 Mustang, they took the sports coupe back to its roots, then added the things that inspire drivers and make them happy. From a cockpit fit for a pilot to the fastback design — made famous by Steve McQueen in the movie Bullitt— to the sleek, fast, sporty muscle car that it has become known as, the current Mustang is the best this car has been, past and present.

So how does a designer improve on that? It’s quite the challenge but one that Carl and his team have been working on for several years. In fact, when the company was rolling out the 2015 model, work on the 2018 was under way.

The result is a sleeker, more refined look inside and out, with a lower, more streamlined hood line, a more chiseled rear end and a bit of a sleeker profile. But unless it’s a side by side with the 2017 model you might not notice the difference, just the gorgeous iconic look.

But get inside and take it for a spin and let it take your breath away. If I were buying this car, I’d probably go for the Ecoboost 2.3L version. Save the cash and the gas – the Ecoboost gets 21MPG city/31 highway, compared to the GT’s 15MPG city/25 highway– and still get all the heart-stopping thrills the Mustang is known for.

But of course, I’d get the stick shift, because I’m that kind of girl.

Disclosure: I was Ford’s guest for this test drive. Travel and accommodations were provided but all opinions are my own. Of course!

Ford Mustang Sports Car

The digital dashboard looks like this when sport mode is selected. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Journalist, entrepreneur and mom. Expertise includes new cars, family cars, 3-row SUVs, child passenger car seats and automotive careers... More about Scotty Reiss