Modern Motoring: Comparing the 2016 Mustang 2.3 EcoBoost vs the 5.0 GT

The iconic Ford Mustang, now entering its early fifties age-wise, has certainly come a long way. There have been numerous iterations of the powerful pony through the past five decades but only recently has there been a focus on combining power with practicality on the fuel consumption side. The Mustang lineup, very recently, has a 2.3L 4 cylinder EcoBoost engine available along with the mid-ground 3.7L V6 and the powerhouse 5.0L V8.

I wanted to find out just how much of a difference there was between the EcoBoost and 5.0L engine, so the good folks at Ford set me up in both of them. Full marks to Ford for giving them to me both in convertible form and with a six-speed manual gearbox. 

The 2.3L EcoBoost engine gives you 310 horsepower and 320 lb-ft. of torque through a turbocharged four cylinder engine available in either a six-speed manual or automatic gearbox. 
Weighing in at 4,193 pounds and running on 58L of recommended premium fuel, Ford’s fuel ratings come in at 11.2 city / 8.7 hwy / 10.1 L/100km combined. For a sports car, that’s respectable.  You could put 87 or 89 octane in and still get where you need to, but if you want to optimize the engine, pay the few extra bucks, pick up a few extra reward points and go with 91.

The 5.0L V8 engine, on the other hand, fires out 435 horsepower and a mighty 400 lb-ft. of torque, also through a six-speed manual or autobox. A bit heavier at 4,555 pounds and using 60L of premium gas, fuel consumption here is significantly higher at 16.7 city / 10.2 hwy / 13.8 L/100km combined.

There’s also a middle child, the 3.7L V6 who’s specs can be found here. 

As expected, based on nearly double the displacement, these two cars perform very differently.
The 2.3L’s response to your right foot is surprisingly responsive, mainly due to the high torque level. There’s a bit of turbo lag at lower speeds but once you power through it and run the RPM needle to the 3-4K mark, that’s where the power struts its stuff. Yes, this version is still powerful  because, well, it simply has to be. If Ford offered anything with less than 300 horsepower in today’s Mustang, potential customers would probably move towards the 3.7 option with an even 300 horsepower.

I understand that putting the word “eco” in the same breath as “Mustang” may give way to the “all show no go” mentality (because the 2016 Mustang is absolutely beautiful throughout). Thankfully, this isn’t the case. The engineers found a smart balance between maintaining the giddy-up-and-go that embraces the Mustang and a sensible, fuel efficient engine. We’re still in the over a dollar (at least most of the time) per litre of fuel world and don’t expect it to go away anytime soon. 

The pickup is strong and healthy and while I don’t suggest taking it to the track, opting for the EcoBoost engine gives you ample horsepower for the money and you’ll save cash at the pump.  The practical side of me would pick up this version as a daily driver as I can balance tedious city traffic with driving 20 minutes north and opening up the engine on the backroads of Milton/Burlington and enjoy the 310 horsepower in all its glory. The downside is that some drivers may be scared off by the EcoBoost title and not give it a chance to prove its worth and capabilities. I racked up close to 600 km in my test week and the only thing I’d want more of is that true Mustang growl from the engine. 

The 5.0L V8 offering is pure power. With double the cylinders and more than double the displacement and that unmistakable growl when you start the engine, this nearly $50,000 version of the Mustang begs to be driven frequently and fast (well, you know, responsibly fast; don’t go out and drive like a reckless jerk). This is the everyday affordable powerful sports car. Yes, there’s a Shelby 350 and 350R starting in the mid-$70K mark but for most of us, this $50K offering does a helluva lot. Acceleration is incredibly fast, as expected and as you run the gamut of gears, each upshift brings more excitement than the last through the smooth shifting gearbox. 

Launch control comes standard on this trim and here’s how Ford’s website describes it:

"Launch control integrates the brakes, traction control and powertrain control to help ensure smooth, consistent starts for all driving conditions. Real-time vehicle performance info is displayed through Track Apps™ on the in-dash LCD screen. This advanced system can help drivers of all skill levels to drive like the pros by providing excellent torque balance, grip and acceleration. For track use only."

Yup, the most important part of all that are the last four words.  

Some drivers who have had previous Mustangs will want this traditional-esque version that roars to life and is utterly responsive to every move your right foot makes. They’ll appreciate everything from the GT badging on the trunk to the inside facing turn signals on the hood (although you’ve gotta have the seat cranked way-high to be able to see them) and the aura of America’s premier muscle car from days gone by.

I hosted a Facebook live video concert in this car with the top both up and down as we rolled through Mississauga at lower speeds.  For such a powerful engine, it does well at lower speeds and still churns out the strong engine sounds you expect from something with a V8. You’ll choose this engine if you want a plethora of affordable power, if you want a Mustang that can balance raw power and a sleek design, and if you’re a Mustang purist. 

So what’s the drawback to this engine choice over the 2.3L? Pretty much, fuel economy. It’s still great as a daily driver but facts are facts: a V8 engine is much thirstier than a 4-cylinder. I’m not knocking it, not at all. Different drivers have different priorities and preferences. 

For my specific needs, I’d opt for the 2.3L EcoBoost engine because I chose practicality over power in this case. The 2.3L did everything I’d want a sports car to do - look great and have ample power. Yes, the 5.0L does that much faster, however Jay Kana’s Mustang happiness can easily be achieved via the smallest engine offering. Again, it’s truly a “different strokes for different folks” world out there so whether you want big and bold or small and speedy, the 2016 Mustang has you covered. 

Enjoy the full gallery below: