LOS ANGELES – The ’15 Ford Mustang has a newfound spryness thanks to a long overdue rethinking of the car’s suspension setup.

Ford stubbornly held on to a solid rear axle far too long and limited the car’s handling characteristics. With the new model engineers let go of the past, providing the Mustang with an all-new suspension that produces extraordinary results.

The new fully independent suspension has changed the very essence of the Mustang, and integrates nicely with an-all new platform that provides 28% more torsional stiffness than the outgoing model.

Ford says the suspension geometry generates twice as much anti-squat and anti-lift force, which improves pitch control and keeps the body level under hard acceleration and braking. The geometry, springs, dampers and bushings have all been modified and tuned to deliver improved mechanical grip for high performance.

The new suspension, in part, adds a few pounds to the base curb weight of the ’15 model, but it sure doesn’t feel like it. The car is lighter on its feet, bringing it into the realm of true sports cars.

Further enhancing the Mustang’s handling is its best-ever weight distribution, which is nearly a 50/50 split depending on the model.

During a recent test drive here, the Mustang effortlessly cuts through winding mountain roads, displaying a satisfying combination of speed and refinement. Gone is the vague steering that permeated past Mustangs. The car goes where you point it, with little fanfare.

Three engine options are available, including a 3.7L V-6 making 300 hp; a new 2.3L direct-injected turbocharged EcoBoost inline 4-cyl. producing 310 hp; and the top-of-the-line 5.0L V-8, churning out a whopping 435 hp.

The V-6, likely the volume engine, is adequate, but doesn’t stand out in any particular area. It’s a good option for those who want a Mustang but aren’t all-out craving performance. The 2.3L, the first 4-cyl. Mustang engine since the ’93 model year, is more interesting, and likely was added to draw more overseas customers.

During a test drive here, the 2.3L leaves us at odds, however. On one hand, the engine is powerful enough and offers up a reasonable 25 mpg (9.4 L/100 km) in a variety of driving situations. But it lacks the punch, especially at low rpms, that is expected from an up-option engine.

On top of that, the throaty exhaust note from the 2.3L is accented by sound pumped through the speakers, an artificiality that diminishes the experience.

The best engine option remains the potent V-8 under the hood of the Mustang GT.  The 400 lb.-ft. (542 Nm) of torque comes on immediately, and doesn’t let up until well over 4,000 rpm.  

The Mustang GT turns in an EPA rating of 16/19 mpg (14.7-12.3 L/100 km) city/highway, which is competitive for a car with this much power. The V-8 likely will be just behind the 3.7L in terms of volume, but for a true Mustang experience it’s really the only choice.

All engines come mated to either a 6-speed manual or automatic. The automatic does a decent job. Shifts are quick, and gears are held for a good amount of time during hard acceleration.

But it’s the manual that really allows the full power of the engines to be unleashed. The transmission has short throws and the clutch is firm, but not so much that leg fatigue sets in during the long stretch of stop-and-go traffic here.

Still, Ford would benefit by offering a transmission with more gears. Fuel economy, particularly during highway travel, could use a boost, making the car more appealing to its new global customer base, many of whom pay hefty amounts at the pump.

Stunning new body gives Mustang global appeal

Wrapping all the powertrain updates is sexy new sheetmetal that pays homage to the Mustang’s illustrious past, but is sleeker with a more modern appearance. The long hood and short rear deck provide the car with the Mustang’s signature profile, while a lower, wider stance reflect the improved driving dynamics.

The ’15 Mustang boasts LED tri-bar rear taillamps, as well as LEDs in the three “gills” in the front fascia, a tribute to the ’65 model. Both are nice touches that honor the past without making it a retro car.

While the exterior is a nice blend of old and new, the same cannot be said for the interior.

There are a few nice touches added for ’15, including repositioning of the shift lever closer to the driver and the addition of airplane-style toggle switches to work accessories that include the selectable drive-mode feature, which lets you choose between normal, wet/snow, sport and track settings.

The front seats are comfortable, and optional Recaros provide even greater grip. The rear seats, however, are practically unusable. It would be possible to squeeze a couple of small kids in the back, but most owners probably won’t find much use for the space, unless it’s to toss a purse or a couple of grocery bags.

Overall interior design is pleasing to the eye, and switches and toggles are within easy reach. The biggest gripe about the interior is the choice of materials. They just feel cheap, particularly the faux-chrome rings that line the gauges and the toggle switches, which are made of brittle plastic.

To offer all the performance the Mustang has at a reasonable price, product planners had to skimp somewhere, and that somewhere is interior materials. This is an issue that has plagued past Mustangs, as well, so most aficionados will likely overlook the shortcoming.

Overall, the ’15 Mustang builds on the strengths of its predecessors in a number of areas, but it’s the new handling characteristics that redefine the car and likely will attract new customers to the iconic nameplate.

bpope@wardsauto.com

’15 Ford Mustang Specifications
Vehicle type 4-seat, 2-door sports coupe
Engine 5.0L V-8
Power (SAE net) 435 hp @ 6,500 rpm
Torque 400 lb.-ft. (542 Nm) @ 4,250 rpm
Bore x stroke (mm) 92 x 92
Compression ratio 11.0:1
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Wheelbase 107.1 ins. (2,720 mm)
Overall length 188.3 ins. (4,782 mm)
Overall width 75.4 ins. (1,915 mm)
Overall height 54.4 ins. (1,381 mm)
Curb weight 3,729 lbs. (1,691 kg)
Base price $32,100
Fuel economy 16/25 mpg (14.7-9.4 L/100 km)
Competition Chevrolet Camaro, Dodge Challenger, Subaru WRX, Dodge Charger SRT
Pros Cons
Base-level V-6 available Engine doesn’t do any one thing particularly well
Smooth-shifting 6-speed automatic Could use more gears
Redesigned interior Too many cheap materials