Muscle cars should be V8s. I hear it all the time. I hear the same argument from the truck guys too. I get it. Change is hard, although as I wrote, V8s aren’t going away any time soon anyway. But what if I told you there was a 4-cylinder option that sounded like a V8 and had 330 horsepower? Would you believe me? Well it’s true.
I got to spend a week in a Grabber Lime colored 2.3-liter High Performance 2020 Mustang. Earlier this year I had driven a similar 2.3-liter EcoBoost Mustang, without the Performance Package, so I can speak to the vast improvement it makes and how it completely changes the car.
First, to put all the arguments aside, this Mustang, even with four cylinders, is a muscle car. It is tuned to sound like one and it has all the characteristics of a muscle car. Initially a passion project that began with a Focus RS engine swap, the High Performance Package became a green-lit production program to strengthen Mustang’s entry-level performance offering in under 10 months – just in time for Mustang’s 55th anniversary. When you approach this High Performance Mustang like that, as an intro to Mustang, it’s really even more impressive.
No, this is not a GT350 or a GT500 or a Shelby, but it still proudly wears the Mustang emblem, and deservedly so.
High Performance Appearance
As mentioned, my tester was the Grabber Lime exterior which was met with mixed reactions from friends and family. For sure this color is not for everyone and it will be love or hate. And likely the resell value is less on this special-edition color.
Four new Mustang colors for 2020 include Grabber Lime (as tested), Iconic Silver, Rapid Red Metallic Tinted Clearcoat and Twister Orange. New 17-inch sparkle silver-painted aluminum wheels now come standard on the base 2020 Mustang EcoBoost.
Personally, I loved the bold color and thought the Special Edition badging looked especially nice with the lime green background. It all stood out more, including the styling on the hood. The late Gale Halderman, who designed the original Mustang and was a dear friend of mine would’ve loved the look of this car. And with so many of his original styling cues still present on this “starter Mustang” it made me smile thinking Gale was with me in a small way.
High Performance-exclusive features include a large black front splitter and belly pan, plus brake cooling ramps from the Mustang GT Performance Package – add-ons that also work to reduce front-end lift and improve brake cooling. A blacked-out grille with offset Mustang tri-bar pony emblem, 2.3L High Performance Package side badges and magnetic gray side mirrors and raised blade rear spoiler add to the performance look, while a unique metallic gray stripe crosses the hood.
Most powerful EcoBoost engine yet in a Mustang
The word EcoBoost is met with derision by those aforementioned V8 old schoolers. There may not be any winning them over. But if they drove this Mustang and even heard it, they may be swayed slightly.
The 2020 Mustang 2.3L High Performance Package is designed to run 0-60 in the mid-four-second range on premium fuel, with top speed increasing to 155 mph, a 10 mph gain over the 2019 EcoBoost Performance Package and 34 mph faster than the base EcoBoost Mustang.
Helping to deliver 143 horsepower per liter, the new 2.3L High Performance Package includes a fully active quad-tip exhaust system with a signature tuned sound.
A Mustang Enthusiast’s Dream Come True
Even with only four cylinders, this Mustang is aimed at enthusiasts. Definitely more so than the standard 2.3-liter EcoBoost Mustang, which was good, but had a soft meow, compared to the loud, noticeable growl of the High Performance version.
The new 2020 2.3L High Performance Package feels sharp and nimble, with an aggressive road-holding stance, near-balanced 53/47 weight distribution and fully independent suspension, plus chassis and aerodynamic upgrades from the Mustang GT and its Performance Package.
For greater steering precision, the team added an alloy strut tower brace to stiffen the chassis at the front. To improve stopping power and fade resistance, the 2.3L High Performance Package adds larger four-piston fixed calipers with 13.9-inch front rotors from Mustang GT. It features a 32-millimeter sway bar up front and a tubular 21.7-millimeter bar at the rear.
New performance calibration tuning is applied to the electronic-controlled power steering, antilock braking, stability control and five driver-selectable drive modes. For improved cornering, a 3.55:1 limited-slip rear axle is included, plus package-specific 19x9-inch machined-face aluminum wheels and 255/40R summer tires.
Increasing lateral acceleration grip and stopping power, the available EcoBoost Handling Package includes semi-metallic brakes, specially calibrated MagneRide dampers and a TORSEN 3.55:1 limited-slip rear axle. Wider 19x9.5-inch premium painted aluminum wheels with 265/40R Pirelli P Zero Corsa4 summer tires provide traction, while a 24-millimeter solid rear sway bar, up from 21.7 millimeters, improves handling balance.
The new EcoBoost Handling Package is available exclusively on the 2020 Mustang EcoBoost fastback coupe with the 2.3L High Performance Package with either 6-speed manual or 10-speed automatic transmission.
My tester had the 10-speed automatic transmission and it was fantastic, offering ideal, quick shifting.
With switches to go into track mode, drag strip mode and sport mode, the dynamic of this car change with each selection. Both the steering, revving, shifting and even tuned sound changes with the different selections. The rear-wheel drive high-performance Mustang really used every bit of those 330 horses.
Some V8 enthusiast who was admittedly skeptical called the High Performance 2.3-liter Mustang a “wannabe” muscle car. I dismissed that claim altogether. Sure it only has four cylinders, but it’s like that children’s book, “The Little Engine That Could.”
Let me hear your thoughts on this engine, and if you think it's viable as a muscle car. Leave me a comment below.
2020 Ford Mustang 2.3-Liter High Performance
Base price: $31,685
As tested price: $42,470
Fuel economy: 20 mpg/city 28 mpg/highway
Horsepower: 330 hp
Torque: 350 lb./f.t
Transmission: 10-speed automatic
Jimmy Dinsmore has been an automotive journalist for more than a decade and been a writer since the high school. His Driver’s Side column features new car reviews and runs in several newspapers throughout the country. He is also co-author of the book “Mustang by Design” and “Ford Trucks: A Unique Look at the Technical History of America’s Most Popular Truck”. Also, Jimmy works in the social media marketing world for a Canadian automotive training aid manufacturing company. Follow Jimmy on Facebook, Twitter, at his special Ford F-150 coverage on Twitter and LinkedIn. You can read the most of Jimmy's stories by searching Torque News Ford for daily Ford vehicle report.