Are we all up to speed and comfortable with the EcoBoost-powered Ford Mustang yet? The pony car with the turbocharged four-cylinder engine has been quite the enigma for the past year, but we’ve figured it out as a performance-oriented replacement for the old V6 Mustang. This heartily charged stallion is for the enthusiast who wants the most bang for their buck.
But there’s one other car that stands in the way of the Mustang being named the best performance bargain on the road; the one we’ve already dubbed as the best affordable sports car. With four-doors and all-wheel drive, the Subaru WRX surprised the entire AutoGuide.com crew last year, beating out six other cars in a very tight comparison that involved both a track and a road test.
Opposites attract, and at first glance, these two rides don’t seem to be direct competitors. One is a spiced up version of a compact car, while the other is an icon of American muscle. Looking at the power numbers, the Mustang holds a distinct power advantage, while the Subaru is 265 lbs lighter. The closest these two will get on paper is with their price tags, as the Subaru rings in at $27,090 as tested ($31,976 CAD) while the Mustang is $29,790 ($34,699 CAD).
If you buy a sports car to get noticed, then the Mustang is the clear winner here. The modern design turns heads, especially with the LED headlights and sequentially blinking tail lights. The long hood and short deck help make its sporty persona obvious in a way that the WRX can’t.
Besides the hood scoop, the Subaru only looks special when you spot the details, like the quad exhaust tips and fender badges. At first glance, it could be just like any other Impreza. That is, until you hear it. Unlike the Mustang, the WRX sounds mean and its exhaust growls menacingly.
While the Mustang doesn’t sound as intimidating, its powerplant is quite potent. The 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine makes 310 hp and 320 lb-ft of torque. The WRX utilizes a 2.0-liter flat four that’s turbocharged to make 268 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque.
How They Feel
The behaviour of these engines is dramatically different. The Mustang’s power delivery is smooth and calm, building power gradually until you look at the speedo and realize just how fast you’re moving. The WRX is raw; it blasts you forward with a huge surge of power early on and keeps going until it’s time to change gear. I compared the WRX to a rocket ship when piloting it around the track for our under-$30,000 sports car shootout last summer. A year removed from that event and even when compared to a more powerful car, the Subaru still feels impressively fast.
Helping enhance that feeling of engine power is the sheer grip that the WRX offers. All-wheel drive helps the WRX launch off the line, and those active wheels up front help the car pull through corners when you put your foot down. That’s not to say the Mustang doesn’t grip; its 255-series summer tires are made to hold onto the road, but in practice, the pony car just doesn’t gallop as convincingly and, overall, wasn’t as exciting to drive. The additional size and weight of the Mustang also made it hard to call it a driver’s car in the same way you could with the WRX. In the corners, the extra 265 lbs of weight in the Mustang really make their presence known.
Rowing through the gears in either car is satisfying. Both cars have great, tactile shift action with well-weighted clutches and notchy gearsticks. The throws in the Mustang feel slightly stiffer, requiring a bit more muscle to slot into gear.
The interiors offer a different story. It’s here the Mustang is the more interesting place to sit in. The interesting design is a far cry from the past Mustang interiors, and, while the materials and fit and finish could be a bit better, it’s far nicer than the economy car cabin found in the WRX. The gauges in the Ford are clear and well designed, as are many of the controls for HVAC and audio. I’m also not a fan of Subaru’s Starlink infotainment system, which is slow. In fact, the audio system would tell me that no device was connected for nearly two minutes before it would allow me to play music from my phone. On the plus side, the WRX has great visibility and is easy to maneuver and park, while the Mustang’s long hood and small windows make things a bit challenging.
Finally, the optional Recaro seats in the Mustang are noteworthy for being extra comfortable and supportive. Once you sit in it, you never want to get out.
On the road, the Mustang feels friendlier when driven over cracks and potholes. It doesn’t bounce and skip like the WRX does. A major complaint about the Mustang’s steering is how unnatural it feels. It springs back to center a little too eagerly, and there isn’t much feedback in the wheel. The WRX has a more natural, neutral feel through the wheel, and offers excellent feedback. Pushing hard into a corner, you expect the all-wheel-drive WRX to have some understeer, but the car is remarkably balanced. Despite the stiffer chassis and suspension of our Performance Package equipped Mustang, the coupe exhibited more some body roll. Fortunately, it’s nicely composed and will rotate nicely when you apply a good foot full of extra throttle.
Comparing features between the two cars, you can see they are pretty equally matched. Both cars have an uphill start assist that will hold the brake for you when engaging first on an incline (so you don’t roll back) and both have rear-view cameras as standard equipment. The WRX sports a touch-screen audio system and automatic climate control. While both cars feature split folding rear seats, there’s no denying the WRX’s practicality. The rear doors and extra space for passengers help give this car a real leg up over the Mustang. The final bullet in this shootout is the WRX’s all-weather capability, thanks to its all-wheel drive.
The Verdict: 2015 Ford Mustang EcoBoost vs Subaru WRX
While the 2015 Mustang is a solid car, you’ll find the more powerful V8 model as the must-have version. At under $30k, this EcoBoost feels heavy and less engaging than other rivals at this price point. The Subaru WRX is fast, engaging and practical, making it the best value and better sports car in this segment.
This story first appeared at AutoGuide.com