Autos

Ford ups the power on iconic Mustang muscle car with new performance package at New York auto show

Key Points
  • Ford's Mustang is the world's best-selling sports car, besting competitors as diverse as the Chevrolet Camaro and BMW Z4, with global sales last year totaling 113,066.
  • Ford hopes to retain its lead by continuing to not only update the Mustang but add an array of new variants.
  • The latest is the EcoBoost High-Performance Package, which makes its debut Wednesday at the New York International Auto Show.
2020 Ford Mustang
Adam Jeffery | CNBC

It may be entering its middle age, but there appears to be plenty of life left in Ford's 55-year-old Mustang "pony car."

Marking the anniversary of the coupe's original debut at the 1964 New York World's Fair, the automaker is laying claim to being the world's best-selling sports car, besting competitors as diverse as the Chevrolet Camaro and BMW Z4, with global sales last year totaling 113,066.

And Ford is hoping to retain its lead by continuing to not only update the Mustang but by adding an array of new variants. That includes the EcoBoost High-Performance Package that is making its debut Wednesday at the New York International Auto Show.

"We broke the mold when Ford launched the Mustang 55 years ago," said Jim Farley, Ford's president of global markets. With the HPP model joining other recent upgrades, including the Mustang Shelby GT500, he added, it's "no wonder it's the most popular sports coupe in the world."

2020 Ford Mustang
Adam Jeffery | CNBC

Mustang has always been available in a range of different packages, but gone are the days when Ford offered an anemic base edition that was derisively known among enthusiasts as a "secretary's car." Today, even the "base" Mustang's turbocharged inline-four engine is capable of making 310 horsepower, a full 130 hp more than the vaunted Mustang GT delivered in the 1980s.

The new "HPP," as the High-Performance Package is known inside the company, takes that up to 330 hp and 350 pound-feet of tire-spinning torque. That will launch it from 0 to 60 in a mere 4.5 seconds, about what a Porsche 911 could have managed not all that long ago.

And because the new version is 200 pounds lighter, it can give a good run to the much more powerful Ford Mustang GT, especially on tight and twisty roads, said Carl Widmann, Mustang's chief engineer.

It helps that the HPP borrows a number of features from the more expensive Mustang, including its bigger brakes and rear spoiler. Aerodynamics are critical to today's automotive design, reducing wind resistance and boosting performance, as well as increasing fuel economy.

Significantly, the added power isn't expected to have any impact on fuel economy. Ford estimates that when final EPA numbers are in, the HPP will have the same 21 mpg in the city, 31 on the highway and 25 combined rating as the base Mustang.

2020 Ford Mustang
Adam Jeffery | CNBC

Widmann noted that his engineering team is always looking for ways to boost Mustang's performance — critical when going up against aggressive competitors like the Chevy Camaro and Dodge Challenger.

The HPP project almost came about by accident, however. The team decided to try out a European version of the 2.3-liter base Mustang engine, which used upgraded materials to enhance performance. By beefing up the EcoBoost engine's block and cylinder head, that allowed them to increase the amount of boost the turbocharger can make, the primary reason why it offers another 20 horsepower. The HPP engine is produced in special batches and only at Ford's powertrain plant in Valencia, Spain.

The High-Performance Package comes to market later this year as the latest in an aggressive wave of Mustang variants. That includes not only the Shelby GT500, but also the latest Mustang Bullitt a tribute to the pony car Steve McQueen drove in the film "Bullitt," which featured one of the most iconic chase scenes in film history. The Bullitt, Ford said, has exceeded sales forecasts by 25% and helped Mustang capture a 15.4% share of the global market last year.

That said, the sixth-generation Mustang, in all its variations, can't come close to matching its former glory days. Back in 1966, sales came to 607,500, almost all of those in the U.S. American new car buyers drove home in 75,842 of the pony cars last year, with nearly 40,000 more shipped abroad.

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Disclosure: Paul Eisenstein is a freelancer for CNBC. Ford paid for his transportation and lodging at the New York International Auto Show.