At first glance, one would be forgiven for mistaking the 2015 Mustang for the outgoing model. It does, after all, hew closely to the long hood/fastback mantra, a staple of the brand for decades.

But underneath that hood? Well let’s take a closer look, shall we?

A closer inspection reveals a more aggressive stance, the sheet metal stretched more tautly over the wheels and a new integrated rear diffuser and a higher grille. A few other notes:

1. There’s a new integral-link independent rear suspension, marking the first time that Mustang has been independently sprung at all four corners across the entire model lineup.  

2. The V8 has been augmented with something a bit more in keeping with our "$100+ per barrel of oil" times: namely, a 2.3 L four-cylinder twin-turbo EcoBoost engine.  

That the 2015 is instantly recognizable as a Mustang—yet also as a new model—bodes well, since looks aside, this is probably the most significant model to be introduced since the marque made its debut 50 years ago.

But raw power and speed won’t get you through the Angeles Crest Highway’s 66-mile swath through the San Gabriel Mountains. (Ford recently brought me out to California to rip Los Angeles traffic and the legendary twists and turns of the Angeles Crest Highway.) At least not with the maximum amount of fun. And maximum fun was exactly what I was after.

And so it was that I chose a Race Red fastback EcoBoost with a six-speed manual transmission and both the Premium and Performance packages as my first mount. With 150 fewer pounds over the front wheels, it has the best weight distribution of the three engine options, and with 310 hp and 320lb-ft of torque, it’s no slouch. It also happens to be the most important version in the model lineup with respect to its overseas competition, thanks to its highway rating of 32 mpg.

The first thing that struck me was how composed the new Mustang is while driving. The suspension is well-damped and the noise minimal. The look and feel of the cockpit materials are quantum leaps forward from the outgoing model. Genuine aluminum trim and soft-touch plastics abound, and my tester’s heated/cooled (electrically adjustable) leather buckets fit my six-foot frame like a glove. The suspension was set for “normal” via a row of toggles low on the dash, and that’s how it stayed until I made it to Angeles Crest. With the engine in sixth gear, loping along at a lazy 2,000 rpm, it’s easy to envision a road trip that’s measured by more than a quarter-mile.

Before long, the three-lane straightaways of California’s endless freeway system gave way to the s-curves and blind corners of the Angeles Crest Highway. It was time to let the pony out of the gate. The first order of business was to put the car in “track” mode, which firms up the suspension and steering and shuts off the traction control. Thusly armed, it was now up to the EcoBoost turbo four and its flexible power band (maximum torque comes in at 3,000 rpm) to do its thing. Leaving the transmission in third gear for the most part kept the pot on boil, with fourth and second gear only rarely needed—the former to build up speed on the few straight sections, the latter to kick the rear out a smidge on the tighter curves.

This was a bit of a shame only because it was such a pleasure to row through the gears, thanks to the Getrag-sourced tranny’s evenly spaced ratios and positive action. The clutch is a bit long on throw, but it engages predictably; in other words, smooth starts are no problem. It also features an automatic hill brake, so no need to smoke your clutch when starting on an a steep incline.

Sometimes a little (tire) smoke is just what the doctor ordered.

And here, the engineers at Ford tapped into their inner hooligan and programmed some goodies just for miscreants like you and me. For those who opt for the manual transmission, you can set the Mustang to hold the front brakes, which lets you rip off perfect burnouts. (To say that this is addictive is an understatement of gross proportions.)

But with the curves beckoning, the mission at hand was to see how well the Mustang went in the pointed direction, preferably with the tires hooked up to the asphalt. It did not disappoint. Up front, the tried and true MacPherson struts did their thing, but in the back the new integral-link independent suspension brings a whole new dimension to handling confidence. Whereas before, there was some question as to whether the front and rear were actually talking to one another; now, they work in harmony, accurately telegraphing to the driver exactly what’s going on through the weighted electric steering and pedals.

The limits of adhesion were higher than I expected, and yet when the front end began to break away, all it took was a dip on the brakes or a stab of the gas to reel it back in or kick out the rear for some easily managed oversteer.

The EcoBoost is an absolute gem of an engine, and it does a yeoman’s job in the Mustang. So forget about Explorers and Fusions and Tauruses (Taurii?)—it positively shines in this application. It’s tractable around town, yet when the road plays ball, it can stretch its legs with the best of them. It also sounds fantastic; not at all like a four-cylinder, but more like a nicely-tuned six.

After caning the EcoBoost through the San Gabriel Mountains, I switched mounts and took off with a Guard green 5.0 GT manual, replete with the Premium and Performance packages. Since I was playing with someone else’s money, I also opted for the aggressively-bolstered Recaro thrones, which threw into stark relief the fact that I no longer swim competitively (read: I’m fat). Still, once my soft bits settled in, that damn seat locked me firmly in place with a vice-like grip.  

Now, whereas the EcoBoost sounds evil at full boil (at least from the inside), the 5.0L V8 sounds as if Satan himself is clearing his throat. There’s no trickery here, folks, just an eight-cylinder lump of ‘Merica shoving 435 hp to the rear wheels through a limited-slip differential. True, more power is readily available from the likes of Chevy and Dodge, but bear in mind that this 5.0 is merely the first salvo from Ford; a GT500 is surely right around the corner.

In the meantime, this engine, which is an evolution of the “Coyote” V8 from the previous Boss 302, has enough grunt to hurl the ‘stang to 60 mph in just 4.5 seconds and clear the quarter in 13 seconds flat at 113 mph*. Want to steer with the throttle? No problem. Wanna lay down fat strips of rubber at stoplights? Go for it, boss.

Handling-wise, the extra weight over the nose makes itself known at the limits, but given how much fun it is to throw down a gear and mash the pedal to induce some oversteer, it’s not an issue. The Brembo brakes are more grabby than the standard units, however, so a delicate touch is required if you don’t want your passenger’s head bobbing back and forth like a pigeon. That said, they scrub off speed effortlessly, which is a good thing given the GT’s 3,800-pound curb weight.

It also doesn’t come free. While the list price for a base EcoBoost is $25,170, optioned up with the Performance package (mandatory), Premium package (debatable) and navigation (meh), you’re looking at almost $36,000 in all. The GT starts at $32,100, but if you go hog wild like I did with the options, you’re looking at $46,000.

The deal is this: Mustang has a winner on its hands. A thoroughbred, even. For the first time in its history, no longer do excuses have to be made for its antediluvian suspension or plasticky interior. Now it can play with the best of them on the world stage, and I, for one, can’t wait to see these things doing burnouts down the Champs-Élysées or racing flat-out on the Autobahn.

Vive l’America!

(*figures courtesy of Car and Driver.)

Adam Craniotes is a regular contributor to Supercompressor. Find him on Twitter to talk about watches and fast cars. 

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