For the past six decades, Ford’s bread and butter has been big, beefy V8s. Ford has stuffed them in everything from trucks, to SUVs, to their performance cars. The Mustang is a perfect example of Ford’s V8 obsession, with nearly every iteration having a V8 model. However, as we enter into a new era with a high cylinder count allergy, even the Mustang is changing with the times.
In 2015, Ford unveiled a new, 2.3 liter 4-cylinder Mustang that would rival its V8 sibling. Or so they said. Ford’s EcoBoost engine is truly a technical marvel, and an engine to be taken seriously. Does it belong in a Mustang though? That’s the question.
Both Mustangs, either EcoBoost or V8, are available to purchase today, each with their own unique benefits and shortcomings. In this article, we’ll get to the heart of the argument. It is important to remember, we aren’t discussing just any run-of-the-mill commuter. We’re talking about Mustangs here, and for that reason, we’ll use Mustang appropriate benchmarks to judge each. There are a few common questions that prospective Mustang owners typically ask. In a straight Mustang GT vs Mustang EcoBoost fight, the answers to those questions will likely tell you all you need to know about each. Those questions are as follows:
- Will it impress my neighbors?
- Will I be able to embarrass a cocky teenager in a modified Subaru in a drag race?
- Can it do anything other than roast tires?
- How much money am I going to have to sink into it in the next 5 years?
Mustang GT vs Mustang EcoBoost – Will it impress my neighbors?
Picture this: You pull into your driveway on a warm summer afternoon in your brand new Mustang. The Jones’ are sitting on their porch, and start speaking quietly to each other as they see you pull up. They walk over to greet you, and you can sense a mixture of judgment and jealousy in the air. Without fail, the first question that Mr. Jones is going to ask you is “How many ponies this baby got?”
Now, here is where a massive discrepancy between the Mustang EcoBoost and GT starts to manifest.
If you decided to pull the trigger on an EcoBoost, you’d likely have to respond like a dog with its tail between its legs. Telling your neighbor that your brand new Mustang only has 4 cylinders would hurt anyone’s pride. You’d have to save face by bringing up gas mileage figures, its impressive 135 horsepower-per-liter efficiency, and twin independent variable cam timing. Objectively, that just doesn’t sound like what a Mustang owner should be saying.
A Mustang owner should be able to answer that question with one baffling number and one word: 460 horsepower. If you bought the Mustang GT, that’s exactly what you could say. Forget any excuses, that power figure is enough to make Mr. and Mrs. Jones look at you a bit differently. Mustangs have always been the president of the muscle car republic, with a V8 engine as their nuke. A V8 Mustang is what everyone respects and fears. Needless to say, the Mustang GT wins this round from a bragging-rights perspective.
However, power figures and engine specs only matter if your neighbors are nosy. If you just shut up and let people guess, they’ll just see a Mustang. The newest generation Mustang, EcoBoost or V8, is an extremely attractive car. Both the EcoBoost and the GT also share the same skin, with very few differences to spot. The interior of both cars is identical too, with the same optional extras available on both. Remove the badges from the GT and it’s anyone’s guess.
Will I Be Able to Embarrass a Cocky Teenager in a Modified Subaru?
This is another important buyer’s question that isn’t mentioned in the pamphlet. If you buy a new Mustang, you are going to be pestered by pimple-faced teenagers in souped-up beaters at red lights. It’s an inevitability. The question then is whether your Mustang will be able to hang with a 20-year-old Subaru WRX with full bolt-ons and 35 window stickers.
In short, both the EcoBoost and GT should be up for the job. Let’s talk about the EcoBoost first. I wasn’t lying earlier when I said that Ford’s EcoBoost engine deserves to be taken seriously. Wringing 310 horsepower from a 2.3 liter 4-cylinder is a dang impressive feat. The presence of a turbocharger in the EcoBoost formula also makes torque a widely available commodity at 350lb-ft. From a dead stop, the EcoBoost will do 0-60mph in 5.1 seconds. That’s 0.5 seconds quicker than a brand new all-wheel-drive Subaru WRX.
So, in theory, you shouldn’t have too much trouble with the high-schooler fresh from last period algebra during a light to light race. Well, at least until 122mph, which is the EcoBoost Mustang’s rather disappointing top speed.
Now, onto the Mustang GT. In this case, the situation is a lot more cut and dry. A single high RPM rev of the 5.0-liter Ti-VCT V8 will have any vape-smoking teen running back to their mommy. With 460 bhp at its disposal, the 2021 Mustang GT will sprint to 60mph in an organ-rearranging 4.3 seconds. That’s not just an impressive figure for a Mustang, that’s an impressive figure for any car. With beefy 305/30ZR19 tires situated at the rear, off-line grip isn’t a problem.
From the factory, the 2021 Mustang GT comes with a proper 6-speed manual transmission. The automatic, 10-speed, paddle-shift gearbox is a $1,595 optional extra. Honestly, that’s exactly how it should be. While the paddle shifters make acceleration faster, there’s something blasphemous about choosing them over the stick. That’s like buying a DaVinci painting to hang over your toilet. It’s just not right. Regardless, a 2021 GT with either transmission will make light work of most prepubescent challengers.
And, unlike the EcoBoost, the Mustang GT can run a full ½ mile without running out of steam. While the EcoBoost taps out at 122mph, the GT will take you all the way to 155mph. If you need any more go than that you’re probably a lunatic with a death wish.
Can it do anything other than roast tires?
In the past, a daily-drivability metric was irrelevant for a conversation about a Mustang. However, with this newest iteration, it’s clear that Ford gave at least a modicum of thought to everyday use. First, let’s talk about what both Mustang variants share in terms of creature comforts. Due to the fact that both the EcoBoost and GT share the same interior options, the list of similarities is extensive.
In a very un-Mustang-like fashion, both the EcoBoost and GT come with many features that you can find on a Ford Explorer. Among them are a rearview camera, pre-collision assist with automatic braking, and automatic lane assist. If you spring for a couple options, you can have adaptive cruise control, remote start, and a heated steering wheel. Who would have guessed that THE premier muscle car would be as user-friendly as your mother’s Hyundai?
In the pamphlet, Ford states that both Mustangs have seating room for four, but they’re not fooling anyone. Both the EcoBoost and the GT have only 2 doors, making the job of cramming your kids in the back that much more difficult. In reality, the rear seats are essentially glorified grocery shelves. You’ll definitely be able to load either Mustang with day trip bags or groceries, but fitting four people into one comfortably is a bit optimistic.
So far, the tides haven’t been in the EcoBoost’s favor. When it comes to overall performance and a true muscle car soul, it certainly falls short. However, in terms of everyday drivability, the EcoBoost has the edge over the GT.
Gas mileage is typically a pretty good representation of a vehicle’s efficiency and the same can be said here. Looking at the two Mustangs side by side, there’s a pretty clear winner. Of course, with four fewer cylinders, the EcoBoost takes the cake here.
When Ford developed their now-famous EcoBoost engine, there were somehow two most important considerations: performance and efficiency. The EcoBoost Mustang ticks both of those boxes. Even with 310hp, the EcoBoost gets a combined 26 miles per gallon. There are quite a few cars that get better mileage, but this is a Mustang that we’re talking about.
There are no surprises as far as the Mustang GT’s fuel economy is concerned. It’s pretty clear that Ford simply didn’t care. Barely breaching the double digits, the GT is good for 15 miles per gallon during city driving. Hopefully, you live close to work.
Mustang GT vs Mustang EcoBoost – How much money am I going to sink into it in the next 5 years?
Before we start looking down the road, let’s talk about what it’ll cost to drive both Mustangs off the lot. The EcoBoost is the more wallet-friendly build, costing $27,205 in base spec. Of course, that’ll exclude some of the shinier creature comforts listed above. If you really wanted to build an EcoBoost up, you’d be closer to $35,000 for the EcoBoost Premium model.
The GT is seemingly a tax bracket away, starting at $36,285. That’s $9,000 more than the base EcoBoost and $1,500 more than a maxed-out EcoBoost. Some might see that as a Ford cash grab as the two Mustangs are remarkably similar in every aspect other than the powertrain. But, a price can’t be put on fun, and that’s exactly what you’re paying for with the GT.
So, what will reliability look like for both of them? Overall, it’s looking pretty good for both. As the Ford EcoBoost has been around for 7 years now, most of the growing pains have been sorted. The 3.5L V6 EcoBoost engine that preceded the 2.3L in the EcoBoost Mustang was a powerhouse with few long-term reliability issues of note.
The 2.3L seems to be following favorably in its beefier brother’s shoes. In totality, the only “problems” to even mention are the 2.3L’s tendency to run a bit hot, and carbon buildup on the valves due to direct injection. That’s pretty much it, and even those issues aren’t really even issues.
No surprise with the GT either, it’s extremely reliable. As it should be, as Ford has had the better part of a half-century to sort out their V8s. Reliability was the factor that drove the Mustang GT to the #1 spot as Consumer Reports highest rated American sports car for 2021. There’s a lot of tried and tested evidence that Ford’s Coyote V8 is as durable as an M1 Abrams tank. Between 2013 with the introduction of the first-gen Coyote and 2021 with the third-gen Coyote, reliability has gone from spectacular to indestructible. Essentially, the GT will likely outlive you as long as you stay on top of maintenance.
Mustang GT vs Mustang EcoBoost Summary
The Ford Mustang is one of those cars that is just as much about the pedigree as is the car itself. The type of car that should come with a pair of aviator sunglasses as standard. The Mustang has a history that precedes itself before you step into the driver’s seat. The Mustang GT vs Mustang EcoBoost argument naturally arises due to this.
If you are looking to own a Mustang that lives up to that legend, there’s only one choice: the GT. However, if you toss aside the Mustang mythos, the choice becomes more complicated. Both the EcoBoost and the GT are very capable cars. Both will impress your neighbors at a distance and both will compete with little Johnny’s souped-up Subie. The GT produces a V8 soundtrack fit for the philharmonic, but the EcoBoost won’t slurp up fuel like a dehydrated dog.
The Mustang GT and the EcoBoost can compete with each other in very different ways. With that being said, the GT is better at being a Mustang.
If you enjoyed this article, check out some of our others. For more Mustang content, check out our Ford Mustang EcoBoost Tuning Guide. If V8s are more your speed, take a look at our Mustang GT 5.0 Coyote Supercharger Guide. As always, safe driving!