2015 Ford Mustang GT: Even After Other Drives, Still a Keeper
by Josh Sadlier, Senior Editor on October 15, 2015
There's a beautiful thing called MPG Track Days that happens every year for those of us fortunate enough to work in this business. It's like a car show with keys — they fill a whole parking lot with the latest models, and you can just hop in and drive as many of them as time permits.
This year's festivities took place at venerable Willow Springs in the high desert north of Los Angeles and my transportation device was our long-term 2015 Ford Mustang GT. As usual, the Mustang proved an exemplary high-speed cruiser. Wafting along at 74 mph, you might as well be in a luxury coupe, such is the car's refinement and poise.
But you know all about what the Mustang's like on a road trip. So let's pause for a long moment and talk about some of the cars I drove at the event.
Whoa! A Volvo S60 crossover sedan?! I genuinely didn't know this existed. Turns out Volvo's giving the S60 sedan the full "XC" treatment; it's a V60 XC without the wagon on the back. When Volvo starts aping AMC's game plan from the '80s, you know there really is nothing new under the sun.
Why is there glitter on the Fiat 500X's dash? Seriously, is that what the focus groups said? Glitter is better? I'm mystified. Maybe it's just me. (To be fair, it's frequently just me.)
Got a bunch of new Toyota products in this frame. Let's start with the white one, the 2016 Scion iM. Tell you what, it's better than I'd heard. The Corolla engine is a bummer, sure, but the chassis actually feels somewhat responsive, and although the dashboard is oddly vertical, like it's auditioning for Tacoma duty, it contains some interesting materials and design ideas. Think of the iM as a Corolla hatchback, except with that goofy dash and higher seating positions front and rear. If it had a Toyota badge, it'd sell like hot keki.
Speaking of the Tacoma, here's the redesigned 2016 model. It's pretty groovy unless the familiar low driving position makes you yearn for a height-adjustable driver seat, which remains frustratingly unavailable (though understandable; there's scant headroom as it is).
Also, I think the Taco's steering wheel has the least telescoping range of any such wheel in the business. It extends out about an inch. Nonetheless, I deem this truck fantastic. It's solid and quiet at speed, it feels invincible on dirt trails, and I find myself wanting to own one and do manly things with it. I think that means the redesign went well.
Oh, and the new-to-Tacoma, massively better 3.5-liter V6 sounds downright sporty at high revs. The six-speed manual version of this rig is going to be one of the coolest trucks on the market (and incidentally the first stick-shift pairing with this engine since the Lotus Evora).
That's the graphic that shows up every time you turn on the 2016 Scion iA, which, in case you haven't heard, is a rebadged Mazda 2 in sedan form. The good news? The graphic looks slick. Bad news? The car itself looks more like a sad pufferfish.
Happily, it drives rather well. The engine is boomy at high rpm, which is sadly the norm in the subcompact segment, but there's some genuine handling enthusiasm here, and the minimalist dashboard makes it feel like a poor man's Audi A3. I wish there were room for six-footers in the back; there's not. But overall, the iA strikes me as a better-than-average subcompact sedan that's probably not going to sell because it looks like a sad pufferfish.
This blue guy here is the 2016 Lexus RC 200t, which shares its turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with the IS 200t sedan and NX 200t crossover. I was really hoping this engine would give the Germans something to think about. In its present state of tune, I'm afraid it doesn't. The German turbo-fours manage to sound bassy and confident despite the cylinder deficiency, and they tend to over-deliver when it comes to performance.
The Lexus turbo, on the other hand, sounds high-pitched and kind of whiny, and I guarantee you the RC 200t won't come close to the BMW 428i's 5.4-second sprint to 60 mph in our testing, even though its output ratings are essentially the same.
By the way, I periodically dream of owning a '90s MR2 Turbo and would love to see Toyota/Lexus crush it with this motor. Maybe it's just a reflash away from greatness. I hope so.
Ah, a non-Toyota. That's a 2016 Volvo XC90, of course, and as our rating confirms, it's darn good. Reservations? I'm 6'1", and when I put the driver seat where it needed to be, my elbows were falling off the back of both the door and center armrests. Swedish guys can be pretty tall, so this is surprising. Also, the third row was a no-go. I didn't have any kind of room: Head, leg or foot. But the styling's fantastic inside and out, and the drive is smooth. If this is a sign of where Volvo's headed under Chinese ownership, I'm intrigued to see what they come up with next.
You may also have noticed the 2016 Miata up there. I'm the opposite of a Miata fanboi, and although the new one's a classier effort all around, it hasn't changed my mind. As long as you can buy a lightly-used Honda S2000 for the same price, the Mazda's just a nonstarter for me. I'll concede that the 2.0-liter motor has more midrange punch than I expected — it feels eager — but there's no high-rpm rush like in the Honda, nor anything like that goosebumpy VTEC soundtrack.
I'm tickled that the Miata exists for shoppers who refuse to buy old cars, but unless you belong to that group, there's still no good answer to the question, "Why not get a nice S2000 instead?"
I saw the above message in two different Infiniti models (the QX50 crossover and the Q70 sedan) while trying to pair my phone. Objection: What if my phone is my audio device? Infiniti's infotainment system used to be one of the best, but clearly it's ready for an overhaul. It's a shame, because both the QX50 and the Q70S aren't bad at all to drive. You just get the sense that they've been left to die on the vine. I'm not sure what's going on at Infiniti these days, but here's hoping there's a new generation of products around the corner that'll get the brand back in the game.
I could go on — in fact, I just did — but suffice it to say that I sampled about 25 vehicles in all and was glad the Mustang was waiting for me at the end. The true test of any car, I think, is how it feels after you've driven other interesting cars, and it didn't take long for the Ford to remind me that it's a peach. I can't imagine ever returning to this car with disappointment in my heart. That's when you know you've got a keeper.
Josh Sadlier, Senior Editor