Will new pony car attract global buyers?

When the redesigned 2015 Mustang goes on sale globally in early 2015, the good looks will remain, but the technology will make a dramatic leap into the 21st century.
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DETROIT -- The Mustang's formula for success for 50 years has been basically this: good looks coupled with low-tech powertrains and suspension systems and an attractive starting price.

When the redesigned 2015 Mustang goes on sale globally in early 2015, the good looks will remain, but the technology will make a dramatic leap into the 21st century. There's no word yet on prices, but every new Mustang has been more expensive than the last, and the sixth generation is the most technically sophisticated yet.

Ford officials dodged questions about the new Mustang's overall weight. The 2015 car will have an aluminum hood and fenders, but any weight savings there might be canceled out by the new suspension system and revamped interior, which will add features and higher quality materials. Ford has said that its goal is to reduce vehicle weight at each redesign.

Frank Davis, Ford's North American engineering director, says everything from the tone of the exhaust to the tuning of the independent rear suspension system has been geared to enable the Mustang to seriously compete with BMWs and Porsches.

Three cars, he says, were benchmarks for the 2015 Mustang: the Porsche 911, BMW M3 and last year's Mustang Boss 302.

Here's a look at Ford's efforts to improve the 2015 Mustang's cachet among global buyers.

Suspension system: The live rear axle that has been part of every regular production Mustang since 1964 -- and used today mostly on trucks -- will be replaced with a compact independent rear suspension system mounted in a subframe that attaches to the rear of the car.

The advantage: Each rear tire can react individually to the road surface, and tire grip is improved in high-speed cornering.

Says Davis: "The chassis team is very, very good. They took the live axle as far as it could go. But we really wanted to take a huge leap forward and be world class."

The disadvantage: The independent rear suspension has more moving parts and is usually heavier and more expensive than a live axle.

The front suspension uses MacPherson struts and, in a first for Mustang, two ball joints. The result is a quieter ride on bumpy roads, Davis says.

Davis: Aims for a German feel

Powertrains: Overseas buyers will have a choice of two engines: a 2.3-liter four-cylinder and a 5.0-liter V-8 in the Mustang GT. The 2.3-liter -- a new engine for Ford -- is a direct-injected, turbocharged four-cylinder made in Valencia, Spain. It's a larger version of the current 2.0-liter engine available in the numerous Ford vehicles, Davis says.

It will generate at least 305 hp and 300 pounds-feet of torque -- about the same output as the optional six-cylinder engine in the BMW 1-series coupe, and more than the base models of the Porsche Boxster and Cayman.

The 2.3-liter is expected to be the volume engine overseas, says AutoPacific analyst Dave Sullivan. "In many parts of the world," he says, "legislation regulates cars based on CO2 and engine displacement." Taxes on the 5.0-liter GT -- which will generate at least 420 hp -- likely will make it a small-volume niche car, Sullivan says.

The 2.3-liter is the smallest Mustang engine since 1994 and the first four-cylinder turbo Mustang engine in almost 30 years.

"That 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine meets the brand DNA from a Mustang perspective by all means," Davis says. "There's no excuses for that engine. It's outstanding."

The 3.7-liter V-6 carries over unchanged as the base engine for North American Mustangs.

Both automatic and manual six-speed transmissions carry over, but with improvements. Engineers redesigned the clutch and manual transmission's shifter. And paddle shifters have been added to all Mustangs equipped with automatics.

Refinement: The 2015 Mustang's redesigned chassis is stiffer than the current version. That added rigidity, Davis says, helps reduce road noise and improve handling: "Quietness is quality. We have improved it for the new Mustang."

Brakes are also beefed up. Davis says the Brembo high-performance six-piston disc brakes are "confidence inspiring." Engineers from Ford's European and Asian operations worked in Dearborn, Mich., Davis says, to help tune the car for global markets.

Pedestrian crash protection: Ford officials would not say if the Mustang's large trapezoidal grille opening, which is a derivative of the shape used on Fusions and Fiestas, was added to help the car meet European crash standards. Davis says the car has not yet been tested but that Ford expects it to perform well.

Right-hand drive: Raj Nair, Ford's group vice president of product development, says the right-hand-drive Mustang was engineered in Dearborn. Building it requires a different dash, pedal assembly, firewall sheet metal and other changes.

You can reach Richard Truett at rtruett@crain.com.

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