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Son of an SVO – Ford looks to the past for its latest high-performance Mustang

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2020 Ford Mustang with the 2.3L High Performance Package. Photos courtesy Ford Motor Company.

In the early 1980s, a team of Ford engineers and designers attempted to reinvent the Mustang with a focus that valued handling as much as straight-line speed. The result was the Mustang SVO, a European-influenced sport coupe powered by a turbocharged and intercooled 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine. Nearly four decades later, another rogue group within Ford is channeling the original Mustang SVO, launching the all-new Mustang 2.3L High Performance Package later this year.

Readers familiar with new cars will point out that Ford already has a 2.3-liter EcoBoost-powered Mustang in the catalog, good for 310 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque. The upcoming Mustang, however, will come powered by a unique variant of the engine, built by Ford Performance in Valencia, Spain, that was previously fitted to the all-wheel-drive Ford Focus RS hot hatch. In the Focus RS, this engine produced 350 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque, but in the upcoming Mustang will be tuned to produce a wider band of useable torque. Compared to the Focus RS, output falls slightly, with the Mustang rated at 330 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque. That’s quite an improvement over the original Mustang SVO, which (in its most powerful tune) made 205 hp and 248 lb-ft of torque.

2020 Ford Mustang High Performance Package

The strengthened internals of the Focus RS carry over, but the new Mustang’s revised 2.3-liter four receives a larger twin-scroll turbocharger and a bigger radiator, a nod, perhaps, to its intended autocross and track-day focus. Ford is projecting a 0-60-mph time of around 4.5 seconds and a top speed of 155 mph, 10 mph more than the current EcoBoost Mustang with the Performance Package can deliver (and 34 mph faster than today’s base EcoBoost Mustang).

2020 Ford Mustang High Performance Package 2020 Ford Mustang High Performance Package 2020 Ford Mustang High Performance Package 2020 Ford Mustang High Performance Package

The Mustang 2.3L High Performance Package includes more than a hotter four-banger engine and the buyer’s choice of Getrag six-speed manual transmission or SelectShift 10-speed automatic. Other features included with the package are 13.9-inch front brake rotors and four-piston calipers from the Mustang GT, MagneRide adjustable dampers, 32-mm front and 24mm rear anti-roll bars, and a 3.55:1 limited-slip rear axle. Calibrations for the electric power steering, anti-lock brakes, and driving modes have been re-tuned to make the car more track-capable, and unique 19 x 9-inch wheels are wrapped in 255/40R summer-only performance tires. The new Mustang also features something the Mustang SVO of the 1980s did not — an independent rear suspension.

2020 Ford Mustang High Performance Package

Outside, the 2.3L High Performance Package Mustang receives a front splitter and belly pan to reduce front-end lift at speed, a rear spoiler, and ramps to direct cooling air to the front brakes. Inside, the aluminum-faced, engine-turned instrument panel includes oil pressure and turbo boost gauges, as well as a serialized plaque to remind driver and passenger that this isn’t just another production Mustang.

The original SVO Mustang, which was sold from 1984 to ’86, was born of necessity as Ford looked for ways to fund its racing habit aside from dipping into production car profits. While the SVO didn’t sell as well as expected (thanks in part to its price, which was roughly 50 percent more than the 1985 V-8-powered Mustang GT), it did become the first Ford fitted with multi-port fuel injection and the first American production car equipped with an intercooler. It also set the stage for future low-volume performance versions of the Mustang, including the Fox platform’s sendoff, the 1993 Cobra and Cobra R.

1984.5 Ford Mustang SVO

1984-1/2 Ford Mustang SVO. Photo courtesy Ford Media Archives.

Those are some big shoes to fill, and like the SVO before it, the 2.3L High Performance Package is the highest-performance four-cylinder Mustang built to date. Remarkably, the car went from pet project (a Focus RS to Mustang engine swap) to a production green light in just 10 months, and as Mustang chief engineer Carl Widmann explains,

The Ford Performance Focus RS 2.3-liter engine is a high-revving marvel, and anyone who’s driven this EcoBoost engine instantly loves how quickly it responds and delivers power. When our team got  the chance to try this specially built engine in a Mustang, we immediately agreed, ‘We have to do this.’”

Ford has yet to announce pricing for the model, but it’s logical to assume it will slot in between the base EcoBoost version (which starts at $26,395 for the coupe) and the V-8 GT (which begins at $35,355, also for the coupe). It’s also not clear how many examples Ford will build, though the “serialized dash plaque” and corporate tie-in to the Mustang’s 55th anniversary do seem to indicate a limited production run.