Last week, the 2015 Mustang configurator went live, giving a longtime Mustang fan like myself the opportunity to spec out the latest and greatest version of America’s pony car. And I did just that. Once. After 5 years of writing and wringing my hands over the 2015 Mustang, a car I had convinced myself I *must* have … I found myself rather ambivalent about the whole thing.
Why? The first car I tried to buy for myself was a Fox-body Mustang GT, an idea my mother quickly shot down (likely a wise move, as I still got in plenty of trouble with the Saab 900 Turbo I bought instead). I own a 1969 Mercury Cougar, a classier version of the Mustang that shares the same unibody and many other parts and features. I’ve always loved Mustangs, and the 2015 Mustang was supposed to be the car all my hard-earned savings would go towards.
But I no longer want to spend my money on a 2015 Mustang. Instead, I want the Tesla Model S, and the reason why has less to do with the cars as mechanical devices, and more to do with what both cars mean.
The 2015 Mustang packs a big tech punch, incorporating features like push-button start, the SYNC infotainment system, and performance-monitoring apps as standard features on the EcoBoost and GT models. But even with the addition of a 300 horsepower, four-cylinder EcoBoost engine, the Mustang remains stuck in the hard-headed muscle car ideology of using a big V8 engine to make big power. 50 years ago, that was fine. 25 years ago, that was still fine. Heck, even ten years ago, nobody was predicting the end of big V8 muscle cars.
But after an economy-crippling recession and stubbornly high gas prices that seem ready to spiral even higher, getting stuck for another decade with a Mustang that is still, at its core, the same vehicle it’s been for the past 50 years just seems…backwards. Worse still, Ford has remained stubbornly conservative with the Mustang’s drivetrain in an effort to hold on to a dwindling number of buyers. Mustang sales dropped off dramatically after the recession, and even with a brand new car, the appetite for thirsty V8s isn’t what it used to be.
Every time Ford redesigns the Mustang, it doubles down on the idea that the only way to make it is with a big V8 under the hood, which makes it harder and harder to change course. Even at 300 horsepower, the base V6 engine still feels barely adequate to move an increasingly heavy car, and the EcoBoost engine will be only mildly better even with the performance pack. There’s still going to be a more than 100 horsepower difference between the EcoBoost and GT models. But I’m willing to bet they’ll both require premium fuel, which is now nearing $5 a gallon in my neck of the woods. For the cost of a couple of gallons of gas though, I can top off a Tesla Model S and have up to 265 miles of “official” driving range, which is more than I need 95% of the time.
At this point, the idea of having a Mustang with a hybrid, electric, or diesel drivetrain is something that I don’t see happening until 2020 or beyond, if it ever happens. For all its new features, the 2015 Mustang is still stuck in a 20th century mindset. Remember, the first four-cylinder turbo Mustang came out in 1979; all Ford did has done is rehash an old idea for an audience that might be more accepting this time around. But for all the enthusiasm I’ve shown the four-banger Mustang, I’m also willing to entertain the thought that the Mustang EcoBoost might just be a flop. Again.
I feel a little bad writing all of this if I’m honest, because it feels like I’ve turned my back on an old friend. My fleet of Fords was always good to me, and I still love the Mustang, what it was, and what it is …
… but, in the past week, Tesla Motors has become my favorite automaker. It’s become the company I want to give my hard-earned cash to. During my test drive of the Tesla Model S, I found it a fast, fun, and responsive vehicle that truly felt like something from the future, and not just because it has an electric drivetrain. The huge touchscreen interface controls every aspect of the Model S, something no other automaker has yet done, not because they can’t, but because they think we aren’t ready for it. There’s also the nationwide network of free Tesla Superchargers, which can top off a depleted 85 kWh Model S in less than an hour.
Last week Elon Musk sealed the deal for me with his announcement that Tesla’s patents would be open for use by other automakers. In his blog post, Musk made it clear that his intentions are to speed up adoption of electric vehicles the world over. He acknowledges that Tesla can’t possibly build enough EVs to meet the worlds needs, so he invited automakers to partake in Tesla’s technology.
Not only has Elon Musk done what other automakers said was impossible (make a profit on electric cars), but he’s now opened up his game-changing technology to all.
My choice between the Mustang and the Model S is a simple choice between the past and the future. Do I want to drive around in an iconic muscle car and pretend we’re still living in the gilded age of America? Or do I acknowledge that we live in a changing world where traditional energy sources are dwindling, and that the old ways of doing things just aren’t good enough anymore?
Some people don’t think the car they drive means anything, but I disagree, These days more than ever, the only power people have is the power to vote with their wallets. And while I think Ford has done an amazing job these past few years, turning around their business and fully-embracing new technologies and social media, when it came to their most iconic car, the one Ford everyone in America knows, they stopped short.
Tesla, meanwhile, is charging forward into the future, and it’s not like I have to sacrifice performance. The fastest P85 Model S sprints from 0 to 60 MPH in 4.2 seconds, while the outgoing 2014 Mustang GT did it in 4.4 seconds. The 2015 Mustang uses an improved version of the 5.0 V8, so it should be faster, but not by enough to matter to most people. The center console is not step forward either; it’s like Ford doesn’t feel we’re ready for too drastic a change to a car whose cultural relevance is firmly rooted in nostalgia, not progress.
Alas, because even the cheapest Tesla Model S is about twice the price of a well-equipped 2015 Mustang GT, that means I won’t be buying a piece of the future anytime soon, or probably ever. Instead, I’ll wait for the Tesla Model E (or whatever it’s called), which Elon has promised will cost around $35,000 and will debut in the next couple of years. It probably won’t offer the same level of performance as the Model S either, but I don’t think Elon Musk has any interest in building slow or boring EVs.
I still love you Ford, and you almost had me. But when I sat down and really thought about it, I will sit, and I will wait, and when the time comes I’ll happily hand over my down payment for a set of keys with the Tesla logo, knowing my money is an investment in the future, rather than a testament to the past.