Ford Mustang galloping toward change, but tradition reins for 2021

2021 Ford Mustang

What changes will make the 2021 Ford Mustang different?

Little if any is expected ahead of a major revamp rumored for model-year 2022.

Speculation about that revamp – by far the biggest alteration since the model-year 2015 introduction of this Mustang generation – includes not only updated styling but possible addition of a gas/electric hybrid model and optional all-wheel drive.

This is not to be confused with the all-electric four-door compact crossover bearing Mustang-inspired styling that’ll likely be launched for model-year 2021. Apt to be called the Mach E – after Ford wisely dropped Mach 1 – this sporty fastback would be built on a dedicated electric-vehicle platform and have a range of 300 miles per charge.

In any event, Mustang is slated to become Ford’s only passenger car as the automaker phases out its Fiesta, Focus, Fusion, and Taurus cars in favor more profitable pickup trucks, crossovers, and SUVs.

Despite sales declines in its competitive set, Mustang remains far and away the most popular of today’s “pony cars,” handily outselling the Chevrolet Camaro and Dodge Challenger. Evidently, shoppers agree with our view that the Ford offers the best balance of performance, styling, and daily-driver livability.

Should I wait for the 2021 model or buy the 2020?

If you like today’s Mustang, there’d be little reason to wait for the 2021. It’s unlikely to get any important changes, but it will cost more. And like the ’20, it’ll be a very capable sporty car, with models that range from relatively tame to the limited-edition 760-horsepower Shelby GT500, the most powerful and expensive Mustang ever.

The 2021 Mustang roster will reprise two-door Fastback coupe and power-soft-top convertible body styles. Each would come in turbocharged-four-cylinder EcoBoost and EcoBoost Premium trim levels, as well as in V-8 GT Premium guise. A just-plain GT Fastback would be available, too. Also returning should be the specialty V-8 Bullitt, Shelby GT350, and racetrack-ready GT350R Fastbacks. All ’21 Mustangs will again be rear-wheel drive and available with manual or automatic transmission – save the manual-only Bullitt and GT350/GT350R models.

Ford plans to build just 5,000 Shelby GT500s. It’s uncertain if all will be 2020 models or if production will spill into model-year 2021. Regardless, if you haven’t put down a deposit by now, you’re not likely to get one unless you’re willing to pay a significant premium over the manufacturer’s suggested retail price.

Will the styling be different?

No. It’ll continue with the look that debuted with the model-year 2015 introduction of today’s sixth-generation Mustang and was tweaked for model-year 2018. It’s an extraordinary handsome evolutionary update of the styling that came online for 2005 with the fifth-generation Mustang. That “modern-retro” approach later adopted by the Camaro and Challenger.

The ’21 will again feature plenty of nods to the original 1960s Mustang’s long-hood-short-deck look. In particular, the Bullitt will continue as an homage to the fastback driven by Steve McQueen in the legendary 1968 film. Expect it to return with blackout wheels, minimal exterior badging, and available “Highland Green” paint.

Like the exterior, the 2021 Mustang’s cabin will continue to blend classic and modern elements. Standard instrumentation will again consist of two large pods that house the speedometer and tachometer, a throwback design modernized with a small LCD display in between. Markings are on the small side but the layout is serviceable.

Our EcoBoost Premium and Bullitt test cars included the available digital dashboard. This feature replaces the analog gauges with a virtual cluster displayed on a single LCD screen. It strikes us as technology for technology’s sake rather than adding any real value for the driver.

More useful are the straightforward climate and infotainment-system controls. The latter employs Ford’s intuitive Sync 3 interface with support for Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto. Cabin materials consist of a roughly even mix of padded surfaces and hard-plastic panels. Silver-painted plastic trim designed to look like brushed aluminum comes across as an inappropriate cost-saving measure, though, especially in specialty models like the Bullitt, which can carry a sticker price north of $50,000.

The low ride height makes ingress and egress difficult but once aboard, Mustang impresses for front-se roominess. Legroom is excellent and only the extremely tall will have issues with headroom. The back seats are an afterthought. They’ll accommodate a child booster seat, but any human more than about 45 inches tall will have very little space for noggin or knees, especially if the front seats are set more than halfway back.

Both body styles have traditional trunks, 13.5 cubic feet on the Fastback and 11.4 for the convertible cubic feet. Each has a fairly wide opening, but neither trunk is tall, so bulkier items fit poorly, if at all.

Any mechanical changes?

Probably not until the next refresh. The 2021 Mustang EcoBoost models will retain a turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder of 310 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque. Expect transmission choices to remain a six-speed manual or 10-speed automatic.

Ford will likely also bring back the High Performance Package that it introduced for 2020 EcoBoost models. The $4,995 option should again include the high-output 2.3-liter turbo four from the discontinued Focus RS, bringing output to 330 horsepower at the same 350 pound-feet of torque. The package will again add larger brakes from the Mustang GT, a front lip spoiler, strut tower brace, performance suspension, uprated axle ratio with limited-slip differential, and 19-inch summer-only tires.

Expect the 2021 Mustang GT and GT Premium to retain a 5.0-liter V-8 with 460 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque. They, too, will again offer a six-speed manual or 10-speed automatic transmission. Available with the six-speed manual only, Bullitt grades would again pack an upgraded version of the 5.0-liter V-8 with 480 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque. Also limited to the six-speed, the 2021 Shelby GT350 and GT350R will return with a specially built 5.2-liter V-8 of 526 horsepower and 429 pound-feet of torque.

The GT500 adds a supercharger and other go-fast bits to the GT350’s engine for 760 horsepower and 624 pound-feet of torque. Purists might cringe, but the GT500’s sole transmission is a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. Ford says this ultimate ‘Stang does 0-60 mph in under 3 seconds and the quarter mile in less than 11.

Ford dropped an available V-6 engine with 300 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque for model-year 2018, leaving today’s turbo four as Mustang’s base powerplant. The ’21 EcoBoost models won’t have the immediate kick off the line of the V-6 Mustangs, but power builds rapidly and strongly once underway. The 10-speed is one of the best automatic transmissions available in any vehicle. Here, it keeps the turbo four in its ideal power band, upshifting smoothly for casual commuting, kicking down promptly when muscle is needed for high-speed passing or merging.

It might seem heretical to purists, but even enthusiast drivers ought to consider the automatic over the manual. Our GT Premium and Bullitt test car suffered a stiff clutch pedal and finicky gear-lever engagement that made it difficult to drive smoothly, especially in congested urban traffic. At least the manual includes rev-matching, which automatically blips the throttle between downshifts, making those gear changes more fluid. In either GT or Bullitt tune, this dual-overhead-cam V-8 furnishes monstrous power that begins to fall off only when the engine tickles its rev limit (7,500 rpm for the GT, 7000 for the Bullitt). The sound it produces is a feast for the ears, too.

Among its pony-car peers, Mustang delivers a solid blend handling and ride quality. Steering and grip don’t match the hunkered-down attack of the Camaro, and the larger, heavier Challenger has the best ride quality.

Mustang convertibles are impressively rigid, with very little chassis flex over bumps. Even the standard EcoBoost is fun to toss. Handling improves further with the optional adaptive damping suspension.

Will fuel economy improve?

Unlikely. Expect EPA ratings for 2021 Mustang EcoBoost models to range from 20/27/23 mpg city/highway/combined to 21/32/25 mpg, depending on body style and transmission. Expect a16/25/19 mpg rating for the automatic-transmission GT Fastbacks a 15/24/18 rating for the automatic-transmission GT convertible and for the manual-transmission GT and Bullitt models. . The GT350 rates 14/21/16. Our Bullitt review sample achieved an impressive 19.5 mpg in suburban commuting and with more than a few jackrabbit starts.

Look for the 2021 Shelby GT350 and GT350R to rate 14/21/16 mpg city/highway/combined. If you have to ask, expect the GT500 to sacrifice a couple miles per gallon from that rating, across the board.

Ford’s published horsepower ratings were achieved on premium-grade 91-octane gasoline. This fuel is required for the GT350 and GT500. Ford says the EcoBoost and GT can use regular-grade 87-octane with a slight performance reduction.

Will there be new features?

New features aren’t likely, although we’d urge Ford to make an existing one — autonomous emergency braking, primarily – standard on all 2021 Mustang models. That important safety feature, along with adaptive radar cruise control, automatic high-beam headlights, and lane-departure warning with automatic steering correction, has been part of a $1,000 option package on most models. Similarly, Ford ought to include its full Sync 3 infotainment interface on all trims; it was optional on non-Premium models for 2019-2020.

Carrying over as standard on every ’21 Mustang will likely be full LED headlights, keyless access, pushbutton ignition, and a capless fuel filler. In addition to Sync 3, Premium grades would add leather upholstery, heated and cooled front seats, and dual-zone automatic climate control. The 2021 Bullitt would add high-performance Brembo-brand brakes with painted calipers, performance exhaust, a heated steering wheel, and digital instrument cluster.

Shelby models will again have unique exterior styling and Recaro-brand sport seats on top of their other performance hardware.

Will 2021 prices be different?

They’ll almost certainly be higher by several hundred dollars. For reference, here are base prices for the 2020 Mustang, including Ford’s $1,095 destination fee:

Among Fastback models, the base EcoBoost had a base price of $27,765 and the EcoBoost Premium of $32,780. The GT Fastback started at $36,725, its Premium variant at $40,725. The Bullitt commanded a rather stiff premium, with a base price of $48,905.

The 2020 Mustang EcoBoost convertible started at $33,265, the Premium version priced at $38,280. Base price for the GT Premium soft top was $46,225.

Base prices for the 2020 Shelby GT350 and GT350R were not available in time for this review, but figure around $63,000 for 2021 version of either one. Base price for the 2020 Shelby GT500 was $75,090 and included a $2,600 federal gas-guzzler tax.

Key options available on most models for 2020 that will likely return for ’21 include the 10-speed automatic ($1,595), Black Accent Package ($995), a performance exhaust system ($895), and imbedded GPS navigation ($995). The previously mentioned EcoBoost High Performance Package will probably come back.

Ford would also offer similar packages on the GT ranging in price from $4,000-$6,500. While the engine would be unchanged, models so equipped would have larger brakes and radiator, specific axle ratio, aero body kit, and assorted other go-faster goodies that could make the car even more capable on the racetrack.

Among the options for the GT500 are a handling package ($1,500) that adds adjustable strut-top mounts, removable splitter end plates, and a Gurney flap. Blind-spot alert, imbedded navigation, and upgraded audio system are part of the $3,000 Technology Package. The Carbon Fiber Track Package will set you back an eye-watering $18,500. For that, you get carbon-fiber wheels, racetrack ready Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires, an adjustable carbon fiber rear spoiler, Recaro-brand sport seats, and carbon fiber interior trim. There are other standalone options, and if you check every box, your GT500 will set you back more than $100,000.

When does it come out?

Expect a release date for the 2021 Ford Mustang in fall 2020.

Best competitors

Chevrolet Camaro, Dodge Challenger, Toyota Supra

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]