A Hybrid Mustang?!?!

Ford announced in a press release this morning that not only are they caving on President-Elect Trump’s demands not to move all small car production to Mexico, they’re also starting a big push on hybrid versions of additional models, including the Mustang. Yes, a hybrid Mustang. It’s official – hell has, in fact, frozen over.

Hell frozen over

Is this the end of the world Mustang as we know it? Is the powerful pony car destined to become a boring appliance like a Prius? I’m don’t think so. The current Mustang EcoBoost and GT are both excellent enthusiast cars. I’m not saying that to suck up to RFD’s Owner and Editor-in-Chief, who are both long time Mustang fans, but because I used to not be a Mustang fan, and my time in an EcoBoost model converted me into one.

Honda Insight sticker

My first experience actually driving a hybrid car was Justin Abide’s 2001 Honda Insight last year. It was certainly no second coming of the enthusiast favorite CRX Si, but it wasn’t nearly as boring as I expected. You can read the review for my full opinion of the car, but the biggest surprise to me was the performance of the hybrid powerplant. This was the first use of Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist hybrid system, which literally sandwiches an electric motor between the gasoline engine and transmission to either contribute to forward motion, or to recharge the battery assist for later use as a generator. Having owned and driven several EF Civics and CRXs I was accustomed to keeping the revs high to squeeze every last bit of power out of those D-series motors. But surprisingly, the 73hp Insight made more torque from its combined electric and 1.0 liter three cylinder gas motors than the classic Si (and RT4WD wagon) D16A6, generating around 100hp depending on the year. For perspective, my damn motorcycle, a Honda Shadow ACE 1100, has a larger displacement engine than that Insight, and identical torque – 66lb/ft without electric assist. But when VTEC IMA kicks in, the electric motor boosts torque to 91lb/ft, and it’s a difference you can feel. I had to adjust my typical Honda driving habits to run one gear higher than normal, because the electric torque would get me up the hill, out of the corner, or onto the highway better than a screaming CRX Si.

Ford claims that the upcoming hybrid Mustang “will deliver V8 power and even more low-end torque.” My experience with the Insight validates Ford’s claims on a small scale. The beauty of electric motors is that they generate maximum torque from a standstill. This is why a Tesla’s acceleration is often compared to the current king of internal combustion acceleration, the Dodge Challenger Hellcat (and its Charger cousin). But a test by Consumer Reports, of all places, was the most interesting to me, because it demonstrates exactly HOW each car accelerates.

The video is worth watching all the way through, but I’m going to cut to the chase and show you the chart that clearly demonstrates the difference between electric and internal combustion acceleration.

Tesla vs. Hellcat acceleration
Screen grab: Consumer Reports

The all electric Tesla has instant-on acceleration, maxing out at 1.02G. That’s right, the force you feel inside a Tesla at full tilt is greater than the pull of gravity itself. The Hellcat, meanwhile, only managed 0.83G in the same test. The graph clearly shows how the two wheel drive Challenger struggled to find grip off the line, which is exactly where the all wheel drive electric Tesla had all of the advantages. The cards were very much stacked against the Dodge for the hole shot.

But look what happens later. The Tesla’s acceleration rate drops off sharply after two seconds, which is exactly where the Challenger manages to hook up. By three seconds, the Hellcat is accelerating much harder, and despite the acceleration being less consistent than the Tesla’s – no doubt still struggling for traction – it has the advantage for the entire rest of the test. We can’t really call it a race, partly because Consumer Reports doesn’t, and partly because we don’t know how much distance each car traveled during the 15 second tests. On a traditional drag strip, the Tesla would totally own the Hellcat off the line, but the Hellcat would soon begin to catch up all the way to the finish. Which car would eventually win depends entirely on exactly how far away that finish line is. A Tesla P85D can do a traditional 1/4 mile in 11.6 seconds at 114.6 MPH, while the Challenger Hellcat does it in 11.2 seconds at 125 MPH. That final trap speed confirms Consumer Reports’ findings – that the Hellcat is accelerating much harder toward the end of the run than the Tesla. At the finish line, the Hellcat is strongly pulling away, despite its narrow time victory.

Why not both?

This begs the question – why not both? In other words, a hybrid. That unexpected grunt I felt in the Insight was the electric motor’s specialty, low end torque, as compared to a small gas engine. So why not take a huge internal combustion engine, which works better at higher engine speeds, and add Tesla levels of electrification? That should get it off the line as quick as a Tesla and into the internal combustion engine’s sweet spot faster. And that’s the idea behind, as The Grand Tour calls it, the Holy Trinity – the Porsche 918, the McLaren P1, and the Ferrari La Ferrari.

The first episode did what Top Gear could never do – test these three cars head to head. But independently of Top Gear, Chris Harris got his hands on them sooner. If you have some time to burn, this nearly hour long video is worth a watch, and you don’t even need Amazon Prime to see it.

We’ve strayed pretty far from the original subject of a hybrid Mustang, so let’s get back to it. Besides, all this information is important to put this car into the proper context. Hybrid cars started as a way to use smaller engines and less gas without sacrificing power when you need it. Some time ago, there was another invention that worked in a similar way – the turbocharger.

Colin McRae 1998 Subaru Impreza WRC

Hear me out on this one. Yes, the primary purpose of a turbo is to cram more air into the engine, allowing you to add more gas for more boom and more power. That’s, like, the opposite of fuel economy. But when you’re just cruising down the road, you’re not using that extra power. There’s little, if any, boost present under normal street driving conditions. That’s why manufacturers started putting them into non-performance cars, rather than just boosted monsters like the Subaru WRX and Mitsubishi Evo. Arguably, cars like these were the gateway from race to street applications, since manufacturers were required to build a few thousand street versions of their rally cars to be eligible to run them in the World Rally Championship. Other brands, like Volvo and Saab, also used turbos to hop up their cars performance a bit. Turbos became a common technique to make pretty much any car go faster, from a Volkswagen (nearly all models) to a Buick (the Grand National was rumored to be killed because it would soon be faster than the Corvette in the 1/4 mile).

But recently, with increasingly strict fuel economy and emissions standards, turbos have become a way for manufacturers to downsize the displacement of their engines without giving up the horsepower when you need it. Volkswagen was a trendsetter here, offering 1.8T models alongside comparably performing VR6 models. The 1.8T was actually faster in any competition involving going around corners, since it’s a smaller, lighter engine than the VR6. I’ve driven Fords with three different EcoBoost motors – the 2.0 in the Focus ST, the 2.3 in the Mustang, and the mighty 3.5 in my wife’s Flex. All of these motors feel like they have two more cylinders than they actually do. Lag is minimal or non-existent, as these are small turbos that spool quickly to deliver a good mid-range punch as well as increase horsepower. The 2015 Mustang EcoBoost I drove made 310hp, a figure only achieved by the V8 GT just a few years before, yet gave me 31.2 MPG on the highway drive home from Black River Stages. It really was the best of both worlds.

31mpg

I feel the same may be true of a hybrid Mustang. It’s technology that can be use to improve both power and fuel economy at the same time. Imagine an EcoBoost Mustang with an additional hybrid drivetrain. It could supply more torque to the rear wheels along with the turbo motor. Or the front wheels could gain electric motors, creating an all wheel drive Mustang with even more oomph off the line. The idea of an all wheel drive Mustang isn’t that far fetched. Beyond Ken Block’s famous Hoonicorn, Harry Ferguson Research proposed an all wheel drive version of the Mustang to Ford all the way back in 1965. You can read all about it in my original article on Oppositelock (one of my first, by the way). In a Jalopnik AMA, I asked Ken Block if he was aware of Ferguson’s car. He was, and this is why the Hoonicorn is billed as “the only all wheel drive performance Mustang ever built.” Ferguson’s conversion was not intended as a performance enhancement, and the word “performance” in that claim is Ken’s acknowledgement of that fact.

In the same press release, Ford also announced “Two new, pursuit-rated hybrid police vehicles.” Ford has lost serious taxi company market share since the demise of the Crown Victoria. In Boston nearly every cab I see is a Camry Hybrid. Toyota’s hybrid system makes great sense in a big city. Cabs can crawl along on electric power alone, sipping gas only when they need it. For similar reasons, fuel conscious city police departments used the V6 Chevy Impala and Dodge Charger. Why fire eight cylinders sitting in traffic? Leave the more powerful cruisers for the highway patrol where they can actually use it.

Ford Police Interceptor Utility
Photo credit: Ford

Hybrid technology could provide the best of both to police departments. City forces would save gas, while highway patrols and rural departments would get that extra acceleration boost they need to take down speeders, all with exactly the same technology. This would allow more standardization, which departments love because they don’t have to keep spare wheels and other parts multiple models. As I learned from owning an ex-cop Crown Vic, what’s good for the police is also good for enthusiasts when it comes to automotive performance.

Some said it was sacrilege for the Mustang to lose its live axle. The result has been a much better handling car. Some said it was sacrilege for the Mustang to get a turbo four cylinder engine (forgetting the SVO of the 1980s). No doubt some will say it is sacrilege for the Mustang to go hybrid. But not me. The way I look at it, if they do it right (and if they don’t, some tuner like Cobb will be quick to fix it), a hybrid Mustang would allow the performance benefits we’ve seen in hybrid hypercars trickle down to the masses. “V8 power and even more low-end torque?” In the spirit of Mythbusters, I’d call this myth plausible.

Follow @justinhughes54 on Twitter

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