Being the owner of a Merkur XR4Ti and the son of another XR owner, we were both very excited when we heard Ford was reviving the 2.3 Turbo engine in the Mustang. The Mustang hasn't been powered by a 2.3 Turbo since the SVO which ended production in 1986 and featured the same engine that was slotted into a Sierra body to create the Merkur XR4Ti. The new EcoBoost Mustang is the closest we will get to having a modern XR4Ti which is why we decided to have a look at it.
We first pulled up to the local Ford dealer looking to get a closer look at the new Mustang than we were able to snag at the Chicago Auto Show. We were greeted at the door by a nice lady wearing a Ford name-tag. She asked what we were looking for. We had been snooping around some of the 2015's they had on the lot and asked if they had any EcoBoosts in stock. "We just got 2 in today, wanna take one for a spin?" she asked. She turned her head to my father, then to me. She asked for our licenses. OUR licenses. This may seem like a formality to most, but to a 16 year old kid like me this was amazing. I was gonna get to drive a 2015 Mustang!
Because of the apparent similarities in engine size and other aspects, I figured why not compare the new 'Stang to our Merkurs. See what 30 years of refinement does to a fairly similar recipe. The first Merkur is my fathers 1988 XR4Ti. He has owned it for 18 years and has spent countless hours doing work under hood. Upgrades include a new head, oversized valves, roller cam, 3 inch stainless exhaust, intercooler (didn't come with one stock, those were saved for the SVO Mustang and Thunderbird TurboCoupe.) It boosts at 20psi and makes all sorts of amusing noises from the relatively free breathing exhaust.
To give the Merkur the best possible chance at winning in at least one category, we will compare performance with the fast one, and comfort with mine. Sound good? Lets get started.
310 horsepower. 320 foot pounds of torque. A few years ago, these figures would've sent a GT packing, but now these numbers are available from a factory 4 cylinder. Because of this, the car is no slouch. While it may not have the same outright power of the V8, It is certainly fast enough for a respectable daily driver. This also means that on the short test drive we took in the car we received a *BONG* and a message on the display between the gauges. "Excessive Speed Warning" it said. What do you know? You're just a car. Shut up and let me have fun.
While we haven't actually dyno-tested my father's car, it's a safe bet that it isn't producing anywhere near as much power. The most noticeable difference between the cars performance-wise is the way the turbochargers deliver their power. With the primitive systems in our cars, you have time to prepare for acceleration. You change down, you gun it. You wait. You wait. Then all of the sudden the turbo spools up, you come on boost with a whistle and whine from under the hood and you're off. Driving quickly in these cars is an event. In the Mustang, there is almost no lag and virtually no turbo noise. The engine just feels larger than it actually is. Turbocharging has come a long way.
Going fast isn't everything. The amount of enjoyment you get while going fast is far more important. The Merkur growls and swells and wiggles, then it surges forward. Its very fun, however some times going fast is just better, and with the usability of the power in the real world, the Mustang has to take this round.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I personally find the Merkur to be a good looking car. While many people *cough* Car and Driver *cough* may disagree, there is a loyal following that will attest to the beauty of the XR4Ti. I also find the new Mustang to be a very good looking car. It reminds me of the Aston Martin Vanquish from some angles but maybe that's just me. As looks are so subjective there are also people who disagree with me saying it "Looks like a Honda Accord" or "It's just another Mustang." The XR with it's dual rear wings and square headlights certainly stands out more in a crowd than the "Ford Accord."
Because of the debates that will inevitably ensue in the comments, I'm calling this one a tie. Decide for yourself.
The Mustang we drove was the EcoBoost Premium with adaptive this and electric that. The seats were both heated and cooled and were wonderfully supportive. Ford's interior quality has increased leaps and bounds over the past decade. The materials and interfaces were all very premium feeling. This particular example had the interior lighting set to green meaning the footwells, cupholders, gauges, and switches were all illuminated in a bright green color. It was reminiscent of any low budget movie with any scenes within an alien spaceship. Thankfully you can change the color of the backlighting to satisfy your needs. One of the biggest laughs was had when I realized that the tachometer turns from green to red as you approach redline. It was also around this time that the "Excessive Speed Warning" made itself known.
The Merkur's interior is lavishly equipped with seats and a clock. Climbing out of the Mustang and into the Merkur makes the years of advancements in technology very evident. It makes the XR feel old fashioned and quaint, not to say thats a bad thing.
The Mustang wins this round based on creature comforts and materials.
This was my first experience driving a car without a cable operated clutch. It felt numb and uncommunicative compared to the old-school feel I'm used to. Almost a button like feel which made finding the engagement point difficult, but I'm sure you'd get used to it after driving around for a while. The 6 speed manual in this car was notchy and very accurate. There was no questioning as to whether or not you were shifting into the correct gear. The throw was miles shorter than the throw in the XR's. You sit low in the Mustangs cockpit overlooking the long hood and because you can see where the fenders end, it is very easy to place on the road. Pedal feel is what really hampered the experience for me. The older school of driver controls offers more feedback albeit with more play accumulated over years of use.
One of the big marketing points of the new Mustang is Independent Read Suspension. This something the Merkur had 30 years ago, welcome to the party Mustang. While the differences in suspension may exist on the track or driving at 9 tenths, It wasn't a point either of us brought up during the drive. The car rode well and was quiet when going over bumps. Because of years and years of use knocking around panels and loosening screws I cannot say the same for either of the XRs.
While the Mustang is a really good drive you can't beat the old-school feel
New cars are full of gimmicks and toys to amuse and entertain the modern driver. The Mustang has flashy buttons and touchscreens. It wouldn't surprise me if you could play Angry Birds on this things dash board. One point the dealer was quick to point out was the "Bluetooth system that can stream audio and calls through the stereo." This comes as a part of the Premium package on the EcoBoost which raises the price $4000. Now nearly all cars these days can be had with Bluetooth audio streaming and calling. For $100 my Merkur has Bluetooth audio streaming and calling. $4000 seems a little silly doesn't it?
I have to add that the Mustang wins this section because of one gimmick in particular that is my favorite thing on the whole car. Under the doorsills, there is a light that projects a little Mustang on the ground to greet you. The dealer calls it your "welcome mat" I just call it "awesome."
Winner: EcoBoost because horse
When it comes down to it, which is the better buy? Well the car I drove stickered at a smidgen over $35,000 which is a large sum of money considering depreciation that will make sure you won't see a fraction of that back. Add to this the cost of options you would want on it and it doesn't appear to be the best new buy. Now even the best of Merkurs on the market are around $6,000 and most examples can be had for much less. Not many people have ever heard of a Merkur XR4Ti either so they turn heads and are a great conversation starter among fellow gear heads. Merkur may not be the last word in reliability, but most major components can be sourced from other vehicles. There is also a large, very helpful group of Merkur fanatics ready to lend advise and help source parts. If you own, or are looking at a Merkur, Merkur Midwest is a name to know.
If you invest in a Merkur the loss you take when it comes to sale will be much smaller than the hit you take buying a new car and while the fairly constant value may mean you never make money on the deal, it also means you shouldn't lose to much.
Now I know that nobody in their right mind will A. Cross shop a 30 year old unknown car with a brand new Ford Mustang and B. Actually allow the opinions of a 16 year old kid on the internet influence their buying decision. The purpose of this article was to show the advancements automakers have made in the past 30 years by comparing cars with a similar layout built by the same people. This article is also a testament to the timelessness of the Merkur XR4Ti. There's no doubt the Mustang is a better, more refined car but the fact that the XR is able to go toe to toe in some categories with a brand spanking new car after all these years of being forgotten is impressive.
Driving the Mustang was fun partly because it was a good drive but mostly because I got to drive it before a lot of other people. Once the novelty wears off, the fact is the interior is a nice place to be and th car is a good drive. It's a worthy successor to the XR4Ti and with a light tune could kick up dirt with the V8 boys all day long. Now if only it could be had with a bi-wing.