Ford has been killing it in the performance department lately. The ST twins, the Focus RS, the beautifully modernized Mustang line, and of course, the indomitable GT, which already won Le Mans. They’re all milestones of a company that loves speed. But yesterday we learned that Ford is planning a hybrid Mustang by 2020. Sorry. I should have warned you to take your glycerin before reading that. It is, however, true, and that could mean amazing or terrible things for one of America’s most popular sports cars.
For most of us, “hybrid” is a bit of a cuss word. We picture the Left Lane Prius and its ilk, the slow and slaggy semi-electrified blandmobiles built to satisfy manufacturers’ CAFE regulations. They’re not fun, fast, or terribly cost effective. But we also know that hybrids can be the exact opposite. The LaFerrari, McLaren P1, and Porsche 918 hypercars are all semi-electric, and they’re insanely fast. We also know that purely electric cars, like the Tesla Model S, are some of the fastest accelerating production cars on the planet. Finally, we know that all of these things are expensive. Even the Model S is out of reach for most of us.
So hybridization in itself isn’t evil, only most applications of it. And the others are too expensive to afford. But could it work on the Mustang?
This all started last month when Ford, as part of an announcement that they’ll be creating 700 jobs in Flat Rock, Michigan (and fewer in Mexico) announced plans for a bunch of eco-friendly cars. This new plan would take effect by 2020, debuting an autonomous something, an electric SUV, more hybrid somethings, and a bunch of other somethings we don’t care about. But they buried the lead a bit with an announcement of a hybrid Mustang with “v8 power and more low-end torque.”
Ford’s new EV push adds electrified F-150, Mustang, Transit Custom & all-electric small SUV by 2020; fully autonomous hybrid coming 2021. pic.twitter.com/7oo3Fq70F8
— Ford Motor Company (@Ford) January 3, 2017
We can groan about this, dismissing it as an attempt to shut the regulators up, and it might be. But instead, let’s take a look at some pros and cons.
- We should be concerned about weight. The current Mustang GT manual already weighs 3705 lbs. It’s no featherweight. The lightest, the V6 manual, is 3533, and the Ecoboost is 9 pounds heavier. So if a 4 cylinder or V6 can pack a hybrid system (battery, motor(s), gearing) that offers more power than the V8 for a penalty of less than 170 lbs or so, it could be worth it. And…that’s not unreasonable, actually. The Fusion Hybrid only weighs 196 lbs more than its planet-killing counterpart. But this is a sports application, so adding weight should require an upgraded suspension.
- We should be concerned about the lack of manual options. This is just speculation, of course. But in the grand history of hybridization, only two manual hybrids come no mind. Both were Hondas, neither was fast, and neither is available anymore. A hybrid Mustang would almost certainly be automatic, and that’s just wrong.
- Hybrids can be more expensive than non-hybrids, especially on a sports car. Ford should try to save that weight, after all, and that means lighter, possibly carbon fiber, body panels. That suspension will need to be retuned. The gearbox, if an automatic, will need to offer fast paddle shifts, so that could mean more money, too. The irony is that the Mustang could make a platform for the industry’s first cheap performance hybrid, but bringing out the performance could get expensive. The real question, then, is if Ford will use hybrid tech as a performance upgrade, or just as an efficiency booster, to improve their CAFE rating. The former could get expensive.
- A hybrid Mustang would also be complex and tough to work on. High capacity battery packs are even dangerous to modify yourself. Power programmers, cold air intakes, exhausts, and the like will still be easy to use, but getting into heavier tuning would be more difficult.
- But hybrids, as noted, can be extremely fast. Electric power offers instant torque, where ICE engines have a torque curve. Peak torque doesn’t occur until an optimum point on the rev range. This is why electric motors make such good support systems for gas engines. They fill in the gaps. And because control is all electronic, you could, theoretically, dump vast portions of your battery reserve into a single launch. For most automakers, this would seem like a pipe dream. But this is the one who gave us an actual “drift button” on the Focus RS, and it works. A “rapid discharge launch” isn’t out of the question for Ford.
- Conversely, a hybrid Mustang could make your daily commute extremely cheap. Many hybrids now offer an electric-only mode, with a limited range of purely electric power. Even the mighty Porsche 918 can get you over 18 miles on just the batteries. Most Chevy Volt owners don’t even need to fire up their gas engines except for maintenance purposes. Presumably, the Mustang could fit somewhere in the middle, perhaps with a 60 mile electric range. This would cover most commutes, and it could be charged overnight. Commute for almost no money during the week, tear around the track with gas on the weekends.
- Finally, a hybrid Mustang could make all Mustangs lighter overall. Internal combustion Mustangs will last for a long, long time, so the aforementioned carbon fiber body panels (and maybe a lighter chassis overall?) could make even the non-hybrid pony cars lighter.
Obviously, this is all speculation. We have very little concrete information from Ford, and the whole idea could fold before the 2020 release. But Ford people, since I know you’re reading this, I give you a solumn charge. Make this awesome and not awful. Lighten the hybrid Mustang to accommodate its new weight. Improve its suspension. Give it a decent electric range. Use your power (no pun intended) for good: speed, excitement, acceleration. And not the evils of silly fuel economy standards and PR.
The hybrid Mustang could go either way.
What do you think? Would you buy a hybrid Mustang? Is it blasphemous, or is sheer power the prime doctrine?
Andy Sheehan is a blogger, aspiring novelist, and relentless hoon. He plans to will his 2002 Subaru WRX Wagon to his firstborn, plans his daily commute around the swoop of its roads, and doesn’t plan to ever buy an automatic. A cool-car omnipath, he loves the common Mustang or Chevelle, but hunts for the weird and wonderful Velorexes and Cosmos of the autoverse. And when he can afford a garage, he’s going to turn an MX-5 into a race car.