Fifty years after its introduction, Ford has reinvented the Mustang. Critics are raving not only for its typical straight line performance, but also its handling capabilities. But does the new Mustang have what it takes to rally? We’re going to find out.

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When rally fans think of Ford, they generally think of the Fiesta. It’s Ford’s car of choice for the World Rally Championship, and Ken Block drives one in the RallyAmerica series, not to mention his Gymkhana videos. Some recall the Focus that came before it, or the Sierra and Escort. They don’t usually think of the Mustang, better known for big horsepower and straight line acceleration. Yet 50 years ago, when the Ford Mustang came out, it was quite competitive in European rallies, including the famous Monte Carlo Rally. The tuning package for the Falcon transferred easily to its Mustang derivative, making the Mustang an instant winner at the 1965 Tour de France Automobile.

When we asked Ford if they could supply us with a press car to use for course opening duties at Black River Stages, we expected them to offer us a Fiesta or Focus. But when they offered a Mustang, I couldn’t refuse, despite possibly making our Editor-In-Chief a bit jealous for getting my hands on a new Mustang ahead of him.

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When I co-drove Medical Sweep at the New England Forest Rally around ten years ago, my driver would always rent a Ford Explorer for the job. She wanted the Explorer, in particular, because it was one of the only SUVs on the market at the time with an independent rear suspension. Back then, most SUVs were still heavily based on trucks, with a live axle that didn’t handle nearly as well. While most modern SUVs have switched to an independent rear suspension, the Mustang only recently left the live axle behind. Admittedly, my ex-cop Crown Victoria also had a live axle, and although it was a big heavy car, it handled rather well for what it was, especially around a rallycross course. Will the Mustang’s new suspension dramatically improve its handling on gravel as well as tarmac?

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This particular car has Ford’s 2.3 liter EcoBoost engine. And, a bunch of Mustang fans just stopped reading because it’s not a V8. But wait – with 310hp and 320 lb/ft of torque, this four cylinder engine blows away the 1995 Mustang GT, which made only 215hp from its famous 5.0 V8. That’s an extra 95hp from an engine less than half the displacement. Also, this 2.3 EcoBoost is going to be the motor for the Focus RS, so in a way it’s very appropriate to test it under rally conditions. In fact, we may be the first to use this engine in a rally!

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We leave for upstate New York on Friday, where we’ll have a nice five hour drive along interstates and smaller roads to get familiar with the Mustang. The rally itself runs Saturday and Sunday, and we’ll be traveling home Monday. You can read all about it here, or follow me on Twitter for updates throughout the rally.

I’ll have the car for a week, so I’ll have some time to drive it in everyday conditions as well, and compare it to my own BRZ. I have built almost this exact car on Ford’s web site, with the EcoBoost Performance Package, Recaro seats, and Guard Green paint vaguely reminiscent of Steve McQueen’s car from Bullitt. I already feel like the King of Cool himself driving this thing.

A huge thanks to Ford for hooking me up with this press car!