CHARLOTTE, NC – I never touched the steering wheel or pedals, and total time spent in the passenger seat of an all-new ’15 Ford Mustang was five minutes.

So it’s stipulated WardsAuto is in no position to pass judgment on the car or its new powertrain until media drives are offered in the coming months.

But there’s enough excitement about the re-engineered pony car that even riding shotgun can be noteworthy.

Mustang engineers offered rides in the new Mustang to journalists who came here recently for a Ford Performance event at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

From the passenger seat, the all-new 2.3L EcoBoost sounds and feels convincing enough, propelling the car with gusto through three laps on a short handling track about the size of a football field in the Charlotte Motor Speedway parking lot.

The automotive market is suddenly flush with high-output 4-cyl. engines with forced induction. Audi, BMW, Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Ford, Hyundai, Jaguar, Kia, Lincoln, Mercedes, Mitsubishi, Subaru and Volkswagen all have 2.0L turbos, some newer than others.

Only Subaru has something larger, the 2.5L turbo in the WRX STI, which carries over its 305 hp and 290 lb.-ft. (393 Nm) of torque for the refreshed ’15 model.

Ford says it will divulge output numbers for the 2.3L EcoBoost around September. Until then, the automaker merely promises at least 305 hp and 300 lb.-ft. (407 Nm) of torque.

That’s probably a low-ball estimate. Count on Mustang numbers more in line with the Mercedes CLA45 AMG, which wrings out 355 hp and 332 lb.-ft. (450 Nm) from a 2.0L I-4 turbo.

It’s worth noting the 3.7L V-6 in the ’14 Mustang, which essentially carries over, makes 305 hp and 280 lb.-ft. (380 Nm) of torque.

That V-6 represents the new Mustang’s base model. That means customers will have to pay more for two fewer cylinders with the promise of better fuel economy and more power.

We look forward to testing the 2.3L in the Ward’s 10 Best Engines competition this fall, and rest assured we will monitor closely its fuel consumption.

21 Years Since Mustang Had a 4

It’s been 21 years since the Mustang was available with a 4-cyl. engine, and Mustang Vehicle Engineering Manager Tom Barnes says the new 2.3L will not tarnish the car’s performance pedigree.

He says the 2.3L is loosely derived from the 2.0L EcoBoost I-4 available throughout the Ford vehicle lineup, “but really amped up.” A detuned version of the 2.3L also will appear in the Lincoln MKC CUV, in transverse orientation for front-wheel drive.

Ford engineers worked extensively in tuning the low-inertia twin-scroll turbocharger (Ford’s first) to mitigate lag at step-off.

“We wanted very quick time-to-torque,” Barnes says, adding the torque curve, which hasn’t been released yet, will illustrate the objective was met. “It’s flat across at 100%,” he says. “We wanted to make the torque available early on, and we got that.”

The automatic and manual transmissions also have been upgraded and mate well with the 2.3L, Barnes says.

He is convinced Mustang loyalists will love the 2.3L, although he admits no amount of exhaust tuning will allow it to replicate the guttural note from the 5.0L, which has the advantage of twice as many pistons and more than twice the displacement.

During our short time with the car, the 2.3L exhaust sounds plenty aggressive and resonates more deeply than just about any other mainstream 4-cyl. engine on the road today.

Ford says the new Mustang will use audio technology similar to the electronically controlled “sound symposer” to amplify throaty intake frequencies in the Focus ST and Fiesta ST. More details will be coming on that front.

But engineers continue tweaking the exhaust system, so what was experienced here may not end up in production.

“Sound is hugely important in the Mustang – there’s emotional response,” Barnes says. “We are paying close attention to making sure the experience is right. We didn’t go for something that’s just, ‘Zing zing!’ We wanted it to be Mustang, so we actually have low-frequency sound. But it’s not like we are trying to fake it out. It’s not a V-8.”

So Long, Solid Rear Axle

Perhaps the most dramatic change, in addition to an all-new architecture, will be integration of an independent rear suspension replacing the solid rear axle that had been a hallmark for generations of Mustangs.

A new rear end forced the team to redesign the front suspension as well, opting for a double-balljoint configuration in place of reverse-L MacPherson struts. The new front suspension allowed for bigger brakes.

Barnes says the result is a massive improvement in ride quality. “We still have that very agile and nimble car,” he says. “The steering and handling are still there. Under acceleration, the car stays flatter. When braking, it stays flatter.”

Barnes is convinced Mustang lovers will prefer the independent rear suspension, although he admits the switch creates more work for drag racers.

“But if you’re that hard core, you put in your own back end,” he says. “That’s what will happen.”

Overall, the development team liked the proportions of the current Mustang, so the length is about the same. But the car is 1.4 ins. (35 mm) lower across the hood, roof and trunk, and it’s 1.5 ins. (39 mm) wider. “It really gives the car the appearance like it’s moving,” he says.

Barnes says the new Mustang will meet pedestrian-protection requirements in Europe. GT models with the V-8 in North America will have hood vents, but Barnes says those hood vents might not be available in Europe due to the safety mandate.

Inside, the sport coupe cabin is completely redone.

“We have high-end materials, lots of features, and we made sure the room was still there for the driver,” Barnes says. “We lowered the roof and the seat with it, and we gave some more width. We added a bunch of storage bins, a lot of electronic controls, blindspot indicator and autonomous cruise control.”

Ford has sold more than 9 million Mustangs since the car went into production 50 years ago. Considering the modern take on the new model, it seems likely the iconic nameplate will stick around a while longer.

tmurphy@wardsauto.com