The 2013 Ford Mustang is stopped at the starting line, awaiting the go signal from the “Christmas tree” bank of lights. The car isn’t at a drag strip, but rather in the new “Track Apps” mode, and that familiar red-yellow-green set of drag racing start lights is a depiction on the car’s 4.2-in DIC (driver information center)—a virtual test track on an LCD screen.
“Track Apps” permits the driver with access to a legally suitable road or track to perform any of a series of acceleration runs, braking tests, and g-force measurements during handling tests. It’s part of what Ford calls the Premium Array on the optional DIC, which is between the two circular gauges.
The feature is controlled by the same five-operation switch on the left side of the steering wheel, which provides up, down, left, and right arrow buttons and a central OK for such items as the trip computer. So the driver easily can select from the “Track Apps” choices. They include times for 0-30, -60, and -100 mph (0-48, -96, and -160 km/h) plus one-eighth and one-quarter mi (201 m and 402 m). The driver can choose between the countdown of the Christmas tree or an automatic start.
The screen reads g-forces (up to 1.5 g) when the car is cornering left or right, braking, or accelerating. It also displays braking times and distances for 60-0 and 100-0 mph (96-0 and 160-0 km/h).
The virtual track features aren’t limited to the higher performance Mustangs such as the GT with its 5.0-L V8, rated at 420 hp (313 kW) and 390 lb·ft (529 N·m), or the Boss 302, rated at 444 hp (331 kW) and 380 lb·ft (515 N·m). Track Apps can even be included with models equipped with the V6 engine, not exactly a weakling at 305 hp (227 kW) and 280 lb·ft (380 N·m), to go with its 31-mpg U.S. EPA highway fuel economy rating (19 mpg city).
“Track Apps” reportedly was inspired by such aftermarket systems as the GPS-based Driftbox by Racelogic and the IQ by Banks Power. Jeff Seaman, Mustang Program Manager, said that in a brainstorming session the idea of mining existing vehicle sensors for additional information features was brought up.
The vehicle accelerometer (installed for safety systems) also was available for lateral and longitudinal acceleration outputs. Braking results are a straightforward measurement of time and speed. The calculations and related algorithms reflect extensive work to ensure maximum accuracy. The acceleration-based distance measurements deduct rear wheel spin, of course, but Ford went beyond simply using direct readings from the front wheel sensors, Seaman said, because “it is possible to roll the fronts a bit with the rears in full slip.”
The cluster can save the driver’s top acceleration and braking times and distances.
The screen displays trip computer data, of course, and also has a gauge mode. It includes air/fuel ratio (derived from oxygen sensor readings). It reports cylinder head metal temperature (used by Ford instead of coolant temperature), inlet air temperature (taken from the mass airflow sensor), and battery voltage (a computer-monitored reading). There are two virtual temperature sensors—one for engine oil, a second for transmission oil—using algorithms based on vehicle operating conditions and other temperatures.
Because all the readouts are from existing sensors, the only cost beyond the 4.2-in display is the software. And although “Track Apps” takes engineering time to develop, particularly the algorithms and the maps for the virtual sensors, Seaman said “it’s virtually free.”
The 2013 Mustang is a “freshened” model, with new front and rear fascias, a more dramatic “muscle car” grille, and HID (high intensity discharge) headlamps. As a novelty feature, opening the driver’s side door not only activates interior lights but also projects the Mustang image on the adjacent ground outside. Hill start assist, which provides a brake release delay on hills to prevent rollback, is included with manual transmission models.