The 2018 Ford Mustang Is a Muscle Car to Be Thankful For
The facelifted sixth-gen ‘Stang is better than ever…so long as you don’t look it too closely in the face.
Before we get this car review started, let's deal with the elephant in the room: No, the 2018 Ford Mustang doesn't look as good as it used to. The literal facelift that accompanied the model year's mid-cycle update carries itself better in person than it does in images, but it still seems disjointed compared to many 'Stangs of years past. The changes make the front end far busier than even the outgoing version of the pony car, itself no picture of simplicity; the vertically-prominent triangular elements of the the lower front fascia pair awkwardly with the otherwise horizontally-oriented face, leaving this Ford looking a bit like it has Harvey Dent-esque holes in its cheeks.
Which is a shame, because apart from that new fascia, the 2018 model year upgrades make the Ford Mustang better than ever.
2018 Ford Mustang
Ford sells the Mustang in a wide variety of forms—hardtop or convertible, manual or automatic, turbocharged inline-four or naturally-aspirated V8—but it's the eight-cylinder GT coupe with the stick shift and the new Performance Pack 2 destined to set most enthusiasts' salivary glands a-humming. The changes Ford made to the 5.0-liter V8 for the new model year may not seem like much on paper—thanks to changes like dual fuel injection, a new crankshaft, and an extra 0.8mm of bore, horsepower is up 25 to 460 and torque is up 20 pound-feet to 420—but the minor changes add up to a bit more pep in this 'Stang's step. According to one Ford engineer, the Mustang GT now hustles from a stop to 60 miles an hour within spitting distance of four seconds flat—a bit longer for the six-speed manual, a bit sooner for the 10-speed automatic.
The red line has risen to 7,500, giving this all-American V8 the sort of rev reach usually reserved for far more exotic fare. Not that you need to rev that high—the Coyote motor has the sort of tractable nature forced-induction engines can only dream of, doling out smooth, instantaneous power anywhere in the gas pedal's travel. But leaving the engine turning slowly deprives you and the rest of the county of the engine's howl, a primal noise spirited and mellifluous enough to convince you this car has a goddamn soul—especially on cars equipped with the optional active exhaust pipes, worth every penny at $895. With the manual, you can play the V8 like the devil does his fiddle, coaxing evil noises from it with throttle and clutch. The automatic may be quicker—the torque converter locks up almost immediately once you're rolling, letting the gearbox shuffle through the gears like a cardsharp—but it'll never be this fun.
2018 Ford Mustang
Of course, lustworthy V8s have been a staple of muscle machines for as long as they've existed. It's the latest version of the Mustang's Performance Package that pushes it into the realm of true sports cars, though. Bulked up with substantive add-ons like heavy-duty front springs, a Torsen limited-slip diff, a bigger rear sway bar, and rejiggered tuning for both chassis hardware and safety system software, the package gives the car the handling prowess the long, low exterior promises. (There's also a new Performance Pack Level 2 that nudges the 'Stang even further into BMW M4-fighting territory, should you be so inclined.) The optional MagneRide dampers available on Performance Pack-equipped cars—pilfered from the Shelby GT350's parts bin—works like a charm, the way it does in everything from Corvettes to Cadillacs to Ferraris. You can feel the difference between the modes in the ride quality far more decisively than you can in many other cars with other types of adaptive suspension. It's still hard to believe more automakers don't use this suspension tech, because it's as close to a ride and handling miracle as I've ever felt.
Granted, a lightweight four-cylinder in the nose doesn't transform this car into a Toyota 86. The steering still has a muscle car's heft to it, for one thing; it's a two-handed broadsword, not a rapier or katana like you'd find in a Miata or Porsche. Still, as thousands of decapitated Scotsmen could tell you, a broadsword is plenty deadly once you know how to use it.
But if the V8's power or price makes it too spicy a meatball for you, the cheaper EcoBoost model still has plenty of appeal. Especially if you don't place a high value on the sounds spitting out of your tailpipes when hauling ass along road or track; the turbocharged 2.3-liter inline-four has an economy car drone, blended with the sound of an asthmatic hairdryer when the turbo spools up. But move past that, and the engine starts to win you over on brute power alone. With 310 horsepower to its name, the EcoBoost is roughly equal to a Mustang GT of just eight years back—and the 350 pound-feet of torque at hand for 2018 humbles both that old 4.6-liter V8 and the V6 version of the current Chevy Camaro.
The 10-speed auto finds a better home in the EcoBoost-powered car than it does in the eight-pot, using its smart shift logic to keep the turbo on spool in the sportier driving modes while also letting it hop into tall gear for maximum fuel economy, leaping up to eighth gear at just 35 mph. (I once saw north of 31 miles per gallon over a 900-mile trip in a previous E.B. Mustang with the old six-cog slushbox; given the new gearbox's broader ratio spread, I'd expect the 2018 model to beat the EPA-estimated 32 mpg on the highway.) But it's not perfect: The transmission seemed to make the car jitter a bit on shifts every now and again in a way you wouldn't expect from a brand-new, state-of-the-art automatic. That said, it could have simply been an issue with the early-build vehicles at the drive event, so here's hoping Ford finds a way to add a little more slickness to this shift setup.
While that earlier version of the turbo four made more than enough power to burn rubber, the latest EcoBoost makes it even easier, now that the Line Lock feature has trickled down from the more potent GT. With it, vaporizing the tires is as easy as a Nintendo game: Dial it up on the instrument panel using the steering wheel-mounted buttons, set your rpm, and stomp on the gas like it's the biggest cockroach you've ever seen.
Whether you check the box for the EcoBoost or the Coyote, however, you'll still be able to pick and choose from a long list of shared features. Some, like the Sync/MyFord Touch family of infotainment systems and the U.S.S. Monitor seating position, fall into the grin-and-bear-it category; they're hardly best-in-class, but easy enough to adapt to after a while. Other bits, however, are well worth the price of addition. The available new 12-inch LCD instrument panel may seem like an unnecessary indulgence in theory, but that's only until you fiddle around with its seemingly-infinite array of layouts, colors, and configurations. Dial up Sport Mode, and the tachometer uncurls like a fiddlehead fern to stretch across the top of the screen; toggle up one more level to Track, and it changes to a mighty progress bar that dominates the display. It's fun, functional, and futuristic all at the same time.
The 2018 model year changes Ford made to the Mustang aren't likely to win over any GM zealots or Mopar maniacs who've already declared blood oaths to the Camaro or Challenger, even if its V8 revs higher and it's easier to park. Nor is it liable to yank many JDM-heads out of their Civic Type Rs or Subaru STIs, no matter how many factory-endorsed tuning kits Ford rolls out for the turbo four. No, the latest Mustang will continue to appeal to the same spectrum of humanity the previous few versions have: Blue Oval die-hards, empty nesters who want to look cool while cruising around listening to the music of their youth, teens and 20-somethings who want to look cool while cruising around listening to the music of their youth...
...and open-minded enthusiasts looking for something quick on the cheap that's more fun to drive than a lot of people give it credit for.
2018 Ford Mustang - Specifications
Base Price: $25,585 (EcoBoost), $35,095 (GT) (both prices for coupe models)
Powertrain: 2.3-liter turbocharged inline four making 310 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque, 5.0-liter V8 making 460 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque; six-speed manual, 10-speed automatic; rear-wheel-drive
Fuel Economy, miles per gallon: 21 city / 31 hwy EcoBoost manual, 21 city / 32 hwy EcoBoost automatic; 15 city / 25 hwy GT manual, 16 city / 25 hwy GT automatic