MALIBU, CALIFORNIA – Ahh; the Ford Mustang. This is the car that has starred in countless Hollywood hits, such as Bullitt, Gone in 60 Seconds, and many more. This is the car that millions grew up lusting over, dreaming about, and purchasing countless die-cast models and posters of. The 2015 model year brought on the latest generation, celebrating 50 years of Mustang history. Now, in a heavy mid-cycle refresh, the Mustang is faster, more agile, and more special than ever. Ford Canada flew us out to Malibu, just outside of Los Angeles, to sample the 2018 Ford Mustang in a variety of trim levels.
There are significant powertrain updates to the new Mustang; the first of which is the official elimination of the V6 model. A rental fleet queen and the heartthrob of many buyers, Ford has decided to do away with this model, making the 2.3L turbocharged inline-four “EcoBoost” the entry-level engine for the Mustang lineup. New for 2015, the Mustang EcoBoost now gets a slight power bump to 310 horsepower and 350 lb-ft. of torque, making it a very eager and sufficient companion for the canyon roads.
We had the chance to push this four-banger Mustang around some of California’s best driving roads, including canyons with tight switchbacks and quick elevation changes. The EcoBoost handled all of this amicably, keeping the turbo in boost when needed. This motor is available with a six-speed manual as well as a first-ever 10-speed automatic, the same application seen in the new Expedition (reviewed here). The manual has short shifter throws and quick clutch action, but what really surprised us is how responsive the automatic is. The EcoBoost may not be the powerhouse that is the 5.0L V8, but it will be more than enough for the vast majority of buyers.
As expected, the sweet spot in the line is the fire-breathing 5.0L V8. Now massaged and significantly improved for 460 horsepower and 420 lb-ft. of torque, this is one seriously hot muscle car. Ford has improved these numbers through a new application of high-pressure direct injection as well as low-pressure port injection – the first time this has been done on a V8 motor. Not only does this contribute to the power increase, but also bumps low-end torque a little bit as well as reduce fuel consumption slightly.
Available with both transmissions as well, our specific test vehicle when trying the GT was an “Orange Fury Metallic” example with a manual and all of the go-fast goodies, including the MagneRide damping system, GT Performance Pack, and performance exhaust with active valves. Taking in the beautiful California sunrise while rowing through the gears, accompanied by the soundtrack of the all-American V8 is one of the best things an automotive enthusiast can possibly do.
Mustangs equipped with the 5.0L feel a little bit heavier than the EcoBoost in a back-to-back setting, but power delivery from the V8 is far more urgent, immediate, and satisfying. The performance exhaust is a must-have and offers Ford’s new “Quiet Mode”, which can be programmed for specific settings and times to ensure the car doesn’t wake up the neighbours as you leave for work. When the car’s drive selector is kept in the “Track” setting, the baffles on the exhaust are fully opened and the car is at its loudest – believe me when I say this sound is intoxicating.
We’ve come a long way from the days when an American muscle car was synonymous with “straight line only”. The Mustang does offer a drag strip mode procuring optimal 0-60 times, but the real appeal on this car lives in the chassis. As heavy as the car is, it handles well and is composed regardless of whether or not MagneRide is equipped. The Mustang is a great companion in the twisties, but remains true to its roots as an excellent highway cruiser. This pony car definitely has a bit of a Jekyll/Hyde complex, and this is a very good thing.
Having had the chance to discuss the developments on the new Mustang with one of the leading engineers on the dynamics team, it quickly became evident how much has gone into ensuring the car can handle well. The steering wheel itself is still a bit larger than I would like, but is responsive enough and there are a variety of steering modes that can adjust the overall weight. The rear-drive Mustang eagerly goes where it’s pointed, and naturally the GT has the tendency to induce oversteer if the accelerator is used liberally.
Speaking of oversteering; track performance for the Mustang GT is improved even further thanks to the addition of Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S performance summer-only tires, equipped on Performance Pack vehicles. These tires are significantly better than the Pirelli setup on the outgoing model, and offer superior track performance as well as more safety during cold and wet weather. The “Track” setting on the drive mode stiffens everything up and also turns off stability control fully – this can get hairy and is not recommended for the novice driver.
At first glance, not very much has changed on the interior of Ford’s pony car. For the first time ever, a 12” digital LCD instrument gauge cluster is available (optional). This screen is highly customizable and offers a multitude of colour options, skins, and displays. Each driving mode has a different skin, and the screen is quite responsive and does not lag. The main infotainment screen is a SYNC 3 touchscreen that offers compatibility with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Spending hours and hours behind the wheel of a Mustang isn’t tedious by any means, and more loaded examples have plenty of upscale features. A heated steering wheel is offered for the first time ever, and as in past years, the seats can be both heated and ventilated depending on packaging. Active safety features such as Ford’s Pre-Collision Assist with Pedestrian Detection, adaptive cruise control, and SYNC Connect are also available. The driving position is quite typical for a muscle car, but visibility remains a challenge through the tiny windows. The side view mirrors are quite small and must be set up properly to avoid large blind spots.
Ford Canada prices the Mustang at a very reasonable $28,888 to start, for the EcoBoost coupé. Opt for the convertible and it will set you back $33,888. Stepping up to the GT is $39,888 for the hardtop and $52,738 for the convertible (which can only be had in “Premium” trim). A manual transmission is standard across the board, with $1,500 extra for the 10-speed automatic (also includes a remote start and paddle shifters). A series of options is available, and the GT Performance Package adds Brembo brakes, a Torsen differential, heavier duty springs, K-Brace, and more for $3,700. EcoBoost models get a similar Performance Package for $3,000. GT models can add the performance exhaust for $1,000, and MagneRide is available for $2,000 as well.
For 2016, when Chevrolet moved the Camaro (reviewed here) over to the Cadillac ATS platform, the car became a legitimate contender in the performance segment. At this time, it left the Mustang and Challenger (reviewed here) behind thanks to good chassis tuning and improved handling. The 2018 Ford Mustang changes the game and, though playing catch up to some extent, offers a car that will be appealing to a wide variety of sports coupé buyers. This new car isn’t just a one trick pony; it’s a stallion.