Of course, lustworthy V-8s 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 V-8’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 V-8 and the V-6 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 V-8 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 V-8 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