MALIBU, California — Three years ago, Ford released what was considered by many to be the best Mustang GT ever—at least from a ride and handling standpoint given that it had finally been fitted with an independent rear suspension—sending the market’s last car with a solid rear axle out to pasture. But as Chevy continues to lob Camaro grenades Ford’s way in the continuing pony car wars, Dearborn’s engineers needed to retool and reload. Ford’s latest weapon is its newest best Mustang GT ever, which we’ve come to Malibu to ride.
Individually, the changes to the 2018 Ford Mustang GT aren’t that significant, but taken together they add up to an impressive overall package. On the cosmetic side of things, there’s an updated front end that includes a redesigned hood, grille, and fenders, plus standard LED headlamps, and updated optional LED turn signals and fog lamps. The rear wasn’t ignored, either; there, the entire 2018 Mustang lineup receives a redesigned fascia with updated LED taillamps and, for the GT, a standard quad-tip exhaust.
Interior tweaks include restyled seating surfaces, a hand-stitched center console, and the option of a 12-inch digital gauge cluster and a heated steering wheel—with upgraded leather, at that.
Of far greater significance to enthusiasts, however, are the mechanical updates to the 2018 Mustang GT, which mainly consist of additions rather than revisions, starting with the available MagneRide adjustable suspension previously found only on the Shelby GT350 (it’s available on the 2018 Mustang EcoBoost as well).
More power was another. For 2018, the Mustang GT’s 5.0-liter V-8 receives an extra 25 hp and 20 extra lb-ft of torque courtesy of multiple updates that include a higher redline of 7,500 rpm, bringing its output to 460 hp and 420 lb-ft. Ford hasn’t released any official performance numbers yet, but the extra juice should shave a couple of tenths off its acceleration times—a 2016 GT tested by our sister publication Motor Trend took 4.6 seconds to hit 60 mph, so expect the 2018 model to get there in 4.4 seconds or so.
Another piece of hardware that Ford thoroughly worked over is the GT’s six-speed manual transmission. Completely redesigned for 2018, the gearbox now features a twin-disc clutch and a dual-mass flywheel. The practical effect is that it’s a joy to row, offering crisp, smooth shifts and an easy to work clutch—practically the opposite of the heavy, springy pedal found in the Camaro. To those who say the manual is dead, Ford is clearly saying, “not yet.” Those that can’t or don’t want to operate a third pedal can opt for Ford’s new 10-speed automatic, which we’ll tell you about in the not-too-distant future. Given our recent experience with it in vehicles from the Raptor to the 2018 Expedition, we’re betting it’ll be good.
Opt for the GT’s $3,995 Performance Pack (you’d be silly not to) and you’ll get a set of goodies that includes 19-inch aluminum wheels, staggered Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires (255/40R19 front, 275/40R19 rear), and upgraded front brakes consisting of six-piston Brembo calipers and 15.0-inch rotors (single-piston calipers and 13.0-inch rotors remain at the rear). The package also comes with an anti-roll bar, silver strut tower brace, larger radiator, a Torsen limited-slip differential, different tunes for the electronic power steering, chassis, ABS, and stability control, and a fancy aluminum instrument panel.
For maximum aural pleasure, you’ll want to check the box for the new Active Valve Performance Exhaust. The $895 bit lets you keep things calm and cool so you don’t anger the neighbors on the way to Cars and Coffee while also offering up opportunities for sonic nirvana during near-redline second gear tunnel blasts. All you have to do is change the drive mode using the handy center stack-mounted switch. In addition to turning up the volume, the more aggressive modes, which include Sport+ and Track, tighten up the adjustable suspension, steering, and throttle response.
The magnetic dampers give the Mustang a stable and compliant ride in almost every situation. On the overgrown autocross course that is Malibu’s Latigo Canyon Road—with its technically challenging corners and multiple elevation changes—the Mustang GT never got unsettled, even if the camber was off while the radius was decreasing and the pavement was uneven. A stand-alone option, MagneRide costs $1,695. Like the performance pack, it’s a piece you should scrape up the pennies to acquire.
Complementing the suspension is the Mustang’s well-sorted steering, which offers a healthy amount of resistance while delivering inputs to the front wheels in a linear and responsive manner. The Brembos are sports-car-proper as well and grab the rotors deliberately and progressively. And the sticky Michelins offer grip for days.
In all, pony car may not be the most appropriate descriptor of the 2018 Mustang GT. Instead, it feels like a bona fide, purebred sports car, ready to tussle with the best Europe has to offer. And unlike most of Ze Germanz (and Italians and Britons), all of this performance can be had for less than $50,000.
The Race Red-painted, Equipment Group 401A-equipped tester you see here (the pack includes the digital gauge cluster, heated steering wheel, Wi-Fi hotspot, navigation, and a few premium interior treatments) rang in at $50,770. But unless you’re planning on using your Mustang GT as a track-day hero, you can safely skip the $1,595 Recaro seats. The standard buckets offer plenty of bolstering for spirited on-street driving while providing better overall support. More importantly, selecting the Recaros forces you to give up Ford’s excellent seat heaters and coolers.
Another $395 can be shaved by skipping the Enhanced Security package unless you have a thing for wheel locks, though the electronically locking center console makes a strong argument for itself if you have a frequent need to leave valuables inside the car.
As for what the 2018 Ford Mustang GT means in the context of the greater pony car wars, consider its two, er, challengers. The Chevy Camaro SS 1LE is sharper, but stiffer and tighter, and its confined cabin and sight line deficiencies are well documented—issues that make the Mustang better at the task of being a daily driver in my mind. The Mustang GT’s closest Mopar rival, the Challenger T/A, meanwhile, is a fat muscle car that’s great at cruising but is nowhere near as fun to toss around a canyon. To use the well-worn Goldilocks analogy, for the enthusiast seeking a rear-drive, manual, naturally aspirated V-8-powered sports coupe for the street, freeway, canyon, and track, the 2018 Ford Mustang GT is just right.
2018 Ford Mustang GT Premium Specifications
|PRICE||$39,995/$50,770 (base/as tested)|
|ENGINE||5.0L DOHC 32-valve V-8/460 hp @ 7,000 rpm, 420 lb-ft @ 4,600 rpm|
|LAYOUT||2-door, 4-passenger, front-engine, RWD coupe|
|EPA MILEAGE||15/25 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||188.5 x 75.4 x 54.3 in|
|0-60 MPH||4.4 sec (est)|
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