2018 Ford Mustang: What We Learned Trying to Tame 460 Horses

Close-up of front passenger side Mustang GT for 2018

With more power and a new automatic transmission, Ford Mustang got a major overhaul for 2018. | Eric Schaal/Botanic Blog

Some 53 years after the first Ford Mustang rolled off the line, you might think the concept had gone as far as it can go. However, the 2018 edition’s 10-speed automatic transmission, 12-inch digital cluster, and ability to crank 460 horsepower would force you to reconsider. Things may change in the future for Detroit automakers as they wean their lineups off gas, but for now it’s full speed ahead for muscle cars.

The mid-cycle refresh of Mustang hammers that point home. Just three years after the debut of the redesigned model, the 2018 Mustang GT can now sprint to 60 miles per hour in 4.0 seconds or less. (Both automatic and manual transmissions can hit that mark.) The power and speed boost come only with about $2,000 added to the price tag for the base V8 ($35,095), so this car will remain among the fastest at affordable prices.

Still, change does not guarantee improvement, so we accepted Ford’s invitation to find out more behind the wheel of the new models. Over two days in the hills of Malibu, we tried out the 5.0-liter V8 and EcoBoost Mustang ($25,585), which got several upgrades of its own. Here’s what we learned driving the 2018 Ford Mustang, including which models should return the best value for your money.

1. Listen to the V8 roar

Front view of 2018 Mustang in Orange Fury with Performance Pack

Ford Mustang GT | Ford

Standing near the top of the Santa Monica Mountains around 8 a.m., you can hear just about anything. When a V8 Mustang is within a few miles, you can almost feel the cliffs shake. The 2018 GT edition got a volume boost, courtesy of its Active Valve Performance Exhaust system, to go along with its power upgrade. From quiet mode to sport mode, the results are a pleasure to behold.

You don’t need to stand above a canyon to hear the sound, either; it hits you wherever you are. My first impulse was to run the windows down so I could hear the engine’s thunder as I snaked up and down the mountainside. You might lose a little of the comfort factor doing this on a hot day (i.e., without the air conditioner on), but I can’t see driving the 5.0 without taking in the engine’s roar every chance you get.

2. Unleashing the performance pack

Orange Fury Mustang GT for 2018

2018 Ford Mustang GT | Eric Schaal/Botanic Blog

In the 2018 Mustang GT, 420 pound-feet of torque work with 460 horses to deliver a genuine wallop when you hit the accelerator. With the optional performance pack and MagneRide suspension, drivers can feel free using most of that power. Turning sharp corners on descending mountain passes could unnerve anyone in a less refined vehicle, but Mustang’s handling was up for every challenge the canyon roads offered.

The GT’s center of gravity never wavered in the white-knuckle turns. While I heard a few lesser cars skidding around the bend that day, my car’s Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S tires gripped the road with complete confidence. These performance upgrades, which brought the GT Premium model I drove to $50,860, are worth every penny. (In the base GT model, those options take the price to about $43,700.)

3. A capable EcoBoost

Rear view orange Ford Mustang GT 2018

2018 Mustang EcoBoost | Eric Schaal/Botanic Blog

With the V6 a thing of the past, the base Mustang runs solely on the 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder (i.e., EcoBoost) engine. It’s far from a slouch, and can produce 310 horsepower along with 350 pound-feet of torque. I took my first rides in this model from Los Angeles to Malibu, working with the 10-speed auto transmission that about 90% of its buyers choose.

If there was such a thing as a purist for the base Mustang, you could imagine that person objecting to the sound and overall experience of the EcoBoost. You don’t get the same sound or personality you used to get in the V6. However, as a stylish daily driver with bona fide power, you could do a lot worse for $28,080 (the cost of the base Fastback with automatic transmission).

4. The 10-speed automatic up close

The pony is going back into the corral. An available Pony Package for the 2018 Mustang – offered with EcoBoost®-equipped cars – gives a nod to the nameplate heritage with its grille-mounted pony-in-corral badge design.

EcoBoost Mustang with Pony Package | Ford

With even about 50% of Mustang GT buyers going with automatic these days, Ford’s move to the 10-speed SelectShift system was a big deal. The transmission, which resulted from a collaboration with GM, also appears in the Raptor and Camaro ZL1. First impressions in our EcoBoost tester involved some clumsiness shifting from a stop up to fourth gear, as well as a few jitters coming down from fourth and fifth.

However, the automatic felt right at home in the 5.0. I felt no awkwardness whatsoever picking up and dropping speed as I barreled around the mountainside. All things considered, Ford can count its automatic a success. (The 10-speed works even better in the 2018 Expedition I drove, but more on that in another post.)

5. Updates to Mustang’s manual transmission

View from passenger side of Ford Mustang GT for 2018

Mustang GT in Shadow Black | Eric Schaal/Botanic Blog

Along with the new automatic, Ford upgraded the six-speed manual transmission coming standard in EcoBoost and GT models. A new twin-disc clutch in the 5.0 helps bring more torque to lower gears. Likewise, a new dual-mass flywheel smooths out some of the rougher edges as you shift up and down. For those who’ve been waiting for a sixth-generation Mustang to find its sweet spot, you’ll probably be happiest with the 2018 GT manual.

6. New digital display

View of digital cluster in 2018 Mustang

2018 Ford Mustang digital cluster | Ford

Along with the new transmissions and power boost, Mustang’s optional 12-inch digital instrument cluster is another change for 2018. As with so many features in this car, you can customize the layout to your liking. If you plan on track days in your GT, you can watch lap times and note acceleration data on the display. With line lock activated, you’ll see a small wheel creating a cloud of dust here. Overall, it’s hard to find a negative with the display.

7. Best color options

Mustang GT in Orange Fury with Triple Yellow model in background | Eric Schaal/Botanic Blog

When you look at a lineup of Mustangs in five or six different colors, you’ll notice obvious standouts. Orange Fury, a new color for ’18, took the California sun better than any other shade. Triple Yellow was a close second. Oxford White and Shadow Black looked dull, comparatively. Though going with orange or yellow means a $495 up-charge, they’re probably worth the money. A 2017 iSeeCars.com study found those colors do best of all on the resale market.

8. 2018 Mustang best buys

Back wheel Ford Mustang GT

Kona blue EcoBoost Mustang with 19-inch painted aluminum wheels | Eric Schaal/Botanic Blog

For anyone on the hunt for brute force, you can’t beat the deal on a manual Mustang GT Fastback. Even with a few options, you can stay under $40,000 while getting the same horsepower as a Corvette ($55,495). However, adding on the performance package will return even more thrills — plus guarantee strong resale value — while keeping you under $45,000. Unless you’re hell-bent on a new Camaro, give this one a shot.

Otherwise, I could be convinced about a Kona Blue EcoBoost model with 19-inch wheels as a slick commuter car that falls below $30,000. However, the thing is, once you start adding options to the four-cylinder Mustang, you get awfully close to the GT’s price. If you drive both models, it would be close to impossible to end up with an EcoBoost. Do yourself a favor and get the 5.0, and don’t listen to any guff about the automatic. It’s legit.

Disclosure: Ford provided a round-trip plan ticket, overnight accommodations, and meals over a 36-hour period so we could bring readers this first-person report.

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