- 5.0-liter V8 sounds righteous and makes 500 horsepower.
- MagneRide suspension dampers allow for on-road comfort and on-track capability.
- Optional Pirelli Trofeo RS tires are extra sticky.
Driven: 2024 Ford Mustang Dark Horse Is Track-Focused But Not Track-Obsessed
Well-rounded pretty much sums it up
You should be excited about the Ford Mustang Dark Horse. Sure, it's undoubtedly cool that the Mustang gets a new generation for 2024 while the Camaro and Challenger are riding off into the sunset. But the Dark Horse is proof that Ford still cares enough to build a more raucous and righteous Mustang than the GT. Akin to the old GT350 and Mach 1, the Dark Horse amps up the performance while still being a usable everyday driver. Now, going dark has a cost; you'll need to pony up $60,865 to match the Dark Horse's starting price. Is it worth it? Let's find out.
On the road
I started my day with the Dark Horse equipped with the Handling package and a six-speed manual transmission. In case you don't know, or couldn't tell by the name, the Handling Pack is all about the fun cornering stuff. That it makes the Dark Horse look just that much better is merely a bonus. A bigger front splitter, 1-inch wider wheels, high-performance Pirelli tires and a more pronounced rear wing, the Handling Pack doesn't waste your money giving you the go-fast stuff. Your approximately $5K also adds adjustable strut mounts for a more track-appropriate alignment.
Without or without the Handling Pack, the Dark Horse looks like a speeding ticket just sitting at a red light. The exhaust has a pretty decent bark, even in its Normal setting, so unless you want the extra attention you'll need to exercise some restraint when you accelerate away. Ford equips the Dark Horse with just about all of the optional upgrades from the GT's Performance package, including the shorter 3.73 gearing and upgraded Brembo brakes. The Dark Horse is almost always in its broad powerband and is ready to go if and when the coast is clear.
The Mustang Dark Horse starts to feel like a bigger car when you head out on tight two-lane roads. But to its credit, it tracks pretty straight, even with the Handling Pack's immense 305 section front tires and 315 section rears. The steering is accurate and quick, and there is better feel just off-center than in last year's Mustang. And those wide Pirellis have more stick than a hairspray convention. The occasional roundabout or plunging country curve serve as a challenge to reach a new high score on the lateral g meter.
In the suspension's Normal mode, the MagneRide dampers are very supple for something with so much performance potential. A non-enthusiast would probably find it firm, but the trick shocks have been tuned to soak up potholes and train tracks as you'd expect a non-sports car to do. It's hard to appreciate just how broad their range really is until you hit the track.
On the track
The track in question today is Charlotte Motor Speedway using a modified version of the oval and road course. Making 500 horsepower and revving to 7,500 rpm, the Dark Horse's V8 makes all the right noises. Running right next to one of Charlotte's many concrete walls, the sound from the exhaust echoes into the cabin and even across the infield. When you're behind the wheel, you know people can hear you coming, and when you're in the infield listening, you just love it. Coming off the banking at nearly 130 miles an hour is just as natural as pulling into a driveway.
Gears can be selected manually via a Tremec six-speed manual transmission or automatically with a 10-speed gearbox. Thanks to its hefty, positive action, automatic rev matching and aforementioned no-lift shift capability, the six-speed manual seems like a no-brainer for the Dark Horse. But the 10-speed automatic has its merits. I did find it a bit quick to upshift on the street but on track, and in its most aggressive mode, the 10-speed was an impressive partner. Shifts are quick and the gears are properly selected, making it easy to focus on your line and just go fast.
Hard braking puts the 15.4-inch front rotors and six-piston Brembo calipers to the test and makes the somewhat touchy brake pedal we felt on the street immediately more appropriate. Modulation is very good, and the Dark Horse can be braked right down to the apex without feeling unstable. This mix of stability and agility is a rare thing for a car at this price and weight and should be celebrated and exploited at every opportunity.
The stars of the Handling package are the Pirelli Trofeo RS tires. Specifically designed and engineered for the Dark Horse, these tires lend otherworldly grip to the Mustang platform. Near the limit, the tires are utterly silent, so there's an element of trust that needs to be worked up to in order to fully exploit the massive grip on tap. But the limit, though high, is something you can get to and explore.
The Dark Horse is proof that Ford still believes in its icon. No, it's not as hardcore as the dearly beloved GT350 or as mental as the GT500, but it's more well rounded and friendly than either of those legends. if you want a track-ready Mustang, spending around $65,000 for one equipped with the Handling package is well worth it.