2018 Ford Mustang GT First Drive

More Than Just a Little Nip and Tuck

The Mustang has been an automotive icon for over 50 years, delivering impressive performance at an accessible price. A midcycle refresh for the 2018 Ford Mustang maintains that heritage by adding a little more of everything. The previous model was already desirable, and these latest changes serve to make it downright irresistible.

The most notable styling difference is visible up front. The hood now tapers down for a sleeker profile and slightly more menacing appearance. As subtle as the reshaping is, the new Mustang looks slimmer and more modern.

There are changes under the hood as well. We spent considerable time with the 5.0-liter V8-powered GT variant that now produces 460 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque, increases of 25 hp and 20 lb-ft of torque, respectively. The entry-level 2.3-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder now makes 310 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque, up from 320 lb-ft. The midrange V6 is no longer available.

Other new options for the 2018 Mustang now include a 10-speed automatic transmission, a MagneRide adaptive suspension, a digital instrument panel, an active sport exhaust, a drag-strip drive mode, a heated steering wheel and some new advanced safety features. For all models, revised suspension tuning promises sharper responses and cornering abilities.

2018 Ford Mustang

Bang for the Buck
Prices for the base EcoBoost model start around $26,000. For the money, you get items such as 17-inch wheels, LED exterior lighting, keyless entry and ignition, active noise cancellation, performance apps, a rearview camera and a six-speaker audio system. The convertible version can be had for another $5,500. The Premium trim adds 18-inch wheels, selectable drive modes, rear parking sensors, leather upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, power front seats with heating and cooling, the Sync 3 infotainment system, interior ambient lighting, a universal garage door opener, a nine-speaker stereo and satellite radio. The Premium trim is also eligible for more options than the base model.

The Mustang GT starts around $36,000 and adds some exterior body enhancements and a limited-slip differential. Our GT Premium test vehicle was well-appointed with the 10-speed automatic transmission ($1,695), the 401A Equipment Group package ($2,200 for a digital instrument panel, premium leather, a heated steering wheel and a navigation system), the Safe & Smart package ($1,495 for adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams, rain-sensing wipers, forward collision warning and mitigation, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, a lane-keeping assist system and driver-seat memory functions), active performance exhaust ($895), a 12-speaker Shaker audio system ($895), an Enhanced Security package, black exterior accents and a spare tire. These extras pushed the as-tested price to almost $49,000.

Compared to its archrival, the Chevrolet Camaro, the Mustang is priced similarly. Considering the power and performance of both muscle cars, they're a relative bargain versus almost anything else out there.

2018 Ford Mustang

On the Road
Compared to the previous Mustang GT we had in our long-term fleet, the differences are slight. A far more obvious change is in the way it sounds with the active exhaust option. In Normal mode, the growl from the engine and exhaust are all-enveloping and inspiring. In the Sport and Track modes, it becomes raspier and more aggressive. When driven particularly hard, the sound reminds us of the Dodge Viper and turns just as many heads. Fortunately for those with sensitive neighbors, a Quiet mode shuts down the sound to stealthy levels.

The new 10-speed automatic transmission keeps you in the peak power zone under heavy acceleration with quick and smooth shifts. The wheel-mounted paddles allow for manual control, though we noticed occasional delays in upshifts. In bumper-to-bumper traffic, we also experienced a few unusual lurches, but none of these minor flaws would be considered deal-breakers. Instead, we think this new transmission is a vast improvement over the previous six-speed. As good as it is, however, it's hard to overcome the lure of the traditional manual transmission in a muscle car like the Mustang. Despite any possible advantages in acceleration or efficiency, a clutch pedal and stick shift remain our preferred setup, old-fashioned or not.

With the stock suspension, the Mustang handles much as it did before. Body roll is noticeable but not at all off-putting. At the limit, the car behaves in a very predictable manner as long as you carefully modulate the throttle. Past the limit, the stability control systems will keep you in line. The Sport and Track settings will allow for a bit more freedom and wheelspin, but not enough to get you in trouble. With the systems disabled (not recommended, but, you know ...), there's a tendency for oversteer, but again, with a deft right foot and fast hands, you can either hold the slide or get it back in line. No matter your skill level, it's fun exploring the Mustang's performance potential.

Opting for the Performance package option makes Mustang corner flatter, but it also affects ride quality. The new MagneRide dampers promise even greater controllability with fewer sacrifices in regard to comfort.

2018 Ford Mustang

Won't Break the Bank (or Your Back)
Even though the Mustang is highly entertaining to drive, it's not punishing in everyday settings. There's plenty of compliance to smooth over rough roads, but the suspension isn't so soft as to make it feel floaty. Road noise is present but never intrusive, and wind noise is virtually absent. Then again, these issues would easily be overcome with a nudge of the throttle or a turn of the volume knob.

The front seats provide adequate lateral support when cornering and are also generously padded for comfortable touring. A wide range of adjustments also ensure that large or small drivers will be able to set their preferred position with little to no compromise. On hotter days, the climate control and cooled seats are very effective at keeping you from sweltering in the sun. The rear seats are decidedly less hospitable, even for small passengers. Head- and legroom are at a premium and feel even more cramped with a limited outward view. The seats might serve a purpose for passengers in a pinch, but they're better suited to handling cargo overflow.

Behind those seats is 13.5 cubic feet of trunk space, which trounces the Camaro's measly 9.1-cubic-foot capacity. The Mustang's trunk is also far easier to use, thanks to its lower liftover height and larger opening. If luggage and passenger space are that important to you, the Dodge Challenger is the class leader with usable rear seats and 16.2 cubic feet of space in the trunk.

The Mustang's interior hasn't changed as much as the rest of the car in this refresh, but it remains pleasantly aggressive. Materials quality is about average, with soft padding where you're most likely to touch and some hard plastics elsewhere. The biggest change is the availability of a digital instrument panel. The gauges are easy to read at a glance, and there's a wealth of information at your disposal if you choose. The layout also changes depending on the drive mode. In Track mode, the tachometer is displayed in a horizontal bar across the top, with the gear indicator and speed clearly shown on the left and right below. The panel is also configurable for your color preference.

Controlling functions on the panel is handled by a set of well-placed buttons on the steering wheel. Many of the performance and safety systems are operated in this manner, so your eyes stay on the road instead of searching for buttons on the dashboard. The central infotainment touchscreen is placed a little low by comparison, but Ford's Sync 3 system is one of the better units in the class thanks in part to the inclusion of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

The Muscular Choice
The 2018 Ford Mustang hits a narrow sweet spot in the muscle-car class. It has fewer idiosyncrasies than the Camaro with its limited outward visibility and questionable interior usability. The Dodge Challenger has both of them beat when it comes to comfort and convenience, but its resulting size makes it far less agile. All of these held true before this year's refresh, so the new additions only serve to increase the Mustang's lead in the segment.

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