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First Drive: 2018 Ford Mustang GT
Sleek, athletic, smart, and powerful—that describes the 2018 Ford Mustang GT, which hits the streets with aggressive front-end styling and the next-gen Coyote V8 delivering 460 horsepower, 420 lb-ft of torque and sub 4-second 0-60 mph times.
Ford is especially proud of the latest 5.0L, which produces 1.52 horsepower per cubic inch. Extracting 25 additional hp from the outgoing 435 hp 5.0L Coyote V8 was not easy, but Ford accomplished the feat turning old and new performance tricks. Engineers increased the bore from 92.2 mm to 93.0, they upped compression to 12.0:1, improved head and intake flow, and employed a new dual-fuel injection system that utilizes direct and port injection. The 5.0L also has two additional knock sensors, new crank and rod bearings, and a composite oil pan to reduce weight. Fun factor is increased with a 7,500-rpm redline, up 500 rpm from last year.
While the S550 chassis remains, the mid-phase Mustang refresh presents with a lowered snout that's aggressive in appearance and more aerodynamic. The rear now features LED taillamps for a more technical look, smoothed styling, and a performance spoiler is optional. Most noticeable is the dual bright exhaust that's standard on EcoBoost models and the quad-tips that are standard on the GT.
Mustang is one of the most customized cars on the road, and Ford gives owners many options for personalization right from the factory. For 2018 there are 11 exterior color choices, including the new poppin' Orange Fury metallic tri-coat, the classy Royal Crimson, and Kona Blue returns to the lineup. You can add Recaro seats, a dozen wheel choices and the fully customizable 12-inch LCD instrument cluster featuring different screens and 26 color options. The cluster can display up to eight gauges, and you can use MyMode to save settings for suspension, steering and exhaust note.
"Premium trim level features give the interior an enhanced look and feel, with a hand-stitched wrap for the center console armrest, a look that is mirrored across the instrument panel and down the sides of the center stack," said Carl Widmann, Mustang chief engineer. "Restyled seating surfaces feature new patterns and color choices, including tan, Showstopper Red, Midnight Blue with Grabber Blue accents, and Ebony with Alcantara suede accents."
Clearly, the 2018 Mustang is all about performance and technology; Ford has crafted the new pony with a multitude of visual, electronic, and mechanical options guaranteed to help you become a better, faster driver—and to enhance your "Mustang" experience. For instance, Active Valve Performance Exhaust System lets you select from normal, sport, track and quiet modes. And the system features a time-configurable Quiet Start function, which lets drivers schedule when to lower or increase the volume of the 5.0-liter engine's roar.
Another Mustang first, are features like Ford driver-assist technologies, including Pre-Collision Assist with pedestrian detection including Distance Indication and Automatic Emergency Braking, Lane Keeping System, and Driver Alert System. "The driver assist systems use radar and cameras to recognize objects in the road, and may take autonomous emergency action—such as braking—to mitigate or avoid a collision," explained Widmann.
Just $25,585 puts you behind the wheel of the EcoBoost Fastback. The 2.3L turbo-four boasts 310 horsepower, 350 lb-ft of torque and that's enough output to run solid 13s at the strip. Better yet, the EcoBoost has about 150 lbs less on the nose and that makes it super nimble and a blast in the corners. The engine also delivers excellent economy, as much as 31-32 mpg highway. Stepping up to a V8 will run you $35,095 for the base GT—the reward is 460 horsepower and 420 lb-ft of torque. The GT comes standard with a manual six-speed, optional is the new 10-speed SelectShift automatic. We were anxious to compare the 10-speed compared to the outgoing 6-speed auto, so chose an auto-equipped Stang from the fleet of available testers.
The first thing I noticed after slipping inside was the softer feel of the interior. Most of the touch-points are, well, softer to the touch, including the steering wheel, which is fitted with a firm and beautiful leather rim. Firing the engine requires a simple tap on the new aluminum "start" button, which is illuminated with a nifty red "Horsebeat" glow.
In addition to the 10-speed, our GT tester was equipped with the popular (67G) Performance Pack, which adds $3,995.00 to the MSRP, the new 12-inch digital dash, and a few other options. "The Performance Pack includes front lateral-link ball joints (bushings are standard), Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires (255/40/19 front and 275/40/19 rear), unique anti-roll bars and springs, passive dampers or optional MagneRide and four bolt-in structural braces," said Mike Del Zio, vehicle dynamics engineer at Ford. The braces include strut tower, radiator, subframe and K-member. "Also included are special EPAS (electronic power assist steering) tuning and 3.55 gears (auto) and 3.73 manual," he added. Both are equipped with a Torsen differential and our 'Stang had the optional MagneRide. It also featured the Active Valve Performance Exhaust, which sounded fantastic.
Cruising the southern California beaches was fun, but the excitement level ramped up when I hit the twisty canyon roads. I selected "Sport" mode from the five available driving modes and pushed down on the throttle. Ford has flat-out delivered with this GT. With the exhaust howling, I laid into the Coyote and started to climb the canyons. The Mustang ate corners quicker than the Double-Double I had earlier, and it never flinched when tossed around hard. It's amazingly balanced and that makes you feel like a real driving hero.
It's nimble and slices through turns with minimal body roll and really gives you confidence. The tires remain compliant with the road, even over bumps and imperfections, and the balance from front to rear is spot on. Braking is nice, with a firm pedal and linear modulation. I never experienced understeer or oversteer, though admittedly, I never got near the limit. My take-away on the Performance Pack is that it makes a great daily driver and would be really fun at any track day. I can only imagine how capable the PP2 will be once it is released.
Using the racy toggles at the bottom of the center stack, you can also select from three modes of steering feel, and should you feel the need, you can utilize the line lock for better burnouts. Another feature we loved was the Sync Connect, which lets you control certain vehicle functions through your smart phone. For example you can remotely lock or unlock the car, and not only start the car, but schedule a start time.
"This is one of the most aggressive refreshes you'll ever see for a vehicle—we can't wait for people to drive this car," said Widmann. "We identified everything that is important to Mustang fans and delivered across the board, and we couldn't be happier with the end result. Performance is at the core of Mustang DNA, offering drivers a unique thrill of acceleration and cornering for the ultimate fun-to-drive experience. On all models, new shock absorbers make for better ride control, a new cross-axis joint in the rear suspension leads to increased lateral stiffness, and innovative stabilizer bars bring sharper response and handling."
Not to diminish the fun you can have with a stick, but the 10-speed auto is down-right amazing. Set in "Drag Mode" the transmission is calibrated to upshift lightning quick with virtually no delay. And the insanely low 4.696:1 First-gear ratio gets the Stang moving in a hurry. The trans features seven underdriven gears and three overdrive ratios. The calibration allows it to shift smoothly during normal driving, yet it knows when the driver is requiring more performance. The engineers urged me to try drag mode, so I found a straight section of road, selected drag mode and tried a launch (or two). Drag racers will love it—"Drag Mode" gives you a rush of acceleration with a bark from the tires on every insanely quick upshift. Though it's hard to admit, I feel the auto would out-perform all but the most skilled stick drivers. In addition to crisp upshifting, downshifts occur rapidly under hard braking and it rev-matches with a fantastic blip of the throttle and a cackle from the pipes.
Those who prefer three pedals will love the upgraded manual, which features new ratios that are matched nicely to the torque of the engine. The V8 driveline includes a twin-disc clutch and dual-mass flywheel to handle increased torque capability and deliver more efficient clutch modulation. Clutch take up was smooth and required what I'd consider the right amount of effort. It wasn't too light or too heavy. The shifter operates smoothly and finding the gates is easy whether "granny" or "power" shifting.
Coming Soon! Performance Pack 2
If you think the GT is good, the Performance Pack options enhance Mustang's capabilities both on and off track. Ford offers two levels, PP1 and PP2, the latter will be available in the coming months.
"Designed to out-corner the competition, PP2 is geared to enthusiasts who want to carve corners, be it on your favorite road or on track," said Tom Barnes, Mustang vehicle engineering manager. "Team Mustang has honed the Performance Pack Level 2 for the new 2018 Ford Mustang GT. A passion to create something special is what really drove this project, and that really showed in the off-the-clock way we went about doing our work," he added.
Longtime tire and wheel engineer Chauncy Eggleston led development of unique 19-inch wheels that help provide notable steering and handling response improvements. Mustang veteran Jonathan Gesek, former aerodynamics specialist at NASA, and now with Ford's aerodynamics group, spearheaded development of a high-performance front splitter and rear spoiler. And Jamie Cullen, Ford supervisor for vehicle dynamics development, led road test efforts to ensure the car delivers ultra-responsive steering, braking and handling performance.
"The result of their covert efforts is available to order now and will reach North American showrooms this spring when pony car enthusiasts can get the new 2018 Ford Mustang GT with Performance Pack Level 2, a collection of drive-enhancing components designed for—and by—people who love the thrill of taking the wheel of a true performance car," added Barnes.
Performance Pack Level 2 includes all of the features of PP1, such as the unique chassis and antilock brake tuning, unique stability control and electric power-assisted steering, Brembo six-piston front brake calipers with larger rotors, a K-brace, larger radiator, silver-painted strut tower brace and a Torsen rear differential with 3.73 axle ratio. "The PP2 is highlighted by a lower stance, a redesigned front splitter and rear spoiler, and 305/30/R19 Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires wrapped around split-fitment aluminum wheels—19x10.5-inch front and 19x11-inch rear," added Barnes.
The PP2 Mustang is 1.5-inches lower to the ground and the Sport Cup II tires are 1.5 inches wider than the Performance Pack Level 1, enhancing grip and feel. PP2 is available only with the six-speed manual transmission. Also standard on the PP2 is the custom-tuned MagneRide dampers and quicker steering calibration in the EPAS to provide better response. Other PP2 improvements include a 67-percent stiffer rear stabilizer bar, a 12-percent stiffer front stabilizer bar, 20 percent stiffer front springs and rear springs that are 13 percent stiffer.
Formerly available only on the Shelby GT350 and GT350R, MagneRide active suspension is new to the Mustang GT. "It can be ordered with the Performance Pack—and standard with Performance Pack Level 2," said Carl Widmann. "The active damping system uses sensors positioned around the vehicle to adjust the suspension based on various inputs, including speed, steering angle, brake pressure, lateral and longitudinal acceleration, engine torque, drive mode selection, and even outside air temperature.
"Critical to the success of the package is improved aerodynamics scores, which the team achieved by adding larger and lower front splitter and redesigned rear spoiler. According to the engineering team. Our targets were aggressive and we nailed them."
According to Widmann, the front splitter creates about 24 pounds of downforce at 80 mph, planting the tires and improving front grip. To balance the front downforce, Ford uses a new, subtle, rear spoiler. It's worth noting, Ford used an innovative approach to creating the new Performance Pack, as parts such as the rear spoiler were rapid-prototyped using a 3D printer.
Barnes added, "The only visual cues on a car outfitted with the new Performance Pack Level 2 are black detailing on the splitter and spoiler, the tire spat on the back edge of the rear wheel wells and the 10-spoke Dark Tarnish wheels, which are exclusive. Customers who opt for Performance Pack Level 2 also have a unique opportunity to select Recaro seats in either leather or cloth to help stay firmly planted while cornering."