After handedly outselling both the Chevrolet Camaro and Dodge Challenger for the past few years, Ford probably would have been forgiven for giving the 2018 Mustang a spit-shine for its model-year refresh. After all, why mess with a good thing, right?
We appreciated many of the changes over the outgoing model.
Then again, with the battle for the hearts and minds of enthusiasts more heated than ever, resting on one’s laurels probably isn’t sound policy. To that end, Ford saw fit to give the second-gen S550 a revision that touches on, essentially, every key aspect of the Blue Oval’s pony car.
The visual refresh for 2018 brings a more angular aesthetic to the Mustang, with revised front and rear fascias that seek to dial up the aggression while also providing a tangible improvement in aerodynamic drag.
Late last year we had a chance to take the latest Mustang for a spin and we came away thoroughly impressed. This time around we’re getting behind the wheel of a GT model dressed in Orange Fury, the signature paint hue for the updated machine, and pouring over all the tweaks that Ford has brought to the table that make the Mustang GT faster, smarter, and more capable than ever. As we drove, we appreciated many of the changes over the outgoing model. Here are five of the standout improvements…
5. Power AndEfficiency
One of the headline features for performance enthusiasts is the increase in power for the GT’s five-liter, naturally aspirated V8. Introduced in 2011, Ford has been diligent about feeding the Coyote power plant a steady diet of upgrades through the years. Designated as the Gen III Coyote engine, the mill used for 2018 makes 460 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque – gains of 25 hp and 20 lb-ft over its predecessor – while also delivering better fuel economy and lower emissions. But how?
While the new combination of both direct and port injection fuel delivery systems is the headline upgrade, there’s some significant internal changes as well.
Ford’s modular 5.0 is more potent than ever, and the output gains over the second generation Coyote are noticeable from behind the wheel, particularly when it comes to low-end grunt.
Like the GT350’s 5.2-liter Voodoo V8, the latest Coyote uses Plasma Transfer Wire Arc cylinder liners, which in turn results in larger 93mm cylinder bores, pushing displacement to 5.035 liters from the 4.951 liters. Both the intake and exhaust valves are larger too, and they’re paired up with new cylinder heads that provide better flow. A new crankshaft, rod bearings, and revised camshafts are along for the ride too, and help to bump the latest Coyote’s redline to a lofty 7,500 RPM.
Behind the wheel, it’s the improvements in low-end torque that are perhaps most evident in every day driving, as the GT pulls with more urgency than ever while providing a wide rev range that doesn’t run out of steam at the top end. Ford says that when properly equipped the GT can sprint to 60 mph in under four seconds, and we see no reason to doubt that claim.
4. New Gearboxes
Backing that revised powerplant is either a six-speed manual transmission or an all-new 10-speed automatic. Codeveloped with General Motors (who have also begun to roll out their own iteration of the new automatic in the Camaro), this transmission is a trick piece of hardware, utilizing close ratios and software tuning that’s tailored to the various Drive Modes available in order to maximize the combination’s performance potential.
Although that gearbox allows for manual shifts by way of steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters and can swap cogs quicker than any human could, there are those among us who still prefer to row their own, and Ford didn’t forget about those folks either.
Whether you opt for the 10-speed automatic or choose to row your own gears with the six speed manual, the good news is there‘s no “wrong” transmission choice here, as both are great at their respective jobs. We would like to see a rev-matching feature become available for manual-equipped Mustangs though.
The six-speed manual transmission gets its fair share of updates for 2018 as well, including a new twin-disc clutch and dual-mass flywheel which help to ensure the gearbox can effectively handle the grunt from the revised powerplant.
Our tester was of the three-pedal variety, and as cool as the automatic is, there’s just something to be said for the visceral experience of pounding through the gears as the engine screams like a banshee. It will lose a step or two to the 10-speed under most performance circumstances though, so ultimately it’s a matter of your priorities.
3. A Smarter Exhaust
When the S550 platform debuted in 2015, one nearly universal criticism was the lack of aural drama from the exhaust system, particularly in GT guise. To get the V8’s full song, owners needed to either look to the aftermarket for a less restrictive system or simply ditch the GT in favor of a Shelby GT350 or GT350R when those models debuted the following year.
But for 2018 Ford has made an active valve performance exhaust, similar to the system found under the Shelby GT350, optional for the GT, and it essentially gives you a fully programmable exhaust sound. Set the system to Quiet Mode and you’ll get an understated growl that will keep the neighbors (and local authorities) at bay. The system also has a feature that can automatically start the car in this mode during certain hours – handy when you need to hit the road without announcing it to the world.
Flipping through the various Drive Modes presets will alter the volume and character of the exhaust system based on the mode selected. The MyMode setting also allows you to create your own customized driving preset that saves your preferred exhaust, suspension, steering, and stability control settings so that you can, for instance, have the exhaust system at full chat with a compliant suspension setting (if so equipped).
But dial the setting up to Sport or Track Mode and the soundtrack changes in dramatic fashion, adding more volume as well as a collection of off-throttle crackles, pops, and other sounds of violence befitting a V8 muscle car.
Though the active exhaust system is optional, checking that box on the order sheet should be considered mandatory. The Coyote engine sounds better than ever with this system equipped, and with its ability to change personality on the fly when needed, it’s a far more versatile solution than an a non-adjustable cat-back.
2. MagneRide Suspension
Like the exhaust system, there is also an active suspension option. The MagneRide dampers made their Mustang debut with the Shelby GT350 and GT350R models. And in similar fashion they’re an optional feature (in this case for both GT and EcoBoost models), and we’d also consider this package to be essential as well.
Helping improve the Mustang GT’s road holding capability are a set of Pilot Sport 4S summer tires which Ford co-developed with Michelin specifically for the Mustang. Performance Package-equipped models wear 255/40-19 tires up front and 275/40-19 rubber at the rear.
Opting for the MagneRide system yields a much more versatile suspension overall, one which can be compliant and unobtrusive during the everyday commute and then dialed up to Sport or Track Mode at the flip of a switch to stiffen the dampers for composed handling with minimal dive, squat, and roll at speed.
That’s a feature that a non-adjustable suspension system just can’t provide, which typically means that both ride compliance and performance handling are compromised in pursuit of a happy medium.
The majority of the visual tweaks are found at the front end of the car, but a new spoiler, slightly revised tail lights and a few other alterations on the rear will give the guy in the other lane something nice to look at.
And, unlike some other adjustable suspension systems, the difference in character between the various modes is immediately evident. While Normal Mode allows the suspension to soak up road imperfections with minimal drama, it will have enthusiasts with a bit of pace longing for a more aggressive tune during more spirited driving – a need which is immediately met by switching over to one of the performance-oriented driving modes.
1. Customizable Gauge Cluster
The 2018 also brings with some updates in the cabin, and one of the most notable changes is the availability of a new 12-inch LCD digital instrument cluster that replaces the traditional combination of a pair of analogue gauges and center display screen.
Normal Mode keeps the tach and speedo set in the circular sections of the cluster where you’d expect them to be in a traditional setup. Switching to the performance-focused modes changes the layout entirely, putting a greater emphasis on the rev counter.
The Mustang team spent over 2000 development hours fine-tuning the display, which employs the use of nearly one million lines of code to provide its various functions. Along with just being pleasing to look at, the display features a wealth of customizability that would not be otherwise possible, like its ability to completely reconfigure the layout based on the currently selected drive mode.
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Track Mode, for instance, displays the rev counter front-and-center as a straight line that moves from left to right as the RPM rises (making it easy to keep tabs on where your shift points are), display real-time vehicle telemetry, and other performance-related data. These customizable layouts also make it easy to determine what drive mode the car is in at a glance while also providing an array of information to the driver that can be configured to taste.
Track Mode view on the digital display emphasizes the tachometer. (Photo Credit: Ford Motor Company)
Although the S550’s 2018 refresh could be classified as an incremental update, the wide range of improvements that the Mustang team brought to the fold touch on so many different aspects of the Mustang’s character, performance, and capability that the result is a significant step forward from the outgoing car on the whole.
In the case of the 2018 Mustang GT, progress is definitely a good thing.