Over more than five decades of production, the Mustang is a consistent sales leader in its niche due, in part, to Ford’s continued efforts to offer a package that suits the needs of just about every potential buyer. Today, with the sixth-generation car, that scope ranges from the budget-friendly, turbocharged EcoBoost model to the track-honed, limited production Shelby GT350R.

In between those two sits the GT, which scored an array of upgrades from the refresh Ford applied to the Mustang for the 2018 model year. Along with aesthetic tweaks and upgrades to the Coyote V8 that brought output to 460 horsepower and 420 lb-ft of torque, the revision brought more sure-footedness to the pony car by way of available MagneRide suspension, Michelin Pilot Sport 4S rubber, and other go-fast goodies.

Though the exterior changes are subtle, the dropped stance and aggressive front splitter make it clear that Performance Pack 2 has purposeful intentions.

But even with the $3,995 Performance Pack, which includes six-piston Brembo front brakes with revised ABS tuning; tweaked stability control software; a Torsen limited-slip rear differential with 3:73 gearing; chassis stiffening; and an upgraded radiator, the performance gap between the GT and the “standard” GT350 remained substantial. With Chevrolet’s 1LE package for the Camaro SS posting legitimately stunning road-course numbers in media testing at a price that undercut the Shelby by thousands, Ford knew a response was needed.

The wide Pilot Sport Cup 2 rubber helps the Mustang in nearly every performance metric — it launches harder, stops quicker, and corners with more urgency than a GT equipped with the standard Performance Package.

It comes in the form of Performance Package – Level 2. This $6,500 package includes all of the goodies of the standard Performance Pack while bringing several crucial new bits to the table, like a quicker steering rack, a more aggressively tuned MagneRide suspension system with a lower ride height as standard (MagneRide is optional on the standard Performance Package), beefed up front and rear sway bars, stiffer springs, a revised front splitter and new rear spoiler, and a set of unique forged wheels measuring 19×10.5-inches up front and 19×11-inches in the rear. Those rollers are wrapped in 305mm-wide tires all around, widening the contact patch by 1.5 inches at all four corners. The rubber is of the ultra-sticky Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 variety, the same as you’d find on supercar-caliber performers like the Corvette ZR1, Porsche 911 GT2RS, and oh yeah, the Shelby GT350.

While the upgrades included in Performance Pack L2 may seem somewhat minor on paper when it comes to road course performance tuning, looks can often be deceiving. To find out if the latest collection of factory upgrades for the GT are worth the extra coin, we grabbed the keys to this Ingot Silver Metallic example and headed for the hills.

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Inside And Out

While PPL2 isn’t exactly a visual rethink of the Mustang, there are a few notable cues that help these machines stand out from the rest of the lineup. Astute onlookers will note the unique aero kit, which consists of a new front splitter mounted underneath the GT’s standard air dam (a piece that Ford engineers derived from the track-focused 2012 Mustang Boss 302 Laguna Seca), along with a subtle ducktail spoiler on the rear deck in place of the GT’s standard wing.

Performance Package – Level 2 also gives the GT a slightly more sinister look by way of the hunkered down ride height and big gunmetal wheels. Working in concert, the effect is subtle but noticeable – it makes the PPL2 cars feel special.

As with all non-Shelby 2018 models, our tester boasts an all-new digital gauge cluster. The layout is user-configurable and changes based on the drive mode selected.

Inside it is pretty much business as usual, though. Our tester included Recaro sport buckets in Showstopper Red – a $1,595 option. They not only elevated the look of the cabin, they’re also essentially mandatory considering the lateral stick this car has, and they’re actually pretty comfortable too. You’ll have to give up some of the creature comforts of the standard seats though, so kiss heating and ventilation goodbye, along with some adjustability. Don’t worry, it’s worth it.

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Under The Hood

While Performance Pack 2 doesn’t bring any changes to the Mustang GT’s Coyote V8, there’s some notable tweaks onboard for 2018.

To post gains of 25 horsepower and 20 lb-ft over the 2017 model, Ford engineers put the 5.0-liter modular V8 under the microscope and made a host of changes. 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 displaced by the prior Coyotes.

The intake and exhaust valves are larger as well, and they’re paired up with new cylinder heads that provide better flow. A new crankshaft, rod bearings, and revised camshafts are part of the deal too, and it adds up to that bump in output as well as a screamin’ 7,500-RPM redline.

For those who haven’t spent time in a modern Shelby, the long legs of the rev range can take some getting used to. But once it clicks, it’s clear this mill is at home on a road course or hustling down your favorite stretch of fast road, and that makes it an ideal pairing for this package. Just make sure you get the optional active exhaust system – you’ll thank us later.

2018 Mustang GT Premium Features

Base price: $39,095
Options:

• Equipment Group 401a (Premier trim, navigation): $2300
• Performance Pack Level 2: $6,500
• Active Exhuast: $895
• Recaro Sport Seats: $1,595

Total price (with destination and delivery): $51,185

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On The Road

Our tester came with the Getrag-supplied six-speed gearbox, which features a few key changes for 2018. Along with revised ratios that make better use of the upgraded V8, the MT82-D4 gets new synchromesh rings for improved shifter performance as well as a new twin-disc clutch. While the latter has been beefed up to cope with the additional torque, it’s been designed to actually decrease pedal effort, making the gearbox a bit easier to live with on a day-to-day basis while adding strength to the drivetrain.

Although the 10-speed is a marvel of modern technology, truth be told, the manual gearbox is simply the better option in a corner-carving performance context. There’s a sense that Ford understands this as well. While the standard Performance Package can be had with the automatic transmission, Level 2 is a manual-only affair. Three pedals are this scribe’s preference anyway, so no harm, no foul, but we have a feeling there is a market for a 10R80 option with the PPL2.

Although the switchgear on the center stack looks sharp, we wish the toggles went both up and down instead of just one way. Changing drive modes can become a more involved process than it needs to be when switching from, say, Sport to Normal, which requires cycling through the Track and Snow/Ice modes to get there.

Navigating the pockmarked streets of Los Angeles, we were surprised by the level of compliance still on offer in the Normal driving mode – although the ride is stiffer than it was in the Mustang GT we drove earlier this year, it’s far from objectionable. Bumping the drive mode up to Sport tightens up the body motions, throttle response, and steering weight accordingly, while Track mode feels legitimately appropriate for serious road course use – at low speeds out on public roads, the adjustable dampers are unyielding, and that makes for a pretty rough ride around town. This would be a non-issue if weren’t for the fact that all the adjustable settings are tied to factory presets and there’s no way to create a custom setting based on your preferences.

But once we got to the base of Angeles Crest Highway, minor quibbles like those quickly melted away. While the components that comprise Performance Pack Level 2 work in harmony to give the GT sharper handling prowess, it’s the massive amount of stick available from the big Pilot Sport Cup 2s that’s immediately noticeable. Although the wide footprint tends to tramline in road grooves – much in the way that the Shelby GT350R does — it more than makes up for it with the relentless grip it offers out on the twisties. The pace that the GT can now maintain on roads like these is a substantial step up from the standard Performance Pack, and paired with the quicker steering, there’s a newfound sense of immediacy to the front end that the GT previously lacked.

In fact, it leaves us wondering if the standard GT350 is still worth the price premium. Sure it’s got that sonorous, 526 horsepower Voodoo V8, but the Coyote actually makes a bit more torque down low, so it feels livelier for everyday use. The Cup 2 tires are also more aggressive than the rubber you’ll find on the current GT350, but that’s something Ford plans to remedy for 2019.

We’ll leave the speculation and bench racing to would-be buyers. What’s clear from behind the wheel is that Ford’s mission of elevating the GT’s capability to an unprecedented level has been a successful one. If that means pissing off a few Shelby owners in the process, so be it.

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