2018 Ford Mustang GT long-term review: A lot to love and a little to hate

After two months of pony car hijinks, we say goodbye.

Jon Wong Former editor for CNET Cars
Jon Wong was a reviews editor for CNET Cars. He test drove and wrote about new cars and oversaw coverage of automotive accessories and garage gear. In his spare time, he enjoys track days, caring for his fleet of old Japanese cars and searching for the next one to add to his garage.
Jon Wong
5 min read

Things started off fast with our long-term 2018 Ford Mustang GT. Three days after the Magnetic Metallic coupe showed up on our doorstep, I was at GingerMan Raceway in South Haven, Michigan, thrashing it around to break the ice on our two-month-long relationship.

The slightly longer commitment was fitting and welcome, especially given the Mustang's noteworthy 2018 performance updates. This year brought a more powerful engine, available adaptive suspension and new 10-speed automatic transmission. Admittedly, only the engine and suspension improvements excited me, but I approached the gearbox with an open mind and hoped to be pleasantly surprised.

Long-term 2018 Ford Mustang GT: Wrapping up two wild months

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Road course stallion

As expected, the revised Coyote 5.0-liter V8 was sensational around GingerMan. Output was increased to 460 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque -- gains of 25 and 20 respectively, over the 2017 Mustang. Immediate throttle response and linear power delivery shoved the Mustang out of corners and down straights with authority. I consistently flirted with 130 miles per hour down GingerMan's back straight as the engine sang its menacing, naturally aspirated soundtrack. Its song was a little louder than before, too, as the 5.0-liter's redline was increased from 7,000 rpm to 7,500.

An optional $3,995 GT Performance Package helped keep things neat and tidy around GingerMan's 2.14-mile road course. Functional upgrades like Brembo front brakes, revised front springs, a larger rear anti-roll bar and new Torsen limited-slip differential were all welcome improvements. But the best, without question, was the adaptive MagneRide suspension. These continuously adjusting dampers trickled down from the Shelby GT350, and though they tacked on $1,695 to the bottom line of our test car, they're worth every penny.

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Our Mustang GT was broken quickly at GingerMan Raceway.

Nick Miotke/Roadshow

Through GingerMan's gradual bends and tight hairpins, the GT felt eager to turn in and change directions, the body staying nearly flat. The car's 3,700-pound curb weight could still be felt during braking and through quick transitions, but overall the car felt poised and like it belonged on a road course. Sticky 255/40ZR19 front and 275/40ZR19 rear Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires also helped matters, as did the hefty steering feel and brakes that only faded slightly at the end of hard 15-minute track sessions.

Strong in other disciplines, too

How did the Mustang GT do around a tight autocross? I took it to one, and again walked away high thanks to its tight turn-in ability, not to mention how easily the rear swung around just by goosing the throttle. Eventually, the autocross turned into a drift course, where the Mustang's power and balanced handling character were an absolute riot to play with. It was so, so easy to get things sideways with total control. No wonder why Vaughn Gittin Jr. uses the Blue Oval pony car as a foundation for his drift machines.

Sadly, I didn't get to a drag strip to run the car through the complete gamut of motorsports disciplines. That's a shame, because the Mustang GT's standard line lock feature could have helped me turn in marginally more respectable quarter-mile times with warm rear rubber. However, and only in the name of thorough testing, I did activate line lock once or twice and can report that the Michelins produce a killer smoke show and are indeed sticky after.

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Rob Weber/Roadshow

High street cred

Away from the race track, the GT was up for any task. With its suspension in Normal, damping for regular commutes around town were plenty compliant, and a roundtrip jog from Detroit to Chicago ferrying two adults and two four-legged friends was handled without complaint.

familiar Sync 3 system took care of infotainment functions with a responsive 8-inch touchscreen to control navigation, a respectable 12-speaker Shaker Pro audio system, 4G Wi-Fi hotspot, Bluetooth and both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Sync's menus aren't the most visually compelling, but were intuitive to work through.

Visually, some Roadshow staffers couldn't get behind the 2018 model year facelift, and called the new nose droopy in comparison to the previously sleek and sporty front end. Inside, however, we all loved the vibrant red seats, especially against the gray exterior. Even one McDonald's drive-thru worker had a number of nice things to say as she passed two Happy Meals through the window.

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A comfortable ride from the adaptive suspension was appreciated away from the track.

Nick Miotke/Roadshow

Now, about that transmission…

After I gave the new 10-speed automatic transmission a fair shake, it turned out to be everything I feared. It's not tuned well. In both high-performance and normal driving scenarios, it performed slow, jerky cog swaps and constantly hunted for gears. Whether in Normal or Sport modes, the transmission was a huge disappointment.

Things weren't too much better in manual mode, while using the steering wheel-mounted paddles. A noticeable delay followed shift commands that frustrated me on track, autocross and street alike. Luckily, the automatic headaches can be avoided because the Mustang offers a stellar six-speed manual transmission as standard equipment. Plus, it would've cut $1,595 from the $53,160 as-tested price of our tester.

If there was something redeeming about the automatic you think it would be decent EPA-estimated fuel economy ratings. But as it turns out, that's not the case, with the auto only bettering the manual's 15 mpg city, 25 mpg highway and 18 mpg combined by a single mpg in the city and combined cycles. We did average 18.1 mpg over the course of two months, though.

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The Mustang GT was still fun with the automatic, but the manual was so much better.

Nick Miotke/Roadshow

Performance value champ

After handing over the keys to the Mustang GT following a couple of action-packed months, I mostly look back on our time together with fond memories. The romp around GingerMan, using line lock to light up the tires and drifting around the autocross -- all of these things make me smile. But for all of those cases, I wish our car had the manual transmission. The automatic, well, sucked.

That aside, the Mustang GT continues to be one of the best bang-for-your-buck performance values on the market today, especially considering its $35,000 starting price. Stepping up to the Premium trim for more features and tacking on the Performance Package along with a few more options turns it into a $50,000 car, which doesn't actually seem that crazy. In fact, it's still a pretty good deal for a car that's this rewarding to drive. Line it up against a $70,000 , and I'll take the Mustang every time.