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It seems like Ford has been constantly fiddling with the Mustang, tweaking something here and changing something there; it can't seem to leave good enough alone. The net result is that the 2018 Ford Mustang EcoBoost and Mustang GT we're examining today are very different cars than when this platform debuted just a few years ago.
Externally, the hood is 20mm lower and the front end has been totally redesigned, giving the coupe a much more aggressive sports car appearance. Beneath that look, the powertrain pulls off the seemingly contradictory trick of being more powerful and more efficient than before.
Meanwhile, Ford also figured out that Mustang buyers want more than just a burnout machine. They want to carve corners, so the chassis has been tweaked for better handling. And they need a daily driver, so it gets a new active safety suite and smarter cabin tech for more pleasant to commutes.
Don't fret; it's still a burnout machine. Only now, it's also so much more.
One of the biggest changes to the 2018 Ford Mustang lineup is the retirement of the 3.7-liter V6 engine. Mustang owners now must choose between the GT's Coyote V8 and the turbocharged four-cylinder EcoBoost engine. The smaller engine, which displaces just 2.3 liters, has been a member of the lineup since about 2015, but now moves from a fuel economy-boosting alternative into the starting lineup with the V6's vacancy.
This is not a downgrade. The four-banger, bolstered by the challenge of filling the V6's shoes, has grown to 310 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque for this model year. That's a good bit of giddy-up -- 10 more ponies and 70 extra pound-feet than the outgoing V6 at its best.
The increase in output comes from, among other upgrades, a new overboost function borrowed from the Focus RS that basically allows the EcoBoost engine to increase its turbocharger output for short bursts of peak power. (Interestingly, the most hardcore Focus still boasts more power and torque than the entry-level Mustang does.)
To go along with the thriftier engine, Ford has a new 10-speed automatic gearbox. That's a lot of ratios, but Ford seems to have nailed the shift programming for smooth gear changes without any hunting around. The Mustang always seems to be in the right gear for the current conditions, whether that's cruising the interstate, creeping through traffic or tucking into a back road corner.
Performance driving with the 10-speed is aided by a Sport mode and paddle shifters. I'll always prefer a clutch to paddles, but that preference is really my only complaint after a day with the automatic. Well, that and it's just plain weird to see that you're cruising at 45 mph in seventh gear; that's just going to take some time to get used to.
The top three gears (eight, nine and 10) are overdrive cruising gears for highway efficiency and contribute to the automatic Mustang EcoBoost's 32 highway mpg, 21 city mpg and 25 mpg combined estimates. The six-speed manual is still the standard for those who prefer rowing their own gears, costing only a single highway mpg for the privilege.
Of course, the Mustang is still available with a V8, but even it has been hitting the gym, upgrading for the 2018 model year. Power climbs to 460 ponies while torque grows to 420 pound-feet, up 25 horsepower and 20 pound-feet from last year.
The #gains come from a compression bump and a switch to a new 16-injector fuel system that uses a combination of port and direct fuel injection. The combustion chambers ditch their cylinder sleeves in favor of the Plasma Wire Arc Transfer coating used on the Shelby GT350. A side effect of the sleeve removal is a bump in displacement (from 4.951 liters to 5.035 liters) making this a true 5.0-liter engine, but that bit of trivia doesn't affect the output.
Those changes allowed the Mustang's engineers to raise the redline by 500 revs to 7,500 rpm. As a fan of the high-revving GT350, I'm grateful for the extra overhead and immediately saw a benefit when I was able to hold a lower gear through a turn (rather than shifting up and down again), which enabled me to get on the throttle sooner post-apex for smoother, faster and more fun corner exit.
My GT featured the six-speed manual transmission, which, for the V8, has been upgraded to handle the increased torque. The gearbox also gets a new twin-disc clutch and a dual-mass flywheel combo that makes the 'Stang much easier to drive in stop-and-go traffic. The V8 Mustang is rated at 19 combined mpg (16 city and 25 highway) with the 10-speed and 18 combined mpg (15 and 25 highway) with the manual.
The 2018 Mustang features five drive modes that allow you to customize the coupe's performance for the task at hand. Modes include Snow/Wet, Normal, Sport+, Track and a new Drag Strip mode.
The Drag mode features a shift indicator light, available Launch Control and the Line Lock setting, which lets you warm up the rear tires with a spectacular show of smoke and noise. Line Lock used to be optional on GT, but is now a standard feature even on the EcoBoost because, really, who would want a Mustang without the sweet burnout mode?
This new Mustang has also learned a few handling tricks from the GT350 with the addition of Ford's MagneRide adaptive suspension to its 2018 Performance Package upgrades. This suspension is able to adjust the performance of its suspension hundreds of times per second to help keep the ride flat and responsive when cornering, accelerating or braking. Unlike the GT350, however, the standard Mustang's normal program is tuned for comfort over bumps and dips. So, when cruising in a straight line with no inputs, this setup is more compliant, soft and smooth, but it can instantly firm up when it detects you're tipping into the throttle or cranking the steering wheel. Of course, in the Sport+ and Track drive modes, the suspension stays firmer and flatter all of the time.
There's also a sixth MyMode drive mode that allows the owner to store a custom setting, say Sport+ steering with the Normal throttle and Quiet exhaust.
Oh yeah, about the exhaust: the 2018 model also features an available active exhaust system with four main modes. Normal, Sport and Track feature increasing levels of growl and bark while the fourth Quiet mode actually reduces the exhaust noise for those times when you want to listen to music or just relax on a highway. The Mustang even features a Quiet Start mode that allows the driver to schedule times when the car starts in Quiet mode, so you don't wake the neighborhood at 5 a.m. with a snarling crank-up.
The switch for the drive modes only flicks in one direction, up and not down, so if you accidentally tap past your desired setting, you'll have to cycle all the way back through the list. Perhaps I'm just spoiled by the GT350, which puts its drive mode toggle right on the steering wheel.
Toggle between the different drive modes and you'll see the new 12-inch digital instrument cluster spring to live, changing the configuration of the gauges. Modes range from the standard two-gauge Normal setting to the Track mode which fills the screen with the tachometer: the most important gauge for racing.
On the steering wheel is a Pony button that brings up a menu on the cluster that allows the driver to tweak the exhaust mode, set the Quiet Start, adjust the MyMode driver setting and more. Here, you can also customize the display colors, ambient cabin lighting and access the Track Apps menu.
The rest of the dashboard tech is unchanged for 2018, with the same great Sync 3 infotainment as before. Graphics and maps are crisply rendered and menus are easy to navigate. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are still standard and supplemented by native Sync AppLink apps like Pandora, Glympse, Spotify and Domino's Pizza. (Yep, pizza.)
For the first time, the 2018 Mustang will be available with a selection of driver-assist technologies from Ford's suite.
Check the right boxes and you'll get precollision braking assist with pedestrian detection, which can automatically brake to avoid or reduce the severity of an impending collision. There's also the lane-keeping assistance system, which can add steering assist to keep the Mustang from drifting out of its lane without signaling. Drift around too much and the Driver Alert System will suggest that maybe it's time to take a break.
With its ever-increasing emphasis on handling performance, efficiency and smart tech, the Ford Mustang becomes more a world-class sports car and less a one-trick pony with every revision. Yer Ford hasn't lost sight of those things -- like the Line Lock burnout mode, the loud active exhaust or the brutal power delivery of the V8 engine -- that make a 'Stang so appealing to its core audience.
This new 2018 model is not just the one of the best Mustangs ever. For the money, it's one of the best sports cars on the road today. Period.
The 2018 Ford Mustang starts at $25,585 for the base EcoBoost Fastback and peaks at $35,095 for the GT before options. That's with the six-speed, the 10-speed auto adds an additional $1,595 to the bottom line. With destination charges and options packages, the GT Premium can easily push above the $50,000 mark.
Like to feel the wind in your hair? Ford also offers the Mustang EcoBoost and GT with a power-retractable fabric top. Add a $5,500 premium for these convertible versions.