Now with a 10-speed automatic, revised styling, more power and a nastier exhaust note, the new Ford Mustang tries to be even tougher than it was. Is it?
The 2018 Ford Mustang is an interesting beast. In theory, it should be right up my alley. I love V8 engines (of all shapes and sizes), RWD performance cars, muscle car history, old muscle cars themselves, and I respect and understand the brevity of the original Mustang. What it means to the genre, is almost immeasurable.
Driving the modern iteration is therefore a daunting experience. You’re always keen to see a future icon live up to your expectations, and in the case of Ford locally, the Mustang is it. RWD, V8 engine, the noise, the experience, ‘the feels’ as those of you under 30 like to hashtag on social – the new Mustang is it.
Read our pricing and specification guide for the full details, and you can read Curt’s local launch drive too. There are plenty of words on offer to describe the changes that Ford has swept across the Mustang. Some of them were needed – tech and safety – some of them, maybe not – styling changes and a 10-speed automatic. Here, we’ll try to find out then whether Ford has delivered a more muscular, ahem, muscle car.
As you’ll see in Curt’s video, the styling is definitely a love it or hate it proposition. And up front especially, I’m in the 'I don’t love it' category. The sharp edges to the headlights, the huge grille, they don’t really do it for me. I can’t help but think the less stylised outgoing model was better. And there’s no bonnet power bulge anymore either.
However, the rear of the Mustang looks as good as ever, thanks in part to the deeper diffuser and quad-tailpipe array, which undoubtedly looks tougher than the old model’s twin-tailpipe execution. The tail-lights look pretty bloody good too, but we’ll have ours without the rear wing thanks.
The issues with the first locally available retro Mustang’s safety credentials are well documented, and we won’t revisit them here. This new variant has moved forward from the first model… A little. What I’d urge you to do is this. If you’re considering the purchase of a new Mustang, think of it as a two-seat sports car. Leave second-row occupants out of the equation and you’re onto a winner. That takes most of the safety issue out of the equation.
Further, for mine this is the model you want. You want the V8, obviously. It doesn’t matter how good the Ecoboost is, everyone wants a V8. And you want the auto, because while shifting gears yourself is a uniquely enjoyable interaction between driver and vehicle, a lazy, powerful big V8 has always responded so well to an auto ’box. The Mustang always has too, and the 10-speed promises to be an interesting addition to a not so technical segment.
I don’t dislike the manual by any means, but if cool cruising is your aim, it’s the auto that best suits that brief. Especially if you’re lucky enough to contend with Sydney/Melbourne/Brisbane traffic. Readers in South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania, stop sniggering, your time will come.
Our test Mustang starts from $66,259 plus on-road costs, and despite the price hike with the new model, it still represents eyebrow raising bang-for-your-buck. Outside of a Kia Stinger GT, what else can you access that delivers RWD, a powerful engine, and performance credentials of this nature at this pricepoint? Not much is the short answer. Not much is the even longer answer. You could throw the BMW M140i in there, but it’s a very different beast even though it's still RWD.
The 5.0-litre V8 engine has higher compression, freer-flowing heads and more punch than the outgoing model's engine. It punches out 339kW at 7500rpm, making it the highest-revving Mustang GT produced. There’s also a chunky 556Nm on offer, and the twin fuel injection system helps to deliver that thump in the back.
Will the cabin suit everyone? No. Is it exactly what you’ll want if you’re into the idea of a new Mustang? Yep, undoubtedly. The general ambience, the seats, the trim, the twin-hump dash, the steering wheel and the way you sit down into the cabin. It’s all near-perfect pony car spec. Headlining the inclusions are the excellent infotainment system and customisable driver gauge display that isn’t as exotic as some, but looks the goods nonetheless.
There is a caveat, though. The optional Recaro sports seats looked (in my opinion) a bit silly, and they weren’t as comfortable for most of us in the CarAdvice office as the standard offerings have proven to be previously. So, save yourself the money and run with the standard pews.
Ford’s SYNC system is reliable and easy to use too. We didn’t have any issues with it crapping out on test, and the CarPlay element of the infotainment ensemble worked flawlessly. It’s clear and concise for both incoming and outgoing calls too, as reported by people on the other end of the line. On the other side of the equation, the Bluetooth connection is also excellent, so you’ve got two good options for connectivity there.
The muscle car experience is most visible from behind the wheel – in terms of how the car makes you feel when you drive it, the noise it makes, and perhaps most importantly, the impact it has on everyone else. If you like the idea of being noticed, the new Mustang will not disappoint. It looks different enough from the previous one for passers-by to notice it and understand that it's the face-lifted variant too.
My only gripe with the drive experience was the ridiculously touchy throttle pedal, which never seemed to be any less savage no matter which driving mode I opted for. It was razor sharp at all times, and especially in traffic at crawling speeds, downright annoying. It’s an issue very much worth taking notice of if, like us, your commute takes in plenty of stop/start traffic.
You can drive around it, but you shouldn’t have to, and I can’t help but wonder if it’s the calibration or simply the too-many-speed automatic gearbox, which defaults to the highest possible gear and therefore the best chance at fuel efficiency. We’ve asked the question before, when is too many gears too many? It appears 10 might in fact be the answer.
The shifting of the gearbox is otherwise seamless – no jerkiness or slow to react shifts either up or down through the ratios. It delivers on a promise of enjoyable driving, even if it does shift into eighth at 60km/h, like it was routinely doing for us on test. Not an issue if you lust after economy. It can be an issue if you want immediate, punchy acceleration from low speed, though.
The noise is sublime, even if it is a little on the too-loud side first thing in the morning. If your neighbours care, you probably have the wrong neighbours. And so many of us said the first Mustang delivered locally was too quiet, so Ford has very obviously listened. The new active-valve exhaust system is almost obnoxiously loud, which for me is just right. There is a mode that keeps it quiet to make sure everyone is happy, though.
The new Mustang is, however, a relevant, well executed, attractive muscle car for the new millennium. The fact we even have access to it at all in these politically correct, sensible times is something to rejoice in. I’d still plump for the auto and just try to live with its low-speed recalcitrance. And the ‘too loud’ exhaust is just loud enough now.
We asked the question whether the new Mustang was more muscular than the outgoing model, and the answer really is a resounding yes. Styling aside – subjective as it is – the new Mustang makes more power, uses it more effectively, sounds tougher, and ticks all the right muscle car boxes. Ford’s roll of Mustang success isn’t ending any time soon it seems.