Read this carefully – here’s a modern muscle car with a 5-liter V-8 pumping out 460 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque, you can shift for yourself, blogs Dan Scanlan.
Yes, a 6-speed manual transmission. In an all-black ’18 Mustang GT with the Performance Package that gives it an extra 25 ponies. Oh yeah, there’s active exhaust that tunes the sound from mild to deep-throated, echoed-off-the-walls wild, that’s great to hear from its red leather Recaro bucket seats.
It’s been a long time since I’ve had American iron, or any sports car worth its salt, with a manual gearbox. But our Mustang tester, with 5,400 miles, had a revised engine – new dual-fuel, high-pressure direct injection and low-pressure port fuel injection, revised cylinder head, additional knock sensors, and new crankshaft and connecting rod bearings. The 6-speed manual has a twin-disc clutch and dual-mass flywheel. And there’s a strut bar spanning the engine from shock tower to shock tower.
So, set the drivetrain to “Normal,” and the Mustang GT launched cleanly with a hint of wheelspin to 60 mph in 4.6 seconds – quick. The twin-disc clutch pedal had great bite where it should, the stumpy lever precise and fairly short throw in action. The alloy-clad brake and gas pedals are so nicely aligned I could blip the throttle with the right side of my foot while braking.
To compare, the 3,712-pound. Mustang convertible I tested recently with 2.3 liter EcoBoost four (310 horsepower with 320 pound-feet of torque) took 6.6 seconds to 60 with its 6-speed automatic. A ‘16 GT I tested with a 435-horsepower 5-liter V-8 hit 60-mph in 4.1 seconds with launch control. FYI – Mustang also offers a 3.7-liter V-6 with 300 horsepower.
Back in black, I set drivetrain to “Race,” which allowed wheelspin at launch, and our fastback hit 60 mph in 4 seconds, and 100 mph in 11.3 seconds, rear rubber hissing in the 1-2 shift. The GT has launch control, so I set an rpm limit, then dumped the clutch and let traction control handle wheelspin. The adjustable exhaust, set to “Sport,” bellowed off walls nearby – it’s addictive as the car just hooked and launched clean after time. The GT also has Line Lock, which locks front brakes so you can spin the rears. Use both and we got a very satisfying launch with some short but sweet black stripes behind us, the Mustang staying straight and true as we roared to the horizon. We averaged 17-mpg on premium.
Going straight is fine, but how’s it handle? The GT has 4-wheel independent suspension with stabilizer bars, plus optional MagneRide and some very sticky Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S summer tires aided by a Torsen limited-slip differential. Active damping can be fine-tuned for “Normal” or “Sport,” while sensors adjust the ride and handling. Set to Normal, the ride was firm but fairly forgiving over bumps. Set to Sport, – my favorite – ride motions were quickly but nicely handled, bumps quick to fade after a firm but buffered rebound.
The result was a 3,700-pound fastback that’s light on its feet but well planted. It loved curves with little body roll and plenty of driver involvement, letting me push harder as the limited-slip differential helped keep the tail in line. Switch to Sport and we could get the tail to work under throttle on curves, allowing a pinch of throttle oversteer before the safety stuff kicked in. I’d snap around a corner and apply some throttle and the GT would break its tail for a second, then counter-steer and throttle play would catch it – no stability control needed with the sticky Michelins. Really pushed on the skidpad, some understeer showed, but a touch of throttle would let the rears work.
Brembo six-piston calipers visible inside those gloss black alloy wheel’s spokes offered quick bite and a progressive pedal as the fastback stopped short and straight with minimal nose dive. Plus, those with the manual and hills will like a two-second hill-holder system when going from brake, to gas and clutch.
As the first and longest-living (54 years) Ponycar, our sixth-generation model lives on its 2014 platform with some simple, but leaner, meaner looks on top of the traditional long nose/short tail design. The 2018 grille’s upper edge sticks out further and lower, black mesh deep inside with twin side lines to break up the menacing maw. The longer hood gets a subtle center spine and two fake vents. The bumper is slimmer, with a more aggressive lower GT air dam with side wings, fog lights moved to corner slits. The flanks remain untouched, flared fenders neatly framing new-for-2018 P255/40 front/P275/40 rear 19-inch Michelin Pilot Sport rubber on gloss black wheels. There’s prominent “5.0” badges on front fenders, a wide flared lower sill between.
The fastback flows to a new center-mounted rear wing, loved by Mustang fans. Under that, what a Mustang-loving friend called “boomerang” taillights, the 2018 freshening curving their triple-bars. Quad pipes for the GT are in an aero panel with flared wings at outer edges.
Inside, the classic dashboard of past Mustangs remains, black faux leather with red stitching atop dual cowls, plus more on doors and center console that looked great and softened many hard plastic pieces. The bolstered red leather Recaro bucket seats were supportive without need for power adjustments, the perfect driving position easy to set.
The GT had a button to access acceleration timer, brake performance, Line Lock, lap timer and active exhaust. With a new, customizable 12-inch LCD digital instrument display, you can display an 8,000-rpm tach and 160-mph speedometer in multiple layouts, or a full strip tach with digital rpm and speed for Dragstrip mode, red stripes at 7,000-rpm so you see how close you are to redline. In some modes, LED strips race toward each other at the display’s top to show when to upshift.
New and appreciated by neighbors are redesigned exhaust valves that can be set for quiet, normal, sport or track sound. Dashboard center gets oil pressure and vacuum gauges between air vents. The 12-speaker Shaker audio system with big sub-woofer in the trunk vibrates the rear-view mirror with good sound. That said, plastic controls for stereo and dual-zone climate control look and feel a bit cheap. The rear seats are barely usable, but flip to enlarge a usable trunk that loses space to that subwoofer.
The base Mustang fastback with 2.3-liter EcoBoost four with 310-horsepower starts at $25,680 and goes all the way to the 526-horsepower Shelby GT350 at $57,000. Our GT’s base price was $39,095. The $3,995 GT Performance Package had Michelin rubber, black alloy wheels, 3.73 Torsen rear axle and rear wing; $2,200 premium trim added navigation and stitched interior trim; $1,595 was for the Recaro bucket seats; $1,495 for adaptive cruise control; $1,695 for MagneRide suspension, plus $895 Shaker speaker system, $895 active exhaust and $395 security system – in total, $52,260, closing in on GT350.
Make mine black. And don’t forget, a Performance Package 2 is coming that adds more to this fun!
Words & Photos: Dan Scanlan
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