The 2018 Ford Mustang benefits from a major refresh, with significant changes in styling, drivetrain, suspension, and interior. It’s better looking, the V8 is more powerful, the EcoBoost turbo four is improved, and there’s a new 10-speed automatic transmission. The V6 is retired after faithful decades of service.
The Mustang is smarter than ever: more capable, more fun, better balanced, and faster. Styling changes, with redesigned grille and hood, are subtle but make the car striking. The 2018 Mustang draws stares, casual observers noticing something has changed.
The cabin is cleaner, at least the optional upgrade is, and interior materials better. There’s also an optional digital instrument cluster and active exhaust.
The two EcoBoost models use a new 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that makes a superb 310 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque. The two GT models use the brilliant 5.0-liter V8 that now makes 460 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque (increased from 435 hp and 400 lb ft). With either engine, you can get a six-speed manual transmission, or ten-speed automatic.
Adaptive suspension is available on every model. It uses dampers with magnetic fluid, and allows a driver to set the ride at soft for around-town comfort, or firm for sharp handling. The Mustang is just catching up to the Camaro that’s been using these advanced shocks for years.
The new active exhaust is available on the Mustang GT. Its sound level can be set by the driver. It transforms the car’s character, and makes acceleration fun. We think it’s worth it.
There is a 12-inch digital instrumentation display available on the top two trims. Most of the information is driving data. It’s a beautiful interface, not sprawling like the Audi’s, and the gauges can be configured by the driver, for example shift lights. It’s especially useful with the Track Apps performance package. It’s something that the Camaro and Dodge Challenger don’t have.
The 2.3-liter turbo hardtop with the 10-speed automatic gets 21 mpg city, 32 highway, 25 combined, the convertible gets 2 less mpg. Also 2 mpg less if with the Performance Pack for the engine. The 5.0-liter V-8 with the 10-speed automatic gets 16/25/19 mpg.
2018 Mustang comes as Fastback EcoBoost ($25,585), Fastback EcoBoost Premium ($30,600), Fastback GT ($35,095) and Fastback GT Premium ($39,095). (Prices are MSRP and do not include destination charge.)
The Mustang Convertible doesn’t come with GT trim. The six-speed manual gearbox is standard with all models; the 10-speed automatic is ($1595) extra.
Not to be forgotten is the Shelby GT350 ($55,845).
Standard equipment includes automatic LED headlamps, active noise cancellation, keyless ignition, leather-wrapped steering wheel, six-speaker sound system, and rearview camera.
Premium models add heated and cooled front seats, leather seats, Sync 3 infotainment with 8.0-inch touchscreen, and dual-zone automatic climate control. The new digital instrument cluster is available only with Premium. It’s bundled with navigation, upgraded leather with accent stitching, colored door trim, heated steering wheel, WiFi hotspot, and remote start.
For 2018 there’s also a new Performance Package for both the EcoBoost ($2495) and GT ($3995), adding bigger wheels with grippier tires, firmer suspension, beefier rear differential, enhanced cooling, and Brembo six-piston front brakes. The performance packages don’t include the active suspension with magnetic dampers, which are extra ($1695).
The Mustang was redesigned for 2015, and the change was not universally accepted by Mustang fans. So for 2018 Ford has cleaned things up in the front and rear.
Headlamps, taillamps and bumpers have been tweaked, but more than that, the nose has been lowered, bringing out the shark. Only 20 millimeters, less than one inch, but it makes a striking difference; the car has a presence it didn’t have before. However we’re not sure what this will mean when parking with the nose against curbs. You might want to watch that.
The headlamps are more shapely and more deeply set, which accentuates the nose. New marker lights sit against vertical vents.
New taillamps are subtly angled and arced, making the back look slimmer. Unfortunately the optional spoiler looks like a low-cost aftermarket job, just slapped on. But fortunately, it only comes with the Performance Package, and buyers can tell Ford to keep it. Ford doesn’t even charge extra, for declining this inferior product.
It’s safe to say that most Mustangs are owned by single people or couples, and for them the seating is great. All three types of bucket front seats work well: the base fabric upholstery, leather and upgraded leather, or Recaro sport seats. They are comfortable around town and supportive in the corners. They’re a bit snug, announcing the car’s preparedness if not intention, but the side bolsters are soft enough to give. And there’s a wide range of adjustment, so even tall drivers have enough headroom and legroom in front.
Don’t expect much from the rear seating. The Mustang is a 2+2, not a four-seat sedan. So the legroom is seriously limited back there. With just 29 inches, it’s less than the Camaro. But at least the two slim seats are supportive, as occupants sink in.
Climbing in and out is a challenge without hitting your head on the roofline, although it’s easier than the Camaro which has even less headroom.
The most fun rear passengers will have is in the convertible, with the top down. It’s a breeze to squeeze in and out standing up, and with infinite headroom, they’ll forget about their cramped knees. So, if rear passengers are part of your lifestyle, consider going topless.
The trunk size is slim, too; so a road trip will fill the trunk and the rear jump seats. But compared to the Camaro, the Mustang’s trunk is massive: 13.5 cubic feet vs 9.1 cu ft. Comparing convertibles, it’s Mustang 11.4 v Camaro 7.2. However when you bring in the Dodge Challenger hardtop, its 16.2 cubic feet blows the Mustang away.
The Mustang came back in 2005 as retro, but Ford went too far retro with the cabin. Primitive ugly instrumentation and hard plastics. It got better with the 2015 refresh, but for 2018 disappointments remain. Despite handsome fabric or leather inserts, the upper doors feel cheap and hollow. The center console has premium elements around the shifter, but still is the same story as the doors.
The centerstack has a nice design, and the Premium model features sweet toggle switches. The plastic background looks perfectly like machined aluminum. Carbon-fiber is available that replaces the plastic with carbon-fiber galore, on the instrument panel, doors, spreading onto the gearshift knob. Curiously, it’s not available with the digital dash panel or available Recaro seats.
The cabin improvements are all on the options list. The Equipment Package makes it classier. Upgraded leather comes in basic black, red, or cool black with blue piping. It also adds heated and cooled front seats, Sync 3 infotainment system with an 8.0-inch touchscreen, and dual-zone automatic climate control.
The optional digital instrument panel comes only with the Premium trim. It’s on the driver’s side and is focused on driving information. With programmable gauges, it gives an upscale air to the cabin, over the basic analog gauges.
The performance of the 2018 Mustang is more complete and compelling than it’s ever been. Not only for the new power and available active magnetic suspension, but also for its stout brakes and steering rack that’s weighted just right.
They used to call the V6 Mustang a chick’s car, with its lower power output, and it was a favorite of young women. Now with the V6 gone, will the EcoBoost twin-turbo continue to be a chick’s car? They won’t have to say it’s only a V6, they can boast that it’s a twin-turbo. No question twin turbo sounds hotter than V6.
The base 2.3-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine gets more torque, making it easier to drive because torque means grunt, responsiveness. Ford engineers learned a lot from the Focus RS with its same-sized engine. The horsepower remains the same, at an awesome 310; but the torque blasts up from 320 to 350 foot-pounds. Picture secretaries doing burnouts.
The new 10-speed automatic transmission is the result of a joint project between Ford and General Motors. The 10-speed has worked in the Ford F-150, Expedition, Lincoln Navigator, Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, and GM’s full-size SUVs.
With the 2.3-liter engine, the upshifts and downshifts are crisp and predictable, and not just when the car is set in a sporty or performance driving mode, but even when it’s in the normal driving mode.
But the 10-speed transmission doesn’t work with the 5.0-liter twin-cam V8 engine, which revs quickly and has so much power. Or at least the programming in the GT model we drove during our test drive in Southern California wasn’t right. It felt like there’s just too much engine for the 10-speed to handle. During our seat time, the transmission seemed to get confused, and was sometimes slow to respond.
We drove a Mustang with both the Performance Package and Magnetic Ride Control, features that theoretically make it the most agile and composed Mustang ever built. In Sport mode, the dampers stiffen to produce handling that’s sharp and steady even on rough roads, forgiving in terms of balance, predictable, composed. It’s much advanced over the old solid rear axle.
When the dampers are set to their softest mode, and the exhaust system to its quietest tuning, the Mustang feels like a grand touring car.
The staggering Shelby GT350 uses a 5.2-liter V8 and the magnetic-damper suspension. It’s a bit brittle on the street; it belongs on the track. See Motor Authority’s first drive of the Ford Shelby GT350.
The GT with its V8 can accelerate from zero to sixty in less than four seconds, a stunning performance at its low price point. The active exhaust system makes it downright charming. You can tune the exhaust as easy as you turn up the volume on your TV. From almost silent, to the deep base of a V8 rumble, to a menacing bellow.
And last but not least you can do flawless burnouts at the push of a button and press of a pedal, thanks to Ford’s hilarious electronic line lock, standard equipment.
The Mustang with the new 10-speed automatic and 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine deliver strong power and torque in a four-cylinder. For sportiness and driving fun, a Mustang GT with the V8 and six-speed manual is a killer car for the money.
Sam Moses contributed to this report, with driving impressions by The Car Connection staff.