2018 Ford Mustang review - pony car ponies up even more fun
Facelifted Mustang's improvements are welcome - and it's still a unique driving experience in the market
The new Mustang is a slightly more tempting proposition than before. Whatever you think of the styling changes - the low nose and different headlight treatment isn’t universally popular - the latest car boasts new technical elements, better performance and economy and new safety features, the latter of which should give it a better Euro NCAP rating than its current 2-star attainment.
And of course, it’s still an all-American sports coupe with the option of a thumping V8, a noisy exhaust and some bright paintwork, which is a combination denied to UK buyers until the current Mustang first hit our shores a few years back. That alone will sell it for some - but has the latest round of improvements been worthwhile?
Engine, transmission and 0-60mph time
As before, two engines are available. The first, and - let’s be honest - least appealing is the 2.3-litre EcoBoost four-cylinder. Power is actually down but torque is up on the new car, producing 286bhp at 5400rpm and 325lb ft at 3000rpm.
Six-speed manual-equipped 2.3s are capable of covering the 0-62mph time in 5.8sec and nudging 145mph, while those fitted with the new ten-speed automatic go slightly better, knocking three tenths off that time. Convertibles are a couple of tenths slower over each coupe model, though all feature the same 145mph top-end.
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The V8 remains the brawnier of the pair, more so than before with a healthy power increase to 444bhp at a respectable 7000rpm. Torque is greater than the turbocharged car too by virtue of cubic capacity; while the peak is at a loftier 4600rpm, the 390lb ft figure is a useful improvement over the 2.3.
That doesn’t quite represent how it feels on the road either, as the turbocharged car suffers low-rev lag and never really gets going thereafter, fighting against a 1662kg kerb weight. The V8 is even lardier at 1743kg in manual form, but it still overcomes aerodynamic drag and rolling friction to post a 4.6-second 0-62mph time in manual form and 4.3sec in the auto. All butt against an electronically-limited 155mph top speed, and the process of getting there feels so much more exciting with that rousing V8 soundtrack to accompany you.
The new Ford Mustang may look similar to its predecessor but there’s plenty extra going on under the skin, aside from the engine and transmission tweaks already mentioned. The first is optional MagneRide damping, which now gives Mustang owners the ability to firm up the dampers through the Normal, Sport, Track and new Drag settings.
Those drive modes are signalled to the driver through a new TFT display in the instrument cluster, whose layout changes depending on the driving mode selected.
In Normal you get a relatively conventional twin analogue dial setup with the space between showing various different types of information. Snow/Wet is similar, but Sport mode, along with improvements to throttle response (and steering, and with MagnaRide, damping) extends the rev counter all the way along the top of the display. Track goes one further: the circular dials disappear, replaced by a bar tachometer, large gear readout, and much smaller digital speedo. Drag Strip mode focuses on your gear and your speed, and a new “My Mode” is a way to adjust settings to your individual preference.
What’s it like to drive?
A not insignificant 70 per cent of UK Mustang buyers will go down the V8 route, and half of those will opt for the new ten-speed automatic transmission, so it’s this combination we tried first - albeit without the adaptive suspension.
Having driven to the launch venue in our long-term GT convertible, differences between old and new are slight but worthwhile. The quality of some cabin plastics has improved and the leather wrapping an otherwise similar three-spoke steering wheel feels better in the palms. Likewise, the new digital display is a welcome inclusion - digitally rendering otherwise conventional analogue dials seems like a waste of digital real estate, but the new formats when flicking between driving modes are clear, interesting and visually unique.
Equipped with the GT’s standard active exhaust system, the note emerging from behind you is harder than before - though a quiet mode lets you start up the car in relative silence to avoid awkward interactions with your neighbours. A few blips suggest the throttle is still a little slovenly at low revs in Normal mode but it livens up in Sport, and this will be the default if you want to explore the ‘Stang’s best side.
The raised power output isn’t immediately apparent but the five-point-oh is still a deeply satisfying engine to use, pulling throughout its rev range and romping along quite nicely at higher revs, accompanied by an escalating growl that’s increasingly rare as V8s become fewer and further between. The 10-speed auto isn’t the perfect partner though, as the number of gears available seems to confuse it when asking for kickdown. It’s better changing with the paddles, but still only average here; the chunky six-speed manual, now with revised ratios, still seems like the more satisfying option.
Chassis tuning also feels much the same as before. The Mustang remains a hoot to feed down a twisty road provided you don’t ask too much of it; at a brisk pace the steering’s meaty weighting and easy rate of response feel in-tune with the way the body moves about, but push harder and the slightly lazy damping struggles with bumpier surfaces and quicker direction changes.
If there’s an upside to this, it’s that the Mustang feels very approachable despite its limitations, and many will enjoy the unique experience of threading a slightly unweildy V8 coupe down a challenging British back-road. There’s enough grip at both ends to carry decent pace too, and while traction is good, you can still enjoy small slides here and there (or potentially bigger ones, if you have more space handy) and appreciate the Mustang’s inherent rear-drive balance.
The manual and magnetic ride-equipped 2.3 Ecoboost was a different beast entirely. Though perhaps “beast” isn’t quite the right word, as it feels rather flat and characterless next to the V8. It drones where the V8 roars and caresses you out of roundabouts rather than punching you in the spine like its eight-cylinder counterpart, all the while returning economy figures in the low 20s. Why would you opt for this engine, again?
The manual gearbox is the right choice though - it's as chunky and mechanical as before, though you can’t fully enjoy downshifts thanks to the same grabby brake pedal as its predecessor, which hobbles attempts at slick heel-and-toe gearchanges.
Magnetic ride too seems to work in the Mustang’s favour. Even in normal mode there’s less float than the standard setup without any loss of comfort at a cruise, yet it also bucks and hops less over broken surfaces than the regular suspension, minimising the side-to-side rocking you often got with the old car. There doesn’t seem to be a great increase in firmness in Sport mode, at least on the relatively undemanding test route, but equally there’s little comfort penalty.
Price and rivals
2018 Mustang pricing begins at £35,995 for the 2.3 Ecoboost and £41,095 for the GT. Adding the 10-speed automatic increases this by £1600 and convertibles at £3500 extra.
Those numbers are higher than they were pre-facelift, but still represent relatively good value given the performance on offer - for some perspective, the admittedly higher-end (but otherwise similarly naturally-aspirated) Lexus RC F is in the region of £60k, and reaches 62mph in the same 4.5sec as the auto-equipped Mustang.
It’s harder to make a case for the Ecoboost, not only because it’s only around £5k less than the V8, but also because its relative lack of performance and character makes it a harder sell against some of the quicker hot hatchbacks available in the £30k range; front-drive it may be, but the rowdy Civic Type R will match the manual Ecoboost to 62mph and deliver greater thrills on the road.
Opt for the V8 coupe with the manual transmission and specify magnetic ride, and the new Mustang is a small but usefully improved car over its predecessor. But best of all, it remains a Mustang - and that gives it a feel-good factor like few other cars at this price.