Say what you will about performance cars with automatic transmissions, there’s certainly a time and place for them. The time and place for the Ford Mustang GT and its new 10-speed SelectShift automatic? All day, every day in gridlocked Los Angeles.
The Mustang received a mid-cycle redo this year, and it wasn’t limited to the usual nip and tuck, though indeed the 2018 model has a more aggressive lower air dam than its 2015–17 predecessor, plus hooded headlights, revised rear LEDs, and quad exhaust tips for the GT. Under the hood, the GT’s 5.0-liter V-8 was bumped to 460 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque thanks to a combination of direct and port fuel injection and a higher compression ratio. The turbocharged EcoBoost 2.3-liter four, with its 310 ponies, is now up to 350 lb-ft of torque, a nice bump from last year’s 320, and 25 combined mpg. These two engines made the V-6 redundant a long time ago, but Ford wasn’t brave enough to kill it until now. It won’t be missed.
In the GT, the standard six-speed manual now has a twin-disc clutch and dual-mass flywheel to better handle the torquey V-8. If the Mustang GT is your “fun car,” it’s a terrific choice. However, if you’re commuting on the Ventura Freeway—or really on any freeway in any metro area anywhere, it seems—the 10-speed automatic makes a lot of sense. It’s the product of a bipartisan venture with GM (there really is hope for world peace), and you’ll also find it in the F-150 Raptor and Camaro ZL1. In the Mustang, it’s a $1595 option that brought our loaded GT’s as-tested price to just under $40,000.
The new gearbox works just as well away from gridlock, on the loneliest roads I could find in the Angeles National Forest and the desert scrub farther north, home also to some fabulous sunsets. With such close ratios, the shifts are fast and barely noticeable, and the paddle shifters always put the right gear at your fingertips. Adjustable driving modes include Normal, Snow/Wet, Sport, and Track, and allow the driver to custom-tune the Mustang’s responsiveness to any situation. Above and beyond all that, there is the optional, configurable Drag Strip mode, which Ford says will help launch the GT to 60 mph in less than four seconds, almost fast enough to stretch your face muscles. Electronic line lock is standard on V-8 and EcoBoost Mustangs, and it makes a fine pairing with Drag mode because it allows drivers to get heat into their tires ahead of a race.
But this Mustang isn’t just a straight-line darling. MagneRide (magnetic) active dampers help turn the Mustang into a canyon-carving hoot. Several sensors detect speed, steering angle, brake pressure, acceleration, torque, and more all in real time, allowing the system to instantly provide the ideal ride. MagneRide dampers were solely offered on the Mustang GT350 in the past, but now are paired with sticky 255/40R19 Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires in the Performance Pack. (Performance Pack Level 2 cars get even more aggressive Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires.) Also available is a new active valve performance exhaust, which lets you tune the level of noise. Feel like rattling the neighbors’ windows as you head off to work? Crank it up! Want to escape silently into the darkness of night? Well, you can do that too.
Front and center is a new 12-inch all-digital LCD instrument display, a Ford first. You can customize the look with 26 color options for up to eight gauges, and easy personalization using Mustang MyMode means it’s easy to save settings for steering, suspension, and exhaust note preferences.
A dozen alloy wheel designs are offered, as are 11 exterior color options, from basic black to crazy Orange Fury metallic tri-coat. Optional Recaro seats lend the interior even more sportiness, and a California Special Package adds 19-inch ebony wheels, ebony suede seat inserts with red stitching, an aluminum dashboard finish, and more.
Three years ago, the Mustang made a quantum leap, gaining an independent rear suspension, spectacular styling, and an efficient but powerful turbo engine. The changes for 2018 merely polish the gem and help keep the cross-Detroit pony car war alive and well.