When Ford engineers were at work on the 2018 Mustang GT, which gained 25 horsepower for a total of 460, they came across a problem that presented a tantalizing opportunity. The GT’s added grunt was overwhelming its rear tires under hard track driving—what was to be done? Amp up the rubber, retune the suspension, and slap on a few aero bits, of course.
Working after hours, the Mustang team came up with a new Performance Pack it dubbed “Level 2,” which even further closes the gap between the GT and the snarling Shelby GT350. Slotting above the existing Mustang GT Performance Pack, the Level 2 setup is all about maximizing downforce and grip.
“Truth is, the biggest bump in performance comes from Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires,” says Mustang vehicle engineering manager Tom Barnes. “We plucked them straight from the front of the GT350R.” According to Barnes, the Cup 2s are an order of magnitude more capable than the regular Performance Pack’s Pilot Sport 4 rubber.
The new, wider tires sit on new wheels as well, sized 10.5 inches in the front and 11 inches in the rear, compared to the 9 inches and 9.5 inches, respectively, on the Level 1 Performance Pack. It’s all about generating better traction, particularly in the rear, by flattening out the tire and increasing the size of the contact patch. But wider wheels mean more aerodynamic lift, leading Mustang engineers to add a bigger, lower front splitter and revised rear spoiler to provide more downforce. Rounding out the Level 2 package are thicker front and rear stabilizer bars (12 percent and 67 percent stiffer, respectively); stiffer springs (20 percent front, 13 percent rear); retuned MagneRide active magnetic dampers; and revised ABS, traction control, and stability control tuning.
The end goal? Create a Mustang GT that is not just faster around a race track, but also more fluid and linear in its behavior. In that respect, the Performance Pack Level 2 delivers the goods. On the track, the first thing you notice is the additional grip. Blast down a straightaway with the sound of that 5.0-liter Coyote V-8 barreling against your ear drums, and all it takes is a firm stab of the brake pedal to reel in the big pony. The Brembo six-piston calipers, combined with a more aggressive brake booster, provide responsive, consistent stopping power. And once the weight of the car shifts forward, you can carry loads of speed through sweeping corners on those Michelin Cup 2s, without worrying the car is going to break loose. Steering is weighted perfectly, loading up mid-corner in a way that feels natural and predictable.
The Performance Pack Level 2 comes exclusively with a six-speed manual transmission, which is pleasantly mechanical in feel and comfortable for track use. For 2019, expect an automatic rev-matching feature to become available.
But maybe the real beauty of this package is that it comes with little trade-off—the Level 2 package is as civil and comfortable to drive around as a regular Mustang GT. It does cost $6500, however, plus $2000 for the required 301A convenience package that adds 18-inch alloy wheels, selectable drive modes, and some interior comfort amenities. That brings the total cost to $44,685, which is right in line with the cost of the $44,995 2018 Chevy Camaro SS 1LE. For its part, the Camaro brings an additional track cooling package to help keep the engine, transmission, and differential from overheating during hard track use. The Mustang GT Performance Pack Level 2 doesn’t provide the same kit.
All told, though, $45,000 buys you one seriously potent pony car. It’s the closest you’ll get to a GT350 without having to shell out an additional 11 grand, and that’s before any dealer markup on the hot Shelby. For the occasional weekend warrior, or just a Blue Oval die-hard with a flair for the dramatic, the GT Performance Pack Level 2 is undoubtedly the sweet spot of the Mustang stable.