For more than 40 years Ford's Mustang has carried the pony car torch for the Blue Oval brand. Over that time, it has seen six generations of redesign -- some revolutionary and others evolutionary. Today, as when it was introduced, the Mustang is a rear-wheel-drive, 2-door that's available as a coupe and convertible. Key competitors include the Chevrolet Camaro and Dodge Challenger.
For 2018, Mustang gets freshened front, rear and interior styling; retuned suspension settings and a new 10-speed automatic transmission. Gone is the V6 engine option, leaving a turbocharged 4-cylinder and V8 as the only available powertrain choices.
Trim levels include EcoBoost, EcoBoost Premium, GT and GT Premium. As you might expect the EcoBoost models get a turbocharged 2.3-liter 4-cylinder engine that makes 310 horsepower. GT models get a 5.0-liter V8 that makes 460 horsepower. Standard with both engines is a 6-speed manual transmission with the new 10-speed automatic being optional.
Standard features on the EcoBoost include limited-slip rear differential, 17-inch wheels, cloth seats, keyless entry and ignition, auto-dimming rearview mirror, 4.2-inch center display screen, Bluetooth, two USB ports and a six-speaker sound system. EcoBoost Premium models add 18-inch wheels, leather upholstery, revised cabin trim, power front seats, nine-speaker audio system, dual-zone automatic climate control, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support and 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system.
GT models add to the EcoBoost the V8 engine, dual exhaust, LED fog lamps, Sync infotainment system and 18-inch wheels. The GT Premium adds to the GT leather-trimmed seats with heating and cooling, heated mirrors with integrated turn signal indicator, selectable driver modes and the 9-speaker audio system.
Options include digital gauge cluster, heated steering wheel, navigation system, Recaro front sport seats, 12-speaker sound system, blind-spot monitor, adaptive cruise control and forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking. The Performance Package includes larger brakes, 19-inch wheels and summer tires, shorter differential ratio, bigger radiator, stiffer front springs and a larger rear stabilizer bar. This package additionally allows access to new-for-2018 MagneRide adaptive suspension dampers.
The convertible features a power operated top with glass rear window. Prices start at $31,135 and climb to $44,855. For those looking for more performance-oriented models, Ford offers both the Mustang Bullitt and the Mustang Shelby GT350.
Simply put, the 5.0-liter V8 is a gem of an engine. Of course, with a 0-60 MPH time of just 5 seconds it's powerful, but it's also quite docile around town. The engine transitions nicely from cruise to power as speed builds quickly and seamlessly throughout the rev band. While the turbo four may be more affordable and fuel efficient, it can't begin to provide the visceral feel of a pavement ripping V8.
The new 10-speed automatic shifts with surprising suppleness. While some automatic transmissions in this class pound through gear changes, the Mustang automatic offers sublime gear changes in gentle cruising that's both welcome and unexpected. Hammer down though, and the automatic snaps through the gears with authority.
Offering only rear-wheel drive is a huge handicap and perhaps an obstacle to ownership here in Chicago. The sport pack's summer tires provide great stick when the temperature is above 50 degrees, but once the thermometer drops below that, traction becomes a crap shoot. All-season tires, or better yet, snow tires, are a must anytime you plan to drive the Mustang in less than summer conditions.
The Mustang GT is EPA rated at 16 MPG city and 25 MPG highway. The numbers are on par with Camaro and Challenger V8s. The Mustang runs on regular-grade fuel while the Camaro requires premium and the Challenger mid-grade. In routine suburban commuting, the Mustang will likely average about 22 MPG overall. Perhaps a touch better if you spend some time on the highway. If you have a heavy throttle foot (and to be honest it is hard not to with the GT) expect fuel economy in the high teens.
Base EcoBoost Mustangs ride comfortably. GT models have a significantly firmer ride that can grow busy at times. With the performance pack, the ride is extremely firm. As you might expect the most athletic model is the performance pack-equipped GT, but even the base Mustang can be fun to flog on twisty back roads. Body lean is modest and the Mustang feels light compared to a Camaro or Challenger. In football speak, think of the Mustang as a punt returner, the Camaro as a running back and the Challenger as a tight end. They are all athletic, but have very different personalities and strengths.
Regardless of trim, the Mustang has great steering that provides plenty of feedback. The brakes have great stopping power -- especially the with performance pack. Interior noise levels are high, but thankfully the exhaust note is tunable on V8 models.
Inside, the base Mustang falls victim to clear cost cutting with wide expanses of hard plastic and somewhat generic-feeling switchgear. Step up to the Premium trim though and the look and feel is more appropriate for the price point. Either way the design and control layout are exceptional with no compromises in functionality.
The front seats are firm and form fitting -- even more so with the optional Recaro seats. Head and leg room are quite good, though. Unfortunately, the Mustang doesn't offer much space for rear-seat occupants. Smaller adults can fit, but only if the front seats are moved well forward. Entry and exit are hampered by the low build and long doors. Outward visibility is probably as good as it gets in the class, but that's not saying much. There are still large blind spots to the rear three quarters.
Ford's Sync3 infotainment system is good, but not class leading. Voice responsiveness can be muddled and the system is occasionally slow to respond to touch. It does incorporate support for Android Auto and Apple Car Play. The available digital gauge cluster is very nice and is worth the extra spend.
Cargo space checks in at 13.5 cubic feet, which is tops in the class. The opening isn't large and the available subwoofer shrinks overall capacity. Interior storage is just average with a few open and covered bins. The center-console is shallow and there's no place to conveniently store a cell phone.
Bottom Line -- Though sales in this segment are waning, the Mustang consistently tops its competition. That's because it perfectly captures the fun-to-drive nature that owners demand without breaking the bank. Others may be more impressive on the drag strip or at the race track, but Mustang offers a blend of performance and civility that the others fail to match. Throw in the silky V8 and smooth-shifting automatic and you have a perfect companion on your weekend getaway.