The new Mustang GT had a high bar to live up to when it spent a week here. Why? We fell absolutely head over heels for the Shelby GT350 last year.
The GT350 felt like the 911 GT3 of muscle-cars -- totally alive in your hands and violently fast at all times. The GT350 felt like a huge leap into the future of sports-cars.
Luckily, when Ford was doing the revamp of the regular Mustang for 2018, their benchmark was none other than our GT350.
The changes are visual of course but are much more technical and engineering-driven under the skin.
Would the fastest-ever Mustang GT with a six-speed manual and the Performance Package 1 be able to top the incredible Shelby? And with loaded GT pricing that goes past $50k... the new GT needs to be near parity with the Shelby.
Let’s dive in with an amazing drive video and standard headings of Exterior, Interior, Performance and Pricing.
Performance Drive Review Video
An evolution of the 2015 design is obvious in this new 2018. The changes are concentrated up front, with a vastly lower hood edge and smaller, but wider, main grille. The LED daytime running lights are angled to a lower angle than before, while the front indicators are now LEDs to match the rest of the low/high/fogs. Subtle, but a cool upgrade from before.
The profile of the machine stays consistent to before in terms of the doors, roofline and flanks. The new ‘low nose’ actually visually lengthens the machine in profile – accentuating the rear-drive, cab-back nature of the beast more than ever. The ‘low nose’ has another benefit of slightly chopped front overhangs, too.
In back, new crimps in the edges of the tri-bar vertical LED taillamps add some visual excitement to a familiar look. The rear surface of the trunk face is now canted even more inward to help the crisp edges of the trunk to pop even more.
The Performance Pack Mustang GT’s now have standard spoilers: this upright version becomes slightly more Shelby-like with the Perf Pack 2.
Does the new Mustang GT look create the same excitement as the previous-gen model when it arrived? Yes and no. Yes, the Mustang looks more like a Mustang than ever before… and looks just new enough to keep your interest. The functional benefits of the ‘low nose’ make you appreciate the new looks more than you might lust after them.
What!? Sacrilege, perhaps, but the new Mustang GT is hard to look dead in the face. The slimmer and wider grille looks slightly awkward from straight on. Luckily, from any angle the new look just ups the drama and Mustang curb appeal nicely.
The Mustang design appears to be evolving similar to its original trajectory – making this new model a bit like the 1969-1970 variants to the 2015 model’s 1965 reboot, if that makes sense.
The cabin of the new ‘Stang is largely carry-over besides a number of functional improvements. Low-sheen surfaces, updated infotainment and the sleek new digital gauge cluster are the primary improvements versus before.
As before, a lot of what makes the Mustang GT cabin feel special is standard: you immediately sink deep into the machine and the door sills are almost above shoulder level for some drivers. This helps you feel cool as F in traffic and plants you deep in the machine for track attack driving. Visibility is nowhere near as compromised as the Chevy Camaro, while the Mustang cabin feels intimate versus the vast jumbo-ness of the Dodge Challenger cabin.
As before, the tilt/telescope and pedals let you find a genuinely perfect drive position. Comfortable and bad ass behind the wheel. But slightly tricky to slide your legs below the wheel and above the huge seat bolsters.
This drive position and the relatively long doors means that the Mustang is slightly challenging to enter and exit in parking lots with cars on either side. The older and fatter you are, the more of a squeeze it might be to get in and out. Is this a big deal? Not really, but worth mentioning.
As before, it takes some serious cash to upgrade the cabin to its top spec. The GT Premium brings standard 12-inch TFT display for the gauges, but requires a $2200 option for SYNC3 touchscreen and $1600 for Recaro sport seats and another $1500 for adaptive cruise.
Other options that greatly enhance the in-car experience? The active exhaust with multiple modes as the magnetic dampers will ring in another $3k atop the $38k ish base price for the GT Premium.
Active exhaust! Active dampers! Hell yea!
Combined with a large jump in overall chassis rigidity, these additions alone help the new Mustang GT to feel vastly more precise at max attack. The nose box feels like it has no slop this time around – even with the roaring V8 at wide open throttle.
A limited-slip rear end is standard this year and quad pipes are too. The new active exhaust lets your mode choices dramatically change the volume of the throbbing V8 rumble. As with the Track Apps, drive modes and steering settings… you really have quite a chameleon of a machine. From quiet and smooth over bumps to ultra firm and ultra aggressive at the tap of a button.
The risk with performance cars with dial-a-feel electronic tech is that none feels ‘just right.’ We’re thrilled to report the Mustang doesn’t have this problem. In soft modes, the machine is a little wilder on full throttle and around corners… and takes a firmer hand to keep it in line. Sure, it is even fun to tame the unruly beast in this setting.
In firmest track and race modes, the GT gets close to the Shelby’s always-max intensity. The car goes from friendly to ferocious. The volume of the exhaust and firm shocks and steering suddenly make the Mustang GT feel lower, wider and meaner than ever. Floor the beast and rip a slalom course without even approaching the limits.
This is the hardcore performance nature that the Shelby always delivers. Is this GT as good?
On most measures, it is. But this different engine characters mean the GT never quite achieves the GT350’s brilliance and liveliness in your hands.
Unlike the Shelby, though, the GT can turn off all that wildness and hum along like a luxury car by comparison.
How is true fast-twisty performance this year? Absolutely stellar. If no GT350 existed, we’ve have no reservations proclaiming this the most trustworthy, intensely fun and fast ‘Stang ever made.
We had an absolutely ball of a time ripping around speedy corners and onramps – and you will too.
Special shout-outs! The 5.0 is better than ever, as is the manual transmission.
The new V8’s ultra high redline is insanely fun to reach, but at times in traffic we did wish for more on-demand torque in the midrange.
The shift linkage of the six-speed manual also gets a big upgrade. Mustang is smoother and easier to drive than before, with a simpler clutch engagement whose smoothness – especially from a stop – is much better than before. The shifter is a meaty, notchy dream in experienced hands – as ever.
Worth noting is the 10-speed automatic now replacing the previous automatic. This new 10-speed is definitely worth considering for the fastest no-skill launches.
We’ve detailed the pricing above except for the bottom line. Priciest on the option list is the $4k Perf Pack 1 – with 19 inch alloys, summer performance rubber and 3.73 rear axle that is slightly racier than standard. Shaky value on that option, and the rich pricing of the touchscreen seems stingy.
Including the $500 Metallic Fury paintwork and $900 delivery, the test car came in at $53,260. This is alarmingly close to the $57k sticker base for the Shelby.
At the end of the day, the new Mustang GT is one of the most exciting cars on the road. Its driver is in a semi-permanent state of ecstacy every time they get to mash that throttle.
With the 2018 upgrades, the new GT is indeed as quick as the Shelby GT350 in nearly any measure. It is as thrilling to drive as it sounds... and it sounds like heaven.
But is it a 911 GT3 of pony cars, like the GT350?
Let's say this is a Carrera 2 S -- still the fastest car you've ever driven in anger. One that chases tight corners as much as it loves straightaways. But the truth is: it is slightly less intoxicating than its Shelby brother.