- Flexible, powerful engine
- Just practical enough
- Hugely fun to drive
- Expensive with options
- Interior doesn’t reflect price tag
- Rear seat access is just okay
If anyone asks, we ate our vegetables. And went to bed early, avoided sugar, got plenty of fresh air, kept to a minimum of screen time, and didn’t spend all our pocket money on Hot Wheels. If anyone asks. Got your stories straight?
Is it too much? Yes, absolutely.
And we definitely, definitely, didn’t do any burnouts. Ahem. Don’t tell your mother.
Welcome to (ir)responsibility: a V8-powered 2018 Ford Mustang GT and an entire week with no adult supervision except for Dad. Dad being me, and me being an eight-year-old with a driver’s licence. No unnecessary risks were taken, but we did have quite a lot of fun. Or, if Mom asks, the whole vegetables, books about nature, and early to bed thing.
Since 1966, you haven’t been able to mention the Mustang without mentioning the Camaro, both of which were recently refreshed. The Camaro’s big change, apart from a very questionable facelift, has been the repositioning of turbocharged power upward in the range, with Chevrolet hoping to match Ford’s momentum with its EcoBoost models.
For today’s youth, the four-cylinder turbocharged Mustang has truly come of age, being a highly tunable rear-drive machine that costs about the same as a Subaru WRX. A base model plus the performance package is under $32,000 including freight, and nets you everything from upgraded suspension, cooling, and brakes, to 19-inch rims and rear-spoiler go-fast looks.
The GT, on the other hand, is perhaps for older buyers looking to capture their youth, as they’re likely the only ones that can afford it. A five-figure price tag that begins with a six is only semi-affordable compared to something with a BMW or Audi badge, and does require that you be a little ahead in your career, with dreams of that LX 5.0L notchback that the coolest kid in school drove.
If, as I do, you have fond memories of Fox bodies and IROC-Zs facing down at the local Friday night dragstrip run-what-you-brung, being able to put a pony car in the stable is a great deal more satisfying than leveraging a higher lease payment to be able to get the bigger rims on your 3 Series/A4/C-Class. However, odds are you’ve got a couple of passengers you want to take along for the ride, at least until they reach the eye-rolling ages.
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The Camaro may be chasing the Mustang for younger buyers, but as far as Dad-wear goes, a Bullitt T-shirt is the one for your wardrobe. The Camaro’s rear seats are as vestigial as a bat’s back legs at this point, while the Mustang still has enough room for little riders to saddle up.
Practicality seems like a petty consideration when looking at a vehicle like this, but usable rear seats make a big difference. Suddenly, the Mustang isn’t a selfish way to blow the college fund, but the perfect vehicle for that brief period when you’ve got the energy for your kids and they’ve got the time for you. And, when Mom’s out of town, hit the red starter switch and fire up the five-point-oh.
If wishes were horses, I’d shrink this car a bit. The size of the V8 dictates the dimensions, as does the need to keep the nose long and the cabin usable, but the Mustang still does seem a little bigger than it needs to be. Getting used to its bulk takes time.
But this is not the charismatic boat that is a Dodge Challenger. The Mustang has better sightlines than a Camaro, albeit with a higher driver position, and shrinks around you as familiarity grows. The first few times out, you’ll find yourself parking miles from the curb in an effort not to scratch up those 19-inch wheels, but eventually it’s no more difficult to live with than anything else.
Yes, loading the kids in and out of the car is never anything less than a pain. A smaller, squarer car like a BMW M2 is a cinch by comparison, with seats that fold and slide for easier access, and a roofline that doesn’t swoop down. If your kids can do their own belts up, Mustang family life isn’t much of an issue. If you’ve got to crawl back there to check, it’s a hassle you’ve got to measure against the thrill of the drive.
Which, it has to be said, is pretty thrilling. Performance cars like this often get skewered by performance figures, with tenths-of-a-second 0–100km/h supremacy weighing heavy on the scale. Bragging rights are important, and the current Mustang has its work cut out against the excellent chassis dynamics of the Camaro, or the damn-the-torpedoes thrust of the big Dodges.
However, consider the lunacy that is the 5.0L heart of this beast. We live in a world where a Honda Civic revs to 6,500 rpm and a V8 Mustang will run all the way to 7,300 rpm. That’s crazy, especially when you take in the V8’s 420 lb-ft peak torque, and its effortless shove off the line. Fitted with a manual transmission, the Mustang lazily grunts through the gears if you want to shift it below 3,000 rpm, but has this huge top end just waiting to be accessed.
As an on-ramp banshee, it’s absolutely insane. The adjustable driving modes for the digital display include an expandable rev counter that’s easily visible in your peripheral vision, which you will need as the Mustang screams up through the gears and your eyes begin to water.
Is it too much? Yes, absolutely. With this kind of power and gearing, higher revs in top gear produce the kind of speed that moms and police officers stop chuckling at. Having said that, the hugely broad power on offer means the Mustang can both loaf along a backroad in third gear, yet still leap ahead when the way opens up.
And that’s not really considering the performance of this thing. Also new for this model year is Ford’s multi-mode quad-tip exhaust, which starts off loud and gets progressively angrier as you select more aggressive driving modes. In Track mode, it reverberates off overpasses as if the Tyrannosaur from Jurassic Park was chasing you, with much the same childhood thrill.
The flat-plane crank V8 of the previous-generation Shelby GT350 was a supremely special engine, and Ford’s new run-of-the-mill V8 provides 95 percent of the same physical and auditory thrills. I can’t believe they’re going to stuff this level of power in rental convertibles.
That soundtrack, as well as whatever crunchy guitar you’ve got cranked up on the impressively loud stereo (Alice In Chains is classic rock now? I was told this day would come) is backed up by a constant chorus of laughter from the back seats. Over the course of the week, I took my kids grocery shopping, to the ice cream store, back up the valley to my parents’ house, and generally around town and up the local mountains for no reason. In all cases, the Mustang was never more than a downshift away from uncontrollable giggling. Mostly from me.
Handling was a curious mix. The Mustang initially feels bulky and big-nosed, but you learn to trust the grip more and more as familiarity grows behind the wheel. Really tight backroads aren’t its natural home, more a wriggling mountain road that opens up over grasslands or through forests.
And, despite the limits of this car being very high, there’s just enough rear-end squirm on early throttle application to give you a squirt of adrenaline when you’re just aiming for that Goldilocks-perfect middle ground of reasonable and prudent driving that’s still fun. The Mustang is far too fast over the road to take your hands completely off the reins, but neither is it antiseptic at a comfortable trot. The steering is direct, and so to is the response to throttle inputs. It hits the ideal where your passengers are screaming happily along with you, rather than at you.
From a “GT” perspective, for those grownups in the audience currently tut-tutting under their breath, the Mustang does an admirable job when fitted with the optional magnetic ride suspension. As an optional extra on top of the performance package, the adaptive suspension is certainly worth springing for if you want a true dual-purpose-natured machine. On the highway, with everything set as soft as it goes, the GT was a pleasant grand tourer, albeit one with a bit more road noise than you’d expect, and an interior that’s not much different from the aforementioned basic rental Mustangs.
However, in terms of onboard technology, the GT’s LCD instrument panel gives things a thoroughly modern look, and the rest of the Mustang’s cabin is all-business. Just don’t expect European-brand levels of quality materials, unless we’re talking about Chattanooga-built Volkswagens.
Given this particular GT’s considerable price tag, that’ll be disappointing to some. However, given the flexibility and performance capable from this package, it still feels like good value. However, this isn’t how I’d option a perfect GT.
Instead, either opt for the 10-speed automatic and loosen things up further by keeping the performance package out of it, or dial your Mustang in with the Performance Package Level 2. The latter’s how I’d spec the car, preferably in Kona Blue, and with minimal extra options to distract from the powertrain upgrades. The PP2 isn’t cheap, but it does come bundled with the magnetic ride suspension and 305-series Michelin Sport Cup 2s, both of which add up to give a so-equipped Mustang most of the fierceness of a Shelby product.
Even so, you might need a little additional aftermarket support to make your Mustang a true track rat, but as it stands, the slight compromise in outright performance versus a Camaro 1LE is made up during rest-of-the-week use. This is blue-collar Porsche 911 levels of flexibility.
It’s funny to me, how Mustangs have consistently been part of my parenting experience. Shortly after my first daughter was born, I spent a day roaming around town in a Boss 302 trying to find the perfect first Hot Wheels for her. Later, with the second one on the way, I did a more-than-thousand-kilometre road trip with my brother, musing on the meaning of siblings. And there was that time when three generations loaded into a Shelby GT350 and hit up multiple local car shows, arriving and leaving in a cloud of eight-cylinder fury. These are mostly everyday moments, made special by the fact that I shared them with family.
A car like this isn’t vegetables, it’s ice cream. It’s an indulgence, and potentially a very self-centred one in a world where all the evidence seems to support turning away from consumption and towards conservation. A hybridized Mustang? It’s a case of when, not if.
But as a shared indulgence, a V8 Mustang becomes something pretty special. It’s that shared glee at getting away with something. Rolling, in the five-point-oh. Punching the throttle, feeling the nose rise and hearing the thunder. Word to your mother. Just don’t actually tell her anything.
|Engine Displacement||5.0L||Model Tested||2018 Ford Mustang GT|
|Engine Cylinders||V8||Base Price||$47,288|
|Peak Horsepower||460 hp @ 7,000 rpm||A/C Tax||$100|
|Peak Torque||420 lb-ft @ 4,600 rpm||Destination Fee||$1,750|
|Fuel Economy||15.0/9.1/12.1 L/100 km city/hwy/cmb||Price as Tested||$62,438|
|Cargo Space||383 L|
$13,300 – Premium Paint $550; Premium Trim Pkg Incl Navigation $2,000; Performance Pkg (19-inch Alloys, Spoiler) $3,700; Adaptive Cruise and Automatic Emergency Braking $1,500; Racing Stripes $600; Sport Exhaust $1,000; Block Heater $150; Recaro Seats $1,800; Magnetic Dampers $2,000