by Frank A. Aukofer

The 2018 Ford Mustang arrives with unprecedented power, lowdown styling, a new 10-speed automatic transmission and enough models and colors to satisfy any Mustang enthusiast.

There are 10 versions in all: Six fastback coupes and four convertibles with three engine and two transmission choices. All of them can deliver driving excitement and an adrenaline rush — even the tested model with the 2.3-liter EcoBoost (Ford’s synonym for turbocharged) four-cylinder, which makes 310 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque.

It now is the only alternative to the V8 engine in the Mustang GT. The previous V6 engine no longer is installed in the Mustang.

2018 Mustang Pony Package

The 5-0-liter V8 delivers 460 hp with 420 lb-ft of torque. Like other new Mustangs, it is available with a six-speed manual gearbox or the new 10-speed automatic transmission, which can be shifted manually with steering-wheel paddles.

Also offered are two fastback Shelby GT 5.0 V8 models with 526 hp and 429 lb-ft of torque. However, only Fastback 2.3-liter four-bangers and 5.0-liter GTs with performance packages were tested at the press introduction in the Malibu hills near Los Angeles, Calif. — the latter with both the six-speed manual and 10-speed automatic.

Dedicated enthusiasts likely will opt for the stick shift, which features a slick and positive linkage and easy clutch engagement. With all those horses pawing at the pavement, the GT manual can be driven in almost any gear in any circumstance. There’s enough power to tool around at modest speeds in 5th or 6th gear, and you can quickly get up to freeway speeds in first and second.

2018 Ford Mustang Interior

The 10-speed does as well, automatically. But it has a curious quirk. With the shift lever in “Drive,” it sometimes gets befuddled at modest speeds, hesitating then lurching. It overcomes that if you stomp on the throttle. The solution, Ford engineers said, is to drive it in the “Sport” mode. But then you have the engine on the boil constantly, with fuel-economy consequences.

However, that same transmission in Ford’s new aluminum-bodied 2018 Expedition full-size sport utility vehicle shifts almost as smoothly as a fidget spinner. Likely it uses different software, which should be adapted to the Mustang’s “Drive” mode.

The 10-speed’s paddle shifters are there for the entertainment value. But modern, computer-controlled automatic transmissions handle the shifts with more dexterity than humans. Even professional drivers on road-racing courses now often allow the computer to determine the shifting, especially when driving cars with rev-matching on downshifts. The GT has both rev-matching and drag-strip launch control.

2018 Ford Mustang GT

In spite of the GT’s zero-to-60 mph sprint at a hair shy of four seconds and a top speed of 155 miles an hour, the 2.3-liter is no slouch. It can reach 60 miles an hour in 5.9 seconds, with a top speed of around 140, and still manages a city/highway/combined fuel economy rating of 21/32/25 mpg compared to the GT’s 15/25/18. Premium gasoline is required for both engines.

Some enthusiasts might even prefer the 2.3 because its lighter front end delivers better cornering balance on curving mountain roads. But that’s at speeds of 40, 50 and 60 mph, dictated by the tightness of the turns. On a road racing course with long straightaways, you’d obviously prefer the GT for its massive power, or even one of the Shelby variants.

The Mustang’s membership in the high performance and handling club do not bar it from the grand touring class. With comfortable and supportive front seats, it celebrates long-distance motoring for two. Anyone relegated to the difficult to access back seats, however, will rebel.

2018 Ford Mustang Interior

Besides its slicker profile, the 2018 Mustang, depending on the model, comes with full safety equipment, including lane-keeping assist and a pre-collision system that can detect pedestrians. Other features include LED headlights, a dozen wheel options, 11 colors, customizable instrument cluster, and even an “active valve performance exhaust system” that allows you to drive your Mustang in quiet mode or bellowing like an agitated moose.

None of this, of course, comes cheap. The GT had a base price of US $39,095 and, with options, a bottom line of US $53,160.

The 2.3-liter Fastback Premium, also with the 10-speed, started at $30,600 and topped out at $39,880.

The Mustang has now been with us for nearly the double nickel — 55 yearsn— a long ways from the original 1965 model, introduced in 1964, with a 101-hp, 2.8-liter six-cylinder engine and a three-speed floor-mounted gearshift. Ain’t evolution great?

2018 Ford Mustang

Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Ford Mustang Fastback Premium two-door coupe.
  • Engine: 2.3-liter four-cylinder, 310 hp, 350 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: 10-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and rear-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 9 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 85/24 cubic feet
  • Weight: 3,535 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 21/32/24 mpg. Premium recommended.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $31,500.
  • Price as tested: $39,880.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Photos (c) Ford.

2018 Ford Mustang