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PowerSteering: 2018 Ford Mustang Review

PowerSteering: 2018 Ford Mustang Review

By Liz Kim, January 31, 2018
Few cars come with the storied heritage, and even baggage, of the Ford Mustang. In equal parts, the name evokes the youthful freedom and fun of the ‘60s, as well as the malaise of the ‘70s and comic pablum of the misspent ‘80s.

Naturally, in the 1990s, Ford attempted to recapture the original Mustang’s spirit, honing the approach during the retro design fad of the 2000s to capture the style and passion of Mustangs past. Then, when the sixth-generation 2015 Mustang debuted, Ford got serious about modernizing the car in terms of handling and sophistication.

Continuing the original pony car’s transformation, the 2018 Ford Mustang receives a significant facelift, along with powertrain improvements and technological enhancements to present what could be the most appealing Mustang to trot out of Detroit in a very long time.

For this review, we evaluated a 2018 Mustang GT Coupe equipped with Premium trim, automatic transmission, navigation and premium sound systems, Safe & Smart package, MagneRide suspension, active exhaust system, and the GT Performance package. The price came to $51,360, including the $900 destination charge.

What Owners Say
Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the Ford Mustang, it’s helpful to understand who buys this midsize sporty car and what they like most and least about it.

Mustang buyers are primarily men (78%) and are slightly older than the Midsize Sporty Car segment average (53 years vs. 51 years), and they enjoy a slightly higher median annual household income ($107,839 vs. $107,131). For whatever reason, compared with the segment, the Mustang is more popular with Baby Boomers (those born 1946 to 1964) (45% vs. 42%) and less popular with Gen Y (1977 to 1994) (21% vs. 25%).

Given that the segment contains only the Chevrolet Camaro, Dodge Challenger, and Ford Mustang, it is not surprising at all to learn that Mustang buyer sentiments align closely with all midsize sporty car buyers. They do, however, demonstrate a consistent, if very slight, emphasis on reliability, quality, and lower maintenance costs. Mustang buyers are also less likely to strongly agree that they prefer to drive a vehicle that stands out from the crowd (66% vs. 70%).

Buyers say their favorite things about the Mustang are (in descending order) the exterior styling, engine/transmission, interior design, driving dynamics, and infotainment system (in a tie with visibility and safety). Buyers indicate their least favorite things about the Mustang are (in descending order) the climate system, seats, storage and space, and fuel economy.

What Our Expert Says
In the sections that follow, our expert provides her own assessment of how the 2018 Mustang performs in each of the 10 categories that comprise the J.D. Power 2017 U.S. Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study.SM

The Mustang is not a practical car. It’s not the safest car. It’s not even the best-handling car. People buy it for its history, its straight-line acceleration, and its appearance. And man, does it look cool, especially with the updates for 2018.

A new grille design debuts for the 2018 model year, along with a lower hood and sleeker headlamps with LED lighting elements, all working together to create a sharper, more modern appearance. My test vehicle wore handsome darkened 19-in. wheels that come with the Performance package, which further burnishes the car’s appeal.

The rear end is slightly restyled, too, while maintaining the trademark triple bar Mustang tail lamps. The Performance package gives you a clumsily large rear wing, although at least this one is functional and has been tested in the wind tunnel.

Not much has changed in terms of interior styling, with dark minimalism the rule as applied to a dual-cowl retro dashboard. Aluminum carbon-pattern dashboard trim and contrast stitching on the seats express additional visual interest.

In terms of furnishings, this is the best Mustang yet, at least when equipped with the Premium trim level, as my test vehicle was. It’s full of nice, soft-touch materials with the biggest exception the brittle, hard plastic on the door panel where you usually brace your left knee for ripping around corners.

My test vehicle had heavily bolstered sport front seats, along with such niceties as heated seats and a heated steering wheel. As with most sport coupes, they’re not very easy to get in and out of, requiring some ducking and squatting to get yourself situated.

Things are grim in the rear. Technically, the Mustang is a 4-passenger vehicle, but even my wee ones complained about being stuck there for short drives around town. It’s hard to get in, with a two-step process to flip the front passenger seat forward, and then slide it forward so that there’s a space to crawl through to get in the back.

Thanks to relatively generous rear quarter windows and the huge rear window, it’s not claustrophobic like a Chevrolet Camaro or Dodge Challenger.

Climate Control System
Ford provides a dual-zone automatic climate control system for the Mustang, but changing the cabin temperature is a little more complicated than it should be. You must use a dial toggle to adjust it up and down, a concession to style requirements.

Additionally, the control panel is littered with similarly sized buttons that require close attention in order to use, and distraction is not something you want in a car as quick as this one.

Infotainment System
Instrumentation and infotainment displays are just about as modern as you’ll find in any vehicle, a claim that couldn’t be made in previous Mustangs that possessed a cruder look and more rudimentary functionality.

For example, new for 2018, a 12-in. digital display is available, replacing the standard gauges and presenting different data depending on the selected driving mode.

Additionally, the current Sync 3 infotainment system is not only vastly superior to previous Ford systems, but also adds Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone-integration technology for 2018. A 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot is also new this year.

Storage and Space
As you might well expect, storing stuff isn’t the Mustang’s forte. Although most buyers interested in the Mustang probably know that this isn’t exactly a family-friendly vehicle with lots of spacious bins and nooks, the lack of storage is something that makes them pretty unhappy about the car, according to J.D. Power research data.

Surprisingly, though, the trunk itself is quite capacious, with 13.5 cu. ft. of available space. It easily held the numerous spoils of a very productive trip to Costco, although the bulk paper goods needed to hitch a ride in the front passenger’s seat.

Visibility and Safety
With its low seating position, high cowling and bulging hood, it’s a bit difficult to place the front corners of the Mustang. Visibility out the back is compromised by the car’s design, too. It’s no worse than in other sport coupes, however, and it’s actually much better than the tomblike view out of a Chevy Camaro.

Let’s just say this: You’ll be using the rearview camera a lot.

The 2018 Mustang is chock full of available active safety systems, thanks to updates for the new model year. Now it offers automatic emergency braking, forward-collision warning with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, and a lane-centering system that corrects steering sloppiness.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives mostly “Good” ratings to the 2018 Mustang for its ability to withstand crashes, although it gets an “Acceptable” grade for the driver’s-side small overlap front portion and a “Basic” grade for its front crash prevention with the available active features.*

At the time of this writing, the federal government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) had yet to perform crash tests on the 2018 Mustang.

*Rating is not based on new-for-2018 driver-assistance and collision-avoidance systems, which will perform better than last year’s more basic technologies.

Mustang buyers rank the powertrain as their second most favorite thing about their vehicles, and this year’s power upgrade for the GT will please just about everybody.

Slip into the car, depress the brake pedal, push the engine start button, and listen to the primal, guttural roar. No, Nine Inch Nails isn’t playing through the sound system; it’s not even on. The shriek emanates from the monstrous 5.0-liter V-8 power plant residing under the hood and the quad-outlet exhaust system.

Some might call it glorious. Others will say it’s obnoxious.

No matter your stance, the racket gets this car noticed wherever you go, even in Quiet mode, which Ford courteously provides with its Active Valve Performance Exhaust system. Put it in Track mode for the most gratuitous aural fun.

Once you’re on a nice, long stretch of pavement where you can let the pistons fire, you’ll start craving the boom from the exhaust. Then you hold on, preparing for the 460 horsepower and 420 lb.-ft. of torque to propel you from a standstill to 60 mph in about 4 seconds, according to Ford’s stopwatch.

My test vehicle was equipped with a nicely behaved 10-speed automatic transmission, another new-for-2018 feature of the car. Those who prefer to row their own gears can choose the 6-speed manual.

Fuel Economy
Despite liberal use of my right foot and lots of enjoyment of the aria emanating from the V-8 engine, I got 18.5 mpg on my test loop, which was just short of the 19 mpg the EPA says to expect in combined driving.

J.D. Power study data shows that fuel economy is the least favorite thing about the Mustang, according to the car’s owners, but if you’re going to choose a performance car with a big, powerful engine, you need to manage your expectations. Especially if you use that power.

Driving Dynamics
Conventional wisdom states that cars like the Mustang GT are great on the drag strip, but a joke on winding canyon roads. And while you wouldn’t necessarily take it to show off on the autocross, the 2018 Mustang actually handles quite decently.

My test vehicle had the optional Performance package, which takes the Mustang’s capabilities to the next level with enhanced steering, chassis, suspension, braking, and tire components. And the available MagneRide adaptive suspension system, which can be customized to various settings ranging from comfort to rock hard, helps the Mustang to remain taut and stiff through corners, while minimizing harshness over bumps.

In my testing, I found the upgraded brakes to be phenomenal, and while the steering is still fairly slow and numb compared to smaller, lighter vehicles, it is livelier than what I recall from previous Mustangs. Grip from the 19-in. performance tires, a new design from Michelin, was outstanding.

Overall, the new 2018 Mustang is a better car to drive than last year’s version, feeling smaller and more athletic than ever. No, you wouldn’t want to run against a Ford Focus RS on the more twisty sections of your favorite back road, but you sure could catch up to it on the straightaways.

Final Impressions
The Mustang arouses automotive passion and enthusiasm, and for 2018 Ford has made a slew of changes that enhance everything already good about the car, while improving on most of its shortcomings. Keeping the momentum going is half the battle when it comes to vehicles like sporty coupes, and there’s no stopping the 2018 Mustang GT.

Ford Motor Co. supplied the vehicle used for this 2018 Ford Mustang review.

Additional Research:

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