Never has there been a better time to be a red-blooded American car enthusiast. The Chevrolet Camaro, the Dodge Challenger, and the Ford Mustang, nameplates that date back half a century give or take a few years, are faster, better to drive, and more technologically sophisticated than ever before.
And this has happened despite safety regulations, despite fuel economy regulations, and despite emissions regulations.
Among this trio, the Camaro is the best to drive while the Challenger is fastest. That has left the Ford Mustang choking on brake dust and tire smoke, but the designers and engineers toiling in Dearborn are clearly tired of this situation. As evidence, witness the reworked 2018 Ford Mustang, and specifically the Mustang GT.
Whereas the turbocharged Mustang EcoBoost is updated and the track-ready Mustang Shelby GT350 and GT350 R models are carried over for 2018, it is the Mustang GT that receives the most significant performance improvements, placing the Camaro SS squarely in its sights.
Both the EcoBoost and GT models are available with Ford’s Line Lock tire-warming (read: burnout) feature, and both are available with a MagneRide adaptive damping suspension. You can install a Performance Package on each version of the Mustang, too, equipping each vehicle with a variety of go-faster bits and pieces.
This, however, is where the $9,510 extra spent for the Mustang GT puts some distance on the Mustang EcoBoost.
For 2018, the GT’s 5.0-liter V8 engine is reworked to provide more power over a broader rev range while also delivering better fuel economy. The result is 460 horsepower at 7,000 rpm and 420 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,600 rpm, putting the GT into closer contention with the Camaro SS. The Chevy weighs 20 pounds less, though, and the Camaro’s 6.2-liter V8 churns out 455 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 455 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,400 rpm.
The Mustang’s V8 engine is paired with a redesigned 6-speed manual gearbox or a new 10-speed automatic with adaptive shift scheduling. Chevy offers a 6-speed manual or an 8-speed automatic.
Power and weight numbers still appear to favor the Camaro, but don’t count the Ford out of contention just yet. This year, it gets a new Drag Strip Mode, and Ford claims this enables the GT to scream to 60 mph in fewer than four seconds. It’s going to be fun to find out what happens when these two contestants meet on a track.
Ford is also offering an active valve exhaust system for the Mustang, giving the driver control over the amount of racket the car emits. You can make the GT loud and proud, or you can go into stealth mode so as not to raise the ire of neighbors, or the notice of speed enforcement officers. Perhaps most compelling, however, is the new GT Performance Pack Level 2 upgrade that Ford announced this week.
Seemingly aimed directly at the Camaro SS 1LE model, the Mustang GT Performance Pack Level 2 includes all of the hardware found in the standard Performance Package, and adds a custom-tuned MagneRide adaptive dampers, stiffer springs and stabilizer bars, quicker steering, a set of 305/30R19 Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 summer performance tires, and bespoke 19-inch aluminum wheels with a special Dark Tarnish finish. Recaro seats in cloth or leather are available with this package.
Hunkered down half an inch closer to the ground, the Mustang GT Performance Pack Level 2 also gets a functional front splitter and rear spoiler. Ford says the front splitter, which extends three inches, puts an extra 24 pounds of downforce on the front wheels at 80 mph. The rear spoiler is designed to balance that front downforce, according to the company.
If you’re a Ford fan and this sounds tempting, know two things. First, you need to know how to drive a stick to get this version of the car. Second, a Mustang GT with a Performance Pack Level 2 is going to cost more than a Camaro SS 1LE.
That Drag Strip Mode had better damn well work.