Three Thrilling Hours Away from the Crowd
While the Los Angeles Auto Show captures the attention of thousands of automotive journalists with press conferences, parties and special events, we’re happiest if those events include some time behind the wheel. Ford gave us that opportunity. It included time with the Ford Mustang GT and a special section of road in the LA area.
Mention Angeles Crest Highway to car enthusiasts in Southern California and their eyes will light up. This iconic mountain route, known for short straights breaking-up one tight turn after another, has cornering speed limit signs that are looked at as mere suggestions. Annually many thousands of sports and performance car and motorcycle owners take on the challenge of “The Crest.” Conquering is not the goal. Pushing the limits and surviving, is.
Ford invited a small group of automotive press to drive the 2018 Mustang GT on the Angeles Crest Highway. Their unstated goal was to put the Mustang GT in the hands of people that drive for a living, and then sit back and listen. At the lunch break, Ford got what they wanted, as it was one tale after another of acceleration, braking, grip and thrills.
The 2018 Mustang GT we drove is pretty much a carry-over for the 2019 model, with a few changes in body colors and a new sound system. Our Mustang GT came in a brilliant Orange Fury Metallic that we are told is not available on the 2019 model. So, if you like your cars to make a statement, check-out the 2018 Mustang GT. Our car had a base price of $39,095 and $9,275 in optional packages, for a total of $48,370. Add on $900 for the delivery fee.
Pony Car Power and Performance
The rear-wheel drive Mustang GT comes with a naturally aspirated Coyote 5.0-liter V8, producing a very usable and wonderful 480 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque. The engine is smooth, predictable and responsive, easily moving the 3,705-pound GT without needing more power. Pushing the V8 hard found its sweet spot with peak performance around 4,600 rpm, well below an impressive 7,400 rpm redline. The engine note is a throaty cackle that filled the car with a sweet, satisfying sound. During hard deceleration and downshifting, it had a machine gun cadence. A guttural growl is heard and felt when cruising around town, with the full symphony just waiting for a pedal-to-the-metal moment. Muscle Car perfect.
As much as I liked the engine, I was less thrilled with the 10-speed SelectShift automatic that was always looking for the right gear, even on the highway. With paddle shifters and driver-selectable drive modes of Normal, Sport+, Drag Strip, Track or Snow/Wet, our time was spent in either Normal or Sport+. Where the transmission really displayed gear hunting was on hard, on-and-off the accelerator and brakes, and when diving into and out of tight corners.To say the least it was a real hindrance to get the maximum performance of the Mustang GT when the transmission was not in the right gear entering a corner, and then held a gear far too long when exiting onto a straight stretch. Opting to put the transmission in manual, and then use the steering wheel mounted paddle shifters, was not the solution, as there too was a delay getting into the desired gear.
Perception ≠ Reality
Sometimes in life it is a good feeling to have a preconception be proven wrong. I was not familiar with the Ford Mustang GT in general or, specifically, the Angeles Crest Highway in a Mustang GT. The learning curve took several miles of experimenting with the weight balance and learning how the rear end would react when pushed hard into very tight corners. Finding the balance between maximum grip and maximum control is key on a road like this.
The steering feel was not anything at all like an AWD or FWD car, where it is more like, aim and be there. On the Mustang GT, the perception was the front end was way out front, producing an initial feeling of low control. Boy, was that not the case! Once armed with a full understanding of the car’s handling attributes, the cornering was precise, with the ability to aim to a spot, but know that is exactly where the Mustang GT would end up. Out on the twisties is where the Mustang GT surprised and pleased.
To make the handling as good as it was, our test car came with two very desirable performance handling packages. If you are even considering this car, then they are a must-have. The GT Performance Package ($3,995) added Brembo front brakes, a beefier rear sway bar and reworked front springs, a Torsen limited-slip differential and 19-inch black-painted aluminum wheels. Shod with Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires, that were staggered with 225/40R 19 up front, and 275/40R 19 on the rear, the grip was never questioned. The second optional package included the MagneRide adaptive damping system where the suspension automatically adjusts damping rates on all four corners. At $1,695, this is worth the investment.
Observations: 2018 Ford Mustang GT
I had a 1965 Mustang Fastback GT, 289 V8, four-speed manual, for a summer between my sophomore and junior years of high school. What a blast to drive and be seen in. Fast forward these many years later and much of that same feeling came back when climbing into the 2018 Mustang GT. Yes, the new version was far more powerful, but the sensation was the same. Fun and exhilaration.
The Pony Car segment saw tough times not too long ago, but between the Mustang, Challenger and Camaro, it is hot once again. And with Ford switching to Mustangs from Fusions (that never made any sense!) in NASCAR starting in 2019, the Mustang will be receiving its due as the true performance car it has been and remains.
Ed note: Another reason to experience the Ford Mustang this year is ch-ch-changes are coming to the storied brand. The Mustang is slated to become Ford’s main car brand with much of the rest of the focus of the company in America on trucks and SUVs. In addition, Ford has already teased an electrified Mustang variation in the near future. Expect to hear more on that at the Detroit Auto Show in January.
Ed Note2: While the Ford Mustang GT is a blast, its fuel economy tops out around 25 mpg—and you’ll only get close to that by not driving like John did on the Angeles Crest, which is a challenge with such a fun and powerful car. Earlier, we also had the chance to try out an option that’s more accessible (starting almost $10,000 less than the GT)—the Mustang EcoBoost. You lose that sweet exhaust note and head-snapping V8 brute force, but the handling is still crisp, the turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine can be mated with a six-speed manual to avoid the “hunting” issue and with 310 horsepower, you won’t feel underpowered. Finally, it’s easy to nail 30+ mpg out on the highway. Choice is king! – Michael Coates
Whatever you end up buying, enjoy your new car, and Happy Driving!
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Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.
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