2024 Ford Mustang Review
This pony isn’t quite ready to be put out to pasture
LOS ANGELES — The car market is changing so quickly, it’s challenging to keep up — even for an expert. Electric cars are in and gas-guzzling, impractical old-school rides are out. Or are they?
Growing exceptionally long-in-the-tooth, both the Dodge Challenger and Chevrolet Camaro are done after 2023, leaving the Ford Mustang as the only muscle-slash-pony car left. But Ford isn’t just keeping the Mustang around while Stellantis and GM eye an electric muscle car future. Instead, we have a new seventh-generation Mustang, with new tech and performance features, which Ford hopes will appeal to a younger, more diverse audience. It just might work, too.
Ford says the Mustang is the best-selling sports car of the last decade (cumulatively, not across individual years), and sees enough oomph left to invest a not insignificant amount of money in the Seventh-gen car. It’s not a clean sheet design, which would be prohibitively expensive for a nameplate that will sell perhaps 50,000 vehicles per year, but Mustang is perhaps the most iconic brand Ford has, sitting atop the company’s subbrand pyramid with Bronco and the F-Series of pickups, and this long-nosed pony isn’t yet ready to put out to pasture.
The biggest change is to the interior, where Ford has installed a pair of crisp and clear 13-inch screens. On the right is the infotainment touchscreen, which Ford repeatedly pointed out is angled 10 degrees to the left for a more driver-centric cockpit. The company has adopted Epic’s Unreal Engine to display some gorgeous renders of the Mustang on its status screens, though the company whiffed a bit because the on-screen ‘Stang doesn’t match the car you’re sitting in. I nudged Ford reps about this, hoping they’ll match screen and car soon, and I also suggested that they add Fortnite-style Easter eggs like, perhaps, a surprise Rulolph-themed car for Christmas or a big Jack-o-lantern on Halloween.
Perhaps the biggest surprise-and-delight moment is the various instrument cluster display modes, with different options for Normal, Sport, or Track driving — plus a special screen replicating the old Fox Body dash cluster from the late 80’s Mustangs that I grew up with, complete with green backlighting when the headlights are turned on. It’s wonderfully silly to bring back such an iconic dashboard, and a terrific use of a digital display.
There are two main variants of the Mustang, largely based on what’s under the hood. First, there’s a terrific 2.3-liter, 315-horsepower four-cylinder turbo (EcoBoost, in Ford marketingspeak) that comes over from the wickedly fun and now-canceled Ford Focus RS.
Fun fact: you only have to go back 13 years, to the 2010 model year, to find a Mustang GT that makes 315 horsepower from its big V8. This EcoBoost Mustang is no slowpoke and was the focus of the assembled press’s first day with the new Mustang. With the optional active exhaust fitted, it’s one of the best-sounding four-cylinder engines I’ve ever heard, and definitely the best at this price point.
The Mustang GT swaps that for a 480-horsepower V8 that sounds terrific, is very speedy, and is the only way to get a manual transmission — but it’s not the one I would get.
The EcoBoost Mustang has more than ample power, and I would rather put the money towards all manner of upgrades that will make life more fun than a big V8 will. The Performance Package, available on either car, adds Brembo brakes, extra stiffening elements, extra aerodynamic bits, and, crucially, an electronic drift brake designed with direct input from the drifting experts at Vaughn Gittin Jr.‘s RTR.
It’s wildly fun and surprisingly easy to use, so long as you don’t mind wearing out your tire’s treadwear warranty far faster than necessary. The drift brake is an electronic parking brake but with an old-style handle rather than a push-button. Turn on the proper track-only modes, and you can lock up the rear wheels and start a slide with the briefest yoink. Best kept to race tracks (or deserted parking lots), it’s far more fun and far more safe than an impromptu drag race. Nonetheless, a drift brake-equipped Mustang will probably appear on a TikTok near you, sliding beautifully sideways right into a Walmart parking lot light pole.
It’s not that the GT or its big V8 engine isn’t great — it is. But by the time you check all the option boxes that you should check, you’re approaching Mustang Dark Horse territory. Dark Horse is a new, performance trim sitting above the GT, and with an almost identical engine and accompanying performance figures, although the Dark Horse does get to the psychologically important 500-horsepower figure.
I’m reviewing Dark Horse separately (Ford had the press test them at separate events), but to me, it’s clear that the new Mustang comes down to two optimal setups: an EcoBoost engine with as many go-faster options as you can afford (Performance Pack highly recommended), or go all the way and get the Dark Horse, lest you opt for the GT and turn green with envy when the faster and more mischievous night pony gallops past at your next track day.
After testing both on the world-famous canyon roads north of LA, and getting time with the EcoBoost on a deceptively challenging autocross course, I can say with certitude that the smaller engine is the better buy. It’s lighter, handles better, and (not that you care, particularly, if you’re buying this car) is a bit kinder to your wallet at the fuel pump. And it still sounds great.
To be sure, the GT is a good time, with the big V8 letting out an angry bellow at the slightest twitch of the throttle (and with a 7,500 rpm redline). But by the time you go GT, you really ought to go big or go home. Dark Horse is waiting in the shadows, ready and waiting.
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