The year is winding down and the number of cars with free-breathing engines and six-speed manuals is dwindling depressingly. The 2018 Ford Mustang GT, however, remains one of the purist new sports cars that you can buy. It’s fantastic to drive, and the Performance Pack Level 2 accentuates its aggression.
(Full Disclosure: Ford wanted us to drive the 2018 Mustang GT with the Performance Pack 2 so badly that it dropped one off at my apartment with a full tank of gas. Earlier in the year, I also attended a track event with the car at Monticello Motor Club. Ford bused me out of New York City, fed me and paid for the whole thing, but the event wound up getting rained out. There were tornadoes. I’m including impressions from that day here.)
I’d never driven a Mustang before this. I didn’t think that I’d actually be seized with a desire to peel out from a Cars & Coffee event suddenly when I got behind the wheel. But the car comes out of the box with a significant amount of power for a reasonable amount of money. And it’s accompanied by a guttural yell to boot; these are features that directly appeal to the child living in all of us. I can kind of see why people act like children when they drive them.
Updated for the 2018 model year, the GT now offers 460 horsepower and 420 lb-ft of torque from its naturally aspirated, 5.0-liter V8 engine. It comes with either Ford’s 10-speed automatic or a manual six-speed. Ford claims that both can hit 60 from a standstill in under four seconds.
The Performance Pack 2, as equipped on our test car, is only offered on GTs with manual transmissions. It’s the package meant to bridge the gap between the Performance Pack 1 and the GT350, effectively making it a direct competitor to the Chevy Camaro SS 1LE.
PP2 unlocks a lowered stance, a wider front splitter, a black rear spoiler, custom-tuned MagneRide dampers and more dialed-in steering calibration. You also get dark gray, 19-inch wheels wrapped in 305-section Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires at all four corners.
Let me tell you, the sight of those 305s up front is downright absurd. The rubber sticks out of either side of the car’s face like bumpers of their own.
Before departing on my weekend road trip, Jalopnik darling Mike Ballaban asked me to keep an eye out for any tramlining that might occur. I didn’t know what that was. I do now.
Tramlining is when a vehicle’s wheels tend to follow the contours of the road. Generally, the wider the tires, the more a car will tramline. I’m glad I was warned beforehand, because as I was driving around the back roads of New Hampshire, I’d feel an incessant tugging at the steering wheel during very inconsistent times.
It didn’t feel more aggressive than a lane-keeping assist system attempting to keep the car in the lane and, at first, that’s what I thought it was. But it would happen independently of the lines on the road. It was noticeable.
In addition to the tramlining, the wider rubber up front resulted in increased tire noise. Usually I’m able to tune it out, but I wasn’t able to this time. It was a constant, low- to mid-pitched whirring that droned into the cabin on long highway trips.
The car also rides hard. There is no getting around this. Your beverage will probably slosh out of its cup. You’ll be jolted around in your seat.
But, damn, does it feel solid under aggressive driving.
Unfortunately, the day that Ford had picked for me to test out the GT with the PP2 wound up being drizzly and wet, so I only got three laps with an instructor. But it was immediately clear, even in three damp laps, that the PP2 makes the GT into a formidable track car.
The tightened steering communicates the road beautifully to your fingers, and even the slightest adjustment translates to a flick of the nose. There’s hardly any body roll in the corners, so your confidence builds as your speed does. The entire car felt as though it were hewn from once single, solid piece.
I started out gingerly, because the track was wet and unfamiliar, but close to the end, I felt better and better about going faster. The GT PP2 is progressive—both in its handling and its power—which leaves you up to figuring out your limit yourself without worry about something unexpected, like snap oversteer.
Also, the feel of the shifter is Good. Rewarding. The gates are well-spaced and deep enough that the throws are longer. You get the mechanical feel of the gears clunking and thunking together as you shift. It’s nicely weighted, too; not too heavy and not too light. You feel like you’re actually doing something when you shift.
The PP2 adds $6,500 to the GT’s $39,095 base price. While that seems like an expensive option at first, you also have to consider what you’re getting. Factory-tuned sport suspension, sweet aero bits and giant wheels and tires? I don’t think that’s an unfair price for everything.
Sure, you could probably install your preferred mods by yourself and cut the cost down. But time is money and this is a factory option. You can at least take some guesswork out of it.
My loaner came to $51,185, which is expensive. Especially for a Mustang. But that’s also because Ford gave it some extra trim and voice-activated touchscreen nav system ($2,200), a performance exhaust ($895) and Recaro leather seats ($1,595).
Arguably, none of those things are necessary and I am quite certain the car is loud enough stock. Once you subtract all of the extraneous options, the price of the GT with the PP2 drops to $45,595. Conversely, the 1LE package on the Camaro is $7,000 and brings the price of the 1SS up to $44,995.
I suppose the rest of the decision comes down to whether you’d rather drive a car with the worst visibility on the market, or instead put up with a bunch of Cars & Coffee jokes at every track day you go to.
Even discounting those options, PP2 isn’t what I’d call necessary. If you live near a track or do plenty of track driving, sure, but otherwise it’s a big ask. There’s no horsepower upgrade, and it makes you put up with a lot on a day-to-day basis. It’s loud and stiff to drive, even for me. I imagine that the GT without the track toys is just lovely on its own.
I am not a Mustang Bro. I join in on laughing on the internet whenever one wipes out and crashes into a curb.
But the Mustang itself needs to divorced from that stupid image because it is actually very good. It sounds amazing, looks great and walks that line between being snarly and alive and refined when it needs to be. I almost feel uncouth for saying so, but I especially love the elongated front splitter and how pointy it is.
There is more than enough power on tap to get you into serious trouble, and you feel zero pressure to use it. Unlike the other higher horsepower cars I’ve driven, the Mustang is content to either cruise at safe, around-town speeds or hurtle down a straight in the triple digits. Both are easy to achieve and it doesn’t feel like the car hates you for either.
I didn’t think I’d like this Mustang as much as I did.