Cars: How to turn a Mustang GT into a performance powerhouse

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on May 24, 2018.

GT Fastback Mustangs with Performance Pack 2 sit lower and wider than regular Fastback cars, with a unique front splitter and rear spoiler for a more aggressive look. Photos by Bloomberg

The interior is basic but well-executed and functional. The six-speed manual transmission provides all the excitement you will need.

The 2018 Mustang GT Fastback has a 5.0-litre V8 engine that gives 460hp and 420 pound-feet of torque.

Ford has done well in updating its beloved, iconic pony car for the 2018 model year.

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Ford Motor Co is not well.

Last month, total passenger car deliveries plunged 15%, while overall sales fell 4.5%. Year-over-year sales in the US dipped more than 4% from 2016. The company has announced it will slash all sedans from its US line-up.

But drive the 2018 Mustang GT Fastback — new this year — and you will not detect a hint of trouble in Detroit.

This is an updated, faster, and more beautiful variant of America’s longest-running, most iconic car model. Ford has produced the Mustang continuously since 1964; it has sold many millions of units the world over, inspiring countless references in pop culture and art, along with a wildly devoted fan base of drivers and collectors.  

The Mustang is also — in addition to the lovely but peripheral US$400,000 (RM1.59 million) GT, which sold 10 units last year — the only actual car spared Ford’s Reaper scythe (as opposed to trucks and sport utility vehicles).

No surprise: Global demand for the new 2018 model has driven the Mustang family to its third straight year as the best-selling sports coupe in the world, with global sales totalling 125,809 cars last year and two-thirds of those going to the US. Over the past five years, Ford has sold half a million Mustangs in the US.

The most popular configuration of the Mustang worldwide is the GT. Which brings me to the version I drove last week in New York, a 2018 Mustang GT Fastback Premium that included the “Performance Pack 2”— Ford’s lingo for the best handling and engineering available in a Mustang.

The term “fastback” denotes that the roof slopes down in an unbroken line from the roofline to the rear. This is the style of the modern Mustang as offered right now, synonymous for our purposes with the word “coupe.” “GT” denotes one version that is a slightly faster, more powerful version of the Fastback “Ecoboost” models.

With a 5.0-litre V8 engine that gives 460 horsepower (hp) and 420 pound-feet of torque, the Performance Pack 2 comes with a racing-tuned suspension and handling systems for sharper, more aggressive driving. It was developed in secret because Mustang’s brass wanted to launch it with a bang. At just under US$40,000, the combo serves a market that wants something very special but is not going to shell out for a 526hp Mustang Shelby GT350. (That Ford track animal costs US$57,240 and up.)

The one I drove was priced at US$51,185 and featured all the options and extra-power splurges you can get. To use the current phraseology, it is among the most “extra” cars you can get for the money.  

 

The difference

So why get the Performance Pack 2, rather than Performance Pack 1?  

For one thing, its Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres are fatter than “normal” ones and very smooth as well as engineered to be precise for maximum speed on the track, exactly like those on the hyper GT350R. Unique “MagneRide” shocks are extremely rigid and work hard to keep that set of four near-slicks pressed firmly to the ground. In fact, they feel as if the entire car has somehow been injected with steroids. I drove other Mustang variants last week near the track at Monticello Motor Club, and the difference in raw aggression between the base GT and each package option was palpable.

What is more, the Performance Pack 2 comes only on fastback manual-transmission GTs. It is automatically more fun to drive. Pushing through its short-shifting six speeds along the rainstorm-wet backroads of Duchess County was a lesson in control: Here is a car that you can feel wants to get away from you, however it can. Nothing about the GT Fastback Performance Package 2 is polished or polite or inclined to obey; it leaps and dodges and agitates in a way that makes you feel alive when you drive it. There is something very American about the whole thing; I felt it in such a way that I do not in the other cars I drive all year. I will even admit to listening to country music along my route. Must have been that big outlaw personality under the hood.

 

How it looks

With every iteration of its sport-oriented crown jewel, Ford has to marry an iconic heritage model with modern aesthetic sensibilities. That is no small feat. For many people, the only exposure they will have to this piece of Americana is seeing it briefly on the road rather than driving it, so it is important to make a good visual impression.

It starts with a firm foundation: The Mustang GT Fastback line is the best-looking American-made sports car in the market today. To my mind, it even looks better than the Shelby, which can come across as slightly overdone, as if it is trying too hard, when it is not around like-minded cars. It looks especially bossy in neighbourhoods or during normal city driving, while the Fastback stands out like a gem.

On top of its naturally cool Fastback roofline, Performance Pack 2 sits lower and wider than regular Fastback cars, with the unique front splitter and rear spoiler giving it a menacing look, in addition to better downforce and improved handling. It also has a new active valve performance system that tones up or tones down the engine note, as the driver prefers.

Visually, it is all there: The front headlights are narrowed in laser focus; the unmistakable silver pony gallops across the front grill; the trim side body near the door handles inhales slightly, as when you suck in your stomach to zip up those cool, new jeans. The rear taillights have the distinctive vertical bars Mustang has offered with the calipers on the Brembo brakes. Inside, the Mustang GT Fastback is not fancy, but it is functional. Aluminum foot pedals and illuminated sill plates come standard; a 12-inch (30.5cm) LCD screen customisable with myriad configurations of navigation, climate, audio, and Apple CarPlay is available . They complete the effect of true American sports car swagger when you drive this thing.  — Bloomberg