This isn’t really a “project” car per se, but I did add something to my stable worth talking about. And I’ve been wanting to talk about it for nearly half a year now.
After falling in love with the new Mustang GT I
abused rented while out in California back in March, I was certain my next car would be a Mustang. It’s been among my favorite cars since I was old enough to hold a Hot Wheel and one was nearly my first car (what’s the worst that could’ve happened). As I fell in love with the potential of the newer IRS-equipped Mustangs on that drive, I was practically planning a mountain run/track day build on a ’15-’17 model in my head.
But having covered a promised Performance Package Level 2 (PP2) for the Mustang GT in the news several months ago, my mind kept going back to that instead. Ford promised it would finally get the Mustang GT sorted well enough for it to be a serious apex hunter by recreating most basic track day builds right from the factory and with a full warranty.
After a few weeks to think about it… well, I ticked the right boxes on the order form. After a four month wait, my 2019 Mustang GT PP2 in Kona Blue finally arrived. It’s only taken me 1,400 miles to want to be out of it long enough and finally give some driving impressions.
To quickly recap what the Performance Package Level 2 is, it’s a handling package that takes lessons learned from the GT350 and creates a bridge between the existing GT Performance Package 1 (the one Jeff drove here) and the GT350. It includes everything in the standard PP1: sportier chassis and ABS tuning, unique stability control and electric power-assisted steering, Brembo six-piston front brake calipers with larger rotors, a k-brace, larger radiator, strut tower brace, and a TORSEN rear differential with 3.73 axle ratio… plus quite a bit more.
It’s a solid foundation for what’s then added with PP2. With it, MagneRide dampers are included with a PP2-exclusive tune, the steering calibration is quicker and more responsive, the rear stabilizer bar is 67% stiffer and 12% stiffer up front, it rides on springs that are 20% stiffer front and 13% out back, and it rides about half an inch lower.
The wheels are pointed straight in this shot – they really do stick out that much.
One of the more aggressive updates is its wheel and tire package though. It has gorgeous 19×10.5″ front and 19×11″ rear aluminum wheels and they’re wrapped around 305/30/R19 Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires. It also sports a few visual tweaks in addition to those massive wheels, which I think are some of the best-looking wheels on any new car. It rocks a new front splitter which generates 24 pounds of downforce at 80 mph, a larger rear decklid spoiler in gloss black, and new tire spats behind the rear wheels. PP2 also lets you spec cloth Recaro seats on the GT Fastback or leather Recaros on the GT Premium Fastback. I believe PP2 is the only way you can get Recaros at all in the non-Premium Mustang.
One thing to note is that the PP2 mandates a manual gearbox and the 301A package (GT Fastback) or 401A package (GT Premium Fastback). The PP2 option adds $6,500 by itself but will end up being an $8,500 or $8,700 upgrade respectively if you don’t have the right tech package checked already. But in the grand scheme of things, the PP2 can either be a bargain or will get too close to GT350 money for it to be worth it. Consider a Mustang GT Fastback with the necessary 301A or 401A group already selected. Now add Performance Package 1 and the MagneRide dampers (which you’ll want). The jump to PP2 with all those same features and much more is only $810.
The fact that you can build a PP2 car on top of a base GT is what made the package realistic for my budget, and I think you have to do it this way to take advantage of what the PP2 is really there for. I ordered mine as a base GT Fastback and only added PP2, active exhaust, and the cloth Recaro seats. It doesn’t need anything else to be great and with Ford rebates and incentives you can be out the door for under $45,000. A GT Premium PP2 build can easily get over $50,000 – at that point, just get a used GT350.
I would say PP2 has the bases on a typical Mustang track day build covered. But the question I didn’t even know the answer to when I ordered mine was how well it all worked. With 1,400 miles on my own car, about a third of which consists of driving to mountain roads and then driving on said mountain roads, I can say it all works unbelievably well.
On a good road where I’m more likely to spend time with it, there’s a night and day difference between that standard Mustang GT I rented and this Mustang with PP2. It feels like a totally different car. The suspension with its adjustable MagneRide strikes a perfect balance in offering road-hugging confidence without being punishing on the highway. It doesn’t float over bumps like the standard car. At all. It sticks firmly to the road over each undulation and never feels off balance or on edge. As long as you’re not in the track mode damper setting, it’s not anything close to being uncomfortable but you will feel each imperfection in the road. I love that.
Another thing I love is the way this thing tackles a corner. The sharp steering rack offers great precision and decent feedback and the car has no issue following those commands. The nose is very eager to turn in, even with that 5.0-liter V8 up front, and the back doesn’t hesitate to follow. The body roll is practically non-existent on most corners. And the tires… my god. I’ve yet to find the limits of grip on the Cup 2s or even get a peep out of them. They have relentless grip and are a big reason why this car is as fast as it is.
In my three mountain run adventures so far, I’ve played with a random GT350 and a CBR1000 RR SP Fireblade. We weren’t exactly racing because public (but empty) roads, but I kept up with the GT350 and outran the Fireblade in the corners.
Handling is the primary reason why the PP2 exists and it does not disappoint. I’ve not driven a GT350 yet, so my reaction during all of this is that of bewilderment. I didn’t think a Mustang could handle like this. Fortunately, friend of Hoonivese Manuel Carrillo III has driven both and believes the PP2 handles “about 85 percent as scalpel-like as the GT350“. Scalpel-like is exactly how I’d describe it too. From turn in to corner exit, the Mustang GT PP2 is completely unbothered by even the most technical roads. It just does what you want it to.
With the absolutely fantastic 5.0-liter V8 cranking out 460 horsepower and 420 lb.-ft. of torque and the slick six-speed manual it’s paired with, you can gain all the speed you’ll need but then maintain it with the PP2’s sheer grip. With an engine this sweet it’s impossible to keep the revs low. And the updated six-speed manual is very nice to use as well, especially with its new for 2019 rev-matching feature (which can be shut off). The brakes as well are about as good as they can get with plenty of stopping power and quick responsiveness. It all works very well together.
And with the active exhaust, the noises it makes can be loud and aggressive (but sweet) or surprisingly quiet and civilian. It offers a quiet start option for sneaking out at 5AM for empty roads which works pretty well. There’s no doubt neighbors will still hear it on a cold start but it will at least make them less likely to call the cops. When out on the road though, just leave it in track mode.
The cloth Recaros I opted for are a must have as well. Once broken in, they’re… decently comfortable. I wish there was some more lumbar support – or any lumbar support – but you will not move around that seat at all when driving spiritedly.
There are things I don’t love about it but they all pretty much come down to one thing – the tires. The same Cup 2s that make it so fast through the corners has also been the bane of my existence when behind the wheel. If you don’t live in southern California or out in the desert, it’s not possible to daily this without living in constant fear of a popup shower. Michelin themselves claim this should not be used in wet or even damp conditions as they have the bare minimum amount of tread that’s required.
Also, these pick up every single piece of loose asphalt, even when they’re cold. All I can hear when driving around town or out in these less-traveled roads is little pebbles getting kicked around the wheel wells and all the way down the doors and that’s made worse by the fact that the front wheels stick out past the fenders. It does offer a nice defense mechanism against tailgaters though.
These are fair trade offs considering the unearthly levels of grip they offer, but I was ready to “downgrade” to the Pilot Sport 4S or something similar on day one. I’ll just finish burning off these Cup 2s though. Check back in another thousand miles and they’ll probably be done. Oh, and it sure was nice of them to put the same size tire on wheels of a different width so you couldn’t easily rotate them.
Another thing that slightly annoyed me was found in the special PP2 booklet in the owner’s manual. Despite all the improvements made in handling that were catered specifically for the track, they still advise that you add a transmission and differential cooler for track sessions greater than 15 minutes. Maybe that should’ve been addressed from the factory, no?
But every little downside like the lack of lumbar support or tires that are too good pales in comparison to the strengths of this car. It’s fast, gorgeous, has what may be one of the last great N/A V8s in a road car, and puts a smile on my face every time I start it up.
The Mustang GT Performance Package Level 2 has exceeded every expectation and proved itself to be more capable than I thought possible in a Mustang. The car that’s famous for terrible handling and shutting down car shows has finally knocked one out of the park. With Performance Package Level 2, the Mustang GT is finally a world-class sports car. But above all else, it’s just a blast. It’s the most fun I’ve had behind the wheel in a long time and it’s a personal dream come true.
With everything that’s on this car already, there really isn’t much left for me to do. The first item is to definitely get less aggressive tires for it and then see how everything works on a casual track day. There may be cooling and brake fluid upgrades in the future along with a dedicated wheel/tire set for track days, but for now I’m just here to enjoy the ride.
And yes, I really am calling it Project McProjectface.
[Images © 2018 Hooniverse/Greg Kachadurian – full size available here]