Ford has unveiled the 7th-generation Mustang to a crowd of crowd-eating enthusiasts in Detroit this evening. America’s favorite pony car has been with us for nearly 60 years and it’s evolved significantly since then. This breed is the most advanced and most powerful yet (not including Shelby models) and retains two critical pieces of its DNA – a V8 and a manual transmission. But while we let the good times roll and celebrate that someone is still making a RWD V8 six-speed sports car, we all know this is the last of its kind. Ford has all but confirmed this 7th-generation pony will be the last of the internal combustion models.
Nearly 60 years of history in making and improving upon this beloved combo and it all comes down to one last ride. To make it special, Ford is pulling out all the stops with a new design, new interior, more performance, and more racing variants. There’s even a surprise performance version that not even I saw coming. Let’s dive in.
“Investing in another generation of Mustang is a big statement at a time when many of our competitors are exiting the business of internal combustion vehicles,” said Jim Farley, CEO of Ford Motor Company and likely the only person in Detroit powerful enough to keep this car alive. Indeed, the Challenger/Charger is already on its last call and will end production in 2023 with all-electric models replacing them in the future. And Chevrolet still produces the Camaro, but has anyone actually checked? Ford has thrown an R&D budget at the Mustang crew for one last thrill ride – both on the street and on track. But more on that later.
The Mustang you and I will get to buy next summer is the most “exhilarating and visceral yet”. It will also be packed with more technology than ever before, plus some party tricks that definitely won’t contribute to the meme status the Mustang holds. But what it most noticeable is its new looks. And that I feel is where most of the opinions will be expressed about.
Ford calls it an edgier design with timeless Mustang cues. It’s a mix of a heritage-inspired design with modern chiseled looks which they hope appeals to the broadest Mustang customer mindset possible. Its schnoz features a low brow that spans across the front, which they say emphasizes overall frontal width. They got that right. The upper grille shape is inspired by the original designs from the 1960s, albeit slightly bigger and with more edges running through it. Tri-Bar LED headlamps complete the modernization efforts up front. Each model will have a slight variation at the front. GT models will feature larger air inlets, redesigned and repositioned hood vents, and a new front splitter.
The signature roofline that is synonymous with the Mustang is retained as well, but some small adjustments are made there too. The roofline is optimized for ingress/egress, particularly for drivers who are wearing helmets, and the rear overhang is a bit shorter. Eleven paint colors will be available at launch and it’s sad that this is noteworthy these days. New stripe designs and colors are available as are three options for the painted Brembo brake calipers – black, red, and Grabber Blue. Wheel sizes range from 17″ to 20″. Ford is further improving the personalization opportunities with a new Mustang Design Series that would open up more options from the factory. Not many details are known about that yet, but they did mention one of those options was the Bronze Design Series Appearance Package, which adds bronze wheels and badges to all models.
Hope you like screens
The interior will be unrecognizable to anyone with an older Mustang. Or even a recent one like me. That’s because screens now dominate the landscape. The instrument cluster is a 12.4″ screen with numerous ways to customize the information being shown on screen thanks to the use of Unreal Engine when making the graphics (this is the same engine used in loads of video games). They say you can also opt in to have the center screen upgraded to a 13.2″ display that’s connected by a single piece of glass to the gauge cluster, just in case you wanted to feel like you were in a knockoff Mercedes instead of a Mustang. But hey, whatever helps you drive more distracted.
But not all new tech inside is bad. They added powered USB ports above the cockpit so you can mount and charge mounted dashcams or GoPros more cleanly without having cables hanging everywhere. There is also a new Remote Rev feature which lets you rev your car from the outside using the key fob. That’s definitely not going to be abused. But we’ve all wondered what our car sounds like from the outside while also not wanting someone else to sit in the driver’s seat unsupervised.
Long Live the V8
Now on to the good stuff. As mentioned earlier, the V8 lives on in the 7th-gen Mustang. As does the more than capable EcoBoost. Both engines retain the same displacement as before at 5.0-liters and 2.3-liters respectively. The 5.0-liter Coyote is in its fourth-generation and will make the most power of any naturally-aspirated Mustang GT yet. They did not disclose power figures of the standard car. But we do know for sure that its upgrades consist of a dual air intake box and dual-throttle body design which helps minimize induction loss by enabling higher air flow rates. Based on the photos of the gauge cluster, its red line remains around 7,400-7,500 RPM, which is a good thing. Upgrades to the EcoBoost four-cylinder engine were not detailed.
In addition to the six-speed manual mentioned already, the ten-speed automatic remains as well. As of writing, Ford did not disclose whether it was the same dreaded MT-82 manual as before or the Tremec gearbox found in the GT350 and Mach-1 Mustangs from the last generation.
Still good in the corners
Other performance features include rev matching for the manual plus configurable drive modes. In previous models, you could adjust various components of the car, like steering weight, suspension stiffness, etc, but you couldn’t save them to your own profiles. Now you can – up to six of them. A popular performance option returns once more – Performance Package. Like before, it adds a front strut tower brace, Torsen limited-slip differential, optional MagneRide suspension (should be mandatory), wider rear wheels/tires, and larger front and rear brakes at 15.4″ front and 13″ rear. Not only are those brakes a good bit larger than before, but the front and rear brake calipers are Brembo now, not just the fronts. There’s also brake cooling ducts, a standard auxiliary engine oil cooler (which is hopefully improved for track use now), plus optional Recaro seats and active exhaust.
Now there’s one last option that needs to be discussed. You see, the Mustang hasn’t earned its meme status by accident. Unless a GT is properly equipped, there’s a lot more power than there is tire. And to the general car buying public or to approximately 3 out of every 10 drivers leaving a car show, that can be a deadly combination. So with that in mind, what feature do you think Ford thought was a good idea to add?
If you guessed a drifting aid, you’re right. Ford added a segment-first electronic drift brake. Ford felt they needed to aid in unlocking the rear-wheel-drive drifting capability of Mustang with the “visual appeal” and functionality of a traditional, mechanical handbrake that’s enhanced with the Performance Electronic Parking Brake. It’s standard with the Performance Pack on all Mustang models and engineered for novice drivers to learn and improve their drift skills while also providing expert drivers with a “competition-ready” system. Get ready for an influx of new crowd eater memes.
Introducing the Dark Horse, plus its racing programs
Pretty much since the beginning of the gen-7 speculation, we knew there would be race cars involved. More recently it’s been revealed that the Mustang would get another GT4 version (currently the GT350) and – for the first time ever – a GT3 version. And as the V8 Supercar series moves into a new generation car, the new Mustang will continue to be there as well in its new form. But I wasn’t expecting to be given a glimpse of these programs so soon, plus something else.
Ford is cooking up something properly sinister. Somewhere between the civilian-spec Mustang GT and the professionals only GT3 version is Dark Horse – “a new benchmark for American street and track performance that could only come in a Mustang”. It’s the first new Mustang performance series since 2001 and when equipped properly, it will be the most track capable street-legal Mustang ever.
The Dark Horse, Dark Horse S, and Dark Horse R offer three levels of performance, both much higher than what you can get from the standard car. And with varying levels of street legality. The Dark Horse builds off the GT and adds a unique Tremec six-speed manual transmission with oil cooler, brake cooling NACA ducts, auxiliary engine oil cooler, rear axle cooler, and a lighter and more efficient radiator. They say the targeted power figure for the Dark Horse’s 5.0-liter Coyote V8 is 500 horsepower.
Chassis tuning is taken to another level with standard MagneRide, larger rear sway bars and heavy duty front shocks. More powerful six-piston Brembo brakes provide the stopping power. An upgraded strut tower brace and K-brace improve handling and feedback. The Torsen LSD and 19×9.5 front and 19×10 rear wheels wrapped in Pirelli P Zero (PZ4) tires all help to keep things planted. Dark Horse can be improved further with the Handling Package which adds more rubber and more downforce. Wheel sizes increase to 19×10.5 front and 19×11 rear, the springs are stiffer and the sway bars are larger, and there’s a unique rear wing with a Gurney Flap.
While the Dark Horse features a complete interior with numerous bespoke touches, the Dark Horse S and R increase performance to such a high level that the interior goes away entirely. Dark Horse S is designed for the weekend track day enthusiast while the Dark Horse R is developed for competition. They include full roll cages, FIA-grade safety equipment and race seats, and fire suppression systems. They also feature adjustable Multimatic DSSV dampers and other equipment necessary for racing.
The only way to get a faster Mustang than a Dark Horse is to be a professional race team. Speaking of, they confirmed the GT3 Mustang will be created by Ford Performance and Mutlimatic and have a 5.4-liter Coyote-based V8 as its source of power. It debuts at the 2024 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona and will be available to customer teams in IMSA, and possibly beyond. We won’t have to wait so long for the GT4 version which debuts next year provided they get customers in SRO, IMSA, and FIA GT before the season starts (I’m sure they will).
So far that’s all we know about the Mustang’s racing programs and its Dark Horse relatives. For fans of the Mustang and of sports car racing, there’s going to be a lot to look forward to.
As for my professional opinions, being a Mustang owner and life long fan myself, I’m far more interested in Dark Horse and the racing programs. I don’t think I like its looks yet. The nose is too awkward and I’m really not a fan of the screen overload inside. But Dark Horse sure sounds like my spec (Performance Package Level 2) and the Mach 1 meshed together right out the gate. And that GT3 car looks killer. I’ll be making my way to Daytona for the Roar so I can see its first laps in the public domain. I absolutely cannot wait to see what the Dark Horse and those competition cars can do. The regular car? Meh.
I love my car and had no plans for an upgrade set in stone. The new car would have to blow me away for me to want to trade my beloved S550 in. So far it hasn’t. But if I’m able to get my hands on a Dark Horse, who knows.
Anyways, sound off in the comments because I know you’ve got some thoughts on this one too.
Disclaimer: the author is in the middle of touring the Bourbon Trail and was very slightly heavily intoxicated when he wrote this.