2018 Ford Mustang GT Convertible Test Drive Review: Long Live The V8

Test Drive

A four-cylinder Mustang just doesn't cut it.

Let me get this out of the way up front. If I had my way, the Mustang would only come with a V8. To blatantly steal a line from Porsche’s ad copy, there is no substitute. I’ve driven both the latest V6 and Ecoboost, and as capable as they may be as sports cars, they were just disappointing, lacking the V8 rumble, menace, and performance that I have come to associate with the Mustang legend.

Now, if you’re simply looking for an everyday convertible, the feeling of the sun in your face and wind in your hair, with performance and soundtrack of the car itself secondary factors, the Mustang Convertible is still a fine choice. The Ecoboost Convertible starts at $31,620 with a $995 Destination charge, making it one of the most affordable four-seat convertibles on the market. For fun in the sun like this, you pick the one that you like best and makes you feel great, whether it’s a cheerful Beetle or Mini or more upscale Cascada or A3. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

And that’s just it, driving around in V6 or Ecoboost Mustangs just never made me happy, never satisfied that itch. But from the very first second the engine turned over and the exhaust barked to life in this Mustang GT, I was crushing on it hard, and it only got worse as the week went along and I discovered it had a whole lot of moves to go along with the noise.

Since we’re covering first impressions, I’ll wax on about the looks for a second here, too. Since going retro in 2005, I’ve loved the Mustang design, and although it made a generational leap to more modern sheetmetal and underpinnings in 2015, and another refresh for 2018, it still felt connected to the original, unmistakably Mustang, but a modern sports car nonetheless. I love that the Challenger looks like a Challenger, the Mustang looks like a Mustang, and a Camaro looks like, well, a Transformer.

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I’m clearly not the only that feels this way, as the Race Red Mustang GT we drove, dressed up with the Ebony racing stripe and Performance Package, drew stares and probably left behind some whiplash victims as people snapped their heads around to see either a) where that awesome sound was coming from or b) what jerk-off was gunning his engine in a small town. Whatever, I know I left plenty of smiles behind on the faces of several children and planted the seeds for the next generation of Mustang lovers, gearheads, and V8 loyalists.

V8: Engine Of The Gods

The engine, the glorious, thirsty, loud, spectacular engine. Ford dubs this generation of Mustang V8 the ‘Coyote’, and last year’s update brought the 5.0-liter V8 up to 460 horsepower and 420 lb-ft of torque. The headline grabber for the V8 is dual-fuel injection, which features both direct injection for maximum power, and port injection for quieter operation and better efficiency while cruising.

Despite getting a taste of new-school tricks like fuel injection, it still has the undiluted soundtrack of a V8, and the cross-plane crank gives it a warble that will put your mind on the start line of a drag strip with the trees about to go green.

While responsible adults won’t use the line lock on public roads, your friendly neighborhood burnout assistant is still standard, to help “pre-warm their tires” says the press release. Yeah, right, that’s what it’ll get used for, I’m sure. Not smoke shows for all your buddies - who would do that? Pfft.

When you’re not eviscerating tires in a cloud of smoke, it’s fast, and hilariously loud so you know you’re being a complete sociopath. The stock tires, by the way, would not be cheap to replace if smoke shows are your thing, being 19-inch Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S with this Performance Package, which I heartily recommend. As the gauge cluster will remind you, Drag Strip Mode is for the drag strip and Track Mode is for the track, and it’s fast enough without those, so there’s really no need to play with fire and become another Mustang Youtube star in all the wrong ways.

Ford made waves when it finally announced official acceleration times last year, and the Mustang GT has the potential to hit 60 mph in less than four seconds with all systems engaged, but even in streetable Sport+ mode, the GT feels like it’s hitting 60 mph in less than five seconds. You don’t always have the time or inclination to set up maximum attack mode, so it’s great that you still get that much of its capability with very little effort, and it still sounds like herd of angry bears unleashing a fusillade of gatling guns in a tunnel. I’m pretty sure I sent half the wildlife in Canada’s Banff National Park running for cover leaving one of my photo spots. Serious drag racers would want nothing to do with this GT Convertible anyway, so I’ll point you instead to the new Demon-conquering Cobra Jet or a GT Coupe with Performance Pack if you want to take tuning into your own hands.

Nope, the Mustang Convertible is for show – it still has plenty of go, but the proper tool for track or strip is a Coupe, while the convertible is the one for cruising, being seen, and seeing. I requested a convertible for this trip specifically so we could enjoy the breathtaking scenery of the Canadian Rockies all around us. A crying shame that the temperatures plummeted to almost freezing during our visit and kept us wrapped up in the cocoon of warmth with the top up.

The front seats may be heated and with the heaters blasting you can stay toasty up front, but the back seats get all the warm air sucked right out at speed, so the kids were shivering messes even under a pile of all our sweaters. Pfft, kids, these days! Back when I was young….

Oh, and speaking of the kids, they were properly crammed back in there, especially my five-year-old son who was stuck behind me, so rear-seat passengers need to be small if the adults up front are average or larger.

More Than Just An Engine

There is a car attached to that V8 Engine and earth-shaking exhaust, and it’s a good one. Ford isn’t giving up on the manual transmission just yet, and they updated the six-speed manual with new dual mass flywheel, new clutch, and new synchronizers and more to improve performance, feel, and ease of use. While we weren’t fortunate enough to get a manual, the automatic is no slouch with 10 speeds and excellent responsiveness for all manner of shifting duties. From mild, smooth upshifts in efficient cruising to quick thinking when punching the throttle for passing, and holding gears in manual mode and letting you do your thing with the paddle shifters.

The digital gauge cluster also has a neat trick, switching in Sport+ and track mode to an extended tach so you can more easily register the rising revs and keep the engine singing up to its peak power at 7,000 rpm.

But really, even though peak torque arrives at 4,600 rpm, there is more than enough power just off idle to get the nose up, a good push to get going and then lope along at almost any speed. With the shorter 3.55 final drive ratio courtesy of the Performance Pack however, it did seem to run higher rpms on the highway, part of the price you pay for that kind of acceleration, but it’s no punishment at all to hear the engine rumbling away a bit as you dial in the adaptive cruise.

When you find a nice little ribbon of road to unwrap, the Mustang is just as willing. While it initially doesn’t feel very responsive when navigating out of parking lots and in city streets and placing the front end over that big, long hood can be a challenge, it has all the tools for great fun on your favorite roads.

The steering is heavy but not cumbersome, and it’s consistent and linear, so it becomes second nature to place on the inside of a corner, clipping the dirt if you’re brave. Although high-powered Mustangs were a handful in previous years, the front-strut and multi-link rear suspension deliver a more controlled ride, and with the optional MagneRide adaptive damping, our GT Convertible showed the ability to be civil and serene, then go back into character at the flip of a toggle switch.

For 2018, all models across the Mustang line get new shock absorbers and stabilizer bars, plus a cross-axis joint on rear suspension in an effort to continually improve on the modern chassis, but the one you want is still the Performance Package. At $3,995, it’s not cheap, but it’s like a wish list of aftermarket upgrades you would be working on piece by piece for years: bigger radiator, heavy-duty front springs, bigger Brembo six-piston front brake calipers with bigger botors, bigger rear sway bar, front K-Brace, strut tower brace, Torsen differential with 3.55 axle ratio on the automatic (3.73 for the manual), 19x9-inch front and 9.5-inch wide rear wheels with Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S tires.

Of course Ford doesn’t just slap the parts on and call it a day, as they have unique chassis tuning to make sure all those parts are optimized, with recalibrated stability control, steering, and ABS.

With all that going for it, our Convertible GT was right at home in the twisting mountain roads, the brakes strong no matter how much speed I was looking to scrub. With the Performance Package, roadholding and cornering is turned up a notch, but the suspension is sports car stiff and you will feel most of the rough stuff loud and clear, although the comfort setting of the MagneRide does take the edge off.

Of course, It is a rear-drive beast, so you need to be delicate with throttle coming out of corners or taking off, because the rear end is quite playful, but it never felt out of control from my seat (my wife might beg to differ about a couple of occasions…).

Dollars And Horse Sense

While I haven’t pored over every manufacturers’ specs, there’s not many places you can get over 400 horsepower for less than $40,000, and the GT Fastback Coupe starts at bargain-basement $35,355. Getting into a V8 Convertible is quite a leap, starting at $44,855, and the dizzying array of options easily driving prices into the fifties. Needless to say, the powertrain itself is a bargain, but as with so many cars these days, getting the options you want means swallowing a huge leap in sticker price.

As tested, the Mustang GT Convertible we drove priced out to $56,010, but you can keep it in check by tailoring it more to performance (stick with just the $3,995 GT Performance Package and $895 Active Valve Performance Exhaust) or creature comforts ($2,200 401A has tech and upgraded seats, and the $1,000 Ford Safe & Smart Package unlocks adaptive cruise and other driving aids).

With all the option boxes checked off, the Mustang stretches from affordable convertible to loaded, luxury cruiser. Adaptive cruise and lane keep assist mean you can steal longer moments to appreciate the scenery unfolding around you, although the lane-keep function seemed rudimentary, and not on the level of some systems that actively keep you centered pretty much all the time. As mentioned, the seats were heated, but they were also cooled and the steering wheel was heated too.

The stereo was up to the task of competing with the exhaust (and there’s even a B&O audio upgrade available above that), and we had satellite radio or our own playlists through Apple CarPlay at our disposal. We used Apple Maps occasionally, but the native navigation system with the Sync touchscreen and voice-activated system worked flawlessly. Although there was neither much traffic and few alternative routes, the system included traffic information, and with the 401A package, you get a a five-year prepaid SiriusXM Traffic and Travel Link subscription.

Another feature of the 401A that we did not get to test is the cool FordPass Connect, an app that lets you remotely start, lock and unlock vehicle, schedule times to remotely start vehicle (to preheat or pre-cool the vehicle), and it can even locate where you forgot your vehicle in one of those massive outlet mall parking lots. The struggle is real, folks. It also packs on in-car WFfi, blind spot warning with cross-traffic alert (this is important in a car with challenging visibility like this, especially with the roof up), that heated steering wheel and memory seats, stitched interior trim and other premium interior touches like floor mats and digital gauge cluster.

While even base GT Convertibles are dressed in leather seats with the option of black, cream, or tan, the 401A bumps it up to Premier leather and opens up the option of those vibrant red seats or black with Grabber Blue accents.

Ford has been selling Mustangs for over half a century now, so it knows what it's doing and has an incredible range of options for those who want more performance or just a fun, affordable convertible. How much you spend and how you dress it up is a subjective endeavor. But the Mustang lives up to its own legend, showing how it earned its title as best-selling sports car of all time, staying current with fresh content and competitive performance while staying true to its roots with V8 power and a traditional rear-drive layout.

While you may have other priorities that mean you will stick to the more affordable Ecoboost, go have a listen to the V8, because, as cliché as it is, there are few thing in life more satisfying than the sound of a V8 throbbing with the top down, and the open road ahead of you.

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