It was 97 degrees with a heat index of 107 and the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires stuck to the asphalt like tar paper. Mother Nature had taken the Summer heat to the next level. But we were prepared for the heat with some of our own. It was the week of July 4th and we had secured the perfect companion to celebrate American independence. Ford has taken the Mustang to the next level with new Performance Pack Level 2. Delivered on top of numerous other visual and mechanical changes for 2018, the new options package squeezes every drop of potential from the Mustang GT.
The 2018 Mustang GT starts out of the gate with a number of enhancements. A somewhat controversial new hood, grille, front fascia and splitter improve airflow and give the Mustang a distinct new look. Under that new, lower, hood sits a refreshed 5.0L V8. With 25 more horsepower, 20 lb-ft more torque, and a higher redline, every Mustang GT now pulls with more power. The 6-speed manual transmission gets a new twin-disc clutch and dual-mass flywheel to handle the increased power. Opt for the new Performance Pack Level 2 and Ford will bolt on a very long list of enhancements. Nearly every aspect of the Mustang GT is replaced or re-tuned. Unique 19″ wheels are shod in the aforementioned 305-width Sport Cup 2 tire for maximum mechanical grip. Ford’s Magnaride adjustable dampers, stiffer shocks and springs, and unique tuning of the traction system bring additional control. The Brembo front brakes are upgraded to 6-pison calipers with larger rotors to decrease stopping distance. An aggressive front splitter and rear spoiler get tacked on for additional downforce. The Mustang’s body is stiffened with a strut tower brace and k-brace. There’s also a larger radiator and TORSEN limited slip rear differential. Did you get all that? Good.
The resulting Mustang GT is absolutely superb. It’s miles better than the Mustang GT Premium we tested a few years ago. Think of this as a budget GT350, offering almost all of the chassis and suspension benefits without the sonorous flat-plane V8. But this Mustang has a voice all its own thanks to the optional active valve performance exhaust. If the Shelby howls, this GT bellows. The rumble heard in the cabin is only a fraction of the roar emanating from the new quad-tipped exhaust. But if you don’t want to violate your local noise ordinance, the system has multiple settings including a quiet start mode. Leave all the settings along and the GT Performance Pack 2 rides almost like any other Mustang. The adaptive dampers soften the ride and the 6-speed manual gearbox provides short, strong, and smooth gear changes. The optional RECARO sport seats are unlike the heavily bolstered ones found in the Fiesta ST, Focus ST, or Focus RS, so they’re far more comfortable for long drives. In short, it’s quite easy to make a five-hour without stopping.
This particular Mustang does have it’s list of drawbacks, however. The wide front tires do cause a bit of tramlining, so it isn’t something you can totally relax in. Even more worrisome, the worn state of the Sport Cup 2 tires after 5,000 miles of journalistic abuse, meant that we parked the Mustang if there was any more than a hint of rain. The Brembo brakes offer enormously strong braking potential, but the initial bite comes on a bit strong. The GT350 remains our benchmark for perfect pedal feel on the road. Finally, none of the 2018 improvements refreshed the interior components, which means the materials are starting to feel outdated. But it’s important to remember that the Performance Pack 2 was designed to be the most track-focused Mustang available short of the GT350R. On the track you want as much dry-weather grip and initial brake bite as you can get. You also won’t care about what the door cards or dashboard feel like. For us, the most annoying part of the Mustang GT Performance Pack Level 2 is its name. It doesn’t quite roll off the tongue – and “PP2” just doesn’t have the best ring to it.
For all the drawbacks we noted, we forgave every single one of them when the conditions were right. An early morning drive around a lake made for an unforgettable experience. Take a moment to set the exhaust to its Race setting – and acknowledge the track-only warning – before setting off. With the windows down, the experience is worth it. The sun was just peaking over the horizon and the roads were clear of the normal tourists and boat trailers. Between the lakeside towns, stretches of road open up to a 55mph limit as it twists along the waterfront. The Performance Pack 2 takes quick changes of direction, unexpected changes in elevation, and sudden drops in speed limit all in stride. This Mustang feels smaller and more compact than any other we’ve tested. It’s nimbler and more responsive. The steering is razor precise and the immense amount of grip from the tires means you can almost hammer on the throttle as soon as you get the car turned in. Gear changes are bolt-action precise with short throws and a well-weighted clutch. Its rare to find a car that puts together such a complete and immersive driving experience, especially for less than $50k. You can feel the time and effort engineers have put into enhancing, refining, and dialing-in every component if this pony car. The Performance Pack Level 2 takes the 2018 Mustang GT to the next level.
|2018 Ford Mustang Fastback GT
|301A Equipment Group||$2,300|
|Performance Package – Level 2||$6,500|
|Active Valve Performance Exhaust||$895|
|RECARO Cloth Sport Seats||$1,595|
|As Tested MSRP||$47,340|