Behind the Wheel: Rush Hour in L.A. with a 2018 Mustang GT

Editor’s Note: I currently daily drive a 2014 3.7 Mustang and have six years experience daily driving a 2005 4.0 Mustang. Both cars are modified.

It’s practically a dream come true: Ford Motor Company hands you the key fob to a 2018 Mustang premium GT – with a full tank of gas – and says: “go have some fun.” What could be better right?

I found myself in this very situation, but the only drawback was I had been let loose on the streets of Los Angeles during rush hour. I wasn’t going anywhere very fast.

The opportunity came after I had spent the morning enjoying several variants of the 2018 Mustang on Angeles Crest Highway. I spent most of my time in a manual convertible, which was also the longest time I had ever spent in a convertible car.

Route for the Ford media drive

Stopped to ask a ranger for directions

Navigating the driving route was a little tricky, my co-pilot and I got lost, but all in all, it was a blast.

After the drive, I wanted to get behind the wheel of a coupe and see if the 10-speed automatic transmission really deserved all the hype it has been getting.

2018 Ford Mustang GT premium coupe

Ford gave me a bright Orange Fury coupe. For my test, I drove it from downtown Los Angeles to Murrieta and back. Of course, I posted about this on social media and got a lot of questions about the car and its features. A few of the comments stood out to me that needed to be addressed.

How Does It Hold Up In Traffic?

Surprisingly well. Driving the S550 during rush hour in Los Angeles was almost enjoyable. The car breaks a lot of necks, especially with the Orange Fury paint, but I found it difficult to keep it in the correct lane. The S550 is so big. It feels wider, longer, higher, and just so much larger than my beloved S197.

When I looked up the size specs between the two generations I expected to see the S550 with overall larger dimensions. Needless to say, I was shocked to learn the 2014 car is actually an inch longer than the S550. The S550 makes up for that being one inch wider.

An inch, either way, doesn’t seem like much but behind the wheel, its felt. The S550 needs a lane and a half to navigate the narrow and congested downtown L.A. surface streets. It easily consumes an entire travel lane on the freeway without leaving any room to avoid road hazards.

In a way, it feels like driving around in a tank – it’s big and bulky, yet still quick and agile.

The 2018 S550 comes with the updated 5.0-liter Gen III Coyote V8. With the refresh, Ford gave the Coyote a new dual-fuel, high-pressure direct injection and low-pressure port fuel injection which results in 460 horsepower, and 420 lb.-ft of torque. It’s about 30 more horsepower than the 2017 V8, 40 more horsepower than the 2014 V8, and 150 more horsepower than my daily driven 3.7-liter Cyclone.

When you are bumper to bumper in traffic and want to zip over to the next lane quickly, some Mustang owners know you hear it perk up before you feel the car actually perk up. The Gen III Coyote has near instant throttle response and the ability to get over or get moving very quickly when you need it to.

Ford bosts the new 10-speed is the “best automatic in any Mustang” due to its “wide-ratio span and optimized gear spacing.” This is said to “improve responsiveness and performance during acceleration.” The new transmission also allows 2018 owners to remotely start the car or schedule specific times to start the car remotely.

Mustangs equipped with automatic transmissions have always been plagued with a variety of issues that range from vibration, to hesitation, and shutters on acceleration. My personal favorite is the complete loss of 2nd, 3rd and 5th gear, in addition to overdrive failure (I have replaced the automatic transmission four times on my 2005 S197.) For these reasons, I am somewhat skeptical of the 10-speed’s lifespan. However, the 10-speed transmission is also engineered for heavier duty cycles needed for F-150 and F-150 Raptor customers hauling, towing and pulling needs.

To really get into the transmission’s performance we need to look at the Selectable Drive Modes first. Each car comes with five drive modes – Normal, Snow/Wet, Sport, Track or Drag Strip mode. Each method instantly adjusts the electronic stability control, traction control, and throttle response for quick acceleration, crisper transmission shift points, and changes the steering effort and feel.

Normal driving mode is the default factory setting, while Snow/Wet mode is meant to be used in inclement weather.

Sport Plus, stiffens up the steering feel and makes the car more responsive. It transmits more feedback to the steering wheel, and traction control appears to be left alone, so the car is still able to help you keep it away from curbs and crowds. Sport Plus is best reserved for spirited driving.

Additionally, via the gearshift, the car has a standard Sport mode. I didn’t have enough time in the car to really decipher the differences between Sport Plus in the Drive Modes and Sport via the gearshift. Or which one worked with the paddel shifters.

Track mode turns off traction control for more hooning without interference from the system nannies. Unfortunately, I was unable to spend time using it as its for “track use only.” Similarly, I wasn’t able to test the “track use only” Drag Strip mode either.

The nearly $50,000 model I tested was equipped with the Performance Package as well as Magneride damping. This combination with Sport Plus mode engaged, inspires a lot of confidence and gives the car a more organic feel.

The turns feel sharper than in other Mustangs, and there is substantially more grip and less body roll than you would expect. The 2018 Mustang GT is an incredibly easy car to drive, drive quickly, and redline.

Fun Fact: The engine redlines at 7,500 rpm. When it redlines, the RPM gauge on the dash turns red.

This all makes for a thoroughly enjoyable driving experience on curved mountain roads or empty streets. In traffic, however, the Sport Plus mode almost beats you up and is slightly uncomfortable.

Oddly enough, it packs such a punch that it reminds you why you should not make your daily driver a dedicated track car, go ham and gut it, or add track-only parts. The shift points become harsh, it holds the engine RPMs up high and lets them linger before it blips the throttle with each downshift when decelerating.

What I love about the 2018 S550 is that it can be raw and let you enjoy racecar things, but it can also come across as an incredibly refined car with a smooth ride. Behind the wheel for a limited amount of time, it seems the Mustang gives you the best of both worlds. It is an extremely versatile platform.

Inside, I found the S550’s ergonomics were better than the S197. After a year of driving my 2014 S197, I still have to search around for the buttons to switch from FM to AUX.  The button placements in the S550 felt natural and comfortable. The only things that took some getting used to were the steering wheel controls for the audio volume and car menu because they are opposite in the S197.

The Orange Fury car I was testing had ceramic leather trim power seats. They were comfortable, but I felt like I was sitting high in the car despite putting the seat as low as possible. The backseat of the car is basically unusable in the coupe, it’s where you feel the S550 be an inch shorter.

The test car had also been fitted with the “Safe & Smart Package.” The package includes things like adaptive cruise control and other features you won’t use too often, but the Blind Spot Information System with Cross-Traffic Alert I found incredibly useful. The package also includes Pre-Collision Assist that features automatic emergency braking, forward collision warning, and something all Mustangs need… pedestrian detection.

“Lane Keep” is also part of the system, but I am pretty sure it was not working. I can’t hardly see the road marking on a regular basis in California, so it wouldn’t surprise me if the car sensors had a hard time determining where the lane is as well.

Does it have launch control?

The particular car I was driving did not have launch control, Ford says the feature requires a manual transmission. It did, however, have electronic Line-Lock, which comes standard on both Ecoboost and the GT because we all want to hoon and slay tires.

So, what’s the difference between line-lock and launch-control? According to Ford, in a manual car, the launch control feature utilizes the brakes as well as traction control and powertrain control to help ensure smooth, consistent starts across a broad range of driving conditions.

Line-lock is for burnouts.

To do a burnout in a rear-wheel drive car, one foot goes on the brake to keep the front wheels from moving forward, while the other goes on the gas to spin the rear wheels. The Line-Lock feature eliminates this process and locks the front brakes while releasing the rear brakes.

Ford stipulates both features are for ‘track-use-only,’ thus I did not have the opportunity to test them.

I thought all 2018 cars had the digital gauges?

Sadly, not all of the cars have that killer 12-inch LCD instrument cluster. The digital dash is offered as part of a $2,200 option that adds a “plus” to the premium Mustang. The premium model comes standard with the 4.2-inch MyColor Cluster as seen in the 2015-2017 cars.

It is important to note that each cluster displays the same performance metrics, such as the accelerometer, which shows lateral and longitudinal g-forces, acceleration times, lap times, plus automatic and countdown starts.

Both premium and premium plus variants let you adjust the colors of the gauges.

However, what the standard cluster does not have is the MyMode system available with the 12-inch LCD display. The MyMode system lets you save your favorite suspension and steering settings for the next time you get behind the wheel.

Just Crank Open the Exhaust!

The 2018 S550 comes with dual exhaust, quad tips, and it honestly sounds fantastic. One of the more talked about features is the Active Valve Performance Exhaust that comes as an $895 option. The test car did not have it and I was disappointed. If you happen to be in the market for a 2018 Mustang, you will regret it if you pass on it.

What’s cool about the exhaust system is that it lets you choose exactly how the car sounds. You can keep it quiet when you’re cruising in the neighborhood, or open it up when you want to hear that lovely V8.

Overall, How Do You like it Compared to the S197?

When the S550 made its debut in 2015, I wasn’t the biggest fan. In my eyes, it lacked that mustang essence you find in the original 64 ½ cars that was mirrored through the S197. The GT350 on the S550 platform was able to capture that essence, and I’d say the 2018 car does as well.

Side-by-side, from 2017 to 2018 there aren’t a lot of significant changes, but the few small adjustments Ford made to the car did wonders for it. So much so, given the means, I would consider buying one.

Perhaps the most significant change between the two is the 2018’s front end styling. It received an entirely new hood, front fenders, front bumper cover, upper and lower grille, and headlights. When viewing from the side, the nose points down a bit more than the 15-17 cars. However, the bottom of the front still looks like it is lifted or points upwards.

At the rear, Performance Package-equipped models got a larger spoiler, and the taillights have also been given more of a “C” shape update. The decklid panel looks almost identical to 2015-2017 models except for the styling line running across the center from either side.

New 2018 colors include Kona Blue, Orange Fury Metallic Tri-Coat and Royal Crimson Metallic Tinted Clear Coat. And the car got eight new wheel design options, including the addition of a 19” x 9” Luster Nickel-Painted Forged Aluminum wheel.

The 2018 car got way more technology than was seen in the 2017 model. It also received a bump in power and torque, in addition to the pricing.

In summation, the most appealing thing to me about the 2018 S550 is its versatility, the styling updates make it more attractive to me than the 15-17 cars but its still an extremely large feeling vehicle.

Specifications

2018 Ford Mustang GT Premium Coupe

  • Vehicle type: Four passenger sports car, rear-wheel drive
  • Base price: $39,095 Price as tested: $49,270
  • Engine: 5.0-liter TI-VCT V8, 460-horsepower, 420 lb-ft torque
  • Transmission: 10-speed paddle-shift / automatic
  • Overall length/width/hight: 188″ L x 75″ W x 54″ H
  • Curb weight: 3,705 lbs
  • Tire size: P235/50R18
  • EPA mileage estimates: 16 city / 25 highway / 19 combined
  • Assembled in: Flat Rock

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About the author

Nicole Ellan James

As an automotive journalist and avid car enthusiast, Nicole Ellan James has a passion for automotive that is reflected in every aspect of her lifestyle. Follow Nicole on Instagram and Facebook - @nicoleeellan
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