For someone who doesn’t own a second-gen S550, this writer has more seat time in the 2018 Mustang GT than anyone short of an early adopter or a Ford test driver. Like many, I went into the first experience in the latest Mustang thinking it was a simple facelift. It turned out to be so much more.
For many who have been behind the wheel, it was the 10R80 automatic transmission that stole the show. However, like most enthusiasts, I have always been a stick-shift driver. Not only was do-it-yourself shifting formerly the superior performance choice, but it was just more fun. Is that still the case?
While my initial time behind the wheel was brief, I was able to drive both versions. However, I yearned to spend more time in both versions the 2018 to see how the cars were in the real world. Fortunately, the opportunity presented itself to drive the Premium automatic version in Florida and a nicely optioned manual in California.
Both instances weren’t on the racetrack or on curvy mountain roads. Instead these were opportunities to experience the cars in the real world.
10 Times The Fun
Upon palming the fob for the Lightning Blue Premium GT, I slid into the plush leather seats and started toying with all the settings. From adjusting the seats and mirrors, to choosing lighting colors, to customizing the digital dash, there are a lot of choices in need of attention.
Perhaps the most important of those settings was dialing in the Active Valve Performance Exhaust. Since I was heading home with this one, I engaged Quiet Mode from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. so as not to disturb the neighbors, but I set up Sport Mode as the default, as it just makes the driving experience more fun.
As the GT burbled to life and I selected Reverse, the idea of an automatic felt more natural than it ever had. In most daily use I kept the Drive Mode and MagneRide in normal and the steering in Sport, but I became proficient at toggling it into Sport mode to enjoy those brisk shifts at higher RPM and the matched-rev downshifting heading into a big off-ramp.
While the latest Mustang is pretty powerful, I am jaded from years of power-adder Mustangs. The stock power is fun, but the auto really makes the most of it because of its tighter gear ratios. It is always in the sweet spot, and considering this was the same car that ran an 11.83 at 119 MPH in stock trim, it’s hard to argue with the out of the box performance.
However, the Mustang has become more than just a performer. It is a true driver’s car for daily use. Thanks to its suite of creature comforts and fun-to-drive performance, we quickly fell under its spell. It was optioned out just the way I would order it, save for the color, but knowing that all those options move the price tag into the $50,000 range, the spell was quickly broken.
In the end, parting was sweet sorrow. I learned that I really could get used to owning a Mustang with an automatic transmission, which is something I never would have considered before the 2018.
Practicing A Lost Art
Hopping a plane to California for a SEMA gathering of aftermarket manufacturers, there was a special treat waiting. Walking out of the airport and sliding behind the wheel of an Orange Fury 2018 Mustang GT manual kicked off the trip in fine style.
Having just spent time in the auto ’18, this car felt quite familiar, as most S550s do these days. However, something really felt comfortable, and that was grabbing the gearshift and pushing in the clutch. Though the automatic was great, your scribe has driven manuals for so long they just feel natural. Still, after a week or so with the auto, it could have felt strange. It didn’t.
Having spent a brief time behind the wheel of the latest Mustangs at the media introduction, the new auto obviously commanded a bit more attention, but a little time in the manual Mustang was a bit of a letdown when compared with the electronically adjustable automatic. That is mainly because of the gear spacing. It is tough to beat the close ratios of the auto in the wider six-speed spacing.
That was still apparent as the gearing makes the Coyote seem a bit lazier. However, once you get the 5.0-liter engine into its powerband, it is plenty fast. The real surprise was that it was kind of nice to be able to save the exhaust, suspension, and steering settings in MyMode and leave them alone. In the auto, it was too compelling to change the Drive Mode on the fly to make the most of the situation, while the manual car provided more of a set-it-and-forget it experience.
It wasn’t any easier to leave the orange GT behind in California, but driving it reminded us that there’s still plenty of room for manual-trans Mustangs in the world.
So which one would we choose? In the end you can’t go wrong with either option. Enthusiasts will either be shifting it yourself or always toggling through the Drive Modes, as we can’t leave well enough alone. Both combinations are a great fun, so it really comes down to personal choice. It might be more fun to shift yourself, but letting the computers do it for you will undoubtedly deliver a quicker and faster result.
In the end, if we were opting for a manual transmission it would have to be something special like the Performance Pack Level 2 or the Mustang Bullitt. Otherwise, the performance delivered by the automatic is just too good to ignore. The feel of the auto banging through the gears or matching revs on the downshifts is so much fun.
Now, if Ford ever offers the PPL2 with the automatic, that just might be the ultimate mainstream Mustang, but we haven’t even driven the manual version yet, so that is a tale for another day.