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2018 Ford Mustang GT with Performance Pack 2 Test Drive

Sometimes when I’m downtown, I look up at a random office building, and focus on one of the few lit-up windows and wonder, “What is that person doing in there right now? What are they getting done?” I don’t live anywhere near Ford’s headquarters in Michigan, but I know what Mustang vehicle engineering manager Tom Barnes and his crew was doing after regular working hours in 2017: Developing ways to make the 2018 Mustang GT a better performance car. They kept many of the upgrades from the GT Performance Package, such as the specially tuned chassis, ABS system, and electric power-assisted steering; larger front rotors and six-piston Brembo calipers; and Torsen differential with 3.73 gearing.

Then they added improvements in strategic areas. One of Ford’s aerodynamics specialists tweaked the Mustang GT’s body work to make it generate more downforce. A wheel and tire engineer came up with the idea of installing unique wheels with wider tires to give it a better grip on the road. Barnes’s team also beefed up and stiffened various components to reduce body roll and sharpen the Mustang GT’s handling. They put all of those enhancements into what Ford calls the Performance Pack Level 2. I spent a week in a 2018 Mustang GT Fastback testing it out on the roads of Central Texas.

2018 Ford Mustang GT

2018 Ford Mustang GT Exterior

For the 2018 model year, Ford visually updated the Mustang GT by giving it a restyled front fascia, new grille design, reshaped front fenders, redesigned front and rear lighting, and quad exhaust finishers.

You don’t need an engineering degree to recognize the Level 2 package. It’s easy to spot. Start at the front. You’ll see a massive splitter. Not only does it make the Mustang GT look more aggressive, but it gives it approximately 24 pounds of downforce at 80 mph. A slim rear spoiler keeps the rear end planted.

Then look at the Dark Tarnish wheels, which are exclusive to the Performance Pack Level 2. They’re 1.5 inches wider than the wheels in the GT Performance Package (19” X 10.5” in the front and 19” X 11” in the rear) and help the Mustang GT sit more than half an inch closer to the road. If you pay attention to the 305/30/ZR19 Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires, you’ll notice their tread blocks look unusual. That’s because the PS Cup 2s aren’t your typical rubber. They’re made for high speed and high performance, which is why they were also used on exotic cars such as the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Black Series and Ferrari 458 Speciale.

2018 Ford Mustang GT

2018 Ford Mustang GT Interior

As part of its 2018 refresh, the Mustang GT received updated upholstery, a new dashboard, and an engine start button that pulses 30 times a minute – the same BPM as a pony’s resting heart rate.

The Mustang GT fastback is available in two forms: base and Premium. Ford sent me the former, but upgraded it by adding Equipment Group 301A. Thanks to that, my girlfriend and I enjoyed the comfort of dual-zone automatic climate control and the pleasant glow of selectable ambient lighting. A pair of smart-charging USB ports allowed us to make sure our iPhones were always full of juice. An eight-inch touchscreen with SYNC 3, Android Auto, and Apple CarPlay kept us up to date about incoming phone calls and texts, and which route to take to a new destination on Google Maps.

The Level 2 package’s interior changes are minimal (vacuum and oil pressure gauges above the center touchscreen), but selecting it does allow you to choose whether you want your Mustang GT to have regular cloth seats or racy Recaro buckets. My press loaner had the form-fitting Recaros. They held me tight in corners and told me when I ate too many carbs. If I indulged in some of the free bread certain Italian restaurants serve before a meal, I’d feel it the second I sat in the driver’s seat.

2018 Ford Mustang GT

2018 Ford Mustang GT Performance

Just as it did with the exterior and interior, Ford updated the Mustang GT’s powertrain for 2018. Engineers slightly increased the bore of the 5.0-liter V8 and gave it a new crankshaft and heads. They also added port fuel injection to help the pre-existing direct injection setup feed the Coyote engine. Output is up to 460 horsepower and 420 lb-ft of torque. That revamped V8 is connected to either a new 10-speed automatic or revised six-speed manual transmission (the sole transmission of Level 2 Mustang GTs), which features a new dual-mass flywheel and twin-disc clutch, and larger synchros for gears 1-4.

Performance Pack Level 2 doesn’t increase engine power, but it does make the car around the 5.0 more nimble. In addition to more downforce and grip, it includes standard MagneRide dampers (a la the Shelby GT350) and substantially stiffer front and rear springs and stabilizer bars designed to keep the Mustang GT flat in high-speed curves.

The enhanced V8 had a willingness to rev and never came up short of power, no matter which gear I was in. The optional Active Valve Performance Exhaust sounded perfectly loud and angry when I had it in its Normal setting; when I put it in Sport S+ mode, the V8 fully expressed its mechanical fury and fiery rage. The angrier it sounded, the happier I became.

On a drizzly Sunday, I drove the Mustang GT down the backroads of the Texas Hill Country as my friend Chris rode shotgun. We followed our friend Wayne, his wife Natalie, and Chris’s wife Paloma in Wayne’s 2003 Mustang Mach 1 convertible. (Yes, convertible. He took the powertrain from his old wrecked ’03 Mach 1, transplanted it into a 2003 Mustang V6 convertible, and upgraded everything else, from the suspension to the interior.) We stopped at Becker Vineyards in Stonewall, then grabbed lunch at Altstadt Brewery in Fredericksburg. Out on those winding roads, my press car had sharp reflexes. I just had to keep two hands on the wheel at all times because those PS Cup 2 tires stuck to everything they touched, including grooves in the pavement, which tended to have a strong effect on the steering.

2018 Ford Mustang GT

2018 Ford Mustang GT Safety

Luckily, my speed out on those slick roads didn’t exceed the Mustang GT’s abilities or my reflexes. If it did, Chris and I would’ve been protected by front, side-impact, Safety Canopy side-curtain, and even knee airbags, as well as an SOS Post-Crash Alert System. For low-speed maneuvers, the Mustang GT gave me the peace of mind of a rearview camera and reverse parking sensors.

2018 Ford Mustang GT

2018 Ford Mustang GT Overall

Ford’s engineers put in extra hours to create the Performance Pack Level 2 for the 2018 Mustang GT. Their hard work paid off. My Level 2 media vehicle sounded as badass as it looked and had an extensive assortment of aerodynamic, steering, and handling upgrades made to handle the ample firepower under the hood. To experience them for yourself, go to an AutoNation Ford dealership. Prices for the 2018 Mustang GT Fastback start at $35,190*; the Performance Pack Level 2 costs an additional $6,500. My media loaner had an as-tested price of $45,390.

*MSRP excludes tax, license, registration, destination charge and options. Dealer prices may vary.

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