Mountain Wheels: Mustang GT remains America’s sports car of choice
The beginning of the ski season suggests to me that I move quickly and get you a fast profile of the vehicle that’s least likely to be seen on a 2-foot-dump day on the approach to the tunnels, but is the most fun you’ll have on dry pavement, bar none.
And if you want to be the center of attention at all times, the 2018 Mustang GT is going to do the job — and see you constantly being drag raced by old guys in Honda C-RVs, lawn tractors, bicycles, you name it. You become public enemy number one in a ‘Stang GT, so relish that status.
This year marked the 10 millionth unit produced of the venerable American sports classic. And through it all, Mustang remains popular and revolutionary in a way by sticking to the basics: noisy, affordable power, drag-strip-oriented handling and refined but rudimentary interior details, plus the added bonus of almost no back-seat room whatsoever.
The 2018 GT edition edits a few of those points, upping the equation extensively in the looks and performance departments. It is a pretty sweet and totally imposing looking ride, with a boisterous and aerodynamic chin that menaces like Mad Max’s V-8 interceptor. The new GTs are low, broad and mean, with real quad pipes, an optional low-profile rear wing and stiffening braces in the engine.
It’s also loud as hell, with a ride through a mountain tunnel turning into an auditory funhouse, though Ford wisely allows you to electronically modulate the volume, even at certain times of the days (helpful for avoiding those early morning calls from the HOA) — or make it worse, with four levels of cracking exhaust.
That allows you to demonstrate the old-school, 5.0-liter V-8 in action, a gas-eating, 460-horsepower lump of iron that delivers quarter miles in less than 11 seconds, maybe at a slightly lower elevation than Colorado. Highway mileage of up to 25 MPG is apparently a thing, if you behave.
Amazingly, you can lasso that kind of performance for a base price of $39,095, though the GT Performance Package and other options (menacing black 19-inch wheels, improved rubber, sport seats, plus a magnetic ride dampening system) brought mine to $53,160.
To make things even more fun, I got a GT with a six-speed manual transmission (there’s also a newfangled 10-speed automatic). Mine offered rev matching and a relatively painless mix of clutch weight and close-ratio shifting, though I occasionally slid it into fifth gear, instead of third. GT also brings you a slew of somewhat hidden electronic drag strip options and controls (all accessed through the Pony switch on the steering wheel) — submenus galore providing launch control, burnout front brake lockouts, and track timers and G-meters. Steering input selection and driving mode can also be modified through some chintzy-looking toggles on the console.
Can it corner at all, with all that straight-line power? Yes, but 3,800 pounds of rear-wheel drive, aggressively retro/futuristic bombast requires nerves of steel. Even modest goosing of the gas pedal will put you sideways in a second — this with incredibly grippy, high-performance summer tires during my drive — so I caution drivers to keep their cool while learning the GT’s performance curve.
I took a jaunt up the Evergreen-to-Mount Evans road in early September, where I accidentally ended up in the middle of an unofficial rally and was tailed by a guy in a 1920s rat rod with a new Chevy Silverado engine.
I can, as a result, confirm that the Mustang will still give you a slightly precipitous feel when accelerating aggressively and cornering like you mean it, though I was impressed by its capabilities. I also hear that track days in the car, when more competent and comfortable pushing the Mustang’s limits, are an absolute riot.
In terms of comfort, utility and general usability, Mustang is still as Mustang as hell, so be aware of that when the mid-life crisis kicks in and you are drawn like a moth to a dealer. Without the doors opened as widely as possible in the middle of an empty parking lot, getting aboard is a contortionist puzzle, especially as the GT features full-blown, unforgivingly stiff-bolstered Recaro race seats. Once you’re in, it’s magical, but getting out is just as challenging.
The very deep and utterly leg-room-deprived rear seats also require intense cooperation from front seat passengers to provide even short-term comfort.
Décor is pleasant and relatively upscale, with carbon fiber-styled highlights, chrome-ish handles and trim and a load of highlight stitching. You’re going to confuse the audio knob for the starter button the first 100 times you sit behind the steering wheel.
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Spoiler alert: There was almost no drama whatsoever during my recent test of the accomplished, practical and even vaguely sexy-looking Hyundai Sonata hybrid.