2018 Ford Mustang first drive review: getting serious Page 3

Working smarter and harder

The highlight of this brainier Mustang is its new 12.0-inch LCD instrument cluster. This reconfigurable display is not cheap. It's available on both the Ecoboost and GT, but requires the Premium Package—$5,015 for the inline-4 and an even $4,000 for the V-8—and the $2,200 Premium Plus Package. Sure, you get a bunch of other worthwhile goodies to soften the blow, but we're still talking about a feature that requires anywhere from $6,600 to $7,215 to acquire. But it's worth every penny.

Not only is this one of the most affordable all-digital instrument clusters on the market, and one of the first from a mainstream automaker, it's also one of the prettiest. The 12.0-inch screen is dedicated to performance. This isn't like the Audi Virtual Cockpit—there's no map display and the radio information is surprisingly limited. Instead, it's all about performance data and trip computer info.

There are three different tachometer layouts—one for Normal, Sport, and Track driving—although owners that have a preference can lock that in. I liked the traditional look of the Normal mode, although the horizontal tachometer in Track Mode is neat too. With a preferred look, the next step is setting up the shift notifications. There are three different visual styles to choose from, including race-style shift lights, and the ability to adjust the rpm the lights fire off at, extending all the way to redline. Ford's TrackApps operate through the large display, while owners can view the same vehicle data—I can't survive without knowing my inlet air temperature—and adjust their exhaust setting and set the MyMode driving mode. It's a stylish, beautifully executed system.

2018 Ford Mustang first drive review

2018 Ford Mustang first drive review

The Mustang's new magnetic dampers are its other must-have option. Yet another item derived from the Shelby GT350, this suspension arrangement is responsible for the most agile mainstream Mustang ever. In the Ecoboost, the magnetic dampers allow rapid directional changes and a composed, flat cornering character that isn't influenced by mid-corner imperfections. The body motions are tighter and more controlled than ever before—on a twisty road, the Ecoboost Mustang with its magnetic dampers feels like a legitimate alternative to lightweight sports cars, including even the Toyota 86. The dampers' impact isn't as great on the heavier Mustang GT, but it's still a shocking (excuse the pun) improvement, delivering similar handling improvements.

Naturally, the dampers are adjustable, with the softer settings helping the Mustang handle what little bumps and potholes the Pacific Coast Highway could throw at it during our test. We'll wait until we can test the enhanced Mustang suspension on Michigan's pock-marked roads before rendering a verdict on how comfortable it is.

The 2018 Mustang is only a facelift, but it's a huge step forward not only in a vacuum, but compared to its main rival. The Chevrolet Camaro is no longer the default, affordable choice for an all-American sports/muscle car. The Mustang levels the playing field not only with performance hardware (I'm looking at you MagneRide), but with one of the neatest digital instrument clusters on the market, a punchier, lighter turbocharged offering, and a V-8 model that revs to the moon and back. The 2018 Mustang isn't just an alternative to the Camaro, it might just be a more complete all-around vehicle.

Ford provided travel and lodging to Internet Brands Automotive to bring you this firsthand report.

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