Ride A Painted Pony

The Ford Mustang and I have one thing in common – our birth year.

The original Ponycar's arrival into showrooms occurred a couple of months later – April 17, 1964, to be exact. Starting at $2,368 for a bare bones Mustang two-door notchback coupe, some 22,000 customers basically said "just take my money" upon first sight. I'm sure there were many of those first day customers who test drove one and slapped their hard-earned money on the salesman's table for one.

Last year, the 10-millionth was produced at the Flat Rock Assembly plant near Detroit. This was a milestone given how the Mustang has grown to become the best-selling sports coupe in the world – not just in the USA and Canada. The painted pony is now sold in 150 countries, driving a share of 15.4 percent of the segment's sales. Since 2015, a half-million Mustangs went into customer's hands – seeing the roads around the Goodwood Estate, Mount Panorama, the Great Wall, Ipanema Beach, and everywhere in-between.

I had some experience with the Mustang. Well…OK…let me qualify this. My brother and I owned a Mustang that was less than spectacular – a 1974 Mustang II Ghia in Lime Yellow with an Avocado vinyl roof and matching vinyl interior. We experienced how the Cologne V6 was not-so-well-matched to the oft-recalled C3 automatic transmission. We felt quite embarrassed with its color scheme and lack of satisfaction it eventually gave us in the end.

Then again, many Mustang fans have already erased the Pinto-based Mustang II from their memory banks. It still haunts both my brother and I on occasion.

2018 Ford Mustang GT

Then again, my limited Mustang driving experience was limited to an ex-friend's sister's 1968 notchback coupe and a 2015 EcoBoost convertible I reviewed on video. So, no, I have never driven a Foxbody, or a Fox-4, or the retro-designed D2C platform.

However, the experience from the 2015 EcoBoost convertible did open the door back to the pony. I found it a coincidence that on its 55th anniversary that I would find myself back behind the wheel of one of America's favorite cars.

And, not just any Mustang, either.

My tester came with a Lightning Blue paint job, black 19-inch wheels shod with a set of Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S tires, a "Midnight Blue" leather interior with blue stitching, and – most importantly – a 460-horsepower Coyote 5.0-liter V8 engine. In other words, I celebrated Mustang Day in a 2018 GT Premium Fastback coupe.

This is an American icon. We should never deny its place in the lexicon if this country's folklore. The Mustang has been a muse for songs, movies, television shows, books, poems, paintings, photography, and other art forms too numerous to mention here. It has a deep following of fans, owners, enthusiasts, and collectors who continue to extoll the pony's virtues over these past five-and-half decades.

2018 Ford Mustang GT

How do you write up a review for an icon? Sure, I've done it in the past – with more than a few automotive icons.

Instead of your normal Victory & Reseda review. Let me take you along for a ride in this Lightning Blue 2018 Mustang GT Premium coupe. Rather, let me tell you the story of how it was like having a beautiful blue icon to work with for a short period of time.

Having stated my personal and professional history with the Mustang, I went into this one simply too wrapped up with trying to work through a mound of assignments between consulting and editorial gigs. That included working through content for this site.

In a sense, the Mustang provided an escape "from the office." Early in the week, all I did was chase down meals and get small impressions on this V8-powered muscle-pony. If I was working a regular ol' job, I would be terminated for taking longer-than-usual "lunch breaks." Yes, a Mustang will have that kind of effect on you.

To explain, it has a personality that still exists some 55 years later. The long hood/short deck design is what made the Mustang attract 22,000 customers on its first day. Every Mustang since has stuck to this design format, even if the rooflines changed.

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Though this Mustang was designed for a customer base encompassing 150 countries, it still has an all-American swagger. The front end is classic Mustang, though a refresh for 2018 sharpened the headlamps and lowered the facia at the top. It appears to be lower than before, but it could be the extra aero bits at the rocker panels and in the lower front fascia.

The combination of the blue paint job, black 19-inch wheels, and rear wing truly make this particular Mustang "sexy." Like, I should be getting dates from this car kind of "sexy."

There is no mistake that it looks the part of a Mustang with a hot V8 engine. It certainly sounds like one. A four-port exhaust sounds off a roar that either strikes fear or invites other idiots to race it. Or, makes people think naughty thoughts. You decide.

Interior-wise, there is still a sense of heritage from the dashboard alone. That sense of heritage ends when you see the plethora of buttons, screens, and controls that stretch from door panel to door panel. As modern as the buttons indicate, it still follows a functional form layout that engages drivers to seek out fun even if it meant adjusting the climate control, drive mode, and set the cruise control.

2018 Ford Mustang GT

But, anyone who has driven a 1968 Mustang or the ill-fated Mustang II know full well that we drove in simpler machines. Because simpler times had us working just four sliding switches for our air conditioner and heater, a single knob to control the headlights, and with only just a single band of stations for the radio – which only one speaker emitted the sound.

Our modern times enabled us to embrace the fact that SYNC 3, Apple CarPlay, Waze, and all of the technological doo-dads of the 2018 GT are indeed part of our motoring lexicon. Perhaps the navigation of steering wheel-mounted buttons, of old school, toggles for multiple drive modes, and the ability to operate the high beams automatically are signals that we live in connected times for a 55-year-old nameplate to prosper today.

In the end, everything worked. Lament dismissed.

If one thing keeps the Mustang legend alive is the exhaust note. My GT tester had four exhaust tips at its rear end. When you start it up, a mighty roar bellows from those four big exhaust pipes. A nod to technology enables you to go through a series of menus on the instrumentation cluster – OK, screen – to try to quiet down the noise. Or, make it louder.

There is another way to quiet down a Mustang GT. Get it on the highway for some distance, put on the cruise control, make sure it is in 10th gear, and let it hum at 1,500 RPM or below.

2018 Ford Mustang GT

Perhaps I should talk about that 460-horsepower Coyote 5.0-lier V8 at this point. It is a monster. Plain and simple. The engine is all about maximum thrust and power delivery. Yet, it is also well-behaved for an American V8, where some you can feel right through the body even if you're moving at a good clip.

The flip side of this drivetrain is the 10-speed automatic transmission. We know that it is designed for improved fuel economy – I averaged 21.9 MPG in the Mustang GT in my care – but it would help if some downshifts were crisper and less intrusive. Even if you leave the transmission alone, this behavior occurs and, yes, it is quite annoying. Otherwise, it does a great job upshifting – though it skips gears along the way – and is easy to manage in all drive modes.

Normally, muscle cars are typically front heavy. Somehow, the Mustang GT does not feel that way. Older rear-drive Fords – especially older Mustangs and Fox platform cars – tend to have light feeling up front that makes it wallow on-center. Driving the Mustang GT will make you forget about the past. It runs well-balanced for a rear-drive machine. It is poised, even at a harder punch to the throttle.

Speaking of hard punches, try the drive modes out for a moment. Sport + is actually exciting, with shifts held a bit longer and at higher revs. You could try Track mode, but it requires you to read up in the owner's manual on how to properly set this up. In other words, leave Track and Drag Strip modes to experienced drivers. If you're one of those, there is no need to explain how those modes work.

2018 Ford Mustang GT

However, temptation is a bitter fruit you should avoid at any cost. For example, let's talk about Line Lock for a moment. Do you need it? Not really. But, if you want to put on a show for the fans, go through the menus and set it up. Don't forget to follow the instructions to make sure it does exactly what you want it to do – a simulated burnout. If you like that kind of stuff, be my guest and enjoy it. For me, I prefer driving my cars.

Back to driving modes, there is a Snow/Wet mode. Before venturing onto this mode, go outside of your Mustang and see what tires you're riding on. My GT tester had a set of Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S tires – the replacement for my favorite tire of all time, the Pilot Super Sport. If you had an all-season performance tire, then you could enable that mode to get out of some weather events. Heck, if you wore some winter performance tires you can get the full benefit from driving in this mode.

To appreciate what the Mustang GT does on the road, you have to get it out of an urban environment. In city traffic, it wants to be a street fighter. That sometimes translates into a level of driving patience required before it wants to be unleashed onto unsuspecting CR-Vs and ten-year-old Impalas. Or. crowds – oops, sorry, that's your joke.

A good driver knows how to manage 3,733 pounds worth of fastback goodness with 460 horsepower under its hood. A good driver also knows that once you get it away from traffic and on a lonely stretch of tarmac, this Mustang GT will make you appreciate everything it is engineered to do.

2018 Ford Mustang GT

And, yes, it drives absolutely wonderful. It corners flat with no rear end swing. That is because it has an all-independent suspension – something the Mustang needed when this generation was introduced a few years ago. Not to mention, the available Magna-Ride suspension adding an additional layer is cornering excellence and superior ride quality. Therefore, this Mustang as it is set up loves to track through the corners. Steering is precise and pointy. The brakes are absolutely superb, thanks to a set of Brembos all around and some huge rotors. Pedal feel is excellent with exacting stopping power in normal and panic situations.

Let's talk about how much a Mustang would cost. The sticker price of my 2018 GT Premium Fastback tester came to $52,765. This includes the Performance Package that provided the black 19-inch wheels, Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S tires and that awesome rear wing. The 2019 Mustang GT Fastback itself starts from $35,555 plus an extra $4,000 for the Premium level upgrade.

However, if you think that the V8 is too thirsty for your wallet, the Mustang offers a standard 2.3-liter EcoBoost turbocharged four-cylinder engine starting at $26,395. It's fine, but if you have a hunger for performance – get the GT and the 5.0-liter Coyote V8.

All of this sums up an experience that betters its rivals – most of which are heavier than the Mustang GT. Weight is truly a factor in cars such as this. You can feel the Mustang's prowess at every turn and movement.

2018 Ford Mustang GT

So, yes, the Ford Mustang GT is an awesome sports coupe. If you set aside the gimmicks and equip your GT to focus on the drive itself, it will be a very rewarding car that befits its heritage. It was worth celebrating its anniversary in what should be considered the best sports coupe from a Detroit-based nameplate.

The "win" for this Mustang GT tester was the love and acceptance it received along the way. From its enthusiasts, the Lightning Blue paint job and exhaust note melted hearts – even from a local Mustang club for which it was invited to join on the Mustang Day celebrations. It never received any hate – even from the sport compact tuner crowds and European nameplate aficionados that permeate the car scene near me. And, yes, it snapped a few necks along the way. That alone is a victory on how Ford was able to create a Mustang that combined decades worth of heritage with the needs of modern sports coupe consumers.

So, do me a favor – if you love ponycars and think the world of the Ford Mustang, follow the advice of a song from 1969 and "ride a painted pony and let the spinning wheels turn," baby!

DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by the Ford Motor Company

All Photos by Randy Stern

Lyrics by David Clayton-Thomas for Blood, Sweat, and Tears

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