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Ford Mustang 2024 review: Dark Horse

EXPERT RATING
8.9
The seventh-generation Ford Mustang has arrived. Featuring an all-new hero model, more power, more technology and fresh style. Is this the muscle car to take on the best Europe has to offer? We drive the Mustang Dark Horse on the road and track to get a comprehensive understanding of just how good this new pony car is.

The Ford Mustang is having a mid-life crisis.

Since the first pony car launched back in 1965 it has grown over the years and begun to appeal to an older, wealthier demographic than the original, youthful audience Ford attracted.

So, for this latest seventh-generation model, the Blue Oval has tried to make this Mustang have more appeal for a younger buyer.

What does that ultimately mean? In 2023 that's not a more powerful V8 or racing stripes (although it has both of those things) but instead a more hi-tech 'Stang.

Ford has borrowed elements from the all-electric Mustang Mach-E to give the coupe and convertible a fresh look and feel.

But don't worry if you're one of the existing Mustang fans, because they've not only kept the bits you really love - like the V8 - but have added an all-new hero model.

The four-cylinder EcoBoost and V8 GT remain and Ford has introduced the Dark Horse, a new permanent flagship for the line-up based on the limited edition Mach 1 from the previous generation.

While it's hailed as the seven-generation model and has some major changes, the reality is this new Mustang shares a lot in common with the previous model.

Which isn't unsurprising in the current automotive climate, as demand for petrol-powered performance cars remains uneven and Ford needs to invest billions into new electric vehicles.

So, to save on development costs this latest pony car features updated powertrains, a carry-over platform and a facelifted-rather-than-redesigned interior. But there's still a lot to talk about with this new Mustang, so let's dive in.

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?   7/10

Pricing and specifications aren't confirmed for the Australian market, but the new Mustang is already available in the USA so we do have an idea of what to expect.

For starters, we know it will be a three-tier line-up initially, with the V8 GT and four-cylinder EcoBoost joined by the new flagship Dark Horse model. The GT and EcoBoost will, once again, be available as a coupe or convertible, but the Dark Horse is strictly fixed-roof only.

The Dark Horse is officially a limited edition, but Ford hasn't put any number of how many it will produce, but it's expected to be in the thousands.

  • Pricing and specifications aren’t confirmed for the Australian market, but the new Mustang is already available in the USA so we do have an idea of what to expect. Pricing and specifications aren’t confirmed for the Australian market, but the new Mustang is already available in the USA so we do have an idea of what to expect.
  • For starters, we know it will be a three-tier line-up initially, with the V8 GT and four-cylinder EcoBoost joined by the new flagship Dark Horse model. For starters, we know it will be a three-tier line-up initially, with the V8 GT and four-cylinder EcoBoost joined by the new flagship Dark Horse model.
  • The GT and EcoBoost will, once again, be available as a coupe or convertible, but the Dark Horse is strictly fixed-roof only. The GT and EcoBoost will, once again, be available as a coupe or convertible, but the Dark Horse is strictly fixed-roof only.

This new addition is an evolution of what the company offered with the sixth-generation Mach 1 model, with a more powerful engine tune and chassis engineered for better handling, especially on a racetrack.

Because of that you can expect the Dark Horse to be priced around the mid- to high-$80,000 range, as the Mach 1 was priced from $83,241 (plus on-road costs) but there's a chance it could creep higher.

That should leave the GT to sit in the mid to high $60,000 range and the EcoBoost somewhere around the $55,000 mark, or at least that's what we'd estimate based on the increase in equipment and the recent trend for higher priced vehicles.

In terms of specifications, the Dark Horse won't be available with the 'Handling Option' package that US customers can add on from the factory.

However, Ford's aftermarket partner, Herrod Performance, is expected to offer the majority of the 'Handling Option' pack elements, including the more aggressive aerodynamic kits (a larger front splitter and rear wing) as well as stiffer springs and larger front and rear sway bars.

While the now iconic striding ‘Stang profile badge remains for the GT and EcoBoost, the Dark Horse gets its own unique badge that shows Ford isn’t afraid to try new things. While the now iconic striding ‘Stang profile badge remains for the GT and EcoBoost, the Dark Horse gets its own unique badge that shows Ford isn’t afraid to try new things.

The upgrades also include wider Pirelli P Zero Trofeo RS tyres in the US market, but it's not clear at this stage if the track-style tyre will be available in Australia.

Even without this 'Handling Package' the factory-spec Dark Horse is still a well-equipped model. This will include the new digital interior treatment, which combines a 12.4-inch digital instrument panel and a 13.2-inch multimedia touchscreen into a single unit for a more 'hi-tech' look.

It also comes with a leather-trimmed interior, wireless smartphone charging pad and a Bang & Olufsen 12-speaker sound system.

In the US Ford offers a wider line-up that is likely here, with 'standard' and Premium models for each variant. That does make it difficult to know precisely what to expect, but it's fair to assume that Ford Australia will opt for the better-equipped versions based on previous experience.

For example, the GT will be equipped to a higher level than is standard in the US, with Australian-bound versions getting the active exhaust system which means a more powerful engine tune as well as Brembo brakes as standard.

The Dark Horse also includes a first for the Mustang in seven generations - a forward facing horse badge. The Dark Horse also includes a first for the Mustang in seven generations - a forward facing horse badge.

Equipment highlights for the GT include a standard six-speaker stereo (with optional nine-speaker premium audio), leather-wrapped flat-bottom steering wheel, electric parking brake and the new digital dashboard and multimedia system.

The EcoBoost shares a similar specification with the GT in the US, with some minor differences such as a round steering wheel, but we won't know details until it arrives locally in the first quarter of 2024.

The new Mustang is available with 11 exterior colour options, as well as three brake caliper colours for selected models. There's also the choice of adding racing-style stripes to customise your 'Stang.

Is there anything interesting about its design?   9/10

Ford figured out with the fifth-generation model that what customers want is a Mustang that retains the silhouette of the original 1960s Fastback, so ever since the design has been evolutionary rather than radically different.

That's no different with this seventh-generation model, which features a more modern look, with crisper lines, but still is unmistakably a Mustang from every angle.

There have been some more significant design changes though, the most obvious one being the decision to have a clear visual difference between the V8-powered GT and four-cylinder EcoBoost at the front-end of the car.

So, the GT gets a larger, more aggressive front grille and a vented bonnet, whereas the EcoBoost has a more subtle appearance, but both have a clear family resemblance.

  • Ford figured out with the fifth-generation model that what customers want is a Mustang that retains the silhouette of the original 1960s Fastback. Ford figured out with the fifth-generation model that what customers want is a Mustang that retains the silhouette of the original 1960s Fastback.
  • So ever since the design has been evolutionary rather than radically different. So ever since the design has been evolutionary rather than radically different.
  • That’s no different with this seventh-generation model, which features a more modern look, with crisper lines, but still is unmistakably a Mustang from every angle. That’s no different with this seventh-generation model, which features a more modern look, with crisper lines, but still is unmistakably a Mustang from every angle.
  • While the final Australian specifications may not be locked in just yet, Ford did provide us with a comprehensive drive experience in the Mustang Dark Horse. While the final Australian specifications may not be locked in just yet, Ford did provide us with a comprehensive drive experience in the Mustang Dark Horse.

The Dark Horse elevates this edgier look even further, with a more aggressive appearance that includes a racier bodykit, with a sizeable rear wing, that speaks to its more serious intentions.

The Dark Horse also includes a first for the Mustang in seven generations - a forward facing horse badge. While the now iconic striding 'Stang profile badge remains for the GT and EcoBoost, the Dark Horse gets its own unique badge that shows Ford isn't afraid to try new things even after all these years to keep the car fresh.

The forward facing view is meant to signify a dark horse in a race, sneaking up from the rear to take victory, with its flared nostrils meant to connect to the dual throttle bodies of the Mustang Dark Horse.

How practical is its space and tech inside?   7/10

The interior of this latest Mustang sums up where Ford was at with this new-generation model, as it introduces some attention-grabbing technology but also carries over large amounts of the previous model's design.

For example, the interior doors look nearly identical to the old model, with the same handles, window buttons and even trim elements.

The layout of the centre console is largely the same, too, with a pair of cupholders and a lidded centre console box making up the bulk of the small item store space.

The materials used have improved in some areas and stayed the same in others, with the softer touch plastics introduced on the mid-life facelift of the sixth-gen used again here.

However, the Dark Horse also gets a new carbon-fibre effect trim that features prominently around the dashboard for a fresh and sportier look.

  • The interior of this latest Mustang sums up where Ford was at with this new-generation model. The interior of this latest Mustang sums up where Ford was at with this new-generation model.
  • The Dark Horse is available with two seating choices up front in the US (and likely in Australia), with a standard six-way power adjustable leather sports seat or an optional Recaro racing-style seat trimmed in suede and mircofibre. The Dark Horse is available with two seating choices up front in the US (and likely in Australia), with a standard six-way power adjustable leather sports seat or an optional Recaro racing-style seat trimmed in suede and mircofibre.
  • The Dark Horse also gets a new carbon-fibre effect trim that features prominently around the dashboard for a fresh and sportier look. The Dark Horse also gets a new carbon-fibre effect trim that features prominently around the dashboard for a fresh and sportier look.

But far and away the biggest difference between the old model and this new one is the instrument panel. Gone is the iconic 'double brow' design and in its place is a huge digital display that combines two screens into one long, plank-like element.

It's a 12.4-inch digital instrument panel and a 13.2-inch media touchscreen integrated together to try and help the Mustang appeal to a younger, more tech-savvy audience that wants its car to integrate with a digital lifestyle.

Unquestionably it makes a statement, whether you like the statement it's making will depend on your point-of-view.

If you love technology and the personalisation it offers you'll love it, but if you pine for the days of analogue dials you'll likely think it looks too much like a giant smartphone.

What you can't deny is the capability it brings, with a variety of virtual instrument displays to suit each of the driving modes the car has, including 'Normal', 'Sport' and 'Track', as well as the fun 'Fox Body' layout that harkens back to the '80s Mustang.

The central media screen has also been utilised for the Dark Horse with extra auxiliary gauges - for g-force, oil temperature, oil pressure, etc - able to be displayed, as well as the 'Track Apps' feature that allows you to record lap times, start times and controls the launch control and drift brake settings.

  • The materials used have improved in some areas and stayed the same in others. The materials used have improved in some areas and stayed the same in others.
  • With the softer touch plastics introduced on the mid-life facelift of the sixth-gen used again here. With the softer touch plastics introduced on the mid-life facelift of the sixth-gen used again here.

Unfortunately, the screens also control virtually everything, including the air-conditioning, so trying to make small temperature adjustments is more complicated than just pressing a physical button.

As for the seating, the Dark Horse is available with two seating choices up front in the US (and likely in Australia), with a standard six-way power adjustable leather sports seat or an optional Recaro racing-style seat trimmed in suede and mircofibre.

As for the rear seats, they remain incredibly tight for space and are better for storing bags rather than carrying people without severely compromising front seat leg room.

Despite the largely carried over body and interior, the boot is slightly smaller than the previous model, with the coupe measuring 376 litres compared to the 408 litres offered previously.

The Dark Horse we drove in the US was fitted with a tyre repair kit under the boot floor.

What are the key stats for its engine and transmission?   9/10

Despite plenty of rumours that Ford was preparing to electrify the Mustang, either as a hybrid or full battery EV, in the end the company has stuck to the tried and tested formula.

That means an updated version of the 5.0-litre V8 and a 2.3-litre turbocharged four-cylinder 'EcoBoost' engine, similar to the one offered in the previous generation.

The range-topping Dark Horse features the most powerful naturally aspirated engine Ford has ever installed in a Mustang, making 372kW (which is 500-horsepower) and 566Nm.

However, Australian models may not quite hit that figure due to our older emissions regulations, but a final number hasn't been released by Ford Australia.

The 5.0-litre V8 is paired to either a six-speed manual or 10-speed automatic transmission and a Torsen limited-slip differential.

Despite plenty of rumours that Ford was preparing to electrify the Mustang, either as a hybrid or full battery EV, in the end the company has stuck to the tried and tested formula. Despite plenty of rumours that Ford was preparing to electrify the Mustang, either as a hybrid or full battery EV, in the end the company has stuck to the tried and tested formula.

The manual gearbox is specific to the Dark Horse, the Tremec unit is the same one used in the Mach 1 and features the same ability to 'flat shift' - change up gears without lifting off the accelerator if you have full throttle applied.

The GT features a slightly different version of that same 5.0-litre V8, and as mentioned earlier, it's available with or without an active-valve performance exhaust.

Australian GTs will get the improved exhaust system, meaning it will make 362kW/566Nm; instead of 358kW/562Nm with standard exhaust. It too is available with a 10-speed auto or a six-speed manual Getrag gearbox.

Finally, the EcoBoost engine is an all-new version of the same engine featured in the last model, featuring the same capacity and format but upgraded performance. The 2.3-litre four-cylinder unit makes 235kW/474Nm, up from 224kW/441Nm the previous engine produced.

What is its fuel consumption? What is its driving range?   6/10

As final specifications haven't been locked in for the Australian market we're basing these numbers off the US Environmental Protection Agency's claims.

They have the trio of Mustangs rated at 13.8L/100km for the Dark Horse and GT with their manual gearboxes, the GT auto at 13.0L/100km and the EcoBoost at 9.0L/100km to make it the most efficient of the bunch - unsurprisingly.

What's it like to drive?   9/10

While the final Australian specifications may not be locked in just yet, Ford did provide us with a comprehensive drive experience in the Mustang Dark Horse.

We spent three days with this new model, driving it across a variety of conditions including urban roads, highway stretches, winding country roads and even at the Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Across all conditions the Dark Horse demonstrated a more refined driving experience than the model it replaces. The sixth-generation was the first Mustang designed for the global market, rather than focusing on the USA, and that meant it couldn't quite match its more worldly rivals.

We spent three days with this new model, driving it across a variety of conditions including urban roads, highway stretches, winding country roads and even at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. We spent three days with this new model, driving it across a variety of conditions including urban roads, highway stretches, winding country roads and even at the Charlotte Motor Speedway.

But Ford has clearly worked to make strides on that front, including adding the Dark Horse to the Mustang range to launch with a definitive flagship model.

The engine may be carried over rather than all-new but you won't care when you put your foot down. The roar from the V8 is truly a thing of beauty to anyone who appreciates an evocative exhaust note.

It's a deep, guttural growl at low revs and builds to a more high-pitched scream as it approaches its 7300rpm redline.

Across all conditions the Dark Horse demonstrated a more refined driving experience than the model it replaces. Across all conditions the Dark Horse demonstrated a more refined driving experience than the model it replaces.

It packs a punch, too, with enough grunt to shove you back in your seat and had no trouble hitting 205km/h just halfway down the back straight at the Charlotte Motor Speedway circuit.

It's a joy to drive with the six-speed Tremec 'box, especially on the track as it has both the rev matching for downshifts and the flat shifting for upshifts, which make you feel like a racing pro.

The flat shifting does take some getting used to and requires a lot of faith the first time you try it, as you need to have more than 90 per cent throttle and more than 5000rpm to make the system work correctly and not crunch the cogs. But when you get it right it just feels so good.

The engine may be carried over rather than all-new but you won’t care when you put your foot down. The engine may be carried over rather than all-new but you won’t care when you put your foot down.

Even without that, on the road it's a nice gearbox to use, with a short, mechanical throw. It may feel a bit heavy for some, but it's in keeping with the muscular attitude of the Mustang.

It also feels really well matched to the engine, on the track but also the road. The engine has enough torque to take-off in second (and probably third) gear, feels nicely spaced through the middle gears and will cruise along in sixth gear in a relaxed manner.

The automatic is a nice alternative if you really don't want a manual, but the 10 speeds feel like overkill at times.

The roar from the V8 is truly a thing of beauty to anyone who appreciates an evocative exhaust note. The roar from the V8 is truly a thing of beauty to anyone who appreciates an evocative exhaust note.

It has a preference for looking for the tallest gear possible at any stage in order to save fuel. This included on the racetrack, where it felt like it still wanted to go to the highest gear it could if you left it to its own devices.

Using the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters is the better choice when you want to go for a spirited drive, but it just doesn't feel as engaging or shift as crisply as the manual.

As for the handling, on the road the Dark Horse is a pleasure to drive, with a new level of poise and directness than even the Mach 1 possessed. The steering is excellent, with a directness to it that makes the Mustang feel responsive to your inputs.

This new addition is an evolution of what the company offered with the sixth-generation Mach 1 model, with a more powerful engine tune and chassis engineered for better handling, especially on a racetrack. This new addition is an evolution of what the company offered with the sixth-generation Mach 1 model, with a more powerful engine tune and chassis engineered for better handling, especially on a racetrack.

It helps that the Dark Horse rides on Pirelli tyres developed specifically for it, which provide excellent grip on the road and add to that feeling of responsiveness and composure.

However, if you want to take that to the next level, then you'll need to speak to Herrod Performance about adding the Handling Package options.

However, it's not clear at this stage if that will include the amazing Pirelli P Zero Trofeo RS tyres that are used in the USA. At this stage they're not approved for use in Australia, which is a shame because they provide immense grip and, once again, elevate the Dark Horse above any Mustang we've had so far.

Because of that you can expect the Dark Horse to be priced around the mid- to high-$80,000 range. Because of that you can expect the Dark Horse to be priced around the mid- to high-$80,000 range.

The changes to the aerodynamics and suspension, along with the tyres, combine to make the Mustang Dark Horse with the Handling Package a genuine rival to the likes of the BMW M4 and Audi RS5 Coupe, in this reviewer's opinion. We'll stop short of saying it's clearly better, but it's definitely a rival on performance terms.

The other notable new addition to this generation Mustang in a nod to the younger audience is the addition of the 'drift brake' that allows you to slide the back of the car around.

Working like a rally car handbrake, the drift brake only needs you to dip the clutch and pull up on the lever/bar and the back wheels lock up and allow you to slide. It's a fun new addition that does add a new dimension to a car that was previously focused on straight line performance at the drag strip.

It’s a joy to drive with the six-speed Tremec ‘box, especially on the track as it has both the rev matching for downshifts and the flat shifting for upshifts, which make you feel like a racing pro. It’s a joy to drive with the six-speed Tremec ‘box, especially on the track as it has both the rev matching for downshifts and the flat shifting for upshifts, which make you feel like a racing pro.

Warranty & Safety Rating

Basic Warranty

5 years / unlimited km warranty

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?   7/10

Another area where we don't have firm details is the safety equipment. In the US all models are equipped with at least a reversing camera, rear parking sensors, auto high-beam headlights as well as front, side airbags, plus a driver's knee airbag.

There's a decent level of active safety gear with pre-collision assist with autonomous emergency braking and lane departure warning all standard, but adaptive cruise control, lane centring assist and intelligent speed assist are all optional.

Whether ANCAP crash tests it or not will be interesting to watch, as the safety body typically doesn't crash sports cars due to the high cost of buying enough examples for the multiple tests required.

Another area where we don’t have firm details is the safety equipment. Another area where we don’t have firm details is the safety equipment.

But the sixth-generation Mustang was tested and slammed by ANCAP for only scoring an initial two-star rating (although it was later upgraded to three-stars with a subsequent facelift).

It was a controversial decision by ANCAP, providing a much-needed insight into the state of safety in the sports car segment, but the operation has failed to test similar sports cars like the new Nissan Z, Subaru BRZ and Toyota Supra.

What warranty is offered? What are its service intervals? What are its running costs?   7/10

Again, this is one of those topics with limited confirmed details at this stage, but there's no reason to believe the Mustang won't be covered by Ford Australia's usual five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty.

Verdict

Obviously we can't speak to the whole of this new, seventh-generation Mustang range having only experienced the Dark Horse. But that's enough to make you appreciate just what a special car the Mustang is, even after all these years.

The company has managed to find new ways to improve arguably its most iconic model, keeping it fresh for a new generation. The Dark Horse is a worthy addition to the line-up, for however long it lasts, bringing a higher level of dynamic capability that will appeal to both long-time muscle car lovers and anyone who appreciates a good sports car.

The truth is, this is no mid-life crisis for the Mustang, it's actually ageing very gracefully, taking on new dimensions as it does. The bigger question is how much longer it has left in it, at least with an internal combustion engine. But that's a question for another day, for now we should just eagerly anticipate its arrival in Australia in 2024.

Note: CarsGuide attended this event as a guest of the manufacturer, with travel, accommodation and meals provided.

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$78,988
Based on 45 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
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Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
2.3 Gtdi 2.3L, ULP, 10 SP AUTO $52,360 – 60,170 2023 Ford Mustang 2023 2.3 Gtdi Pricing and Specs
2.3 Gtdi 2.3L, ULP, 10 SP AUTO $58,300 – 66,990 2023 Ford Mustang 2023 2.3 Gtdi Pricing and Specs
GT 5.0 V8 5.0L, PULP, 10 SP AUTO $64,350 – 73,920 2023 Ford Mustang 2023 GT 5.0 V8 Pricing and Specs
GT 5.0 V8 California Special 5.0L, PULP, 6 SP MAN $63,360 – 72,820 2023 Ford Mustang 2023 GT 5.0 V8 California Special Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
8.9
Price and features7
Design9
Practicality7
Under the bonnet9
Efficiency6
Driving9
Safety7
Ownership7
Stephen Ottley
Contributing Journalist

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