What is it?
The Ford Mustang Dark Horse. The new hero model for the seventh-generation Ford Mustang line-up, and a car the brand hopes becomes a future collectable in the same way the likes of the Mach 1 and Bullitt became iconic and popular models.
While there’s also the V8-powered GT and 2.3-litre four-cylinder EcoBoost models to choose from, we were only able to sample the Dark Horse on our trip to the USA. But we spent three days behind the wheel, driving the new Mustang in a variety of conditions on a road trip from the heart of NASCAR in Charlotte, North Carolina to the NASCAR race in Richmond, Virgina.
Along the way we got well acquainted with this new-generation Mustang, which is fundamentally an evolution of the sixth-generation but has some notable upgrades. These include the new exterior design, with an edgier, more modern look, as well as a major overhaul of the interior to bring it into the 21st century and try and capture a younger audience.
Does it have any racing pedigree?
Not only is the Mustang rich in motorsport heritage, this new seventh-generation model is the focus of the brand’s on-track efforts in 2023 and beyond. Ford has made racing versions for Supercars, NASCAR, GT3, GT4, NHRA and just launched the new Dark Horse R for a one-make series and has a track-day-only Dark Horse S on the way.
What’s under the bonnet?
Ford opted to stick with the tried and tested 5.0-litre V8 ‘Coyote’ engine for the Dark Horse. There were rumours during its development that the company was considering an electrified powertrain, but the success of the Mustang Mach-E meant that was no longer necessary.
Which will be music to the ears of enthusiast muscle car fans and is good news for anyone who drives it because it’s a great engine. Tuned to make 372kW of power and 566Nm of torque, this is a powerful engine with a deep and throaty roar that makes it ideal for this famous sports car.
It pulls with a smoothness you only get with V8 engines this size, building both speed and its fantastic soundtrack as it climbs to its 7300rpm redline.
The engine is paired to a Tremec six-speed manual gearbox or a 10-speed automatic. The Tremec features the same ‘flat-shift’ technology as the previous generation Mach 1, which means you can keep your foot flat to the floor on the accelerator and simply dip the clutch and pull the next gear without lifting. It’s a great trick and does feel quicker on the track, but is less practical on the road as it requires more than 90 per cent throttle and only cuts the spark to the engine briefly to allow the shift, so you need to be in a very committed situation.
How does it handle?
Ford has made no secret that it’s going after European rivals with this new Mustang Dark Horse, as well as the likes of the Toyota Supra and Nissan Z. Taking the lessons learnt on the Mach 1, Ford has tuned the Dark Horse to be at home on both the road and the track.
On the winding curves of the famous Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina and Virginia the Dark Horse felt in its natural habitat, with direct and responsive handling that feels like a step up from not only the sixth-generation GT but also the Mach 1.
It’s helped by new Pirelli P Zero tyres that have been developed specifically for the new Mustang and backed up by a strong braking package.
One new party trick for this Mustang, again in a nod to the younger market, is the introduction of a ‘drift brake’ that allows you to slide the back of the car around with relative ease. It works like an electronic park brake most of the time, albeit with a spriggy handle rather than a button, but once you turn the system on you can drift your Mustang and pretend you’re Vaughn Gittin Jr.
Where would you most like to drive it?
As fantastic as our road trip was, this is a car designed for the racetrack. Somewhere like the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval would be ideal… and that’s where we drove it. But we’re saving that story (and video) for another day, so stay tuned…
What’s the interior like?
Somehow at the same time it’s a massive change and yet still remarkably similar to the previous model. That’s because a lot of the seemingly ‘minor’ elements – such as the door design and centre console layout – have been directly carried over, but the feature piece of the dashboard is completely different.
Ford has introduced an all-new double digital display, with a 12.4-inch digital instrument panel and a 13.2-inch infotainment touchscreen combined with one single housing. It certainly stands out, eliminating years of retro interior styling in favour of a more modern look that the brand hopes will add more youth appeal.
One of the great things about the new digital instrument display is the ability to change to multiple design options, including a Track one that looks like the latest NASCAR dashboard and one that calls back to the Fox Body Mustangs of the 1980s.
How much does the Ford Mustang Dark Horse cost?
To be blunt, we don’t know yet. Ford Australia hasn’t locked in pricing yet as the Mustang range won’t arrive until the first quarter of 2024. But looking at the cost of the previous Mach 1, which was similar in concept, that started at just over $83,000, it’s highly likely this will end up somewhere around the $90,000 mark.
Would I buy one?
Absolutely. Ford has stayed loyal to the elements that have always made the Mustang an American automotive icon – V8 engine, manual gearbox, rear-wheel drive and coupe styling – but have added to its appeal with its new technology.
The handling improvements for the Dark Horse do elevate the handling but it remains to be seen how many buyers it will lure away from European competitors, but that explains why Ford chose the name…
For more info on the Ford Mustang Dark Horse check out https://www.ford.com.au/showroom/future-vehicle/mustang/