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Ford Mustang: Offering 10 versions, core performance

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The 2018 Ford Mustang offers unprecedented power, lowdown styling, a new 10-speed automatic transmission, and enough models and colors to satisfy any Mustang enthusiast.

Ten versions are available: Six fastback coupes and four convertibles with three engines and two transmission choices. All of them can deliver driving excitement and an adrenaline rush – even the tested model with the 2.3-liter turbocharged EcoBoost four-cylinder, which makes 310 horsepower and 350 lb.-ft. of torque. It now is the only alternative to the V8 engine in the Mustang GT; the previous V6 engine is no longer available.

The 5.0-L V8 delivers 460 horsepower with 420 lb.-ft. of torque. Like other new Mustangs, it is available with a 6-speed manual gearbox or the new 10-speed automatic transmission, which can be shifted manually with steering wheel paddles.

Also offered are two fastback Shelby GT 5.0-L V8 models with 526 horsepower and 429 lb.-ft. of torque. We tested the Fastback 2.3-L four-bangers and 5.0-L GTs with performance packages – the latter with both the 6-speed manual and 10-speed automatic.

Dedicated enthusiasts likely will opt for the stick shift, which features a slick and positive linkage and easy clutch engagement. With all those horses pawing at the pavement, the GT manual can be driven in almost any gear in any circumstance. There’s enough power to tool around at modest speeds in fifth or sixth gear, and you can quickly get up to freeway speeds in first and second.

The 10-speed’s paddle shifters are there for the entertainment value. But modern, computer-controlled automatic transmissions handle the shifts with more dexterity than humans. Even professional drivers on road-racing courses now often allow the computer to determine the shifting, especially when driving cars with rev-matching on downshifts. The GT has both rev-matching and drag strip launch control.

In spite of the GT’s 0-to-60-mph sprint at a hair shy of 4 seconds and a top speed of 155 miles an hour, the 2.3-liter is no slouch. It can reach 60 mph in 5.9 seconds, with a top speed of around 140, and still manages a city/highway/combined fuel economy rating of 21/32/25 miles to the gallon compared to the GT’s 15/25/18. Premium gasoline is required for both engines.

Some enthusiasts might even prefer the 2.3-L because its lighter front end delivers better cornering balance on curving mountain roads. On a road racing course with long straightaways, track enthusiasts would obviously prefer the GT for its massive power, or even one of the Shelby variants.

The Mustang’s membership in the high-performance and handling club don’t bar it from the grand touring class. With comfortable and supportive front seats, it celebrates long-distance motoring for two. Anyone relegated to the difficult-to-access back seats, however, might rebel.

Besides its slicker profile, the 2018 Mustang, depending on the model, comes with full safety equipment, including lane-keeping assist and a pre-collision system that can detect pedestrians. Other features include LED headlights, a dozen wheel options, 11 colors, customizable instrument cluster, and even an “active valve performance exhaust system” that allows you to drive your Mustang in quiet mode or bellowing like an agitated moose.

None of this, of course, comes cheap. The GT had a base price of $39,095. The starting price for the 2.3-L Mustang is $25,680.

The Mustang has now been with us for nearly the double nickel – 55 years – a long ways from the original 1965 model, introduced in 1964, with a 101-horsepower, 2.8-L six-cylinder engine and a 3-speed floor-mounted gearshift. Evolution of engine revolution is grand.