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For the first time in 21 years Ford has created a new Mustang model, and its name is Dark Horse, a high-performance pony with new technology, style, and a new attitude. Despite the success of its predecessors like Boss, Shelby, and Mach 1, Ford wanted to offer something new for the S650, one that didn’t rely on retro. It’s a bold move and after driving it, we can tell you it’s a winner on the road and track.
“For decades, Mustang has competed against premium brands on the greatest stages and won,” said Jim Farley, CEO of Ford Motor Company. “We surprised everyone, and we’re going to surprise them again with a track-capable Mustang that puts a new level of performance, styling, and engineering in the hands of everyday customers who still want the thrill and excitement of a V8 sports car.”
Recently, I had the chance to exercise three versions of the 2024 Dark Horse; the base model; the Handling Pack with the Tremec 6-speed manual, and a Handling Pack with the 10-speed automatic. We put Dark Horse through its paces on the Charlotte Motor Speedway “Roval” and on the street and came away wanting one—bad!
Dark Horse is a capable machine, with attributes from previous models and with a 500-horsepower punch from the Gen 4 Coyote V8. It’s a wonderful evolution from bumper to bumper, from the aero to the styling, to the technology, and most importantly, the performance. So what did we like?
Here are our Top 10 takeaways:
In a world of small-displacement turbo engines, naturally aspirated V8s are becoming harder to find. Ford proudly sticks to its roots, continuing the tradition of a V8 Mustang and the Gen 4 Coyote is the best yet, developing 500 horsepower and 418 lb-ft of torque from just 5.0L liters (302 cubic inches). That’s 100 horsepower per liter if you’re counting. It clocks an 11-second quarter-mile power and has plenty of grunt for road course use. Best of all, the active exhaust modes allow you to let the engine roar or calm things down should you need. The sound is all-American V8 and we love it.
Ford enhanced the S650 chassis with a revised steering shaft that features less dampening and a quicker-ratio rack to provide a wonderful connection between the tires and your hands. The Dark Horse Handling Pack gets you improved aerodynamics with the most downforce of any new Mustang, thanks to a unique rear wing that includes an integrated Gurney Flap - similar to that of the Ford GT. The Handling Package also adds stiffer springs, larger front and rear sway bars, wider Pirelli Trofeo tires, and 19-inch-by-10.5-inch front and 19-inch-by-11-inch rear wheels. Track capability is rock-star level, yet Ford managed to quell NVH in the process. This is in part to the evolution of the Magneride dampers and the specially designed Pirelli tires. Ford’s effort results in a Mustang that has very excellent steering with sharp turn-in and nice balance in the corners, but without any compromise for the street.
While a terror on track, the Handling Package surprised us on the street. Not because it was harsh, but to the contrary, it was well-mannered and suitable for a daily driver. We expected more road noise from the Pirelli tires, but NVH was minimal. In fact, we’d recommend the Track Pack for improved handling in just about every case.
Slide behind the wheel and you’ll instantly realize Mustang has grown up. Front and center is the 12.4-inch digital instrument cluster with customizable screens including a variety of drive modes. You interface with a thicker, flat-bottomed steering wheel wrapped in suede and finished with Bright Indigo Blue accent stitching. It’s comfortable and nice for street or track use.
Stick drivers get an anodized blue, lightweight titanium manual shift knob. Dark Horse auto models use anodized silver paddle shifters. A dedicated drive mode button is at thumb’s reach, allowing drivers to quickly choose the desired driving. This cluster flows seamlessly into a 13.2-inch SYNC® 4 center stack behind the same piece of integrated glass, angled towards the driver. Together, these screens create a fully immersive digital experience. While we love the old, round gauges, the screens do a better job of putting the important information in your face where and when it counts. The Track Mode tach is BIG and you can customize the screen to show what you want. We also love the huge G-meter.
While the Gen 4 Coyote is a serious power producer, it would be nothing without a good transmission behind it. Ford offers two - as Mustang Dark Horse comes standard with a unique six-speed TREMEC manual transmission and a 3D-printed titanium shift ball. The manual also includes a special Mustang Dark Horse transmission oil cooler and features the ability to flat-shift and rev-match on downshifts.
Drivers have the option to choose Ford’s advanced 10-speed automatic transmission with sport paddle shifters for fast and precise shifting. While we love a manual, the automatic, when in track mode, was hard to beat and lap times on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval were nearly identical. Upshifts were crisp and didn’t upset the car—downshifts came at the perfect time with an automated blip of the throttle to rev match.
Dancing at the limit was easy thanks to the Brembo brakes and track-ready calibration. Stopping is easy with the 19-inch Brembo front 6-piston brakes with 13.9-inch rotors. We ran the wheels off the Dark Horse and never experienced fade or any braking degradation. Pedal feel is firm and the power-assist is calibrated to provide nice effort on the street or track.
While the Dark Horse name and badging is still growing on us, we’re glad Ford didn’t simply slap a retro name on this Mustang. The 2024 Dark Horse is a huge evolution in the chain and it’s deserving of the title. After spending a few days with the Dark Horse, we think it is different enough from the outgoing Mach 1 and the GT350 that preceded it to create and tell its own story. We hope 20-30 years from now, the name Dark Horse will be commonplace, just like Boss, Mach 1, or Bullitt.
Recaro seats have been installed as an option in many Mustang models, but these are some of our favorites. Track Pack GT350 Recaro seats are fantastic for the track, but they aren’t the best for daily driving because the huge, stiff bolsters can be cumbersome to get around. In contrast, Dark Horse Recaro chairs are much better for the long haul or for the daily commute. Recaro has somehow created seats with just enough stiff side bolstering to be great for the track, but the center, where you sit and where your back rests, is very comfortable. They are firm without being harsh and provide generous lumbar, too.
We love that Ford is all-in on the Dark Horse, so much so that there’s a “DH S” and “DH R” planned. Ford announced the Dark Horse R, a legitimate track racer with updated suspension, roll cage, and powertrain with proper cooling and aero. In fact, Ford announced the Mustang Challenge Series, which will debut in 2024 with a scheduled to be announced soon.
ord enthusiasts are a lucky bunch. Ford understands the importance of its iconic Mustang and it has done a fine job placing passionate designers, engineers, and communications people on the team. It’s not easy making the Mustang better, but Ford consistently adds power and improves handling, braking, & cornering capabilities. In addition, the 2024 Mustang gets all-new technology on the inside with screens replacing gauges. Team Mustang is a proud bunch, and it shows in the product.