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Road tests

New Ford Mustang Dark Horse 2023 review

The track-focused Ford Mustang Dark Horse is delightfully old school and packed with personality

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.5 out of 5

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Verdict

The updated Ford Mustang keeps its charismatic 5.0-litre V8 and is better to drive than ever, particularly in this range-topping, track-focused Dark Horse form. It combines more polished handling with a modernised dashboard layout. With a manual gearbox and a V8 engine, this is one performance car that’s packed with something that’s all too often lacking: personality.

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This is our first chance to drive the new, seventh-generation Ford Mustang, which goes on sale here in the first quarter of 2024. In this case, it’s the top-of-the-line Mustang Dark Horse, the most track-capable model in the new Mustang stable.

The new range ushers in several forward-looking updates, including huge digital displays on the dash, and an ‘Electronic Drift Brake’ handbrake. Otherwise, it’s very much a reskin of the previous model that was launched in 2015 rather than an all-new car, but there are enough changes to justifiably consider this a new Mustang.

The European Dark Horse is powered by a 449bhp 5.0-litre V8, but in the USA, where we’re testing the car on road and track, the Mustang isn’t subject to the same engine regulations and develops around 500bhp.

To go with its focus on track use, the Dark Horse gets additional cooling measures, bigger brakes and its own specific tuning for the electronically controlled MagneRide suspension (which is an option on the Mustang GT but standard fit on the Dark Horse). It also looks meaner, with darkened headlights, a gloss-black grille, added side skirts and a rear wing.

Ford says this contributes to better stability at speed, and that claim is believable at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, where the Dark Horse feels rock-solid on the fast, steep banking. In the hairpins and flowing corners of the infield, its handling is predictable, playful and fantastic fun, with slightly faster, more responsive steering than in its predecessor. It’s clear this is still a heavy car, however.

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The Dark Horse comes with a 10-speed automatic or six-speed manual gearbox and both work well; the auto is clever in Track Mode, while the manual has a flat-shift function, so you can change gear without taking your foot off the accelerator.

There’s also the aforementioned ‘Electronic Drift Brake’, which – once you’ve selected the appropriate mode on the new, giant touchscreen – enables you to use an electronic lever in the same position as the old car’s traditional manual handbrake to lock the rear wheels and tip the car into a slide. However, we didn’t get the chance to try this system out ourselves.

On the road, the Mustang is a good-natured companion. It’s a noisy one with the US-spec exhaust, even in the quietest of its four modes, but the UK will get a more subtle system. No bad thing, because it’s an evocative sound – still rumbly but with a zestier, more snarly edge than the old model.

It’s a comfortable car too. The MagneRide suspension’s latest software has allowed the engineers a wider range of tuning than before and it soaks up bumps beautifully.

The new Mustang is essentially the same size as the previous car, so the boot is a decent size and there’s just enough space for two rear-seat passengers, as long as they’re not particularly tall.

The new dash displays, housed behind a single piece of glass, are very effective, and they don’t just look smart. It’s also a slick and intuitive system to use.

Pricing is yet to be confirmed, but the Dark Horse is expected to cost slightly more than £60,000. The Mustang is the only non-turbo V8 car with a manual gearbox now, and won’t be around forever. The good news is that’s not the only reason to buy one.

Model:Ford Mustang Dark Horse
Price:£60,000
Engine:5.0-litre V8 petrol
Power/torque:449bhp/540Nm
Transmission:Six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
0-62mph:4.0 seconds (est)
Top speed:168mph (est)
Economy:23.2mpg
CO2:279g/km
On sale:Early 2024
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