The Ford Mustang has come a long way since it reinvigorated American muscle with its “retro-futuristic” refresh in 2005. Those in doubt of that statement will do well to remember that the new Mustang’s impact was so great, it brought both the Camaro and Challenger back from the dead. Since then the standard ‘Stang has seen a great deal of evolution: larger power bumps, a switch from a live rear axle to an independent rear suspension, and making its way across the pond — the Mustang is a global vehicle now.

Its latest refresh sharpens up the fascia, includes an all-digital dash and busts the door open with customization options. Along with hammering home the personalization aspect, Ford wants to make it clear that you don’t need to go full GT350 to get serious performance out of your car. To wit, the 2018 Mustang now offers Performance Pack 2 (PP2), an options package that can be added to Mustang GT trim levels (that means V8-only; no EcoBoost allowed). The package, available as an enhancement to the already substantial Performance Pack 1 options, includes a litany of goods.

Performance Pack 2 Upgrades:
• Bigger 19-inch x 10.5-inch (front) and 19-inch x 11-inch (rear) wheels
• 305/30 Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires
• Brembo six-piston front calipers, larger rotors
• Supplementary gauges, aluminum instrument panel
• New front splitter, new rear spoiler
• Strut tower brace, K-brace; upgraded springs and sway bar
• Larger radiator
• MagneRide damping system
• 3.73 Axle Ratio, TORSEN differential
• Performance-tuned chassis, stability control and brake settings

The Good: It’s a subtle upgrade, but the unique front splitter goes a long way in making the Mustang pop. The already aggressive Mustang looks meaner, grabbing a lot of attention in a way that a standard GT otherwise wouldn’t. I was genuinely surprised how many people went out of their way to either compliment or inquire about my test car during my time with it. The trade-off, of course, is the enhanced anxiety brought on by cement parking barriers, driveways with a subtle incline, and anything else that threatens to chip the lip.

All of that outward aggression is backed up by everything on the inside. The 460-horsepower V8 revs for days and the exhaust note is one of the best ones out there. The car is tighter and more capable around corners than a “normal” Mustang is expected to be.

Who They’re For: Anyone who is intrigued by the current Mustang but wants some extra seasoning. Performance Pack 2 adds enough spice into the mix to heat the GT up in terms of looks and handling. It doesn’t get to GT350 levels of performance, but it also doesn’t ask for a GT350 level price.

The 2018 refresh also brings about an all-digital gauge cluster. It displays the same menus that the previous generation showed and though it’s not as dynamic as, say, Audi’s Virtual Cockpit, the digital tach and speedo are crisp in their presentation. The package also adds a shift light bar displayed when in track mode, which is handy. Definitely a solid step forward.

Watch Out For: Choosing to add PP2 to the Mustang means abandoning some degree of subtlety. The optional active valve sport exhaust heralds your arrival even in its most docile state and though you can attempt some level of stealth by abstaining from any of the alarmingly bright paint options, you’ll still hardly go unnoticed. This is to say that if you’re looking for an all-rounder to suit every occasion, this isn’t it. Furthering that is the snappy clutch that favors quickness over smoothness. The Mustang’s eager to jump off the line and the steep contact point makes daily low-speed driving a chore.

Don’t let the 2+2 nature of the car think that the car fits four. Any persons relegated to the back seats will never forgive you.

Alternatives: Chevy’s Camaro will be intertwined with the Mustang in eternal conflict. Specifically, in this instance the Camaro SS 1LE that gives the V8 Chevrolet similar track-forward fittings as the PP2 Mustang: magnetic ride control on a performance-tuned suspension, Brembo brakes and track-ready rubber. This current-gen Camaro has proven to be a supremely balanced, thanks to its current platform. The battle rages on.

Review: Saying a Mustang isn’t meant to be on a track is throwing out over 50 years of the car’s presence in motorsport. That said, if you went back in time just a handful of years to say to car fans that the 2018 Mustang would share a four-cylinder EcoBoost engine with the Fusion, married to a 10-speed automatic, and also have an independent rear suspension, nobody would believe you.

But even with the evolutions that have kept it up to date with our current performance demands, the Performance Pack 2 upgrades are still surprising in how high they elevate the Mustang without having to delve into special edition models. There’s always been a version of the Mustang available outside the normal offerings to scratch a particular performance itch, be it the Boss 302 or the current GT350, but this pack mitigates that particular sensation of FOMO.

First off, you’re getting the Mustang in its purest form: a 5.0-liter naturally aspirated V8 hitched to a six-speed manual gearbox. PP2 comes with everything included in Performance Pack 1, as one would expect. This nets you the specific chassis tuning, stability control and electronic power steering optimized for performance. You also get six-piston Brembo brakes in the front, larger rotors, a K-brace for superior stiffness and a larger radiator.

Performance Pack 2 doesn’t add any power bump to the V8’s 460 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque, but it does make it easier to keep all that grunt on the track. Visually, the Mustang gets a sharp front splitter that juts out menacingly enough separate it from the rest of the pack. It sits half an inch lower to the ground and rocks 19-inch aluminum wheels shod in Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 Tires. These are an inch and a half wider than the ones that come with the first pack. PP2 also adds stiffer front and rear stabilizer bars, stiffer springs and a redesigned rear spoiler.

On the road, the car feels impulsive. It wants to take off and you’ll want to let it. Bolstered by the sport seats and rumbling exhaust, the whole car begs for its leash to be removed. The PP2-saddled Mustang also demands your attention to things that you might consider routine. The springy clutch pedal will make a chump out of the most experienced manual driver if they’re not giving it their full attention. Its contact point feels incredibly narrow to help you fire off gear shifts. That’s great on the track, but driving around town or on the highway, it makes small things a chore.

The Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires are again ideal for the track but bring the wrong thrills to daily driving. Keen to track with every groove in the pavement, the tires literally go with the grain and can juke the car to either side if the driver is comfortably aloof at the wheel. They certainly communicate a great deal of road feel to the driver, but their report is too unabridged for general usage. All of these are overlooked, however, when it’s time to take the car past town speed limits because it is thrilling.

Redlining at 7,500 rpms, the Mustang stays in gear for what feels like days, with room to spare. This fantastic breadth is incredibly satisfying to have on hand when flying through backroad switchbacks or letting the motor sing on highway stretches. All the added stiffness is immediately tangible when put into practice which is often done with a dollop of hesitation… because Mustang. Even with the switch to the independent rear, it won’t be confused with a high-performance sports car. With the added rigidity and sticky tires, though, the corners can be held once you’re brave enough to tackle them.

At this moment, the Mustang feels like how I imagine flying the P-51 fighter plane of the same name must feel: heavy, loud, and powerful, but still able to perform sharp, acrobatic turns when needed. Again, everything is very solid and deliberate, though in a performance setting, it’s very satisfying when executed.

On longer drives, the Mustang holds up, even with the added firmness. I spent a day driving a friend visiting from out of town to points in New Jersey, which required some substantial seat time. I expected the sport seats to be my ruin, but I wasn’t burdened by the extended wheel time at all. In fact, I was mostly preoccupied with the attention the car would garner as it chaffed under even the higher turnpike speed limits.

The newest Performance Pack adds $6,500 to the GT Premium trim level’s $3,905 base price. Options like the Sync 3-powered touch-screen navigation and the active valve exhaust bumped the final price of my test vehicle to $51,185. For a relatively small price bump, PP2 takes an already agreeable muscle car and adds the right amount of extra flavor to it. It’ll certainly quiet the “yeah, but can it corner?” crowd. The car wants to run. You want to let it. And when it does, the PP2 pack makes the indulgence worth it.

Verdict: The main problem with the Performance Pack 2 equipped Ford Mustang is that every day isn’t a track day. Its wasted on daily commutes but would make weekends a special occasion. It can certainly be daily driven but things like the low front splitter and track-eager tires would intensify common inconveniences in the wrong ways. In a pure performance context, however, it’s all the things anyone would dream to do make their Mustang track-ready — Ford just went ahead and took care of the extra legwork and bundled in a tidy package.

What Others Are Saying:

• “The front steamrollers tramline along worn pavement grooves a little, but far less than expected. On the track, the steering feel is superb, with absolutely linear chassis response, negligible body roll, and a reasonable sense of road-surface grip coming up through the wheel rim.” — Frank Markus, Motor Trend

• “On longer straights, we appreciated the revised V-8’s higher redline, and the Brembo brakes feel strong underfoot as they haul the car back down again.” — Joe Lorio, Car and Driver

• “For a car that’s supposed to bridge the gap between the regular GT and the GT350, the PP2 comes pretty close to eclipsing its Shelby sibling. If it wasn’t for the 350’s screaming flat-plane cranked V8, I’d probably recommend the PP2 over it right now.” — Pat Devereux, Top Gear

Key Specs: Mustang GT with Performance Pack 2

Engine: 5.0-liter V8
Transmission: 6-speed Manual
Horsepower: 460 hp
Torque: 420 ft-lbs
Weight: 3,705 lbs curb weight
MSRP: $51,185 as tested

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