2024 Ford Mustang Dark Horse Reaches Mach 2.0


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It’s hard to avoid feeling melancholy upon seeing the 2024 Ford Mustang Dark Horse. Forget for a moment that we’re at Charlotte Motor Speedway and about to drive the Roval; the looming extinction of the V-8 pony car hangs like a black cloud on this hot, humid day.

Hey, at least the end is just beginning.

The Dark Horse looks appropriately ominous painted in darker hues, like Vapor Blue Metallic, which reduces the contrast with the black elements on the hood and in the area engulfing the headlights and grille that looks like goth lipstick. As with the 2024 Mustang EcoBoost and GT, the exterior styling and the new interior with its dual-screen dash represent the most significant changes to the car, now in its seventh generation. Your reception to both is likely tied to your age and reverence for the iconic nameplate.

We’ll push that debate aside along with the melancholy because, as we mentioned, we’re at Charlotte Motor Speedway and about to drive the Roval.

From Mach 1 to Dark Horse

Consider the Dark Horse an evolution of the spectacular outgoing Ford Mustang Mach 1. And that car, the quickest in our Lightning Lap LL2 category (for cars under $65,000), isn’t a bad place to start. Aside from the exterior and interior, the changes to the chassis and powertrain are comparatively minimal but welcome.

Pop the hood and the “5.0” badge sits prominently atop the double-overhead-cam 32-valve V-8 with its new dual-throttle-body intakes that snake down to enlarged openings in the bumper. Along with improvements also seen on the GT, the Dark Horse engine gains forged connecting rods from the GT500. In conjunction with strengthened camshafts and unique engine tuning, the engine makes 500 horsepower, neatly matching that of the 2007 GT500, which used a supercharged 5.4-liter V-8.

Driving the Mustang Dark Horse

Every single pony feels present and accounted for. Their furious sound echoes proudly off the Roval walls as they propel this nearly 4000-pound coupe easily into triple-digit speeds. Of the standard active exhaust’s four modes, Normal, Sport, and Track start at Very Loud and progress to Even Louder. We sheepishly admit to putting it into Quiet mode on the road drive to minimize droning.

A six-speed manual is standard, and it’s the transmission you should get—consider this your duty as a red-blooded American when it’s offered in a rear-drive car with a V-8. As with the previous-generation Stang, a transmission divide exists between the GT and the track-oriented trim levels. Whereas the GT retains its Getrag MT-82, the Dark Horse uses the Tremec TR-3160 from the Mach 1 and the dearly departed Shelby GT350. Nevertheless, both transmissions feature automatic rev-matching (that you can disable) and permit no-lift shifting, where you keep the gas pedal pinned during a quick upshift.

If you’d rather abdicate a degree of driving enjoyment, the 10-speed automatic ($1595) will certainly produce quicker acceleration and lap times. During our drive, the shift logic in Track mode was smart enough to keep the car in the correct gear for most corners, and it made satisfyingly quick gear changes at 7500 rpm (the manual has an annoying soft limiter 250 rpm earlier than the indicated redline).

If so far this sounds similar to the Mach 1, that’s because it is. A smattering of changes includes larger anti-roll bars, different chassis tuning, and the other upgrades made across the Mustang line, like speeding up the steering ratio and improving the system’s overall rigidity.

While 19-inch Pirelli P Zero PZ4s measuring 255/40 front and 275-40 rear are the standard fitment, the biggest impact comes from the new Pirelli Trofeo RS tires, available optionally as part of the Handling package ($4995) and sized 305/30 up front and 315/30 at the rear. You may recall the Trofeo R tire for famously being optional on the McLaren Senna and standard on the Camaro Z/28. The RS is an evolution of that design, focusing on delivering extreme traction but with longer life. For example, while the R’s treadwear rating was 60, the RS’s is 180. The Michelin Pilot Sport 4S and Cup 2 on the former Mach 1 were quite magical. We’re curious how the new Pirelli will subjectively compare.

So equipped, the sheer traction means the Dark Horse delivers confidence quickly and easily. Within a lap or two, we’re able to keep the gas pinned through the banking while accelerating above 100 mph. The development team also credits the tires for improvements in on-road refinement, primarily a significant reduction in the tramlining that was so prevalent on the GT350 and Mach 1.

Nearing 135 mph at the big braking zone leading into the infield, the Brembo six-piston front calipers bite hard on 15.4-inch rotors (the four-piston rear calipers clamping 14.0-inch rotors help too), delivering tremendous stopping force that, in conjunction with the standard magnetorheological dampers, keeps the Dark Horse stable and controlled.

Twice in this spot, though, the auto rev-matching didn’t activate during the three-two downshift. The cars we drove were pre-production, and no one else at the event voiced a similar complaint. Nevertheless, this failure in the trust fall that comes with learning a new track added some hesitancy.

Similarly, while tire grip is ever-present, the steering lacks crucial communication when turning in or adjusting midcorner. While the wheel is direct and accurate to the direction it’s pointed, it tells you little about the front tires’ behavior. You notice their limits and sense the road texture by listening to them (assuming you aren’t being deafened by the exhaust) or by feeling it through the seat.

The Torsen limited-slip rear differential transmits power to the ground effortlessly, and the Dark Horse’s limits are generous when you do stumble through them. In Track mode, Ford’s AdvanceTrac stability-control system allows for small, encouraging amounts of slip that you can maintain and correct. It’s a nice tool to lean on for novices or track first-timers, especially on the Roval, which favors walls in lieu of runoff.

Complaints are minor. First, neither the base nor the optional Recaro seats ($1650) provide sufficient lateral support for skinnier drivers, meaning you’ll want to invest in a kneepad or risk bruising your knee from bracing it against the unforgivingly ridged door armrest. Second, those without mechanical empathy might find the manual’s no-lift-shifting feature a touch slow. Ford reps say this is intentional, so as not to upset the rear when you have a small amount of steering in. We’d prefer to control the shift ourselves midcorner and shift as quickly as possible on the straights. And there’s this: In the Track mode gauge-cluster configuration, the bar-style tachometer goes to 9000 rpm, even though you’re shifting around 7000 rpm, leaving some two inches of useless red bar staring back at you.

Mustang Dark Horse pricing

The Dark Horse starts at $60,865 (including destination), or roughly where a Mach 1 loaded with its Handling package, Recaro seats, and a few other options ended up. And very much like that car, the Dark Horse performs on track while delivering pleasing on-road manners. While the opaque comms from the front end mean it lacks the poise and sharpness of the also-not-long-for-this-world Chevy Camaro and its 1LE variants, whatever dynamic shortcomings exist don’t really matter. The Mach 1 was already quicker at Lightning Lap, and the improved Dark Horse is—and this bit is crucial—actually on sale.

While the end may be coming for V-8 pony cars, the Mustang Dark Horse is here now.

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2024 Ford Mustang Dark Horse

Vehicle Type: front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, 4-passenger, 2-door coupe


Base: $60,865


DOHC 32-valve V-8, aluminum block and heads, port and direct fuel injection

Displacement: 307 in3, 5038 cm3

Power: 500 hp @ 7250 rpm

Torque: 418 lb-ft @ 4900 rpm


6-speed manual, 10-speed automatic


Wheelbase: 107.0 in

Length: 189.7 in

Width: 75.5 in

Height: 55.2 in

Passenger Volume, F/R: 55/30 ft3

Trunk Volume: 13 ft3

Curb Weight (C/D est): 4000–4050 lb


60 mph: 3.8–4.3 sec

100 mph: 8.3–8.7 sec

1/4-Mile: 11.9–12.3 sec

Top Speed: 165 mph


Combined/City/Highway: 16–17/14–15/22–23 mpg

Deputy Editor, Video

From selling them to testing them, Carlos Lago has spent his entire adult life consumed by cars. He currently drives the creative behind Car and Driver video.

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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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