2024 Ford Mustang Dark Horse Drive: Camaro Guy's Hits and Misses
Full disclosure here: I'm a Chevy guy. No, not the Bowtie-tattoo type, but after my first car (which was a 1965 Mustang), I've owned Chevys, specifically Camaros, ever since. I don't dislike Fords, and I even built a Fairlane when I was working at Popular Hot Rodding. But having been editor of both Vette and Super Chevy magazines and technical editor at Camaro Performers, I'm just used to Camaros. Given that I love all sorts of cars, I was thrilled to get an invite to drive the new 2024 Ford Mustang Dark Horse at Charlotte Motor Speedway. So, what did this confessed Chevy guy think? Overall, it's a win, but let's look at nine things I loved and three that I didn't on the new 2024 Dark Horse Mustang.
The looks: There are days I hate the internet. Yeah, the memes about the 2024 Mustang looking like a Camaro are funny, but not really accurate. Are there similarities? Sure, but I could stack side profiles up of 1960s muscle cars and show you the same similarities there as well. There're only so many ways to contour a panel or design a C-pillar on a modern car, and those who think the new Mustang looks like a Camaro aren't really looking at the finer details. As a Camaro owner, I see that my quarter-panel has more of an arch than the flatter Mustang, and that there are bodylines that are distinct between the two. So yeah, from 30 feet away they seem similar, but they're both two-door "pony cars" on similarly sized platforms, so that's bound to happen. Overall, I like the look of the 2024 Dark Horse Mustang, but in my opinion the rear of the car is a home run while the flat front end is more of a close-call double. Looks are very subjective, though. I would certainly never mistake the new Mustang for my Camaro in a parking lot.
The engine: As an "LS-swap-the-world" sort of guy I've always had a love/hate deal with the 5.0-liter Coyote engine—loved the power, but it never made enough of it to justify its huge dimensions. But all my gripes were always from the engine-swap and hot-rodding side, not when it's factory installed. Well, they've bumped the power up to 500 hp, and it now redlines at 7,250 rpm! Getting more revs on this smaller-displacement V-8 really helps, and on track the Dark Horse never felt underpowered. Still, with "only" 418 lb-ft of torque, it's important to keep the high-revving Coyote in its powerband. I'm a manual transmission guy but with this car I would be tempted to get the 10-speed automatic if I was doing lots of road course stuff. It performed flawlessly and kept the V-8 right where it needed to be in terms of rpm.
The manual transmission: Ok, first off, I want to send a big hug over to Ford for continuing to offer a manual transmission (or, as us old folks call it, the millennial anti-theft system). One of the biggest reasons I'm driving a ZL1/1LE Camaro and not a Mustang GT500 is that the GT500 only came with an automatic transmission. Ford was also smart to equip the Dark Horse with the Tremec TR-3160 transmission instead of the MT-82 found in the GT. The biggest plus of the Tremec six-speed is that it's a single-overdrive trans instead of the double-overdrive found in the GT. This gives the Dark Horse manual trans more "go-fast gears," which is what you want in a track car. Also, while the difference between the six-speed manual and the 10-speed auto may seem huge, in terms of those go-fast gears it's really a five-speed versus a seven-speed, since the auto has three overdrive gears. Pro tip: The metal shift knob is cool, but not so much after it's been baking in the sun for a few hours, so keep a sock in your center console to prevent the second-degree burns.
The seats: Rob a bank, pawn a kidney, or sell those Pokemon cards you don't want anyone to know about, but you need to find the money to get the Recaro seat option. They are offered in a non-cooled/heated manual version or a very bespoke full-option variety, but either way these are some of the most comfortable seats I've sat in and for me were superior to the seats in my ZL1/1LE Camaro. On the road drive they were perfect, and on the track they were even better. Ford even included pass-throughs for harnesses (even if the corporate lawyers want you to call them design elements and pretend they aren't there for shoulder harnesses). Also, I had plenty of headroom in the car, even wearing a helmet, and the seats didn't want to push your head forward like some cars (cough, Camaro, cough).
The tech: The Dark Horse is full of all the latest technology, but as a Camaro guy I want to thank them for making the inductive charging pad big enough to hold a modern phone! They were also smart enough to put it near the dash instead of near the back seats. There are two other things I really liked in this image—there's a USB-C port! GM seemed to forget this years-old charging standard exists, so thanks to Ford for including one. Lastly, see the button with the little pony on it? Well, pushing that simple button brings up all the performance screens so that it's easy to adjust your settings on the fly. No scrolling through weird menus where it seems like they don't want you to make changes.
The brakes: Compared to the brakes GM was fielding on their nicer Camaro models, the brakes found on the upper Mustangs (except the GT500) were substandard and always hurt the Mustang on the track compared to the Camaros. Well, the Dark Horse fixed this by running GT500-type brakes! Yep, featuring larger 15.35-inch (390mm for those countries that didn't walk on the moon) two-piece rotors and six-piston Brembo calipers, the new brakes didn't disappoint. Given that these brakes worked great on the heavier and higher-power GT500, you can imagine how awesome they were on the Dark Horse Mustang. No fade, and they worked as well on the last lap as they did on the out lap.
The tires: The handling package ups the Dark Horse's game by moving from a 255/19/40R front and small 275/40R/19 rear to massive 305/30/19 front and 315/20/19 rear track-ready Pirelli Trofeo RS rollers. On track, the tires can make or break a car, so if you plan on hitting some track days then you should pony up (see what I did there?) for the handling package so you can get these awesome tires. The standard Dark Horse tires did fine on the track, but the performance package was like driving a totally different car.
The dash: Should this be in the "love it" or "hate it" category? For me, it was in both. Think of the dash setup as two iPads pretending to be one big split screen. The 12.4-inch one on the right, where you control all the bells and whistles, is large and makes working stuff like the navigation and features super easy. The downside is annoying glare—if someone made a non-glare screen protector that would help remove some of the complaints.
The other dash: Maybe if I was 25 and had spent my formative years learning to drive on a gaming system I would love the 13.2-inch driver-side of the split screen dash … maybe. It suffers the same glare as the passenger side, but for me the very stylish and oh-so-high-tech gauge layouts were not intuitive to get information from. It's also big, which is good, except info on the sides gets blocked by the edges of the steering wheel.
Flexibility: I didn't get a chance to play around with the dash, but I was told it could be reconfigured and had more traditional layouts and even color options galore. So I would call that ability to customize the layout a big plus, and if I had time I'm sure I could come up with a layout useful when you're busy driving the car hard. To be honest, I hardly look at the dash of my Camaro when I'm on track, since all the info I need is displayed on the HUD.
No HUD? Yeah, that was odd. On performance cars the HUD has become common and I was surprised that even on the upper models it wasn't an option. Maybe its absence was glaring because I'm just used to having one. Not having to take your eyes off the windshield is nice, especially with a dash that forces you to scan around for the info you want.
Seat belts: Man, this is going to sound really picky, because it is—where did the ratcheting seat belts go? On my Chevy you can pull the seat belts all the way out and they ratchet back in to lock and hold you in place on the track. This is especially handy when doing things like autocross, where you're being tossed back and forth, so I was a bit dismayed when I pulled the Dark Horse belts out all the way and was rewarded with sadness instead of little clicky noises. Yeah, on the track I knew the belts would lock if I jammed the brakes, but there's a certain security, even if it's all in your mind, to being firmly held in the seat at all times, since you don't feel the need to brace yourself in turns. I admit it's a nitpicky item but it's such a simple feature to have included on a car with some many track-specific widgets.
Overall, this Camaro guy felt at home in the 2024 Ford Mustang Dark Horse. It was a blast to drive on track and didn't disappoint in terms of handling. My plusses for the car were big and my gripes were for the most part over fairly minor, or admittedly subjective, items. The magnetic suspension option rode nicely on the street and firm on the track. The 10-speed, when left in drive and not fussed with, picked the right gears at the right time on track, while the six-speed manual was smooth and easy to get along with. Sure, there are things I would change, same as with my Camaro, but I have to applaud Ford for giving us a better, more evolved Mustang for 2024, and in a time when our V-8 muscle cars are being killed off, Ford is staying at the hydrocarbon party. Besides, I can promise you that the 2025 Dark Horse Mustang will be better than the 2025 Camaro or Challenger.The looks:The engine:Manual transmission Is Still on the Menu! The manual transmission:Is the Recaro Option Worth It?The seats:The tech:Upgraded Brakes for the 2024 Dark Horse Mustang!The brakes: What Tires Come With the 2024 Dark Horse Handling Package Option?The tires:The dash:The other dash:Flexibility:Does the 2024 Dark Horse Mustang Have a HUD?Seat belts: