Correction: The 2018 Ford Mustang is dropping the V-6 engine as an option for the first time since 1994. An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the time frame.
Detroit - In a three-city simulcast anchored by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Ford introduced an updated 2018 Mustang on Tuesday that gains performance and more advanced technology – but loses the option for a V-6 engine.
The pony car gets standard LED lights and new front and rear fascias, accentuating its aggressive looks with a lower, vented hood. Inside, the Mustang adds a gorgeous 12-inch digital instrument display that can be customized to the driver’s preference.
A mid-cycle refresh, the ’18 model makes no changes to the Mustang’s chassis that was all-new for the 2015 model year.
The Mustang was unveiled on Ford’s stand in the middle of public days at the Detroit Auto Show – and in New York City’s Hudson Mercantile and the Original Farmers Market in Los Angeles. The three press conferences simulcast a pre-recorded video featuring Johnson who surprised Purple Heart recipient Marlene Rodriguez with a 2018 Mustang and tickets to the premiere of his new “Baywatch” movie. Rodriguez, an Iraq War veteran and Johnson fan, was visibly overwhelmed.
Like the 2018 Ford F-150 pickup unveiled during the media preview at the North American International Auto Show last week, the Mustang’s engine lineup will now be mated to a quick-shifting, 10-speed automatic transmission. A 6-speed manual with twin-disc clutch is also available. For the first time since the 1994 model year, the coupe will not be offered with a V-6 engine option.
“I think a few people will miss the V-6,” says Mustang Engineering Manager Tom Barnes. “But the Ecoboost made the car quicker with better fuel economy, so there weren’t many advantages left in the V-6.”
The 310-horsepower, turbocharged Ecoboost 2.3-liter inline-4 — introduced in 2015 — now makes up 40 percent of Mustang’s global sales and will replace the outgoing 3.7-liter V-6 as the base engine. Ford says the V-6 has been the choice of 15-20 percent of customers. To help wean V-6 fans, the turbo-4’s sound will be electronically enhanced. The muscle car’s signature 5.0-liter V-8 will also be offered, its prehistoric growl enhanced by an active exhaust option.
Ford took the wraps off its refreshed Mustang with the help of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
The former wrestling star turned actor posted a YouTube video of himself surprising a veteran with the a 5.0-liter V-8 model of the popular pony car.
Mustang invented the pony car segment in 1965 and underwent major design and drivetrain upgrades to celebrate its 50th anniversary three years ago. The 2015 edition got an independent rear suspension, turbocharged engine option and underwent extreme plastic surgery to bring it in line with the Ford family’s car design theme.
The new pony flew out of showrooms, outselling its muscle-car rivals — Chevrolet Camaro and Dodge Challenger — by wide margins the last two years. With the 2018 car, Ford hopes to sustain the momentum.
“People loved the new car, but they wanted it louder. So we amped it up,” says Barnes. “They would say we want it to be more modern, more connected. So that’s where we did the digital cluster. We’re in the muscle-car segment but our customers are still changing.”
The 2018 model also gets digital novelties like auto high beams, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity, and pre-collision assist. While the base Mustang still features the traditional 4.2-inch analog instrument gauge, the available 12-inch digital cluster (shared with the Lincoln Continental) can be configured in NORMAL, SPORT or TRACK modes.
The high-tech cluster is part of a flurry of appearance upgrades that include smokier chrome finishes in the cockpit, new carbon-fiber trims, 10 new wheel choices and three new skin colors.
“Design is the No. 1 reason our customers purchase Mustang,” says exterior designer Melvin Betancourt.
But the oily bits get plenty of attention, too. The 10-speed transmission, co-developed with GM and capable of Porsche 911-like 300-millisecond shifts, will enhance performance as well as fuel economy.
Mating it to the 435-horse V-8 required updated half shafts in the rear. The big V-8 also pairs port fuel injection with direct injection for better efficiency. And the beast can ride on optional magnetic shocks for a smoother gallop.
“We always aim for a daily driver with the right balance,” says Barnes. “The looks have got to be great, the sounds have got to be great, the go has got to be great. It has to attainable, but it’s not one-dimensional.”
Mustang now carries the Ford flag to 146 countries with 40 percent of its buyers millennials. Ford says the turbo-4 has helped reach a new, younger generation of buyers — but the muscle-car attraction is the same as previous years.
“We’ve done a lot of market research in China, Austria and Europe. In essence, we see the common themes everywhere,” says Barnes. “Our customers want to have an emotional reaction when they are driving. A lot of people like the Ecoboost — it’s a fast car but it’s not a gas pig. They can have their cake and eat it, too.”
With sultry styling and drivetrain capabilities found in BMW and Audi coupes priced thousands of dollars higher, Ford has positioned the Mustang as an international athlete.
“The new Mustang is one of the iconic sports car in America, and now the world,” says Joe Hinrichs, Ford president of the Americas. The 2018 will go on sale this fall.
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at email@example.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Staff writer Michael Wayland contributed.