Ford Mustang Dark Horse review: more of the good stuff Reviews 2023 | Top Gear
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Ford Mustang Dark Horse review: more of the good stuff

Published: 01 Aug 2023

Dark Horse? Sounds spooky.

Don’t be scared; this mare is easy to tame. (First and only horse pun, promise.) The Dark Horse is really just a Ford Mustang GT that’s been hitting the gym. It’s got a skosh more power, a much better transmission, and some crucial handling upgrades. But it also costs $60,865, including a mandatory $1,595 destination fee, making it $12,255 more expensive than a Mustang GT Premium.

Yikes. Do I get a lot of stuff for the money?

Sure do. The Dark Horse comes standard with things that are optional on the GT. Good things, too, like a 3.73 rear axle, Torsen limited-slip differential, active exhaust, and – most importantly – Ford’s MagneRide adaptive damping system. The Dark Horse’s standard 19-inch wheels are also staggered in width, measuring 9.5 inches wide up front and 10 inches wide out back, shod in proper Pirelli P Zero summer tires.

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Not enough? The Dark Horse also comes with new shocks and a bigger rear sway bar, and the front six-piston Brembo brakes have 15.3-inch rotors. The 5.0-liter V8 engine has stronger camshafts and forged piston connecting rods, and those ugly front nostrils are larger than the ones on the GT, letting the Dark Horse breathe deeper for better performance.

Better performance? You mean like more power?

A little. The Dark Horse has 500hp and 418lb ft of torque, which aren’t major improvements over the Mustang GT. Compared to a GT with the optional active exhaust, the Dark Horse only has an extra 14hp and the torque number is identical. Ford doesn’t do acceleration specs, so there’s no ‘official’ 0-to-60 comparison to report. Still, Ford’s Coyote 5.0-liter V8 feels stronger and more excited to rev to its 7,500-rpm redline. It’s like taking that first, strong, unobstructed deep breath after being stuck in the trenches of a snotty sinus infection.

Dude, gross. Get back to the Mustang.

Okay, okay, and here’s where things get really good. Unlike the GT, the Dark Horse has a very important and technical sounding Tremec TR-3160 transmission, which probably means nothing to most of you, but to the Mustang faithful, it’s the holy-grail six-speed manual from the dearly departed Shelby GT350. This gearbox rules; it’s got a great clutch that’s the right kind of heavy, and clicking through the shift gate feels like you’re genuinely moving metal – which I suppose you are, considering the shift knob is a 3D-printed piece of titanium.

You can get the Dark Horse with Ford’s 10-speed automatic transmission, which is perfectly well behaved and nicely tuned to handle the V8’s power. But at the risk of sounding like a slushboxes-be-damned luddite, please, get your Dark Horse with a manual. It’s so much more engaging. Besides, the 10-speed auto’s paddle shifters feel like trash.

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I’m intrigued. How’s it drive?

On the backroads of rural North Carolina – real Mustang country – the Dark Horse is great. That MagneRide suspension works wonders, keeping the coupe’s body settled while cornering, and the Brembo brakes provide strong stopping power that never show signs of fade. The engine is an absolute champ, with strong low-end torque and a sonorous exhaust note that’ll have you ripping to redline in second gear before slamming the gearbox into third. A car like the Dark Horse simply encourages hooliganism – and that’s before you start playing with its optional electronic drift brake. This Mustang is awesome. Well, mostly.


The steering is totally weak sauce, I’m afraid, completely numb and much too light on center, and then overboosted in action. Yes, the Mustang’s front tires respond quickly to inputs, but you can’t feel a thing through the wheel, which is a real let-down.

You can toggle through Normal, Sport, and Track drive modes, and these change the throttle mapping and steering parameters, but not enough to genuinely make a difference. At least the different settings bring appreciable changes in terms of suspension damping, though you could really just call the modes Stiff, Stiffer, and Stiffest.

Well, that’s a bummer about the steering.

Yep, but you can improve things slightly. Add the $4,995 Handling Package and you get stiffer springs and beefier sway bars, as well as – crucially – wider wheels and tires. The Handling Package still includes 19-inch wheels at all four corners, but the fronts are now 10.5 inches wider and the rears are 11s, and they come with stickier Pirelli Trofeo R tires. The thicker contact patches communicate a bit more road feedback through the steering, which is nice, but it’s still not an ideal setup.

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Wait a minute, I thought the Dark Horse had carbon fiber wheels?

It does. Or it will, anyway. The 19-inch wheels from Australian firm Carbon Revolution are coming, they just aren’t available right now. In addition to looking absolutely super-duper, they reduce unsprung mass by 37 per cent compared to the standard wheels, which should actually make a legit handling difference. I can’t wait to try ‘em out.

How’s the interior?

Well, it’s a Mustang. That is to say, there’s lots of flashy tech housed in those large screens, but there are crappy plastics everywhere and the whole interior feels cramped and claustrophobic. Like the Mustang GT, you can get the Dark Horse with Recaro seats that are very comfy and very, very supportive, though I imagine more, um, rotund Americans will have trouble squeezing between the bolsters.

That big display on the dash houses a 12.4-inch digital gauge cluster and 13.2-inch infotainment screen, running Ford’s Sync 4 software. It’s exactly what you get in the standard Mustang, with cool-looking graphics and a fixed row of climate control icons that are kind of hard to use while driving. Best just set things to auto.

Okay, I dig it. But 60 grand?

Yeah, it’s a lot, especially when you remember that you can get most of the same go-fast upgrades on the Mustang GT through its optional Performance Pack, and still come in several thousand dollars less than the Dark Horse. All you’re really missing out on is stiffer damper tuning and the fantastic Tremec trans. I also prefer the look of the regular Mustang GT better, since it doesn’t have that horrible goth mascara treatment under the headlights. No thanks.

The Dark Horse is a nice package for a Mustang buyer who wants more than what the GT offers. You certainly don’t need it, but after driving one, I can totally see why you’d want it.

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