Editor’s Note: This story has been updated with new information from last night’s Ford Stampede.
If you’re ready to launch a new Mustang, why gallop when you can have a full-on Stampede?
Ford corralled Mustang owners from across the country, herding them from its suburban Motor City headquarters into downtown Detroit for the official launch of the seventh-generation pony car Wednesday evening.
The introduction of the 2024 Mustang was easily the biggest story to emerge from the downsized North American International Auto Show’s media day. The event immediately drew widespread play on social media, as well as in more traditional media outlets.
Adding to the frenzy was Ford Chairman Bill Ford’s announcement the company will make its return to Le Mans with the new Mustang for the first time in a quarter century.
“Tonight I’m announcing that we’re going to go back to Le Mans again, with this Mustang. It’s going to be great and once again, we’re going to go like hell,” he said.
Ford’s exploits at Le Mans with the Ford GT 40 beginning in 1964 and in victory in 1966, sweeping the podium with a 1-2-3 finish are well chronicled. So too is the company’s return 50 years later — a triumphant return. Ford won the Le Mans 24 Hours with Ford Chip Ganassi Racing and the Ford GT, with another Ford GT finishing third. Mustang previously raced at Le Mans in 1967 and 1997.
“The Mustang GT3 will be eligible in 2024,” said Mark Rushbrook, global director, Ford Performance Motorsports. “We look forward to seeing Mustang race there.”
In many ways, the new pony car is a largely evolutionary update, hewing closely to the design of the outgoing model — indeed, retaining many of the styling cues that have defined Mustang since the original pony car made its debut nearly six decades ago.
During the next several years, we can expect to see a corral full of variants. At launch, the 2024 Mustang debuted with its two most essential models: the base car with its 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine, and the 5.0-liter V-8-powered GT. But the stampede also brought the additional surprise of the Dark Horse.
The Ford team is adding some trick features, however, including an electronically controlled drift mode. Indeed, the new Mustang will be a substantially higher-tech vehicle, reflecting the new generation of buyers the automaker hopes to attract.
Targeting a new generation of buyers
“We knew we wanted to connect with existing customers,” Alicia Agius, Ford’s Innovation & Strategy manager, told TheDetroitBureau.com during an embargoed background briefing last week. “But we also wanted to draw from a new generation of customers.”
That won’t necessarily be easy today. The automotive market has changed radically since the sixth-generation Mustang debuted in 2015 — marking the nameplate’s 50th anniversary. Sales of sedans, coupes and sports car have dwindled, millions of motorists migrating to SUVs, CUVs and pickups. Mustang is, in fact, the last passenger car offered by Ford Motor Co. in the U.S. market.
But Mustang has defied not only market trends but also Ford’s own expectations throughout the years.
A Mustang is born
The concept that grew into Mustang dates back to the early 1960s. Then-Ford President Lee Iacocca “knew there was a new generation company up and he recognized the youth segment would want something different and sportier” than big sedans and wagons the Baby Boomers grew up with, said Ted Ryan, Ford’s archive manager.
Trusting instinct as much as hard research, Iacocca issued a “blue page,” the document ordering work on what would become the Mustang, to proceed Dec. 5, 1962. Even then, he was far from certain how well it would do. The initial plan called for building just 75,000 Mustangs a year.
He needn’t have worried. When the ’64-1/2 Ford Mustang made its splashy debut at the New York World’s Fair, motorists went wild. Dealers couldn’t keep up with the flood of orders. Nor could the factory. Ford delivered 475,000 that first year and likely could have sold more if it could’ve delivered them.
The good, the bad and the ugly
Over the decades, there have been good Mustangs and bad. Though aficionados might squabble, the 1974 Mustang II certainly was one of the worst. And by the mid-1980s, as fuel economy became the American watchword, Ford give serious thought to abandoning the rear-drive pony car. For a brief moment, it considered replacing it with what is, today, the largely forgotten front-wheel-drive Probe.
Somehow, Mustang held on and the soon to retire sixth-generation model has captivated buyers both here and abroad. It has been the world’s best-selling sports coupe for the past seven years in a row.
That helps explain why Ford designers struggled to find a suitable update. And that search continued right up to when COVID struck. In late February 2020, with the official “lockdown” for the next model’s design closing fast, exterior design chief Chris Walter knew, “We weren’t hitting the mark.”
A frantic push got underway to pull out a winning design, complicated by the pandemic lockdown. Somehow, the product team pulled it together, the design locked down on March 16.
Familiar yet different
What they’ve come up with will be immediately recognizable to even casual observers, never mind Mustang mavens. There’s the long hood, the snarling grille, the fastback roofline and the short rear deck.
But the new LED headlamps curve into the front quarter panels and there’s a distinct kink to the back end — though it retains the familiar triple-sequential taillights. The rear haunches also flare out a bit more, just enough to enhance the sense of a vehicle in perpetual motion.
There are also new, functional heat extractors on the hood of the Mustang GT, and the fascia vary from model to model.
Ford, meanwhile, will continue to offer both coupe and convertible body styles.
A “disruptive interior”
Where the exterior makeover is evolutionary, Ford went for a more revolutionary change inside. Design chief Ricardo Garcia calls it a “disruptive interior” which, he says, “was inspired by the interior of a fighter jet.”
That includes a new, flat-bottomed steering wheel. Peer through it and the traditional analog gauges have been replaced by a reconfigurable gauge cluster that can be switched up between a variety of different modes, from minimalist “Calm,” to a detailed “Track” layout.
There’s also a 13.2-inch infotainment touchscreen. On the base model, the two displays stand separate. They are conjoined on the GT. They also can link together electronically. In Track mode, for example, a variety of gauges, such as oil pressure and engine temperature, pop up on the touchscreen.
As one would expect these days, Ford has loaded up on digital technologies. That includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as Ford Pass which allows motorists to remotely communicate with their Mustang. They can check fuel levels, lock and unlock doors, remotely start the car and turn on the heat on a cold day. And they can use the app and their smartphone instead of carrying a keyfob.
Another critical addition is the ability to download software using a smartphone-style over-the-air update system. Going forward, Ford CEO Jim Farley said during an August interview, that could be used to fix buggy software while also uploading new features that could, do things like improve performance.
Computing power has become as important as horsepower to many of today’s younger buyers, according to Agius.
“Full-on muscle car”
But that doesn’t mean Ford is minimizing performance on the 2024 Mustang. If anything, “For the seventh-generation Mustang, we’ve gone full-on muscle car,” said Walter.
At launch, there’ll be just two primary versions of the 2024 Mustang available. The base car will get a fourth-generation 2.3-liter turbocharged EcoBoost inline-4, noted Vehicle Engineering Manager Eddie Khan.
Khan and other Ford officials didn’t reveal much on engine specs — which likely won’t be locked down until just before the new cars go on sale. But expect to see at least a modest bump up from the 2022 model’s 310 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque, which can propel it to 60 in an estimated 5.1 seconds.
The GT, meanwhile, gets the fourth-generation remake of Ford’s Coyote V-8, and it bring an upgrade from the ’22 GT’s 450 hp and 410 lb-ft of torque. However, in this case, we did learn the 2024 model V-8 puts out 480 hp and both a 10-speed manual and 6-speed stick will be available.
Ford made significant improvements to handling with the sixth-gen Mustang and promises further upgrades to handling and steering. Meanwhile, it has added a feature that should prove particularly intriguing to millennials. To use the new Drift Mode feature — which was developed in cooperation with Vaughn Gittin Jr. — you tap the drift button on the center console and then yank on the adjacent hand brake.
That system uses a separate brake caliper on the rear wheels. The new Mustang GT gets big Brembos, front and back.
In the hours before the Ford’s stampede galloped into downtown Detroit, the automaker put out teaser with an unusual logo. It took some observers by surprise as there were expectations only the base and GT models would be available at launch. That proved to be the sign that the Dark Horse would make its debut as well.
“The first new performance series in more than two decades, and a new chapter in restoring racing history at Ford Motor Co.,” said Mustang’s chief nameplate engineer Ed Krenz declared. “Its name is indicative of its design and its aspirations. Its demeanor is absolutely sinister.”
The Dark Horse model will use the same naturally aspirated 5.0-liter Coyote engine, but tuned up to a target of 500 hp, and will have a standard a Tremec 6-speed manual transmission, or an option for the 10-speed automatic. The Dark Horse suspension will come with Ford’s MagneRide active damping system, and Krenz announced an optional handling package.
Pricing, availability and a mystery
Ford has a policy of refusing to discuss future product. But one can be certain that more variants, such as the Bullitt and Shelby GT500, will follow over the next several years. The outgoing Mustang had as many as a dozen different versions over its lifecycle.
What you’ll pay for the 2024 is uncertain, though virtually all vehicle prices have been going up the past several years. The current Mustang coupe starts at $27,400 plus delivery fees for the 2.3-liter package, and $37,000 for the GT.
Look for the 2024 Ford Mustang to go into production next spring, the pony car arriving in dealer showrooms by summer. Overseas deliveries will follow later in the year.
As the unexpected reveal of the Dark Horse showed, Ford is following its own pattern when it comes to the Mustang. Expect to see numerous variants roll out in the years ahead. One version that appears to be out the equation is the hybrid. Ford spokesman Mike Levine said while you never say never, the gas-electric model appears to be dead, instead fully electric Mustang, the Mach-E.