Not-So-Rotten Rental Car Review: 2018 Ford Mustang GT

This isn’t like other rental car reviews you’ve read here before, so let me set the stage for you. It was an overcast Thursday afternoon in San Jose, California. I had flown out earlier in the week for a business trip to do business-like things with a big and important client-type entity. It was the first time I had ever done anything like that and it was probably the most work I’ve put in within such a short time frame. It was non-stop from early in the morning to late in the night each day and I barely had time to breathe, and that doesn’t even include the weeks of preparation leading up to it. I experienced new levels of stress that week which lasted right up until the moment I was next in line at the rental counter the evening before my four days off in the area started.
I had originally booked Budget’s standard sport class which is “four-cylinder Mustang and similar” because I knew I would want something pretty fun after the job was done. But in that moment, after all my coworkers and I had been through during that tough week, I decided that wasn’t enough.
“Do you happen to have anything with a V8?”
“Yeah, I got a brand-new Mustang GT with like a hundred miles on it. Does that work?”
It did. In fact, it worked so well that I actually bought one.

Seriously, I did. This rental car was the opposite of rotten and actually convinced me to put my money where my mouth was. Here’s how it did it…
While my coworkers boarded the flight for home, I had to do everything I could to contain my excitement and not run like a school child to the car lot. I walked up to the stall I was given and sure enough an Oxford White 2018 Mustang with the big ‘GT’ badge on the back was waiting for me. I made the same kind of sound a dog makes when you say “walk”.
I threw my luggage in the back and fired it up as soon as I could. The rental lot at SJC is a big parking garage which set the perfect stage for a Coyote motor’s opening act. Push the big red button and it rumbles to life and even lets off a nice little crackle as the revs settle. I didn’t even take it out of park at this point but it was the first time I cracked a real smile all week.

I left the rental garage at a perfectly safe and reasonable pace, then hit up the nearby In-N-Out for my first lunch break in two days and so I could get acclimated with the features the car had plus that new styling. I was skeptical when I saw pictures of it but seeing one in the flesh has changed my mind. I like the 2018 styling quite a bit. Only the front clip and the hood changes with the new car so it retains the gorgeous silhouette and rear end of the last model but gains a nose that I think is sharper and more aggressive, but surprisingly not ugly. It may not be pretty from every angle, but at least it’s not the new Camaro.

As for equipment, this Mustang was a Premium model which includes the nine-speaker sound system, the Sync touch screen without nav, Android Auto/Apple Car Play which works well enough to not miss the Sync navigation, and heated and cooled leather seats. Everything inside worked pretty well but the Sync system still suffers from a little input lag, plus I’m generally not a fan of using a touch screen as a driver. Most things can be controlled through wheel buttons fortunately. Over all, it was definitely one of the more comfortable rentals I’ve ever had, but I didn’t pay extra for the comfort…
After rushing through lunch, I programmed a destination that would take me to some of my favorite roads in the area. This route starts in the foothills and takes a sizable climb up to Skyline Boulevard, which is a fabulous road that runs along the top of a mountain range separating the bay area from the Pacific. The climb up has some hairpins and tight angles to negotiate and Skyline is a more open and flowing road with some fast sweepers but lots of bumps to really test the suspension. I would spend a good bit of time in this area to really get a feel for the car’s abilities.

All the hill climbs in the area presented a chance to fully explore the Coyote’s potential and there’s a ton of it. The 5.0-liter V8s are reworked for 2018 and beyond so they now deliver 460 horsepower and 420 lb.-ft. of torque, which I can confirm with my complex scientific evaluations to be a perfectly adequate amount. The torque builds up pretty early and that let me power out of corners without having to downshift as much if at all.
When I first explored the upper limits of the Coyote’s now 7,500 RPM range, any remaining anxieties and worries were expelled faster than the overpriced 91-octane feeding it. It pulls hard and viciously and will never hesitate. This motor is without a doubt the star of the show, which is appropriate for a Mustang GT.

It’s also worth mentioning the standard quad-tip exhaust does wonders for the car as well. The 15-17 Mustang GTs were known to have a fairly muted exhaust setup which growled but didn’t really roar. The 2018 Mustang GT roars. It’s a soundtrack that will constantly egg you on to use a little more throttle than is necessary no matter the situation. You can always hear it but it doesn’t prevent you from having a conversation inside… unless you want it to. It sounds epic. There’s a long tunnel on Highway 1 between Half Moon Bay and Pacifica that I went through several times.

Another major mechanical update of the 2018+ models is the new ten-speed automatic transmission which is… decent at best. I’ve driven plenty of automatics that I’ve liked and even loved, but this is not one of them. I’m of the opinion that ten gears is simply too many for something like this. The Mustang GT has so much power and torque that I feel I was shifting too often with ten gears. To be honest though, I probably wouldn’t have cared about how much it shifted if I wasn’t so distracted by how “quickly” it shifted.
Cruising on the highway or puttering around town, any gear change initiated below ~3,500 RPM takes way too long. I mean a really long time. Flick a paddle and the transmission can take up to 2 whole seconds to even start the shift. It feels as if each gear change must first be brought up to Congress for debate before it’s deemed possible. Anywhere above that rev range, it’s fine.

Moving on to another area that was less than stellar, the chassis. The undulations and mid-corner bumps on Skyline Boulevard were quick to point out a pretty big flaw that I was kind of expecting.
While the ride quality is very comfortable over said bumps, the whole car bounces too much and just doesn’t feel very planted like a sports car is supposed to be. It was unsettling at first and I felt like I was about to bounce off the road. I never did and eventually got used to it, but it’s not great. This car in this configuration was clearly meant to be driven on the highways by normal people (unlike me) and it’s painfully obvious when you start doing sports car things with it. The potential is there though.

But despite that, I still enjoyed my time up in the hills with it. Direction changes are effortless with the electromechanical steering’s precision and there was actually decent feel coming from it. I could still get the most important info from the road and could even feel the steering load up as the suspension did. It’s one of the better electric steering units I’ve used, but it still suffers from the same crappy artificial weight as the rest of them in its heavier sport mode.

Everywhere else though, the car is perfect and I spent the next three days confirming that. It can still breeze through most curvy roads that don’t get too technical or bumpy and it eats up highways, especially the Pacific Coast Highway. In this basic specification, it handles well enough for the vast majority of owners to have a blast with it and it’s a fantastic road trip car. I drove across the bay to Radwood 3 at Sonoma Raceway, a four-hour drive round trip, and I still had the energy to go up and play in the hills again until midnight. Point that long hood in a direction and you’ll never want to stop.

In four days I put just over 1,000 miles on the car and had made two big trips with it (the other being to see family in Fresno – the car even makes that drive interesting). For every limitation I found in the chassis and every painfully slow gear change I sat through, there were a hundred other things I found the car to excel at. The good absolutely outweighed the bad and the bad parts can all be fixed right from the options list. I was completely infatuated by the thing from start to finish. The last sunset drive I took to the coast before I had to return it could have been enough to sell me on one right away, but it had already done that three days prior because of one thing – the feel.

The feeling of sliding into the driver’s seat, pressing the starter button, and having the best of a dying breed eager to follow every command is worth whatever amount of money Ford is asking these days. It’s a feeling of power, passion, and the freedom to go anywhere. It’s a feeling I’ve been craving for as long as I can remember and no other car has ever been able to satisfy that quite like this rented Mustang GT could, and it coming into my life after the kind of week I had at work really was the best way to be introduced to it.
It was a thousand miles of therapy. When mine arrives in a few weeks, I’ll be picking up right where I left off.
[Images © 2018 Hooniverse/Greg Kachadurian]

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14 responses to “Not-So-Rotten Rental Car Review: 2018 Ford Mustang GT”

  1. Mister Sterling Avatar

    Awesome review, Greg. I too rented a 2019 GT from San Jose, expect I drove south. I couldn’t get the car out of my head for weeks. When I returned it, the agent asked me how it was. I told him it was “life changing.” Mustang GT rentals sell Mustang GTs, period.
    Here’s my experience:

  2. I_Borgward Avatar

    Tell us you ordered a three-pedal version.

    1. Greg Kachadurian Avatar
      Greg Kachadurian

      Yes, and with the Performance Package 2 option which fixes the suspension.

  3. Greg Kachadurian Avatar
    Greg Kachadurian

    And in case anyone was wondering, I actually did get a ticket with it. Not for any of the typical things you’d expect to get written up for when you have a rented Mustang GT though. It was for stopping at that vista point after dark (second to last shot). Of all the things I did… and that’s what I get a ticket for. lol.

  4. Tiberiuswise Avatar

    Great write up. I have a question though. Did you spend any time just letting the 10 speed do it’s own thing? The reason I ask is that I have essentially the same trans in my 2018 F-150. As far as automatics go, I find it delightful. Skipping gears seamlessly up and down either to maintain a cruise control setting on the highway, or respond to the loud (well, for a 2.7 EB) pedal.

    1. Greg Kachadurian Avatar
      Greg Kachadurian

      Thanks! I did let it operate on its own at times and I guess the delay wasn’t such a big deal at that point. If I was ever on the move I would always use the paddles though (if they’re there, I’m gonna use em). In traffic though I guess it was fine in D.

      1. Tiberiuswise Avatar

        This kind of confirms my suspicion that, at least in a Mustang, paddles are something the average buyer wants but never uses.
        “Dude, you got a mustang with a granny tranny? Lame!”
        “It’s totally faster, and besides, you shift with the paddles. You know, like a racecar”

        1. outback_ute Avatar

          I’m sure there will be a fix possible to reduce the delay via flash tuning. I remember there being a similar thing when they shifted to electronic throttles.

        2. Maymar Avatar

          Most of the time I’ve driven something with paddles (normal cars, nothing exotic), it’s really only good for preemptive downshifting, but that is pretty great to have.

  5. Zentropy Avatar

    Excellent, honest write-up. I’m admittedly of a “Ford Family” upbringing, but have never owned a Mustang. That new front fascia in white (my favorite car color) certainly looks tempting. With three kids and a budget that won’t tolerate another car payment, such a purchase unfortunately isn’t in my near future. I have been legitimately distracted by ads for used S197s, though.

  6. onrails Avatar

    ‘I made the same kind of sound a dog makes when you say “walk”.’ Genuine LOL at that line. Congrats on the soon to be purchase.

    1. Greg Kachadurian Avatar
      Greg Kachadurian

      It’s not even that much of an exaggeration either. Haha thank you!

  7. Paul M Avatar
    Paul M

    It really is a great car. Great review. Hopefully Ford never stops building V8 Mustangs.

  8. Kenny Avatar

    Greg, I am considering the purchase of a 2018/2019 Mustang GT convertible. How much does Budget charge to rent the GT (does not have to be a convertible)? I just want to rent a 2018/2019 Mustang GT for the weekend before I get serious about putting down $50K… Any feedback you can provide would be greatly appreciated! Kenny