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Bench Racer With Steve Turner—Still Burning

Posted By: Evan J. Smith

Bench Racer With Steve Turner—Still Burning


Written by Steve Turner

Photography courtesy of Ford Motor Company


While most of my time is spent dedicated to these pages, I keep busy with some extracurricular activities as well. Just before I sat down to write this column, I came off a whirlwind two weeks that included a car show, the NMRA/NMCA race in Michigan, and new-vehicle media drives on both coasts. 


I was home for just over two days during that stretch. Most nights I was up late behind the keyboard keeping pace with onsite race coverage, writing vehicle review stories, and chasing my primary duties to these pages. It was a crazy run, but worth every moment. During that time I soaked up a slew of rare Fox Mustangs in the shadow of Ford’s headquarters, watched some amazing NMRA/NMCA racing at US 131 Motorsports Park, and drove some significant new performance cars.


While electrification is the trend in auto manufacturing, there are still areas where internal combustion rules the day. When it comes to performance cars, those that are purely powered by burning fuel have dwindled, but in the case of Ford’s Mustang, its seventh generation soldiers on with internal combustion along with optional V8 engines and manual transmissions.


Your humble scribe was fortunate to sample several configurations of the 2024 Mustang with EcoBoost and Coyote engines. These vehicles showed anywhere from modest to significant improvements over their predecessors in terms of braking, steering, and handling. For anyone reading this, what’s under the hood is where the significant improvements start and these cars deliver. The GT delivers a 30- to 36-horsepower improvement over its counterpart and the Dark Horse exceeds the Mach 1 by 30 horsepower. The turbo-four EcoBoost only offers 5 more ponies, but more is always better.


These cars were engineered to perform at a high level in a performance environment without sacrificing too much in the way of comfort on the street. Factory vehicles walk that line but some push the envelope. The latest Mustangs do that in several ways, by adding technology and fun features like a drift brake on the Performance Pack and Dark Horse models. You might not be interested in getting slideways, but the latest Mustangs still feature many of the toys available on their predecessors — including Line Lock and Launch Control — that make it easier for them to gallop at full speed in a straight line. 


Faster in every way, they exude everything that we love about modern muscle cars, which is exemplified by a robust exhaust tone that can be tamed or unleashed with the optional Active Valve Performance Exhaust, which is also good for 6 horsepower on the Coyote cars. 


In practice, the new Mustang sounds better in every form, but the V8 cars sound particularly muscular. Hearing that rumble swell into a throaty roar put a huge smile on my face, but I couldn’t help take pause and consider that we could be nearing a swan song for these glorious sounds.


The thought put an ever-so-brief crimp in my style before I considered how fortunate we are that Ford realized its Mustang loyalists still wanted gas-burning pony cars that could be customized to do burnouts, drift, easily shift without taking your right foot off the floor, and more. When you stop and consider all those features are available right off the dealer lot, it is pretty incredible.


For those reading this column, a base Mustang GT with a 10-speed automatic would be a great foundation for a straight-line project that could easily compete in any of the street-oriented classes in the NMRA and NMCA series, and that is something worth considering. If we want these kinds of cars to exist, people have to buy them.


While I hope that internal-combustion ponies still have a long lifespan ahead of them, we have to savor these modern muscle machines while the fire in the cylinders is still burning, because you just can take for granted how great it is that an automaker is still creating new, high-performance machines like these.


Your author recently spent several days driving all the latest 2024 Mustang models ranging from the base EcoBoost to the top-of-the-range Dark Horse with the Handling Package. Better than their predecessors, what they also all have in common are gas-burning engines and optional manual transmission. Those latter two offerings could be on the endangered species list, so let’s celebrate them while the fire is still burning.

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