2024 Ford Mustang Dark Horse First Look Review: Fastest 5-Oh

2024 Ford Mustang Dark Horse First Look Review: Fastest 5-Oh

Motortrend / By Frank Markus / May 26, 2022 (Photo credit: Ford)

Ford hasn’t introduced a new named subbrand variant of its pioneering pony car since the Bullitt edition first appeared for 2001. The seventh-generation 2024 Ford Mustang ends this long drought with the powerful new Mustang Dark Horse model. This is no mere appearance package with cold-air induction good for a handful of extra ponies and pound-feet; the Dark Horse represents a serious performance upgrade that lays the foundation for Ford Blue’s combustion vehicle racing efforts. These will range from amateur classes up through global GT4, GT3, NHRA, Australian Supercar, and NASCAR. In so doing, Dark Horse is itself a small family of hotter fastback Mustangs, with an offering of optional performance upgrades to suit one’s personal need for speed, style, and comfort. 

Predatory Coyote V-8

The gen-IV Coyote V-8 found in the base 2024 Mustang starts out with myriad revisions to ensure emissions compliance in all applications, as well as performance enhancements relative to similar V-8s powering the workaday F-150, including a twin throttle-body cold-air intake and a higher-revving valvetrain that doesn’t support cylinder deactivation. To this basis, Dark Horse adds a forged crankshaft and piston connecting rods to cope with higher cylinder pressures and piston speeds. These items are like those found in the Shelby GT500’s supercharged Predator engine. The camshafts are strengthened to withstand extended operation nearer the 7,500-rpm redline (shared with GT, and up from the F-150’s 6,700 rpm). There are auxiliary coolers for the engine oil and rear-axle lube, plus a lighter-weight, higher-efficiency radiator cooled by more powerful fans, all of which is meant to improve endurance in hard running. Naturally, the GT’s optional active exhaust is standard here, offering quiet, normal, sport, and track settings. Final testing isn’t complete yet, but the target was 100 hp/liter (you do the math).

Standard Six-Speed

The base Dark Horse transmission is a modified version of the Tremec TR 3160 six-speed manual used in the Mach 1 and Shelby GT350 (just the bell housing and vent tube are revised). Even cooler (literally): It’s manipulated by an anodized titanium shift ball that’s 3-D-printed to incorporate cooling air passages and minimize thermal mass. (Base Mustangs make do with a Getrag manual topped by a mundane knob.) Those looking for the quickest Dark Horse will opt for the 10-speed automatic that comes with an auxiliary transmission-oil cooler and gets anodized metallic shift paddles.

Putting The Power Down

A standard Torsen differential ensures maximum traction from this Coyote’s rear paws, running 3.73:1 gearing on manuals, 3.55:1 on automatics. Also helping with that are 255/40 front, 275/40 rear Pirelli P Zero PZ4 tires on 9.5 x 19-inch front and 10.0 x 19-inch rear wheels (these are the GT Performance Package tires). Standard MagneRide shocks also help manage weight shift, keep the tires pressed to the pavement, and constantly monitor the trade-off between steady-state ride comfort and quick reflexes when braking, accelerating, or turning.

Brembo Stoppers

Big 15.4-inch two-piece rotors get chomped by six-piston calipers in front and are cooled by NACA ducts. Rear brakes feature 14.0-inch discs and four-piston calipers, with an electric parking brake function handled by a secondary electromechanical caliper. Of course, the drift-brake function (co-developed with two-time Formula Drift champ Vaughn Gittin, Jr.) is standard, as it is on GT (and EcoBoost with Performance package). It provides a proper hand brake that, with Track mode engaged, orders the ABS to apply hydraulic pressure to the rear brakes only, in proportion to the handbrake travel.

Chassis Upgrades

Standard Dark Horse equipment includes a larger rear anti-roll bar, heavy-duty front shocks, an upper strut-tower brace, and a lower “K-brace” to greatly enhance the front-end rigidity and improve steering precision and feel. The GT’s optional MagneRide shocks monitor wheel/tire movement 1,000 times per second, optimizing the ride and handling to suit the selected drive model.

Handling Package Upgrade

To further improve the Dark Horse’s aerodynamics, the Handling package includes a unique rear wing incorporating a “Gurney flap” like the one on the Ford GT. The springs are stiffened, and the front and rear anti-roll bars are enlarged. Traction is enhanced with even wider 305/30 front and 315/30 rear Pirelli Trofeo tires on 10.5 x 19-inch front and 11.0 x 19-inch rear wheels. Naturally, the chassis hardware and software is custom tailored to the Handling package.

Further Street-Legal Upgrades

Carbon Revolution wheels weighing 35 to 40 percent less than the standard cast aluminum wheels will be available sometime after launch as a stand-alone option, available only in conjunction with the Handling package and sized to accommodate those tires. Two designs will be offered—one plain black and another that incorporates a subtle blue accent fiber woven in. They’re also unique relative to the Shelby GT350 wheels, employing a different offset.

Track Only Models

Dark Horse S: It can’t wear a license plate, but the Dark Horse S is essentially a maxed-out Handling-pack Dark Horse stripped of all nonessential trim items and fitted with an FIA-spec roll cage, racing seat and belts, a detachable race steering wheel, a quick disconnect of the electrical system, and a fire-suppression system. Driver controls are ganged in a center panel (headlamps, wipers, rain light, mirror adjusters, etc. ). A pit speed limiter and data acquisition system come standard, and a passenger seat is optional for instructors or thrill riders. Outside, there’s an adjustable wing, tow hooks, and hood pins. Wheels are shared with the street-legal Dark Horse, but they frame race-optimized Brembo brakes. And the MagneRide shocks get swapped for MultiMatic Dynamic Suspensions Spool Valve (DSSV) units. The ride height and camber can also be adjusted at each corner.

Dark Horse R: This is basically a Dark Horse S that gets strategic seam welding to further stiffen the unibody, plus special Ford Performance wheels and serialization that approves it for racing.

GT4 & GT3: Ford will return to factory-based racing with a Mustang GT4 that will be ready for GT4 classes in IMSA, SRO, and FIA GT races in the 2023 season, as well as a Mustang GT3 IMSA model that will arrive in time for the 2024 running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Dark Horse Design Differentiators

Up front, the headlamps are (surprise!) darkened and surrounded by a shadow graphic. The grille mesh openings are themselves small replicas of the overall Dark Horse grille shape, rendered in gloss black, with unique trapezoidal side intakes that each feed an intake airbox. The unique front fascia incorporates gloss-black “fangs.” There are also side skirts, a rear diffuser, and darkened quad exhaust tips. Unique Dark Horse badges feature a stylized horseshoe (oriented up, for luck) framing a menacing, forward-facing horsehead. They’re found on the fenders and decklid. Blue Ember metallic paint will be exclusive to the model, and a choice of applied (decal) or painted stripe packages will be available, as will an appearance package featuring Dark Notorious Blue brake calipers emblazoned with Grabber Blue logos. There’s also unique welcome lighting animation.

Interior Upgrades

Mustang Dark Horse gets a thick-rimmed flat-bottom steering wheel wrapped in suede accented with Bright Indigo Blue stitching and a drive-mode button within easy thumb’s reach. More blue stitching accents the door panels and seats, but to maximize your interior blues, opt for the Appearance package’s Deep Indigo Blue seats with perforations that reveal still more blue. Recaro seats remain optional even on Dark Horse. Other interior trim and bezels are finished in Black Alley, a dark metallic finish. All Dark Horses get a B&O sound system with 12 speakers and a subwoofer, plus unique welcome animation on the screens.

How Fast Is The Mustang Dark Horse?

Without solid info on power, or torque, our crystal ball is somewhat hazy here, and clearly the stripped-down race-only versions will be quickest. But let’s guess the Coyote 5.0 liter is motivating this 3,900-pound beast (running aluminum wheels) with 500 hp and 425 lb-ft—besting both today’s Mach 1 (470/410) and the 2020 Bullitt (480/420), and approaching the output of flat-plane furious Shelby GT350 5.2-liter (526/429). In that case, we’d expect an automatic Dark Horse to hit 60 mph in 3.8 seconds or better, with the 6M running a couple tenths behind (geared as it is to only need one shift). Maybe shave another tenth for carbon wheels.

2024 Ford Mustang Dark Horse Cost And Availability

The Dark Horse hits the road along with the base and GT in early summer 2023. Naturally, nobody is talking price this far out from production, but we’d expect the premium you’ll pay for a Dark Horse to land somewhere between that of today’s Mach 1 and the 2020 Shelby GT350. So, if a 2024 GT fastback with Perf pack and the fancy equipment group takes a small step up from today’s $48,620 to, say $50K, we’d expect a Dark Horse to start somewhere between $60K and $62,500 in 2022 dollars. And we can’t wait to see how it stacks up against the Dodge Charger Daytona SRT electric muscle car in terms of style, emotion, and performance.