To Le Mans in the 2024 Ford Mustang Dark Horse

How better to watch Mustangs race in the 24-hour sports car race than from the Mustang Dark Horse?

Dan Carney, Senior Editor

June 17, 2024

5 Min Read
2024 Ford Mustang Dark Horse in Race Red.
2024 Ford Mustang Dark Horse in Race Red.Ford Motor Co.

At a Glance

  • 500 horsepower
  • 6-speed manual transmission
  • MagneRide magnetically adjustable shocks

It is 128 miles and about two hours driving time from the Charles de Gaulle airport to Le Mans, France, site of the annual 24-hour sports car race, if you stick to the autoroute and there is no traffic.

There was no reason to stay on the highway while driving the 2024 Ford Mustang Dark Horse to watch its track-prepped cousin, the Mustang GT3, compete at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and there is no hope of driving through Paris during the run-up to the Olympics without experiencing traffic delays.

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Fortunately, once on the rural French byways, there was the chance to let the Dark Horse stretch its legs a bit. To recap from our introduction to the Dark Horse, it gets a 500-horsepower version of Ford’s Coyote 5.0-liter V8 engine matched to either the Tremec TR-3160 6-speed manual transmission or a 10-speed automatic transmission that seems antithetical to the Dark Horse’s mission.

Fortunately, my test car featured the manual. The drivetrain is sublime, underscoring Ford’s ability to dot the “i”s and cross the “t”s on its halo vehicles. The muscular engine delivers seamless, tractable power with a pitch-perfect grumbling exhaust note that implies menace without the obnoxious racket that was typical of the Dodge Challenger or even the Cadillac Escalade V-Series I drove recently. That allegedly luxury model registered 105 decibels on my phone’s sound-level app while idling, when measured from the driver’s seat with the door ajar.

Related:Ultra-Performance ‘Dark Horse’ Model Highlights New Mustang Announcement

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The Mustang Dark Horse, in contrast, burbles quietly at idle, and fills the cabin with a soothing, but exhilarating rumble at wide-open throttle. A performance worthy of the symphony.

The short-throw, narrow-gate 6-speed shifter slides accurately through the gears and the Reverse lockout collar’s release is light and easy to use when backing out of a parking space. The blue-anodized, 3D-printed aluminum shift knob is a fun and noteworthy touch. These are the kinds of details enthusiast drivers love. Ford could probably sell the shift knobs on display plinths for fans to show off at home.

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Similarly, the clutch pedal effort is light despite needing to clamp the Coyote’s 418 lb.-ft. of torque on launch. The pedal is also consistent, with a broad, easy-to-engage friction point that is located maybe a little high in the pedal’s travel. I didn’t care, but my co-driver complained about that, so maybe it depends on the vehicle you are most used to driving.

The brake pedal is similarly well-behaved, thanks to its connection to top-shelf Brembo 13.9-inch front brakes with six-piston calipers. These brakes have a light touch that lets the driver use them in ordinary toll-booth, stop-and-go situations without a thought, while also providing the stopping power needed for a car with the Dark Horse’s speed capability. In between, brushing the brakes lightly to just set the front end on corner turn-in is also effortless, without the excessively aggressive response of the brakes in some high-performance models that can make them difficult to drive smoothly.

Related:Maximum Mustang: The Mustang GTD Is an 800-hp Racer for the Street

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Steering effort is driver-selectable, but all that does is change the level of electric power steering assist. Regardless of the setting, the steering doesn’t provide much road feel or feedback, though the steering is accurate and predictable.

The Dark Horse rolls on fat 19-inch wheels that are 9.5 inches wide in the front and 10.0 inches wide in the rear. Despite this, and the 255-mm Pirelli P-Zero tires at the front, the Mustang exhibits no tendency to tramline, following ruts or contours in the road, as is common with wide front tires. The Dark Horse travels where you rein it, not where it wants to go.

Despite the Dark Horse’s capable handling, the ride is excellent, both on the autoroute and on the narrow rural byways. Credit the use of BWI Group’s MagneRide magnetically adjustable shock absorbers, along with the Ford engineers’ calibration of these shocks and the accompanying springs and bushings.

Related:Classic Mustang ads take us back to the dawn of the Pony Car era

 Too many sporty cars exact a punishing toll on ride quality, but the Mustang’s suspension delivers surprising comfort that is abetted by the adjustable seats in the Dark Horse. This is a high-performance car that could realistically serve as a daily driver, and that doesn’t come with the asterisk indicating that this only applies to die-hard car nuts. Though it is hard to imagine anyone else buying the Dark Horse.

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All of these wonderfully designed and executed components combine to deliver a thrilling driving experience. Which is why it is such a letdown to open the Dark Horse’s door and be greeted by a cockpit whose cheap plastic trim would be a disappointment in a base model in the Miami rental car lot. In a car that costs about $65K or more, depending on equipment, customers have reason to expect better than the Mustang’s sea of shiny black plastic and ugly visible cutlines between parts.

The Mustang’s steering wheel is an eyesore, blighted with a shiny black plastic airbag cover in its center that is surrounded by cluttered rows of buttons that demand the driver’s eyes on them to use while on the road. The wheel feels good enough, but it doesn’t look like it belongs in a Mustang.

Curious about a feature on the car, I opened the glove compartment looking for the owner’s manual and instantly regretted it, because the box revealed itself to be a flimsy single piece of plastic that would embarrass an economy car. It has long been my complaint that Ford sells economy models like the Focus, before it was discontinued, whose interior appointments surpass those of Mustangs.

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Inexplicably, Mustang fans seem to tolerate these low-rent cabins, while Ford gleefully points to the Mustang’s sales numbers and the discontinuation of rivals like Camaro and Challenger (whose interiors were demonstrably better outfitted) as evidence that they know what they are doing.

That doesn’t lessen my disappointment, because of the Dark Horse’s immense appeal otherwise.

About the Author(s)

Dan Carney

Senior Editor, Design News

Dan’s coverage of the auto industry over three decades has taken him to the racetracks, automotive engineering centers, vehicle simulators, wind tunnels, and crash-test labs of the world.

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