10-Speed AutomaticOn paper, the Mustang with the automatic transmission is slightly more frugal than the manual, eking out an extra mile per gallon in city and combined driving (16 City/25 Hwy/19 Combined for the auto vs. 15/25/18 for the manual). It also boasts "Drag Mode," something we'll talk more about in a future post, which enables the Mustang GT to hit 60 mph in less than 4 seconds. And of course, there's the fact that you can rest your left leg in stop-and-go traffic.
But what about in normal driving, with normal traffic? Well, the 10-speed is a bit of a mixed bag, both when left to its own devices, and when the driver takes control. In normal, fully automatic mode, it keeps the revs pretty low, clearly to achieve that extra MPG in town. And with so many closely-spaced gears, it does quite a bit of shifting that's really smooth when accelerating gently. It almost acts like a CVT with simulated gears. It keeps the revs low, but it doesn't feel unnatural.
When hitting the throttle hard, it's hit and miss. Sometimes it will figure out the right gear and downshift quickly, but other times it has to sit and think for a second, or it will pick one gear, and then realize it needs to go down yet again because you haven't lifted off. At the very least, most of these shifts are smooth. Manual mode only helps a bit. It's too slow even in normal mode, and while sportier drive modes do speed things up, the shifts are never quite as quick as we would hope.
As we noted in our first drive of the 2018 Mustang(s), we've also experienced some odd judder on tip-in, in several GT and EcoBoost automatics – but not all of them. Maybe it's a teething problem that'll go away after a dealer update. We're not sure, and the Ford engineers on hand weren't, either. On our long-term car, the issue hasn't cropped up, nor did it when we sampled the 10-speed with the EcoBoost four-cylinder.
Six-Speed ManualWe definitely have a pro-manual transmission bias, but in the case of the Mustang GT, the manual is objectively the better transmission. The 10-speed auto is merely a slightly-better-than-average automatic transmission, but the six-speed manual is a very good example of its breed.
The manual's shifter action is the highlight, which is a change from the previous version. Credit goes to beefier sychros, a dual-mass flywheel and a twin-disc clutch. Ford meant for these to make shifting slicker and easier, and that's exactly the result. The reduced effort lets the shift lever click into each gear positively, and fluidly, although the throws are a bit long compared to something like a Miata. And while the carbon fiber knob in our test car may not be to everyone's taste, the fact that it didn't heat up to palm-scalding temperatures in the sun was much appreciated.
What let's the manual transmission down a bit is the clutch. On our test car, the pedal travel was quite long, which isn't ideal to begin with. The long travel became more frustrating upon discovering that the initial clutch engagement point was roughly halfway through the pedal travel. This made it tricky to execute the super quick shifts the slick lever encouraged. There is good news, though. The clutch is lightweight, meaning you can skip leg day and still drive the manual Mustang in nearly any kind of traffic.
Besides the slick shifter and light clutch, a few other aspects come together to make the manual Mustang experience the ideal one. The pedals are placed to make rev-matched downshifts reasonably easy. The engine doesn't hang up between shifts and is happy to build revs, further encouraging fancy downshifting. Having just six gears also means each ratio is taller than those in the automatic, so you don't have to shift much more than you need, either. And while it's fun to shift this trans, being able to take a break is appreciated.
ConclusionThe automatic will work well enough for some people and in certain situations, but it's not as engaging as we'd have hoped. If driving fun is what you're looking for, may we direct your attention to the manual transmission?