Meet the latest track-focused member of the Mustang Family, more powerful than ever before with remarkably hardcore options, all the way up to seam-welding and a racing fuel cell.
Despite the ongoing EV revolution, Ford has managed to keep the traditional pony car alive with the debut of the all-new seventh-generation S650 Mustang. While a new version of the world’s best-selling sports car is already exciting on its own, the all-new Ford Mustang Dark Horse model promises to be the most powerful, track-oriented car to ever carry a 5.0-liter V-8 under the hood with a targeted output of 500 hp. There is some serious kit that you can get with this thing.
Silly name aside, the Dark Horse arrives as the first all-new special edition Mustang since the Bullitt was first introduced in 2001. Whereas nameplates like Mach 1 or GT500 carry a certain amount of historic expectation from customers, global design director Joel Piaskowsk explained to R&T that the move to the S650 generation opened up a new opportunity for the Mustang team. More specifically, the new platform allowed the automaker to push the boundaries of what a Mustang can and should be.
“We talked about all different series within Mustang and felt this was now the right time to do something new,” said Piaskowski in an interview with R&T. “ We’ve got great heritage, but that just also leaves the door open for future opportunities. That’s where we see understanding our customer base, and knowing that we want to attract a newer customer. We know the current customer very well, and we have the GT which really resonates with that customer, but we feel Dark Horse is this new entry that we really feel brings a different customer into the mix. It’s a lot more track-focused.”
That focus on track readiness starts under the hood, where a familiar 5.0-liter Coyote V-8 engine sits, now in its fourth generation. For the Dark Horse, it’s packed with a ton of unique components aimed at improving performance, including a tougher set of camshafts, as well as a forged crankshaft and connecting rod setup borrowed right off of the outgoing GT500. Combined with a unique engine calibration, the Dark Horse promises to deliver the most amount of horsepower ever offered by a 5.0-liter Coyote engine. Ford hasn’t given us an exact number, but we have some idea. At the reveal event, Ed Krenz said Ford is targeting at least 500 hp.
That potent V-8 can be mated to either a 10-speed automatic, or the Tremec-sourced six-speed manual offered in the Mach 1. The latter gearbox is a welcome addition in this case, as the Mustang’s standard MT82 manual gearbox has often been lamented for its lack of on-track prowess. The Dark Horse team also wanted to celebrate manual customers by offering a shift knob inspired by the titanium exhaust found on the mid-engined GT supercar. The shifter itself is topped with a 3D-printed bit of blue anodized titanium, which features a unique texture underneath to help with cooling the surface.
While the S650 generation is indeed largely based on the outgoing S550 chassis, Krenz did note that around 85 percent of the car is new. Automakers tend to use a different definition of that word than the rest of us, but the Dark Horse does specifically pack some chassis tweaks for track use. Every Mustang Dark Horse comes equipped with MagneRide shock absorbers, which have been recalibrated for the S650. An auxiliary engine oil cooler, rear axle cooler and a lighter radiator all work together to improve cooling capabilities. Opt for the Performance Package, and you’ll receive further chassis tuning adjustments, larger sway bars out back, and a heavier duty set of shocks up front. A strut tower brace and a unique K-brace from Ford Performance help to improve handling and chassis feedback. A Torsen rear differential keeps things tidy on corner exit, while 19-inch wheels wrapped in Pirelli P-Zero PZ4 tires work in tandem with a set of massive Brembo stoppers.
If you still need more capability, Ford will also offer the track package, which also brings a unique rear wing with an integrated Gurney flap. This aero package provides more downforce than any other new Mustang on offer. Stiffer springs are also part of the package, as are upgraded front and rear sway bars, and Pirelli Trofeo tires. You can even spec a set of carbon wheels from Carbon Revolution, which marks the first time they’ve been offered on a non-Shelby model.
“There’s a bit of a theme on this product of what are the best things from our prior Shelby’s that we can bring together,” said Krenz. “It’s always been one of our corporate strategies to develop technology on the pinnacle of our vehicles, and then bring it down and make it more accessible. That’s also why when you introduce a new series like the Dark Horse, you want it to be at the top.”
Some of those Shelby traits continue with the styling of the Dark Horse, which is reminiscent of the current GT500. The front end is much more horizontal than before, mirroring the squared-off look of that 760-hp monster. The aero packages only further press on this familial relationship, as the front splitter and side skirts are nearly ringers for the current offering. The rear diffuser and blacked-out exhaust tip combo looks menacing, and aims to hint at the performance on offer from the Dark Horse. As you’d expect, there are a ton of unique Dark Horse badges around the vehicle, which feature a ton of detailing work we’ve yet to see on a Mustang. The same can be said about the Blue Ember metallic paint, which shifts from a bluish gray to an ember orange depending on the light. The effect is almost like that of the (in?)famous Mystichrome hue found on the SN95 generation of Mustangs, albeit a bit more mature in its execution.
Like every S650 Mustang, the Dark Horse features a much more tech-laden interior than before. This starts with the 12.4-inch digital instrument cluster and 13.2-inch center stack combo, which now run Ford’s Sync 4 infotainment. That brings niceties like over-the-air updates and wireless CarPlay functionality. The system is also backed by the Unreal 3D engine, which provides a host of new on-screen graphics that look right at home in 2022. Dark trim pieces will replace the brighter units found across the rest of the lineup, while a 12-speaker B&O stereo plays the tunes. Blue stitching comes as standard, while Deep Indigo Blue seats are part of the Dark Horse Appearance Pack.
Leaning into the track-focused nature of the Dark Horse, Ford will be releasing two track-only variants of the trim known as the Dark Horse S and Dark Horse R. The S model gets a full FIA-certified safety cage, safety nets, a race seat with safety belts and a race steering wheel with quick disconnect. It also comes with a set of Multimatic DSSV dampers and Brembo Racing brakes. The Dark Horse R model is more hardcore yet, and includes all of the aforementioned content, but it will be serialized by Ford for use in proper motorsports events around the world. These cars also receive some seam welding for added strength, as well as a racing fuel cell and Ford Performance wheels.
The Ford Mustang Dark Horse will arrive as the range-topping pony car offering sometime next spring, so long as Ford is able to keep its supply chain issues in check. While pricing information has yet to be released, expect the Dark Horse to be priced above the current Mach 1 offerings. We’ll know more about pricing and actual performance metrics as the on-sale date draws nearer.