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The Mustang’s raucous V8 anthem echoes off battle-scarred concrete walls on Charlotte Motor Speedway, North Carolina, as the needle on the speedo passes 200km/h.

There’s nothing like the thunder of eight cylinders under load, but the steep banking at the home of stock-car racing offers little room for error. Smooth throttle inputs are vital.

Releasing my grip on the steering wheel to reach for another gear feels like an act of faith – this might be why NASCAR events start with the Star Spangled Banner and a prayer for driver safety.

Charlotte’s “roval” mix of banked corners and conventional bends is a thrilling, intimidating and empowering test of car and driver.

Finding fifth at 200km/h is made easier by a “flat shift” function encouraging drivers to change ratios without lifting off the throttle – you keep the pedal to the metal and dip the clutch while slamming home the next ratio.

It’s a fun feature that works perfectly, smoothing out shifts by minimising front to rear weight transfer, delivering gears with a pistol pop as unburnt fuel meets quad tailpipes.

This seventh-generation Mustang has the classic proportions and rumbling V8 of its predecessors but there are clever touches beneath the surface.

A customisable digital dash and enormous central touchscreen are the focal points of an interior that feels far more premium than before.

The old car’s oversized steering wheel has been replaced by a squared-off, Audi-like alternative with a wide range of adjustment.

Track-ready driver aids include a rev-matching feature for downshifts, along with lap timers, performance measurement tools, launch control and burnout modes, plus a new lever for the electronic parking brake that locks the rear wheels to initiate a slide.

As with its predecessor, the new Mustang offers serious performance without taking itself too seriously.

Stepping outside the car, it’s hard not to smile when you see the heat from the extraction vent on the bonnet soften its surroundings like a shimmering mirage.

Local specs and power figures for the car have not been confirmed but you can expect the entry-level model to have a turbocharged 2.3-litre four-cylinder “EcoBoost” engine with about 235kW and the 5.0-litre V8-powered Mustang GT to have about 362kW of power.

We tested the new Mustang Dark Horse, a circuit-ready version with about 373kW of power – a neat 500 horsepower – thanks to engine internals shared with the high-performance Shelby GT500.

The Dark Horse replaces the Mustang Mach 1 at the top of the range. As with that car, it swaps the standard GT’s six-speed Getrag manual gearbox for a reinforced Tremec six-speed with a blue titanium gear knob and more precise shift action.

You can opt for a 10-speed auto but shouldn’t. The auto feels too quick to shift with 567Nm of torque under the bonnet.

Dark Horse versions have a more robust cooling system for the Mustang’s hardware, plus big brakes and a rear wing.

US customers can order their car with a “handling pack” that swaps the standard car’s alloys for much wider wheels with aggressive track-day tyres, along with a huge rear spoiler and aggressive front splitter tuned to improve high-speed stability.

Red tape prevents Ford Australia from offering the handling pack as a factory-fitted option, though local tuning outfit Herrod Performance can provide the official kit as a third-party accessory.

The handling pack takes the Dark Horse to a new level of performance. Enormous front tyres are significantly wider than the racing slicks found on Supercars at Bathurst, delivering a tenacity that must be felt to be believed.

Traction from the rear rubber is similarly impressive.

The sticky tyres find enough purchase to reign in 500 horsepower, sending you rocketing away from corners with little more than a shimmy from the tail.

Standard rubber makes for a more involving experience as the car shifts its weight on narrower tyres, inviting keen drivers to enjoy taming the Dark Horse.

FORD MUSTANG DARK HORSE

PRICE: About $100,000 drive-away

ENGINE: 5.0-litre V8, 367kW and 567Nm

SAFETY: Seven airbags, active cruise control, auto emergency braking, lane- keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert

THIRST: About 15L/100km

BOOT: 377 litres

SPARE: Repair kit

Originally published as 2023 Ford Mustang Dark Horse new car review

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By Rahul

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