Time’s up for atmo-V8-engined, rear-driven, manual-shift muscle cars, right? Wrong, says seventh-generation 'Stang

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You would have thought that of all the things in the world the new Ford Mustang didn't need, it was a new name tag.

After Boss, Mach 1, BullittShelby GT350 and Shelby GT500, surely there were enough. Apparently not. Welcome, then, the new Ford Mustang Dark Horse. I know...

And if that’s not confusing enough, there are the differences between the Mustangs with Performance Packs, those with Handling Packs and the variants sold in the US and those heading in our direction.

On the track the car with the handling pack pulled 0.15g more than a standard Dark Horse in the corners, and 0.21g more under braking.

I will try my best to clear the fog for you. Right now, the Dark Horse is the only tuned version of the new seventh-generation Mustang there is. Shelbys will definitely come, as will many, some or more of the others, but that’s all for the future. And when I say seventh-generation Mustang, read heavily facelifted sixth-generation Mustang, whose standout feature, common to all 'Stangs, is a much improved though still hardly plush interior with a two large digital screens where once there were real instruments.

The Dark Horse will cost around £61,000, adding about £10,000 to the price of the standard V8 Mustang GT when both go on sale in the UK early next year.

There's no four-cylinder turbo Ecoboost version of either car. I’m over it, too.

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The Dark Horse’s 5.0-litre Coyote bent eight gets its own unique spec, featuring conrods from the old 749bhp GT500, enabling it to withstand higher internal pressures and therefore a more punchy calibration. The good news is that means almost 500bhp; the bad news is that in Europe, emissions legislation chokes that back to 449bhp, which is quite a lot less than a standard V8 Mustang has in its home market (although still around 10bhp more than it will develop in the UK).

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Both versions come with either 10-speed auto or six-speed manual gearboxes, but the Dark Horse's manual is made by Tremec, rather than Getrag, and reputed to be tougher and filled with ratios better-suited to track work.

Also in anticipation of a tougher work load, it has additional coolers for the engine oil, transmission and rear axle with its integrated Torsen limited-slip differential.

The Dark Horse also gets completely bespoke suspension settings, with standard magnetorheological dampers, stiffer springs and thicker anti-roll bars, plus larger and wider wheels and tyres and bigger brakes - although these can be added to the standard Mustang via the Performance Pack.

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Congratulations to Ford for flying in the face of convention by keeping alive the only naturally aspirated, eight-cylinder, front-engined, rear-driven, stick-shift coupé on sale in the UK. In my book, at least, that’s plenty of points banked right there.

There were only US-specification cars available at the North Carolina launch, so it's to be hoped Euro-spec cars don’t feel too strangled. As the differences are software-related, I did ask whether it was possible to back hand a European car to a US power output, which elicited a level of muttering but not a discernible ‘no’, which I interpreted as ‘yes, but not by us’.

In full-fat form, this Coyote is a wonderful engine, offering the kind of low down torque that you wouldn't expect from a motor devoid of turbos and with so high a specific output, combined with a voice which is pretty inspirational, even in Good Neighbor (sic) mode. With all valves open, it sounds like a Nascar party has broken out in your garden.

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On the road and like the previous Mach 1, it’s more good than great. The steering has a slight vagueness as you come off centre and those big brakes are overservoed and lack feel. But the ride quality on the trick dampers is outstanding.

Indeed, so long as you don’t mistake it for some kind of Porsche-bashing road warrior, it’s easy to relax into the big chairs, enjoy the engine and the wonderfully mechanical feel of the heavy gearshift and find a lolloping cross-country gait that's entirely satisfying, if falling a little short of being utterly thrilling.

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The Dark Horse is entertaining on track, too, with good-natured slides available on demand, indefatigable brakes and an entire box of toys, such as line lock, Drag Strip mode, flat-shifting and a handbrake designed specifically to induce drifts. This is a car for enthusiasts, quite clearly designed by enthusiasts.

Which is why I wish I had never driven a Dark Horse fitted with the Handling Pack. This comprises massive Pirelli Trofeo RS tyres on huge wheels, its own suspension tune, front struts rotated to provide more negative camber and a little more downforce. It's no exaggeration to call the car transformed: so equipped, it has so much grip, such an appetite for an apex and such superb composure on the limit that I found myself laughing at it in disbelief.

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In the US, this pack costs only about $4000 to option in. In Europe and the UK? Apparently the tyres are too close to the outer edges of the wheel arches for our legislators, so it’s not coming. But I suspect that, like the engine spec, someone might find a way around that too.

At least I hope so, because having discovered just how much better this car can be even than it is, it’s a hard thing to forget.