2018 Ford Mustang GT: Photos just don't do it justice

Opinions were divided when Ford took the wraps off the 2018 Mustang redesign. The biggest refresh to the retro-meets-modern relaunch back in 2015 that the Blue Oval had attempted, the new car proved to be contentious, with not everybody – myself included – convinced by the new front-end particularly. Now, having spent some time up-close with the 2018 Mustang, I'm about ready to change my mind.

Turns out, the new Mustang is one of those cars that just doesn't translate well in photos. It's not alone in having that problem: the Acura NSX, for instance, errs on the fussy side in stills in a way that the real car, in the metal, doesn't suffer. BMW's i8 has a similar issue, with its swoops and cutaways proving far more cohesive in-person than in pictures.

So, it takes being in the same room with a physical 2018 Mustang to see exactly what Ford has achieved. It's the front that has seen the most changes, and pretty much everything is new, styling-wise, from the A-pillars forward. Ford borrowed cues from the handsome GT350, most notably dropping the nose of the regular Mustang down by around an inch.

At the same time, the trapezoidal grill has a more exaggerated taper: the top is narrower, while the bottom is more flared, than before. All Mustangs now get the hood vents, previously limited to the GT and above, while the fog lamps are redesigned for the 2018 model year too. LED headlamps are now standard across the range, and they look all the better for it.

Their "whisker" design is now echoed by the new tail-lamps, too. They're notched into the trunk and look particularly good from the rear three-quarter view. On the GT there's a reworked lower fascia and diffuser that'll be fitted as standard, atop quad tailpipes, another GT feature.

Tick the active exhaust option box, meanwhile, and they should sound as good as they look. The inner pipe on each side has a new valve which, rather than the binary open/closed options rival systems support, can be adjusted according to engine speed and driving style. That's allowed Ford's engineers to tune out any unwanted harmonics while making sure the 2018 Mustang sounds suitably aggressive at any speed.

This particular Mustang GT 5.0 has the black package, with a blacked-out grill and matching badging, gloss-black wheels, and a black roof among other design elements. However, the 2018 car is all about customization, with a larger range of 17- to 20-inch wheels – in a choice of black, chromed, bi-color, and other finishes – together with new paint options. The goal, Ford tells me, is to make sure a driver can differentiate their new Mustang from the one on their neighbor's drive.

Inside there are some welcome improvements in cabin quality. Ford has paid more attention to common touch-points, boosting its use of soft-touch materials; that's the case, most notably, on the door sills, which used to be hard plastic but are now far more finger-friendly. The trim on the top of the dashboard is now hand-stitched, while the starter button is real metal to lend more of a sense of occasion to starting up the car.

When you do, you're faced with an optional 12-inch digital driver's binnacle, replacing the standard analog dials. It allows for much more flexibility, as we've seen with similar approaches before like Audi's Virtual Cockpit, but Ford has again cranked up the customization potential. As well as a variety of layouts, such as having the display dominated by a tachometer for performance use, owners will be able to customize color and other style features.

That customization can be saved, just as individual drive settings of engine, steering, and transmission mode can be stored, with the MyMode system. So, toggle the 2018 Mustang into sport mode and not only will the driving dynamics adjust but the layout of the dashboard display too. In the center console there's Ford's SYNC3 as standard. New metal- and carbon-fiber-effect trim is offered.

Sadly Ford wouldn't let me start the new Mustang up, and nor would it be drawn on exact details around engine power and performance figures. That will have to wait until closer to the car going on sale later in the year. Nonetheless, I'm told we can expect a better-driving, more rewarding vehicle overall, borrowing options like the "MagneRide" magnetic ride from the GT350. At the same time, the ethos of an affordable everyday sports car hasn't been forgotten: you should still be able to pick up a new Mustang without breaking the bank.

Most reassuring, though, is the fact that – when you're up close with the new car – it still has that Mustang style. No matter what the photos might suggest (and Ford told me that even its own professional photographers have complained that it's hard to capture the car at its best in stills) this is one good looking coupe. Expect to see plenty of them on the road this fall; until then, there are more live shots in the gallery below.