By Sean Tucker
“ The graphics are by Unreal Engine. You can adjust the colors at the start screen before you start. And there’s an easy mode if you’re still learning how to drift. “
Are we talking about the latest installment in Forza Horizon or the newest Ford Mustang? It’s getting hard to tell.
(The answer, this time, is the Mustang. Forza games have their own engine).
The 2024 Mustang: graphics and easy mode
Ford /zigman2/quotes/208911460/composite F +0.15% has raised the curtain on its classic muscle car’s seventh – and latest – generation.
The 2024 Ford Mustang is notable for its classic proportions — park it next to the 1965 original, and you’d instantly know the two were kin.
It’s notable for the way its technology didn’t change – buyers can choose from two gasoline engines, zero hybrid powertrains, and nada electric options.
And it’s notable for the remarkable emphasis on graphics, of all things. In its first press release detailing the 2024 Mustang, Ford devoted more words to discussing the seventh-generation pony car’s screens than to its optional Coyote V-8 engine.
Even the language designers use borrows more from the industry that gave us the Playstation than the one that gave us Camaro vs. Mustang.
“We’re taking advantage of every pixel,” said Ford interaction design manager Craig Sandvig.
The car uses the Unreal Engine 3D design tool to render its graphics. Drivers can adjust settings like steering feel and engine response by swiping around a 3D model of the car “in a true gamified style,” Ford says.
Electronic drift brake
Perhaps no aspect of the Mustang owes as much to the Xbox as its new “electronic drift brake.”
We’ll let Ford explain:
“A segment-first electronic drift brake takes new technology to the racetrack, unlocking the rear-wheel-drive drifting capability of Mustang with the visual appeal and functionality of a traditional, mechanical handbrake. The Performance Electronic Parking Brake comes standard with the Performance Pack on all Mustang models, engineered for novice drivers to learn and improve their drift skills while also providing expert drivers with a competition-ready system.”
This thing has an electronic system designed to make drifting easier.
Drifting, of course, is one of the most notoriously difficult driving skills to master. A precisely-controlled loss of differential control, it’s a careful sideways turn with the front wheels pointed in the direction opposite the turn.
It’s murder on the tires. It’s hard to learn. And it’s not safe outside track conditions.
Most of all, it’s something millions of gamers have learned how to do on screen, but few drivers can master in real life. So Ford built an easy mode as a marketing tool.
Other cars: the boost button
It’s not just Ford. Over the last year, we’ve seen a succession of cars with a Mario-Kart-style boost button.
The Hyundai Elantra N may have the most blatant (and fun) version . It’s a button on the steering wheel in the high-performance version of Hyundai’s /zigman2/quotes/204364212/composite HYMTF +2.70% affordable compact car. Tapping it gets you an additional 10 horsepower for 20 seconds.
But Dodge also built it into the all-new 2023 Hornet (the one Eric Brandt loves so much). Dodge calls it “Powershot.” You pull on the shift paddle to access a short horsepower boost.
Mercedes-Benz has given much of its 2022 lineup a piece of technology initially developed in Formula 1 race cars called an integrated starter generator. It can provide a brief electric power boost for a few seconds of added passing speed. The cars don’t give you a flashing button to activate it.
But it does have a gauge in the display cluster that refills as it charges and flashes to notify you it’s ready. You know… like a boost function when you mash the A button.
This is all a good thing
Lest this all sound like old man gripes, let’s be clear – the gamification of cars makes sense.
For one thing, a new generation of drivers has their first driving experience long before they get behind the wheel. Many have lapped Laguna Seca and crashed on the Nürburgring on screen before they hit driving age.
They learn the romance of cars from gaming, and they’re the ones who will carry the gearhead flame into the next generation.
The love of cars, after all, is a modern expression of the ancient human need for art. The French philosopher Roland Barthes once wrote, “Cars today are almost the exact equivalent of the great Gothic cathedrals; I mean the supreme creation of an era, conceived with passion by unknown artists, and consumed in image if not in usage by a whole population which appropriates them as a purely magical object.”
For today’s youth, that art isn’t found in stained glass and stone. It’s pixels. Let the new Mustang share magic with Warhammer III. That’s what gets us to another generation of inspiring cars.
For another, driving should be accessible. Features that make it easier to get the most out of your car are always welcome.
We hope Ford includes an electronic judgment brake so no one gets too confident on public streets.
The new Mustang reaches dealerships in the summer of 2023, electronic drift brake, Unreal Engine graphics, and all.