MALIBU, CA – Out on a nice, empty straightaway, we select “Drag Strip” mode in the ’18 Ford Mustang, punch the accelerator to the floor and blast away from a standing start, noggin slapping the headrest with each upshift as the powertrain rips through the first four gears.

And that’s just the 4-cyl. – albeit a turbocharged 2.3L that shares some internal parts and attributes with the critically acclaimed Focus RS powertrain that earned a 2017 Wards 10 Best Engines trophy.

The V-8-powered Mustang GT, meanwhile, features a heavily reworked 5.0L, now hitched to either an all-new 10-speed automatic transmission or a carryover 6-speed manual fitted with a twin-clutch to better manage the V-8’s increased torque.

At a media drive here on tight canyon routes as well as boulevard cruising on the Pacific Coast Highway, we get a chance to sample the 2.3L and 5.0L Mustangs and find both offer compelling reasons for ownership.

The 2.3L paired with the automatic transmission is the practical choice, delivering 310 hp and 350 lb.-ft. (475 Nm) of torque, more than enough to hustle the 3,532-lb. (1,602-kg) fastback to illegal velocity in short order, while sipping just a gallon of fuel for every 25 miles (40 km) of combined city and highway driving. The car feels light and tractable through the twisty two-lane roads and recovers easily from driver-induced oversteer.

Big changes for ’18 include an engine overboost function, borrowed from the Focus RS, allowing the engine to deliver the listed torque, up from 320 lb.-ft. (434 Nm), along with a beefier manual-transmission clutch and larger half-shafts to handle the extra twist.

But the GT is the enthusiast’s pick and features several engineering highlights that combine to produce 460 hp and 420 lb.-ft. (569 Nm) of torque, rocketing this 3,705-lb. (1,681-kg) coupe to 60 mph (97 km/h) in less than 4.0 seconds – and making all the appropriately outrageous noises in the process.

The 5.0L gains 25 hp and 20 lb.-ft. (27 Nm) of torque, along with a 500-rpm bump in redline and a compression ratio increase from 11:1 to 12:1. Direct injection joins carryover port injection to give the Mustang better fuel economy and reduced emissions without sacrificing low-end torque or high-end power.

Spray-in cylinder liners, a technology Ford perfected in-house on the 5.2L GT350 engine – a 2016 Wards 10 Best Engines winner – now come to the high-volume 5.0L, saving weight while slightly increasing cylinder bore to 93 mm (from 92.2 mm). The net effect is a small but true increase in displacement from 4.95L to 5.04L. A composite oil pan saves another 2.2 lbs. (1 kg).

“It’s all designed to push the engine to the max,” says Tom Barnes, vehicle engineering manager.