2024 Ford Mustang Dark Horse vs. BMW M2 Comparison Test: Unbridled Beasts Do Battle

As the EV revolution soldiers on at a breakneck pace, it continues to claim its share of traditional sports car victims, including the Chevy Camaro and Dodge Challenger, which are ending production shortly in their present forms. When they’re gone, Ford’s venerable and still proudly gas-powered sport coupe will once again be the only American pony car standing.

So, who’s left to provide an adequate sparring partner for the newly updated Mustang, given that it’s about to be without a domestic rival for the second time in two decades? In the case of this head-to-head test, we turned to Germany and BMW’s new 2023 BMW M2.

The rip-snorting pony we pitted the latest Bavarian super coupe against was the 2024 Ford Mustang Dark Horse, the meanest Mustang in the stable for now. Though not quite as exotic or powerful as the former GT350 or GT500, it’s a potent performance package akin to the previous-generation Mach 1. The key differences between the standard-issue Mustang GT and Dark Horse include a power bump to 500 horsepower, along with standard MagneRide dampers and a stiffer suspension tune (including larger anti-roll bars, strut tower brace and K-brace), Brembo six-piston front and four-piston rear brake calipers, a Torsen limited-slip differential, an upgraded cooling package, and Pirelli P Zero tires. The $4,995 Handling package on our test car meant an even firmer suspension tune, a more aggressive aero package, and super sticky Pirelli P Zero Trofeo RS tires.

BMW’s new, G87-generation BMW M2 replaces the original F87 model. The updated version grows in physical size, adding 4.1 inches of length, 2.1 inches of wheelbase, and 1.3 inches of width. All that extra size means the 2023 M2 has also gained about 320 pounds of additional mass, but who’s counting. Its potent, 453-hp 3.0-liter twin-turbo six is shared with the larger M3, and our test car came equipped with a six-speed manual, just like the Dark Horse.

While both vehicles take differing performance approaches and appeal to dissimilar audiences, at their cores, they’re both row-it-yourself, two-door, four-seat sport coupes. That was enough for us to line up these unbridled beasts to see which car delivered more pure, unadulterated fun.

Both Pack Plenty of Punch

Under the Mustang Dark Horse’s hood is a pumped-up version of Ford’s latest naturally aspirated Coyote 5.0-liter V-8 that produces 500 hp and 418 lb-ft of torque. Peak horsepower hits at a staggering 7,250 rpm, while torque maxes out at 4,900 rpm. The engine benefits from forged steel connecting rods, a uniquely balanced crankshaft, strengthened cam shafts, and plasma arc wire transfer cylinder liners. While this may seem like a bit much considering the Dark Horse only produces 14 more horsepower over the GT 5.0-liter’s 486 ponies (when equipped with the company’s active dual exhaust), it’s worth noting that this is Ford’s first Dark Horse, not its last.

Backing the Mustang Dark Horse’s V-8 is a Tremec TR-3160 six-speed manual transmission. A 10-speed automatic is optional (and quicker in every way). Power then routes to a rear differential packing a 3.73:1 gear ratio and a Torsen limited-slip differential.

The 2023 BMW M2 brings a robust 453 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque to the party courtesy of the company’s magnificent, twin-turbo S58 3.0-liter inline-six engine, an absolute brute with plentiful power all through the rev range. That’s an increase of 9 hp over the previous-generation M2. While total torque for the M2 is down 12 lb-ft compared to the Dark Horse, it hits hard, peaking at a diesel-like 2,650 rpm, and the curve stays flat nearly through the full rev range. A six-speed manual transmission is still standard and sends power to the rear wheels through a 3.46:1 gear set with an electronically controlled limited-slip differential. A new eight-speed automatic transmission is available for 2023, and like the Dark Horse resulted in quicker track times all around.

Closed Course, Professional Drivers

The best place to unleash the maximum capability of performance cars such as these is at the track, unless you enjoy chatting with the local constable. In our straight-line tests, the BMW M2 proved to be the quicker of the pair, zipping from 0 to 60 mph in an impressive 3.8 seconds and to the century mark in 8.7. Part of this performance can be attributed to BMW’s easy-to-use launch control feature. Pressing the DSC (Dynamic Stability Control) button once activates the M Dynamic Driving (MDD) mode. Holding the clutch to the floor while pressing the accelerator past the kick-down switch will stabilize engine revs at 3,500 rpm as a “Launch Control Active” dialog appears in the gauge cluster. Hill assist will hold the brakes for six seconds, allowing the driver enough time to drop the clutch and hang on.

Ford’s 2024 Mustang Dark Horse comes equipped with a similar launch control feature hidden deep in the car’s Track Apps menu. Once located, drivers can enable the launch control function and select what rpm they’d like the engine to hold at. Like the BMW, with the clutch and accelerator depressed, the car will hold the brakes for a few seconds or until the clutch is released. The feature doesn’t do all the work, however, as the driver still needs to properly modulate the clutch release and subsequent shifting for optimal performance. Our best efforts with the Dark Horse resulted in a 0-60 time of 4.1 seconds and 0 to 100 of 10.2. If drag racing is your thing, and it will be with a Dark Horse, this Mustang will run the quarter mile in 12.6 seconds crossing the line at 113.5 mph. (In case you were wondering, the M2 out dragged the Dark Horse, with a 12.2 second run at 118.7 mph.)

When it came time to slow the fast horse down, a strange thing occurred. The 3,925-pound Mustang Dark Horse stopped from 60 mph to 0 in just 90 feet. For context, that’s just 2 feet more than a Ferrari 296 GTB and 5 feet less than a Corvette Z06 with the Z07 track pack. And, spoiler alert, the automatic-transmission-equipped Dark Horse can stop from 60 to naught in just 86 feet, making it the best braking production car we’ve ever tested. This is due to a combination of the car’s large 15.4-inch two-piece front brake rotors, Brembo calipers, and Ford’s new brake-by-wire system. The wide and sticky Pirelli P Zero Trofeo RS tires certainly help, as well. The BMW M2 is no slouch, either, when it comes to braking, as the 3,722-pound car dialed it back from 60 to 0 in 101 feet, which still places it squarely in the company of some of the best of its Porsche, Mercedes-AMG, and Audi German counterparts.

Mustangs have historically never really been known for their agility around a track, preferring more to travel in straight lines than around curves. Bucking this notion, the Dark Horse managed our figure eight in 23.8 seconds while the M2 did it in a slightly slower 24.1. On the skidpad the Mustang mustered a supercar-like 1.06 g of lateral grip while the M2 managed an also super impressive 1.02 g. Bottom line, the Dark Horse proved itself to be a world-class performer in our tests, though if the M2 were wearing a similar set of Pirelli Trofeos to the Mustang’s, we imagine its numbers would be closer.

Running Down the Highway

Of course, most of these cars won’t be purchased simply as track day-racers. They’ll still need to be able to fill daily driving duties, as well. And whether you opt for the automatic or stick with the manual transmission, the overall driving dynamics of these two vehicles will remain largely the same. That said, the experience of the BMW M2’s three-pedal setup is really good. We found the clutch to be light enough to prevent fatigue in heavy traffic but with enough feedback to stay in tune with what the car was doing. Clutch engagement starts low with the pedal having smooth and linear force through the full range of motion. The six-speed gearbox offers a satisfying throw that’s neither short nor long.

We’re hesitant to call it perfection, but it’s darn close. Aside from the big gap between first and second (4.11:1 and 2.32:1, respectively) the remaining gears in the box feel perfectly matched to the engine’s performance. With the turbos keeping boost pressure up between shifts, the engine never feels short of breath. The automatic rev matching from the BMW’s Gear Shift Assistant works impressively well and sounds darn cool to boot.

Highway ride and confidence on winding roads were admittedly not the previous-generation M2’s strong suit. That’s all changed for the better. The car’s new multi-mode adaptive dampers work quite well, though we still found the suspension to be a bit on the harsh side while navigating less than ideal highways and backroads. When driving more spiritedly, however, the M2’s chassis doesn’t get upset on rougher patches of pavement, and it’s easy to steer with throttle input should you get bored of the traditional method. Speaking of steering, we found it to be a touch on the light side, and the car’s relatively massive steering wheel doesn’t help matters.

Much like the M2’s adaptive dampers, the Dark Horse’s MagneRide shocks have enough adjustability to adequately tame the roughest roads. Even in the suspension’s firmest setting, its ride is far from kidney busting. Although the steering in other Mustang trims can feel a bit numb, the Dark Horse resists breaking away from dead straight at city speeds and takes a fair bit of effort to turn. We’re not mad about it, as this type of feedback is what you want when attacking the track or a twisty road. The car’s Trofeo RS tires are so sticky, you can hear and feel every pebble in the road as they get sucked up and tossed into the inner fenders.

This Mustang rotates well and powers hard through tight bends and twisty tarmac, which hasn’t traditionally been a strong suit of the breed. At times it shows a slight bias toward understeer in steady-state cornering, but it’s completely manageable. Braking is another highlight of the Dark Horse, as previously mentioned. While you might be led to believe its eye-popping stopping power would be too aggressive for street driving, we found quite the opposite to be true. Its new brake-by-wire system offers a solid cushion in the pedal’s initial travel that allows for smooth daily driving. After that the brakes stiffen up like that of a booster-less stock car, only with far less effort needed. It’s worth remembering that the Dark Horse can out-brake just about every other car on the road, so remaining aware of the rogue Altima that’s seemingly always following too close behind is imperative.

The Dark Horse’s sporty and stout Tremec TR-3160 transmission’s lightweight 3D-printed titanium shift knob taunts drivers into shifting hard and fast through short, stiff, and heavy throws. The feeling is phenomenal when everything snaps into place. However, the pattern is tight enough that it’s easy to get hung up between gates if your shifting isn’t precise. There’s less of a gap between first and second gears (3.25:1 and 2.23:1) than in the M2’s gearbox, but the Mustang had a more difficult time lugging high gears at highway speeds due to its much higher peak torque rpm. This necessitated frequent downshifts while passing slower traffic.

Unique Exterior Styling

There are a few exterior styling cues that set the Dark Horse apart from the rest of its seventh-generation Mustang brethren. Up front, the headlamps are darkened and surrounded by a shadow graphic. The grille’s mesh openings are small replicas of the grille’s overall shape, rendered in gloss black and flanked by trapezoidal side intakes that feed each airbox. Glass black “fangs” adorn the front fascia, as well. There are also side skirts, a rear diffuser, and darkened quad exhaust tips. Unique Dark Horse badges feature a stylized horseshoe framing a menacing forward-facing horsehead, which are found on the fenders and decklid. It’s certainly the most menacing of the new S650 Mustangs in the looks department, so if it’s a sleeper you’re after, the Dark Horse isn’t it.

With the 2023 M2, BMW didn’t stray too far from the previous car’s design language. That’s a good thing. The short overhangs, wide wheel arches, and defined rear diffuser are all still present. Though it’s a larger car, it looks about the same in all dimensions. Mercifully, the M2 didn’t inherit the massive kidney grilles that dominate the front of the larger M3 and M4. The most noticeable new styling features of the M2 are its prominent square-look intakes that flank the reworked front air dam, which are the primary departure from the base 2 Series coupe’s triangular pieces. Adding the Shadowline package brings blackened exterior elements to the M2 for a more sinister appearance.

Interior Design and Functionality

Inside, the M2 is the more tech-forward of the two cars. The first thing you’ll notice is its massive, curved LED display that features a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and 14.9-inch central information display. The system can be controlled by touch, console-mounted buttons and rotary knob, or by the steering-wheel-mounted and user-customizable M-Mode buttons. The lack of any physical HVAC controls is a disappointment, though there is a volume knob for the stereo. There are 10 levels of DSC (dynamic stability control) and more drive modes than are useful for the average user. There’s also a lap timer and drift analyzer. The system is so complex that it’ll require either a deep knowledge of modern BMWs or the neighborhood teenage gamer to sort it all out.

By contrast, the Mustang is slightly less complicated. It still brings to the table a new 12.4-inch digital instrument cluster and 13.2-inch center touch screen; however, the menus are easier to navigate, as are the available drive modes to locate and understand. It’s all very familiar in a comforting way. Unfortunately, that simplicity goes a bit too far in that the Mustang doesn’t offer a head-up display, which is shocking by today’s standards.

Despite what other pundits might say, the rear seats of both the Mustang and M2 are utterly useless for anyone other than children. We convinced one of our shortest staffers to climb in the rear of both cars and at a generous 5-foot-6, his head was touching the glass in both. The optional Recaro bucket seats in the Dark Horse were quite comfortable and supportive, though only offering manual adjustability at this price point is concerning. That’s nothing compared to the carbon-fiber seats that come as part of the M2’s optional Carbon package. Several of our testers described these seats as utter garbage. They’re tight, firm, and otherwise immensely uncomfortable for all but a very specific body type. Thankfully, they’re optional.

Which Is the Better Value?

Either way you slice it, both cars offer a lot of performance for the money. Ford’s Mustang Dark Horse Premium carries a base price of $66,160 and with that comes all the standard 2024 Mustang goodies and everything that makes the Dark Horse special. Additionally, our tester was optioned with the Dark Horse Handling package ($4,995) and Recaro sport seats ($1,650) for a total with destination charges of $73,005. Before you run to Ford.com, you can get a non-Premium Dark Horse (the Premium is primarily an interior update package) for several thousand less to start.

On the other hand, the 2023 BMW M2 (editor’s note: we used 2024 pricing for this comparison) starts at $63,195 though our tester reached $76,145 with options. However, if you bin the unnecessary (to us, at least) Carbon package with those god awful seats ($9,900), Lighting package ($650), Shadowline package ($300), and the Live Cockpit Pro ($1,100), the M2 would still come loaded with all the performance goodies for several thousand less than the Dark Horse’s base price, which doesn’t include the optional Handling package and Recaros.

And the Verdict Is …

With its brash, fire-breathing V-8, astounding performance numbers, aggressive styling, and daily livability, the Dark Horse is not only a dynamite Mustang—it’s a dynamite sport coupe, period, and this time it takes the win by the slimmest of margins. Yes, we know, there’s likely no convincing German car aficionados to cut a check to Ford, but they can console themselves with the fact the M2 is a killer car, too.

2nd Place: BMW M2


  • Boisterous twin-turbo six
  • Great clutch feel
  • Lively, balanced handling



  • Polarizing styling
  • Complicated dynamic menus and no adaptive cruise control
  • Small gas tank and poor economy

Verdict: The M2 is a dynamic driver’s car, with an engine powerful enough to blow the rear tires off at will and an excellent six-speed manual. It just ran into a diabolical Dark Horse.

1st Place: 2024 Ford Mustang Dark Horse


  • Most powerful naturally aspirated 5.0 Mustang to date
  • Incredible track-ready braking and handling
  • Aggressive exterior styling



  • Interior trim doesn’t justify the price tag
  • No head-up display
  • Torque peaks too high in the rpm range

Verdict: The Dark Horse is the best 2024 Mustang money can buy and one of the best Mustangs ever. It’s a brutal and visceral experience that’s easily tamed at same time. Sports coupe fans looking for a car with extreme performance and dynamic prowess, you can call off your search.

Powertrain/Chasiss 2023 BMW M2  Specifications 2024 Ford Mustang Dark Horse Specifications
Drivetrain Layout Front-engine, RWD Front-engine, RWD
Engine Type Front-engine, RWD Port- and direct-injected DOHC 32-valve 90-degree V-8, alum block/heads
Displacement 2,993 cc/182.6 cu in 5,038 cc/307.4 cu in
Compression Ratio 9.3:1 12.0:1
Pwer (SAE NET) 453 hp @ 6,250 rpm 500 hp @ 7,250 rpm
Torque (SAE NET) 406 lb-ft @ 2,650 rpm 418 lb-ft @ 4,900 rpm
Redline 7,500 rpm 7,500 rpm
Weight to Power 8.2 lb/hp 7.9 lb/hp
Transmission 6-speed manual 6-speed manual
Axle/Final-Drive Ratio 3.46:1/2.94:1 3.73:1/2.35:1
Suspension, Front; Rear Struts, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar Struts, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar
Steering Ratio 15.0:1 15.5:1
Turns Lock-to-Lock 2.1 2.2
Brakes, F; R 15.0-in vented, drilled disc; 14.6-in vented, drilled disc 15.4-in vented 2-pc disc; 14.0-in vented disc
Wheels, F;R 9.5 x 19-in; 10.5 x 20-in cast aluminum 10.5 x 19-in; 11.0 x 19-in cast aluminum
Tires, F;R 275/35R19 100Y; 285/30R20 99Y Michelin Pilot Sport 4s 305/30R19 98Y; 315/30R19 100Y Pirelli P Zero Trofeo RS
Wheelbase 108.1 in 107.0 in
Track, F/R 63.7/63.2 in 62.2/63.9 in
L x W x H 180.3 x 74.3 x 55.2 in 189.7 x 75.5 x 55.2 in
Turning Circle 39.0 ft 39.9 ft
Curb Weight (DIST F/R) 3,722 lb (52/48%) 3,925 lb (54/46%)
Seating Capacity 4 4
Headroom, F/R 39.8/35.0 in 37.6/34.8 in
Legroom, F/R 41.8/32.2 in 44.5/29.0 in
Shoulder Room, F/R 55.9/51.7 in 56.3/52.2 in
Cargo Volumne 13.8 cu ft 13.3 cu ft
Test Data
Acceleration MPH
0-30 1.5 sec 1.5 sec
0-40 2.1 2.2
0-50 3.1 3.2
0-60 3.8 4.1
0-70 5.1 5.6
0-80 6.2 6.8
0-90 7.4 8.2
0-100 8.7 10.2
0-100-0 12.7 11.9
Passing, 45-65 MPH 1.9 2.0
Quarter Mile 12.2 sec @ 118.7 mph 12.6 sec @ 113.5 mph
Braking, 60-0 MPH 101 ft 90 ft
Lateral Acceleration 1.02 g (avg) 1.06 g (avg)
MT Figure Eight 24.1 sec @ 0.85 g (avg) 23.8 sec @ 0.85 g (avg)
Top-Gear Revs @ 60 MPH 2,200 rpm 1,700 rpm
Consumer Info
Base Price $64,195* $66,160
Price As Tested $76,145* $73,005
Airbags 6: Dual front, front side, f/r curtain 8: Dual front, front side, front knee, f/r curtain
Basic Warranty 4 yrs/50,000 miles 3 yrs/36,000 miles
Powertrain Warranty 4 yrs/50,000 miles 5 yrs/60,000 miles
Roadside Assistance 4 yrs/Unlimited miles 5 yrs/60,000 miles
Fuel Capacity 13.7 gal 16.0 gal
EPA City/HWY/COMB ECON 16/24/19 mpg 14/22/17 mpg
EPA Range, COMB 260 miles 272 miles
Recommended Fuel Unleaded premium Unleaded premium
On Sale Now Now