The visual changes coming to the 2018 Ford Mustang are subtle, but enough to update its looks and improve its aerodynamics. Image source: Ford Motor Company.

Ford Motor Company (F -3.92%) said on Tuesday that its iconic Mustang will receive a series of changes and upgrades for the 2018 model year.

The Mustang was all new for the 2015 model year and isn't exactly looking long in the tooth. But in keeping with the new business strategy that Ford announced last fall, the Mustang is now a higher priority within Ford, and that seems to mean it will get more frequent updates going forward. 

New styling, more tech -- and no more V6

Ford said that the 2018 Mustang "features a more athletic look, with new front- and rear-end designs" that offer improved aerodynamics. All Mustangs will now have all-LED front lights along with LED tail lamps. 

Inside, technology-enabled personalization is a key theme. There's a new optional 12" digital instrument cluster that allows displays to be customized; a new "Mustang MyMode" system that allows one to set and save preferences for drive-related functions like suspension and steering; and even an engine note that can be tuned via an optional "active valve exhaust" on GT models.

Changes to the 2018 Mustang's interior include a new customizable dash display, one of several new personalization options. Image source: Ford Motor Company. 

Under the hood, Ford promises increased torque for the now-standard 2.3-liter turbocharged EcoBoost 4-cylinder, and a reworked and more powerful version of the optional 5.0-liter V8. The current base engine, a 3.7-liter V6, will be discontinued after the 2017 model year. 

Both engines will be available with the sporty version of Ford's new 10-speed automatic transmission, developed jointly with General Motors (GM -2.72%). It should be a significant improvement over the current six-speed automatic, with quicker shift times and higher efficiency. Six-speed manual transmissions are still available with both engines, and the V8 version received some upgrades as well.

Ford said that the revamped Mustang will begin arriving at dealers in North America this fall. Pricing hasn't yet been announced, but should be close to that of the current models. 

Why did Ford choose to give the Mustang an upgrade now? 

Under the new corporate strategy that Ford unveiled last fall, "performance vehicles" are considered one of the key "profit pillars" that Ford committed to "fortifying" and expanding in an ongoing bid to boost profits and margins.

A slide outlining Ford's strategic priorities, from a presentation given to investors by Ford CEO Mark Fields last week. Image source: Ford Motor Company.

The Mustang, which became a global product in 2015, is the most significant of Ford's performance models. That makes it more of a priority within Ford than it might have been in the past. Like the F-150 pickup, which was also all new in 2015 and is also getting a revamp for 2018, the Mustang is now likely to be refreshed and redesigned more frequently to keep it up to date and competitive. 

It's also worth noting that the Mustang's archrival got a big redesign last year. Ford considers the Mustang a sports car, and officially it competes with a long list of rival models. But Mustang fans know that their favorite Ford is functionally in a market segment of two -- and the Chevrolet Camaro upped its game in a big way in 2016.

Changes to the 2018 Ford Mustang's rear are also subtle. Image source: Ford Motor Company.

Last year saw the debut of an all-new Camaro based on GM's acclaimed "Alpha" rear-wheel-drive architecture, originally developed for the hot-handling Cadillac ATS and CTS. The Alpha-based Camaro has received critical raves for its sharp handling and quick responses. Sales of both the Camaro and Mustang slipped in 2016 as buyers continued to migrate away from cars and toward SUVs -- but the new Camaro's sales slipped less than the Mustang's. 

Do these upgrades do enough to keep the Mustang competitive?

It's hard to say until we see more details (for instance, the horsepower ratings on that "more powerful" V8). But I think Ford did what it needed to make the 2018 Mustang a little more fresh and interesting, without making dramatic changes that might upset loyalists. It should do well.