Fast Fords – proper V8 front-engined, rear-drive fast Fords, not the rare breed mid-engined V6 supercar – don’t get any better than the new Ford Shelby GT500 Mustang. And that’s a relief to say after the last one.
It might have had a headline top speed of 200mph (322km/h) and north of 494kW to propel it. But, while it could lay elevens with the best of them in a straight line, it also handled like a staggering drunk and had less grip in the corners than a new-born baby’s handshake.
These last two points were made very evident at the launch of the car back in 2013. A member of the press – the first person on track that day – smeared one down the pit wall coming out of Turn 12 at Road Atlanta, causing similar smears, it appeared, in not just his but also his pro co-driver’s race suit.
But that was all before Ford had a rethink and came up first with the new Voodoo flat-plane-crank-engined GT350 and now the – thankfully – all-new GT500.
Despite having driven both the fine-handling GT350 and even better-handling GT350R for many hours and, knowing the GT500 was on the same sorted chassis, we still had some reservations before driving the new king Shelby.
With 567kW now on tap and even the lightest variant, the Carbon Fibre Track Pack version, weighing a good 150kg more than the GT350R, with a lot of that extra weight in the engine bay thanks to the supercharger, etc, how could it have the same great handling balance as its little brother?
And what has happened to the manual gearbox? Instead of the 350’s slick six-speed stick shift, the GT500 has a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. Has the GT500 just accepted its fate as a straight-line bruiser and given up trying to chase the competition through the corners?
We got all the answers we wanted – and discovered plenty more in the process.
Prices for the GT500 in the USA start at US$72,900 ($105,000) and rise to US$93,595 ($134,500) if you do the right thing and add the Carbon Fibre Track Pack which, even as an $18,000 ($26,000) option, is something of a bargain.
One thing to watch when speccing the car is the type of stripe you option. While a vinyl racing stripe is a reasonable $1000, a painted one for some reason costs a very unreasonable $10,000. So beware.
This is a Ford, not a Ferrari.
Even the base Shelby GT500 gets a lot of kit as standard.
Instead of the shrieking flat-plane V8 of the GT350, the 5.2-litre engine has a cross-plane crank and a supercharger nestling in the V between the two banks of cylinders. That is connected to a seven-speed Tremec DCT gearbox – the same as is used in the new C8 Corvette – and the rear axle wears a Torsen limited-slip diff.
Brakes are six-piston (front) and four-piston (rear) Brembos biting onto 420mm/381mm steel discs. Pub fact: The front discs are as big as the whole wheel on the original Mustang.
There’s independent suspension all round with Ford’s genius Magneride active dampers. Chevy’s active damping system is still slightly better, more sensitive, but it’s close. Standard wheels are 20-inch gloss black alloy items.
Electronic systems include line-lock, launch control, selectable electric power assisted steering, different drive modes, and a driver-configurable instrument panel.
Three packages are available: Carbon Fibre Track Pack; Technology Pack; and Handling Package.
The Handling Pack adds a Gurney flap for the rear spoiler and some front dive plane splitters for $1500.
The Tech pack includes a 12-speaker Bang & Olufsen infotainment system plus blind-spot monitoring, heated mirrors, and navigation and a couple of other details for $3000.
But the pro move is the CFTP. This changes the Shelby GT500 from being a competitor to being a winner. It includes 20-inch carbon fibre Australian-made wheels worth more than the price of the pack on their own, Michelin Cup 2 tyres, rear seat delete, carbon fibre GT4 rear wing, and adjustable strut top mounts.
It might sound expensive at an additional $18,500. But it’s a bargain.
The 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 managed a perfect five-star score in the American NHTSA’s rating.
While that focuses on passive safety, you can also spec the optional Tech package to get blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.
The big changes to the GT500 have extended into the cabin, too.
Depending on which package options have been chosen, the seats range from leather-trimmed Miko seats in the base model, to leather-edged Recaros on the Track Pack cars. The latter predictably have more support but even the standard seats do a good job keeping you in position while you use the performance.
The dash is now a wide swathe of the latest electronics, at the centre of which is a 12-inch LCD panel containing all the car’s vital info.
The layout and information automatically changes according to the drive mode selected, but you can turn it back to whichever one you prefer. Likewise the steering has variable amounts of assistance selected by the driver.
The material quality is very good to excellent throughout, with no real glaring points of cost-cutting. And there are all the things you need and want in a new car today, including smart-charging USBs and a particulate air filter.
It might have the same displacement as the GT350’s motor, but that’s pretty much where the similarities end.
Instead of the flat-plane crank configuration which gives the GT350 its semi-hysterical character, the GT500 is fitted with a cross-plane V8 – think more traditional V8 rumble instead of the 350’s shriek.
To get the required extra grunt, Ford Performance has buried an Eaton TVS R2650 supercharger into the V of the engine.
The net result is an Everest-sized power hike of 175kW and 266Nm over the GT350’s naturally aspirated engine.
If you thought the GT500 would just drive like a faster, auto-changing version of the GT350, think again. It’s much better than that.
It feels bigger, heavier, beefier, far more civilised on the road than the lighter, more delicate GT350. So much so – it even has a quiet exhaust mode – we were worried initially that Ford had gone soft with the GT500. But then we drove it in anger on the track and we discovered its true colours.
But let’s start on the road first. Here, you can surf around on the supercharged wave of torque consuming traffic like some brightly painted land shark. At normal road speeds it feels unstressed, relaxed even, the supercharger almost silent even when summoning a few hundred extra bhp to warp past whatever’s stupid enough to get in your way.
The Magneride dampers detect and flatten road irregularities, the steering has some but not a tiring amount of feedback, and you can relax into the seats while the miles unfurl. So it definitely fulfils the GT part of its name.
Coast to coast tomorrow to avoid a COVID-soaked plane? Yeah, sure. No problem at all – other than the tiny 60L fuel tank.
So you could own a Shelby GT500 and never know the other character that lies within. You could also look under the bonnet and see large parts of the engine in front of the axle and muse about the understeer which must go with that.
But then you take it first to the drag strip, where it rips off easy eleven second passes, the electric line lock and launch control making each run easier, faster than the last. That’s not too shocking as the last GT500 could do that, too. Well, it could if you had the footwork of a ballerina and the reflexes of a rattlesnake.
And then you take it to the race circuit, with last-generation GT500 memories circulating. This is where the real revelation happens. It’s fair to say I approached the first few corners with far more respect than they deserved, just waiting for the front to wash out or the back to swap ends.
But with no sign of either happening, it quickly became clear that this GT500 is a completely different proposition from its predecessor. It just keeps gripping and gripping and going and going, faster and faster, until eventually you just burst out laughing in disbelief.
Even when the back end breaks away, because you’ve laid into an unreasonably large amount of throttle for the conditions, the car keeps moving forwards, it doesn’t wrap itself in a knot and exit over the kerbs. That’s new for the GT500.
And you don’t miss the manual shift one bit. With the seven-speed ‘box in track mode the paddles make a heap more sense than the manual at the speeds you are traveling. It does a good job at predicting up and down changes, but is also happy to take your input if you disagree.
The net result is that the GT500 is a proper Jekyll and Hyde to drive. Calm, quiet and collected on the street then a screaming, yet controlled and super-fast missile on the track.
Despite the common parts, it’s a world away from the GT350 which is a lighter, always-on machine that demands your constant attention. Fun when you’re in the mood, but possibly a little wearing over a long journey.
This isn’t going to be a cheap car to run. All that power comes at the expense of fuel economy. Even though it can eke out a US gallon to 18 miles if pushed, the average is far more likely to be nearer 10 than 20mpg (23.5L/100km than 11.8L/100km) if you dig in.
Tyres – especially if you get the track pack, which you must – will also disappear at an alarming rate if you include track days, drag strips or even just enthusiastic driving on your favourite roads. This is a heavy car with 567kW, so the Michelins have their work cut out.
On the upside it’s a Ford, so that should at least make getting it serviced and repaired relatively simple and not supercar expensive.
Put this one down as a very nice surprise. We knew it would be good, sharing its bones with the Shelby GT350, but had no idea it would be anything like this polished.
It combines almost bottomless performance with an air of quality and sophistication we had not expected. This makes it a viable daily driver far more than the frenetic GT350 and would be our choice of the two, especially with the Carbon Fibre Track Pack – and no painted stripes…
Is it faster than the new Chevy Corvette C8? Oh, it’s close for sure. But let’s wait until we can get both on road and track, side by side, to see for sure.