The Ford Shelby GT350 is one of the most thrilling sports cars I've ever driven. Tossing the coupe around on my favorite roads, the Shelby felt alive, demanding my complete attention, filling my system with adrenaline and rewarding me with an amazing ride.
It's packing a screamer of an engine that makes an amazing sound when pushed hard, it looks amazing and it handles more precisely than any mere Mustang ever should. But then again, this is no mere Mustang. As the Cobra badge hints, it's a completely different animal.
No mere Mustang
Most muscle car reviews would start in the engine bay, but I'm convinced that the Shelby GT350 is no muscle car; it's a bona fide sport car with track-focused performance. To reach this point, the Mustang chassis -- which is already a well-sorted package for this generation -- has undergone a complete overhaul.
The body has been stiffened and strengthened all around to form a better platform for the powertrain and suspension to work from.
In the wheel wells, you'll find that beefed up suspension, which is unique to the GT350 and, making use of ball joints -- rather than bushings -- to remove any squishiness from the steering. The 2017 model also makes last year's Track Package upgrades standard, so every GT350 rolls off the line riding on the MagneRide active dampers. At the touch of a button, the Shelby goes from satisfyingly firm to track sharp, all the while adapting every thousandth of a second to the road and steering inputs.
The suspension geometry has also been tweaked to accommodate the widest front wheels ever fitted to the Mustang chassis. Shod with sticky, 295mm wide Michelin Pilot Super Sport rubber up front and 305mm wide contact patches out back, the Shelby GT350 boasts plenty of grip.
Filling those 19-inch wheels are massive Brembo brakes. At 15.5 inches up front and 14.9 out back, these grabbers are bigger than many cars' wheels and haul the GT350 to a stop like dropping an anchor. Their 2-part rotor, cross-drilled construction and floating caliper design help manage the heat generated by repeated track braking to keep the stopping distances consistent and fade-free.
Often unsung upgrades to the suspension are Recaro racing seats that feature deep bolsters and grippy Alcantara fabric. They really help keep the driver planted while the coupe is sticking aggressively through corners, but are also wide and comfortable enough for extended trips.
Exotic V8 engine
Powering the Shelby is a 5.2-liter, V8 engine, but don't let the displacement fool you; this is a completely different beast to the 5.0L Coyote engine in the. The GT350's mill (code-named Voodoo) uses a flat-plane crank configuration similar to that of an exotic supercar to generate 526 horsepower and 429 pound-feet of torque.
What's most impressive about this engine is how it makes its power. Redline is at a lofty 8,250 rpm with peak power not being reached until around 7,500 rpm. That means the GT350's is both the most powerful naturally aspirated engine in Ford's production car history and its highest revving production V8.
The high-revving nature of the V8 informs the rest of the GT350's performance, biasing it toward high-energy track performance and further separating it from the down-low, drag racer torque of other Mustangs. Rather than kicking like a mule off the line, the Voodoo V8 rewards the driver with power that just keeps coming the harder it's pushed.
The engine is mated to a six-speed manual transmission that's maybe not the best I've used, but is still a joy to row. It has a nice throw, not too short and not truckishly long, that ends in a satisfying engagement. The clutch pedal also has a nice weight to it and an engagement point that's probably a bit too quick for stop and go traffic, but is perfectly suited for dynamic driving and blipped downshifts.
Integrated Driver Control and Track Apps
The standard MagneRide suspension is controlled via a button located right on the steering wheel along with a dedicated button that tweaks the steering feel and responsiveness. Simply tap either to toggle between street and performance settings.
The GT350 also feature five preset drive modes as part of its Integrated Driver Control (IDC) system. A rocker on the steering wheel allows the driver to choose between Normal, Sport and Track settings with increasingly aggressive throttle, suspension, steering and stability control settings. In the sportier settings, a baffle in the exhaust also opens up, making the already loud Shelby sound even more awesome.
There's also a dedicated Drag Strip setting that enables launch control and a Weather mode for increased traction in wet and snow conditions.
Fiddle with a separate bank of steering wheel controls to reveal Ford's Track Apps in the instrument cluster's display. Here, the driver can time 0-60 and quarter-mile runs, monitor G-forces, keep an eye on a variety of vehicle sensors and more.
Track Apps' coolest feature is the Line Lock burnout mode. This is basically an easy burnout system that allows the driver to lock the front brakes while leaving the rears free and the driver clear to heat up the rear tires in a smoky display. With warm tires and launch control, my informal zero-to-60 run whizzed by in about 4 seconds and change.
Driving a race car on the road
In the lower rpms, the Shelby is a remarkably easy car to drive around town. It's a bit too loud, but it's also smooth with linear and predictable power delivery. The suspension, while firm, never felt too harsh. I'd totally daily drive this car.
When driving with zeal, I had to fight the urge to short-shift as the revs rose into the upper registers; it just felt unnatural for a Mustang to rev so high. Sticking with it, I was rewarded with power that just builds and builds. Meanwhile, the engine's wail also builds to a roar that just adds to the frantic energy filling the coupe.
On my favorite back roads, the wide and sticky front tires had a tendency to follow ruts in the road and communicate every detail of the surface. Fortunately, the quick and responsive steering made light work of keeping the GT350 in line. Meanwhile, there's so much power out back that I'd occasionally feel a little wiggle from the rear end when getting on the throttle.
The GT350 felt alive in my hands, demanding my attention at every bend and breathing new life into passages that I'd taken perhaps hundreds of times before. Yet, the Shelby grips so well and with handling so precise that, even when it was mildly terrifying me, I never felt out of control and I never got exhausted. In fact, I was exhilarated and energized by every ride, my system teeming with adrenaline and wanting more.
Like I said, the Ford Shelby GT350 is one of the most thrilling rides I've ever driven. The last time my heart raced like this in a car, I was in the backseat.
Unfortunately, my week behind the wheel didn't coincide with any on-track time, but we've already done a few laps in the Shelby GT350R -- the slightly lighter and more hardcore version of this car -- and expect performance to be similar, especially with the 2017 model's upgrades closing the gap since last year.
Pricing and competition
The 2017 Ford Shelby GT350 starts at $56,145 and there aren't many options to add at that point aside from a $3,000 Convenience package that adds leather power seats and $3,000 electronics package that upgrades to Sync 3 infotainment with navigation, improved audio and other tech creature comforts. I'd skip the former -- the standard seats are already plenty comfortable -- but grab the latter. The improved tech is a pricey but worthwhile upgrade that makes the GT350 a more pleasant daily driver, especially with the addition of, and help keep my attention focused on the sublime driving experience.
At that price, the GT350 faces an interesting mix of competition. Domestically, the Shelby trades blows with the lighter Corvette Grand Sport and the more powerful Camaro ZL1. I'd also toss the Cadillac ATS-V into the mix as perhaps the best match for the GT350's blend of price, on-track performance and daily driveability.
However, the Shelby GT350's track-honed performance envelope also puts it in league with the likes of BMW's M4. The GT350 is a less refined road car, but it's also less expensive than the Bimmer. Plus, a bit of unrefinement is part of the Shelby's charm and I think I'd personally prefer the adrenaline-fueled thrill of the Shelby.