2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 first drive review: The icon, elevated

The name "Shelby" has always meant something special when applied to a Mustang. For over 50 years, the brand that Carroll built has taken occasionally humble pony cars and turned them into things rather more formidable. In recent years, with the Shelby GT350, those things have been utterly sublime.

That current GT350, recently updated and retooled, is a machine that handles -- and sounds -- like no Mustang that came before. But the GT500 was always meant to be king of the hill, the biggest and baddest of the Shelby Mustangs. And this, dear reader, is the biggest and baddest Shelby Mustang of all. It's the 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500, with a whopping 760 horsepower from a 5.2-liter supercharged V8.

Not that long ago that one figure would be all you needed to know when talking about the GT500. But for this latest generation we need to dig deeper, because Ford says this isn't just the company's most powerful production car ever, but also the best handling GT500 in history. Join me as I hit the road, the track and the drag strip to see whether it delivers.

The recipe

Let's start with the numbers, because they are mighty impressive and of course still quite important. The 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 packs 760 hp and 625 pound-feet of torque, produced from its 5.2-liter V8. That's the same basic block as found on the GT350, now asked with handling 12 psi from the Eaton supercharger nestled down nicely inside the engine's V.

To get it to fit, and to lower the center of gravity, Ford engineers actually flipped the supercharger, so the twin scrolls are on the bottom and the air-to-water intercooler is mounted up top. Engine internals are up-rated too to handle that power, but the tweaks don't stop there. To the oil pan, Ford added what its engineers call "active baffles," basically spring-loaded doors that keep the oil from running the wrong way during high-G maneuvers on the race track.

That's just the first of many, many tweaks that show the intent for this GT500 to be as good on a race track as it is on a drag strip. The suspension is radically improved over the last GT500, adaptive dampers front and rear that, while they don't make the car particularly compliant on their softest settings, make it manageable on the road and fine on the track. But more on that later.

Opt for the Carbon Fiber Track Pack, a brave click in the configurator at $18,500, and things get even more purposeful. A giant, adjustable, carbon-fiber wing appears on the trunk and, in the interior, the rear seat magically disappears. Most impressive, though, are the carbon-fiber wheels, which save 15 pounds per corner despite being absolutely massive. They're 20 inches in diameter and a whopping 11.5 inches at the rear, wrapped in Michelin Pilot Cup Sport 2 tires, 305/30 R 20 front and 315/30 R 20 out back. That's a lot of sticky rubber rolling on the road.

But it's needed, because the Mustang Shelby GT500 is a lot of car. How much car? Try 4,171 pounds worth, about 300 more than a GT350. Yep, that's one big pony.

2020-ford-mustang-shelby-gt500-10

Smoke 'em if you etc. etc.

Ford

At the strip

If a GT500 weren't good at the drag strip, a sort of existential dread would hang about the car. It's an essential metric in this car's success, and so when it came time to really put the car to the test, I was glad to start at a quarter-mile.

The 2020 Shelby GT500 is officially rated with a 3.3-second zero-to-60 time, running the quarter in 10.7 seconds. Yes, Hellcat fans, that's a full second slower than a Demon, but it's important to note that the Mustang's time was set on the car's default Michelin Pilot Sport tires, not the gummy, sloppy-sidewall drag radials of the SRT. The GT500 also set that time with a full complement of four seats.

Me? Well, despite a 30 mile-per-hour headwind and a rookie's inexperience, I managed an 11.5 on my very first run. A roaring, furious, incredibly thrilling run. A few runs later I managed to get down to an 11.3. Not bad for a drag-racing newbie.

Helping is the GT500's integrated line lock mode, which makes picture-perfect burnouts as easy as pressing a few buttons. Configurable launch control lets you run through 100-rpm increments, and then there's the ultimate feature: the DCT.

While it lacks some niceties an automatic can provide on the strip, like the Demon's trans brake, Ford's new Tremec-sourced DCT shifts in just 80 ms. That's a heck of an advantage over a traditional manual and, when the car is in drag-strip mode, it even emulates power shifting (keeping on the throttle between gears).

But the real place where I expected that DCT to shine was on the track, and I was not disappointed.

2020-ford-mustang-shelby-gt500-07

You might be surprised...

Ford

On the track

The road course Ford selected outside of Las Vegas Motor Speedway had all the elevation changes and character of the parking lot that it clearly once was. But that didn't make it any less of a challenge for the GT500, and we brave journalists who would try to wield its 760 horsepower without spiraling off into the gravel.

It's a tight course with a few fast turns that require bravery, many more that require patience. Yes, patience, in a Shelby GT500. After a few sighting laps I was unleashed and almost immediately I felt comfortable at speed. The 16.5-inch front discs, squeezed by Brembo calipers, inspired incredible confidence despite the uneven asphalt, while the grip of those Pilot Cup Sport 2 tires at the rear meant the traction control stayed remarkably quiet despite my... occasionally eager applications of the throttle.

Coming out of every tight turn the GT500 leaps forward with a ferocity that many modern supercars lack. No worries about staying on-boost or in the power band, just put your right foot down and then get ready for the next braking point.

I'll remind you that this is a car weighing in excess of 4,100 pounds. Yes, it takes a lot to move that much mass around, but even through the track's lone, fast chicane the GT500 happily danced, and later made easy work of the curbing when I got more confident.

And what about the DCT? It worked quite well, better than I'd expected given it's a first for the Mustang. In the interest of testing I forced myself to leave it in automatic on the track. It did a good job of picking the right gear through corners, aggressively downshifting and rev-matching when braking and offering rapid-fire upshifts under acceleration.

On the road, however, I found it a bit more annoying. In sport mode, the car seemed to be constantly hunting for gears, dancing back and forth until I gave in and tapped the "M" button in the center of the rotary shifter and used the wheel-mounted paddles to pick my own.

That's just one of the many aspects of the car that are easily customized if you like. The car has five standard drive modes, controlling everything from suspension stiffness to how outrageously loud you'd like your exhaust tone, but you can roll your own mode as well via the Shelby button on the steering wheel.

The gauge cluster is also nicely customizable, giving you basic navigation or media information if you like, or more racy stuff like a G-meter and a massive, blinking tachometer. Paired with Ford's simple but serviceable Sync 3 infotainment system and an available 12-speaker B&O sound system, you've got yourself a muscle car with admirable smarts. Sadly, though, those smarts don't extend to the safety side. Other than a blind-spot information system with cross-traffic alert, active safety systems are absent.

2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500

Will not disappoint; may very well scare. 

Tim Stevens/Roadshow

Wrap-up

What a car. The GT500 is still every bit the beast it ever was, but now it's a beast you can reasonably manage on the day-to-day and even have a heck of a good time around a race track. If you can afford it, that is. The 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 starts at $72,900, and fully optioned with the Carbon Fiber Track Pack you're knocking on the door of six figures.

For my money the $59,140 GT350 would be my pick, as that car offers plenty of power and even more handling prowess. Regardless, the 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 is a remarkable accomplishment and a new high-water mark for muscle car performance. 


Editors' note: Travel costs related to this story were covered by the manufacturer, which is common in the auto industry. The judgments and opinions of Roadshow's staff are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.

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