The new Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 is a different animal than its predecessor. If you would've asked me to take the last version to a road course, I'd have been leery. That car was made for straight-line top speed runs above all. But fast forward to today and it's a different story. The new GT500 is still a drag-strip stunner, but adds a helping of apex-hunting prowess to its bag of performance tricks.
- Muscular supercharged power
- Surprising handling balance
- Mean looks and sounds
- Pricey Carbon Fiber Track Package
- Transmission occasional hunts for gears
- Flimsy plastic paddle shifters
The big part of what makes the GT500 a GT500 is its hulking 5.2-liter supercharged V8. With the help of an Eaton supercharger pushing 12 psi into the cylinders, the hand-built engine churns out a hearty 760 horsepower and 623 pound-feet of torque. Channeling power to the rear wheels is a Tremec-sourced seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. Together the drivetrain pairing gets the coupe to 60 mph in 3.3 seconds and allows it to cover the quarter mile in 10.7 seconds, on to an electronically limited top speed of 180 mph.
To help the Shelby achieve those impressive straight-line results, the GT500 has an integrated line-lock function for pro-level burnouts (or for warming the rear tires), a reconfigurable launch control and a DCT that shifts gears in just 80 milliseconds. I know, there's a large contingent of manual gearbox purists out there cringing at the fact that a stick isn't available, but there's no denying the advantage a well-tuned DCT brings to the table -- quick shifts means quicker acceleration.
The DCT pays dividends on road courses, too. Around the 2.2-mile, 11-turn GingerMan Raceway in western Michigan, the Shelby's gearbox is a quick-shifting marvel, letting me instead focus on placing the car where it needs to be. The paddle shifters aren't Ferrari-responsive to commands, but the Shelby is darn good, to the point where I don't really miss having a traditional manual transmission.
The GT500 rockets out of corners with authority, with power available at every point in the rev-range -- though the engine is particularly muscular between 5,500 and 7,500 rpm. The noise that comes out of the active exhaust system is phenomenal, to boot. Getting a good run out of Turn 10B onto GingerMan's longest straightaway means surpassing 140 mph isn't a problem before digging into the brakes. In the interest of self-preservation, I hit 136 mph before lifting, giving myself generous room to make it safely around the 90-degree right hander at Turn 11 onto the front straight.
New handling tricks
It's worth noting that my Shelby test car is optimally set up to torch a road course. It's equipped with the optional $18,500 Carbon Fiber Track Package that ups aerodynamics with front splitter wickers and a GT4 rear wing. This GT500 also wears 20-inch carbon fiber wheels wrapped with Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires and the adjustable strut top mounts have a Ford Performance-suggested track alignment. The other big thing to mention is that this car is outfitted with a rear hoop, which ups structural rigidity.
With that out of the way, this 4,081-pound GT500 has me questioning logic at the end of each of my 15-minute track sessions. From the jump, the Shelby eagerly obeys everything I ask, with the Brembos confidently slowing in brake zones, turning in immediately when cranking the Alcantara-wrapped steering wheel and hunkering down with lots of grip through sharp corners with controlled body roll. Off the racing line a little? No problem -- the GT500 has enough front-end grip to make mid-corner corrections to get back on the proper trajectory. With the exception of the brake pedal getting a touch longer at the end of runs, the hefty Mustang hardly suffers any performance falloff lap after lap, which is doubly impressive on a hot and humid 88-degree day.
The Shelby's steering is weighty and communicative, the Michelins perform magnificently over long runs and the stability control does its work almost invisibly behind the scenes. The GT500 transfers weight side-to-side with aplomb, it's comfortable at high-speeds and composed under braking. It's difficult to find many dynamic faults with this car on track -- which makes me wonder just how much better it could be if Ford engineers put a larger focus on reducing weight.
Tame on street
As hardcore as this Shelby looks and performs on a track, it has a softer side suited for regular street driving. Call up the car's Normal setting and you'll soften the adaptive dampers, lighten steering and quiet the exhaust. This makes freeway cruises comfortable enough, the cabin staying semi-quiet and the Recaro seats delivering support in all the right areas. The dampers offer enough give, smoothing out most impacts, but if you come across rutted roads the meaty tires will cause the GT500 to tramline.
The drivetrain returns an EPA-estimated 12 miles per gallon in the city and 18 mpg on the highway, which match the figures I observed. Unfortunately, those numbers are low enough for the GT500 to be slapped with a $2,600 gas guzzler tax.
The GT500 packs plenty of road presence with an aggressive, hunkered stance thanks to the large front air intakes, vented hood, carbon wheels and big wing. As with all Mustangs, cabin build quality is on par with competitors like Chevrolet Camaro and Dodge Challenger, meaning it's good, but not great. My Shelby tester does have a little extra style with carbon fiber dash trim that I wish extended to the center console. As is, there's a big piece of plastic topping the console that doesn't look bad but would definitely look much cooler in carbon and more substantial paddle shifters instead of the flimsy plastic ones are on my wish list, too.
Infotainment tech falls to Ford's familiar Sync 3 system with an 8-inch touchscreen controlling a 9-speaker sound system, satellite radio, Wi-Fi hotspot, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Those looking for some more goodies can spring for an optional Technology Package for a 12-speaker B&O audio setup, navigation and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert. Besides BSM, other active safety systems aren't offered on the hottest Shelby.
How I'd spec it
Building my ideal Shelby GT500 is easy. Make mine Ford Performance Blue and I would only check one option box: the very expensive $18,500 Carbon Fiber Track Package. For me, though, this one is worth it -- I'd do as many track days as I could. That brings the price tag of my perfectly spec'd car to $92,595, which is slightly cheaper than my $93,385 test car.
Undisputed Mustang king
The 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 starts at $74,095, including $1,195 for destination and the aforementioned gas guzzler tax. That's quite a bit more than Chevrolet's own fire-breathing supercharged Camaro ZL1, which begins at $65,695 with destination and guzzler taxes. Three-pedal purists can get a six-speed manual in the Chevy, too, but it is outgunned by the Ford, the Chevy only producing 650 hp.
Given the choice between the two, I'd give the nod to the Shelby. It's an emotional car that's easy to love. It's got aggressive looks, a riveting soundtrack, all the punch you'll ever need and it can now bust and move around a racetrack with the best of them. It's a complete Mustang package that doesn't have to make any apologies.