2020 Shelby GT500 first drive: 760 hp from a factory Mustang
Can Ford’s monster new GT500 ever be topped?
Everyone has one. My personal story with the Ford Mustang, and with cars and speed in general, starts in 1993 with my sister’s boyfriend’s black Fox Body GT 5.0. I remember the leather seats, I remember the stick shift and I remember watching the tach go up and down as the car accelerated and slowed. I remember the g forces in my gut and the blatty exhaust sounds and the horsey rear end around corners (it sort of bucked around, you know, like a horse). I wasn’t a fan of the next gen (’94-’04), but I came back with the heritage body and I really like my last-of-the-dinosaurs (solid rear axle) 2014 Mustang GT.
Your choices back in the Vanilla Ice days (’87-’93) were basically LX or GT. There was a Cobra in 1993, but no one in my blue-collar, Midwest, Big Three neighborhood had one. Compare that to 2020: There are now nine Mustang performance variants. Nine. Those include Performance Pack and High-Performance and names that are more like trim packages, but still. And this Shelby GT500 tops them all—even the GT350R, which starts at nearly the same price.
The Shelby GT500, a show pony if there ever was one, ditches the GT350’s sky-high-revving flat-plane-crank V8 for a standard cross-plane crank for two main reasons: One, it has so much power, you don’t need all of those revs. Two, packaging—making room for everything in that crammed engine bay. Of course, there’s also heritage.
A seven-speed dual-clutch transmission sends power to the GT500’s rear wheels. That combination is good for 760 hp at 7,300 rpm, just ducking under the 7,500-rpm redline and 625 lb-ft of torque at 5,000 rpm. And those figures are good for some other impressive ones. Namely, a 3.3-second sprint to 60 mph, a 10.7-second quarter mile (I did 11.3) and a 0-100-0 mph in 10.6 seconds—it has huge, 16.53-inch two-piece brakes in front. That’s what a modern Mustang can do—that, and 180 mph flat out. The new one is down from the last GT500’s 200-plus-mph top speed, but that car was a true dinosaur—not a good one like my GT, but a big, dumb, clumsy one like an apatosaurus or diplodocus (my kid’s into dinosaurs, gimme a break).
The Shelby GT500 gets its own suspension tuning on Ford’s MagneRide shocks, new power steering tuning and new ABS tuning that adjusts depending on the drive mode you’re in (slippery, normal, sport, track and drag). As for options, the Handling Package ($1,500) adds an oil catch can, Gurney flap and other aero treatments. The Carbon Fiber Track Package ($18,500) gives you the catch can, 20-inch exposed carbon fiber wheels, Michelin Cup 2 tires (the base car gets Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires), adjustable exposed carbon fiber track wing, additional aero and rear seat delete. Finally for options—there are a few others like the stripes, leather Recaro seats, etc.—you have the Tech Package ($3,000) that includes navigation, premium sound, blind spot indicators, Shelby puddle lights and driver setting memory.
The base price is $70,300. Add the gas guzzler tax and destination and we’re at $73,995 before any other checked boxes. There were about 20 cars to test on the track and road at this event. They ranged from about $81,000 to about $95,000. That’s certainly expensive for any sort of Mustang (though the GT350R has a higher base price), but if you look at the numbers, model unknown, you might be more convinced. Or just get in the driver’s seat.
The GT500 Mustang doesn’t scream like the GT350 on startup. It’s plenty loud, but lower-pitched, more ominous. Same with the look of the thing. The GT350 is aggressive; this GT500 looks like it will suck in all of outdoors with its wide-open mouth. It has twice the frontal opening of the GT350. In back, the quad pipes are bigger and triangular vents sit in the middle surrounding the reverse light. If that doesn’t give it away from behind, either of the adjustable wings certainly will. Also, you’ll find the guy driving the GT350R at the track, mostly; the GT500 is just as comfortable ripping up the boulevard as the road course—or drag strip, for that matter.
On the road, this Ford is just overkill in every dimension—stopping, going, turning. Grab three of the seven gears getting onto the expressway, without really pushing it, and I’m going 90 mph in something that’s orange with white stripes. Not quite incognito. It’s really loud, both inside and out, but nothing like the hearing damage you’ll get on the track. But I’ll get to that in a minute.
This particular car had the rear seat delete option, complete with a little sticker that notes “No children back here,” which is always funny. On the track, you’ll want the car in track mode, but other things—suspension, exhaust—can be tuned independently and then set to the MyMode individual setting. Put the exhaust in quiet, and it gets … almost quiet. Same with the suspension; In normal, it’s 100 percent livable on the street, more livable than the GT350 or GT350R. The digital gauge cluster changes with the drive modes—there’s no analog option.
Ford and Tremec did a fantastic job on the tuning of the dual-clutch transmission. The acceleration isn’t impossibly seamless like a Porsche Panamera; I do feel a minute click when hitting the paddles, but slow speed takeoffs and slow speed deceleration feels exactly like a torque converter automatic. No surging, no juddering.
Later in the day I head to the drag strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for 11-some-second passes at about 128 mph. Like the modern Mustang GTs, the GT500 has a line lock feature when in drag mode, which holds the front brakes and also softens the rear suspension, similar to the system on the Dodge Challenger Demon and Hellcat. I go into drag mode, pin the brake, hit the line lock notation, let off the brake, pin the gas and smoke the tires. Once they’re hot and sticky, I roll up to the light tree, wait for the blue to tell me I’m in position and then hold for the yellow and green. Straight as an arrow, a little tire spin and I’m literally off to the races. The best time of the day, by an untrained (and lightweight) journalist, was 10.97. Ford’s claimed and believable time of 10.7 was on these same Pilot Sport Cup 2 street tires.
At the LVMS road course—dead flat, no visual references—I’m wearing a helmet, thankfully. In track mode the exhaust is so loud I can feel the percussion in my head. Ford does add and cover noise digitally, but this is almost ridiculous. I should have brought earplugs. The track is shaped like a lower case h on its side. It starts out on one of the legs of the h, cuts into the curved part, back out to a long straight with some kinks, and then back to the small part of the h. On that back straight I hit about 130 mph in the GT500 and it feels like my helmet is going to crack open. If I bought this car, and tracked it, I’d have more hearing loss than I already do.
The GT500 understeers around the decreasing radius turns as expected in a 4,171-pound, front-engine vehicle but the amazing part is how much power I put down coming out of the corners. The rear tires are 315-mm width, same as a Corvette, and when warm allow me to put my foot to the floor as long as the steering wheel is reasonably close to 12 o’clock. The first two sessions I was hesitant; the third session I was not. I asked one of the engineers if the traction control was sneakily engaging, but he said if I didn’t feel it or see the light, it was not cutting power. Track mode loosens that threshold up. Additionally, the track mode antilock brake settings are stellar. I was pounding on the binders all day, with no fade—no carbon ceramic option, btw—but later when I rode along with a development driver I realized I could have gone about 40 percent harder on the clampers. Full throttle, turn, full throttle, panic stop, turn, full throttle, panic stop. That’s basically how it went.
On the track, the seven-speed is flawless. Of my 15 or so laps it never missed a gear. I didn’t go to the paddles once, and I usually do. Tremec techs said they wanted the full automatic trans calibration within a second or two of Billy Johnson, the race car/development driver, when using the paddles. They got 90 percent of way there surprisingly easily. The last 10 percent was hard. But I guarantee a non-professional driver will never know the difference.
According to Ford, the target for the Shelby GT500 was somewhere between the Mustang GT350R and the Ford GT. I haven’t driven the GT, but I can say with certainty it will outfox the GT350R. The one thing it doesn’t have on the other Mustangs, however, is a manual transmission.
If your greatest ask is driver engagement, you’ll be plenty happy with the comparatively cheap base GT350. But if you want a giant killer, and we’ve yet to see how big of a giant it can slay, get the GT500 and make a Mustang story of your own (if you don’t already have one).
On Sale: Now
Base Price: $73,995
Powertrain: 5.2-liter supercharged V8, seven-speed dual-clutch automanual, RWD
Output: 760 hp @ 7,300 rpm; 625 lb-ft at 5,000 rpm
Curb Weight: 4,171 lb
Pros: Fairytale power
Cons: When optioned properly, could hit six figures