LOS ANGELES, California—Those who worry about the Mustang since the launch of an electric variant shaped like a crossover need to know that the present and foreseeable future of their beloved pony car could hardly be in better hands.
That’s what we found out a few hours before the debut of the 2021 Mustang Mach-E by driving the new 2020 Mustang Shelby GT500 and Shelby GT350—the latest and most powerful iterations of the legendary Ford coupe—across 200 kilometres on the famous Angeles Crest road northeast of the City of Angels.
- Also: 2019 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350: I Will Never Change
- Also: Video: 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 Puts on a Show
The Shelby GT500 features the mightiest production engine in 116 years of Ford history. This 5.2-litre aluminum V8 has the same displacement, bore and stroke as the GT350, but instead of a flat-plane crankshaft it uses a cross-plane crankshaft allowing higher engine revs and increased output. On the other hand, it generates more noise and vibrations.
Nicknamed “Predator,” the GT500 engine also benefits from a 2.65-litre supercharger. The result is 760 horsepower at 7,300 rpm versus 526 horsepower at 7,500 rpm in the GT350. Peak torque amounts to 625 pound-feet at 5,000 rpm, up from 429 pound-feet at 4,750 rpm.
These V8 engines are pure delight especially at higher revs. They also produce a fabulous symphony that can be modulated by the electronic valves and flaps in the exhaust system. The one in the GT500 is just so much more potent.
To harness the thundering stampede, Ford Performance chose a seven-speed, dual-clutch Tremec TR-9070 gearbox whereas the GT350 is only available with a six-speed manual. Trust us, you can still have a lot of fun playing with the generously sized paddle shifters on the Alcantara-trimmed steering wheel.
Shift points are tailored to each drive mode and so are the suspension settings, throttle response, stability control, ABS and steering. The exhaust note and instrument panel display change accordingly, as well.
Shifts are quicker and sharper in Drag mode, which also boosts torque by maintaining revs at their peak. Ed Krenz, chief engineer for both Shelby cars and the Ford GT, told us the GT500 completed the quarter-mile run in 10.7 seconds, just a few tenths slower than the 840-horsepower Dodge Challenger SRT Demon. The difference, of course, is that it was not designed merely for drag racing.
Shifts are just as quick yet smoother in Track mode, which emphasizes stability in corners (they are 20-percent quicker than in Sport or Normal mode). You can clearly feel it while driving, particularly when downshifting. A fifth mode called Slippery reins in the various systems for wet pavement and other low-traction conditions.
We started the day in a Kona Blue 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 and headed to Newcomb’s Ranch, a haven for sporty driving enthusiasts that’s celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
Right from the get-go, the car proved amazingly smooth, quiet and compliant. The manual gearbox feels solid and allows precise shifts with the help of a progressive clutch. The upgrades to the suspension and tires for 2019 were a boon, as well.
You can push the Voodoo V8 to amplify the auditory pleasure; the explosion at around 3,000 rpm is fantastic. A few more seconds at full throttle and the GT350 starts to become harsher and huskier. All the while, though, it remains agile, grippy and stable, making a strong case as one of the most fearsome sports cars on twisty roads.
The GT350R model benefits from front suspension tweaks and a new rack-and-pinion steering that was developed using the expertise gained from the new GT500. That’s why the price gap between the two is rather small.
Anything but a Monster
The 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 is unquestionably the king of the Mustang stable, even more so if you check a few boxes. The Carbon Fiber Track package alone adds $24,995 to the tally. It includes a giant rear spoiler inspired by the one on the Mustang GT4 race car (generating 250 kilograms of downforce at 300 km/h), plus 20-inch wheels and a plethora of carbon trim pieces.
Ford Performance engineers performed their magic so handling matches the GT500’s formidable power. They found a way to make up for the extra 45 kilograms the supercharger adds over the front axle. Then they revised the suspension settings (including the magnetically variable dampers) and installed Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires with stiffer sidewalls. The latter are also much wider than the rubber on the GT350 (305/30R20 front and 315/30R20 rear versus 295/35ZR19 front and 305/35ZR19 rear).
The furious melody delivered by the GT500 at full throttle becomes really intoxicating. We didn’t expect anything else with such mind-blowing specs. The dual-clutch transmission works beautifully, even though there’s sometimes a tiny delay when you drop a few gears to attack a corner. As for the Brembo brakes with 420-millimetre front discs, they deserve praise for their power, endurance and flexibility.
The main takeaway is that handling is remarkably balanced with almost no body roll and understeer, even on the most serpentine stretch of Angeles Crest. In fact, the GT500 behaved extraordinarily well. Krenz claims it will be just as fast on a track as the Ford GT supercar.
The ride was a bit stiffer and more agitated when we made the return trip with the GT500. But who cares? And we’re not going to complain about the lack of rear seats or navigation system. This is the best Mustang ever built and easily one of the fastest, sharpest and most exhilarating sports cars to roam our poor planet. Simply bravo.