2020 Shelby GT500 Street And Track Test: Mere Mortals Need Not Apply
With a potent supercharged V8 and supercar capabilities, is this too much Mustang to handle?
The name Shelby has been synonymous with fast Fords since the 1960s, and its most recent contribution arrives as the most powerful Ford sold to the public. In the new GT500, your typical Ford Mustang is packed with a supercharged V8, a tighter chassis, and the potential to annihilate any canyon road or circuit. With massive fascia, a huge rear spoiler, and a rumble that registers on the Richter Scale, there's no bullshit concealed beneath the GT500's outlandish appearance.
Competing with Dodge's Chellenger Hellcat and Chevrolet's Camaro ZL1 1LE, the GT500 has to stand out with more than just its huge horsepower figure. Avoiding the cliché involving Mustangs and innocent pedestrians, opening the taps on a 760 horsepower pony car unleashes fury few can contain. To see how much venom that iconic snake is packing, I had to give this new Mustang a proper test on some Texas roads and a little track that isn't far from my home.
Key Performance Details
Under the GT500's massive ventilated hood is a 5.2-liter cross-plane crank V8, built by hand, one at a time, in Ford's Romeo plant. Mounted on top is a 2.65-liter Roots air-to-liquid intercooled supercharger to deliver 760 horsepower at 7,300 RPM and 625 lb-ft (847 Nm) of torque at 5,000 RPM. The stats are impressive, but the codename for this engine is even better: Predator.
This particular Mustang doesn't have a manual gearbox available, instead only offered with a Tremec TR-9070 7-speed dual clutch transmission offering quicker shifts than you can manage while being stout enough to handle the obscene amount of power and torque from the blown V8. Controlling the balance of handling and weight is done through Ford's MagneRide suspension, offering a handful of modes for any surface or driving behavior.
With Ford's trick line lock control (think epic smoky burnout mode), launch control, and the drag strip drive mode deployed, the GT500 can rip from 0-60 MPH in 3.4 seconds, 0-100 in just 3 more ticks, and can complete a 1/4 mile run in just 11.4 seconds. Considering the amount of aero pieces installed to provide grip, the Shelby GT500 can achieve an electronically limited top track speed of 180 MPH.
The most impressive statistic is the 0-100-0 MPH time. The supercharged V8's maniacal acceleration is quickly harnessed by Brembo's huge 420 mm front rotors and 6-piston calipers up front and 370 mm rear rotors and 4-piston calipers in the rear, getting up to speed and coming to a halt in just 10.6 seconds. It took you longer to read that sentence. The figure is even more impressive when you consider the GT500's curb weight is over 4,100 pounds (1,860 kilos).
Shoving this much performance into a Mustang comes at a price, and the base MSRP for the GT500 is $70,300. My Rapid Red tester ticked a few reasonable option boxes to hit an MSRP of $82,255. Opt for hand-painted rather than vinyl stripes, add the $18,000 carbon fiber track pack, or go for upgrades in the audio and tech department, and you can easily top $100,000. Dealers are tacking on ridiculous addendums too, so expect to drop plenty more to drive one home.
For The Daily Driver
While focused on sheer performance, the GT500 is remarkably easy to daily. The MagneRide suspension's normal mode is supple over bumpy city roads, and the sporty Recaro buckets are suprisingly comfortable and supportive over several hours in the cockpit. The driving position is a little high for a performance car, but you can see clearly over the not-too-large hood vents, and outside the cabin things are visible enough considering the high belt line. You're not putting any adults in the back seat, and the trunk is reasonably sized, so the car isn't totally useless if you need to tote anything. The materials throughout the cabin are the typical Ford stuff too, which isn't terrible, but isn't up to the level of other cars at this price.
Ford's new digital instrument cluster is as cool or tame as you care to configure it with plentiful color palettes to tweak, with normal, sport, and track layouts too. The typical Mustang infotainment system using Ford's Sync 3 has a decent interface, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto installed. Opt for the Bang & Olufsen system if you care about better audio quality, as the system thumps, but does add a fair bit of weight should you care about track use.
Big 305/30/20 front and 315/30/20 rear Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires are the standard setup, and I'm surprised how little tram lining they exhibit on the freeway. I'm impressed by the brake feel for normal driving, as the huge Brembo setup isn't too grabby for city driving, and has no dead play in the pedal. Steering is electronically assisted, but in the normal mode the inputs are sharp without being too heavy nor light. Ford got this part right. I appreciate that Ford enables a quick tap on steering wheel buttons for steering and suspension mode adjustments on the fly.
To avoid pissing off your neighbors or anyone on the sidewalk, keep the exhaust in quiet mode by default, as the quad exhaust pipes quickly announce their presence if you toggle the normal or sport modes. The track setting offers a wicked soundtrack, and is fantastic on cold starts, but save that for when you're out in the open and don't care about people's ears whether they're inside or outside the GT500. Shifts from the Tremec twin-clutch 'box are quick and civil during normal driving, but will rip off changes quicker than a bee's wing flaps if you suddenly want to play. I appreciate that the gearshift is a wheel control that doesn't get in the way of the cupholders.
If you do try to daily drive the GT500, you'll want to sign up for your favorite petrol station's rewards program. With EPA fuel estimates of 12/18/14 (city/highway/combined) MPGs paired to a little 16-gallon tank, you're going to need premium unleaded fill-ups early and often. The GT500's fuel consumption is so brutal, the EPA slapped it with the maximum $2,600 gas guzzler tax.
Splendid On Back Roads
Letting loose 760 horses in any car is wildly fun, and blasting down longer stretches of road is addictive in the GT500. Ease into the throttle, and smoothly deploy the boost as you exit a bend, and you'll be rewarded with a clean surge ahead and a hint of oversteer as you track out. Get heavy-handed with your steering inputs or floor the gas too quickly, and you'll be punished by a car that has no trouble changing which end is facing oncoming traffic. Crack the windows to let in the howl of the throaty exhaust and supercharger whine every chance you get because this sort of sensation is dying off as quickly as the ice caps it's melting.
Any upper-end Mustang should be good on the twisty bits, and the GT500 is stellar in this environment. With remarkably precise steering, more power than you'll ever need, and loads of grip from the MagneRide suspension and Michelin PS4S tires, canyon road carving is sensational. If you enter a corner carrying too much speed, the big Brembo brakes and extra wide Michelins can cover your ass to an extent, but that 4,000 pound package will remind you it's there. I gave the GT500 thorough sessions on a seriously tight driving road and along ones that were filled with sweepers, and it was exceptional on all of them.
Purists and multiple-generation Mustang buyers may gripe about not having a manual transmission option, but when you stab the go pedal, you'll quickly appreciate the added control by keeping both hands on the Alcantara-wrapped steering wheel. Those big Michelins offer plenty of grip and confidence throughout any hooning session. Heavily-bolstered Recaro buckets are fantastic for keeping you planted, and maintain the sporty look perfectly.
Ford provides a personalized drive mode setup, letting you tweak the steering, engine performance, suspension stiffness, and exhaust volume, but after toying with several configurations, I found that normal mode was great for all-around daily driving and sport was fine for the twisty roads. A couple years ago I tested a Challenger Hellcat (which has no business trying to carve canyons), and had a go in a Camaro ZL1 (which is great on road or track), but the GT500 easily out handles them both.
A Monster On Track
To truly flex the GT500's capabilities, you need a track, and luckily Circuit of The Americas is in my back yard. I get to play on the 3.4-mile F1 circuit several times each year, and happened to be booked for a private event with Longhorn Racing Academy the same week I had this bright red Shelby. With one of the most technically challenging layouts on the planet, fast sweepers, tight s-curves, loads of elevation changes, and two long straightaways, COTA is a fantastic test for any car.
Ford made its track mode the perfect configuration for circuit performance, and only needs a quick switch toggled to engage. Traction control shuts off, and everything else is wired to rocket you around any circuit. Maintenance throttle is important when you flog the GT500 around the track, as the boost will kick on in the middle of the rev range and won't stop feeding power to the rear wheels. Your steering inputs have to be smooth, despite having a heavy steering weight in track mode, and every action from your hands and feet have to be effective to optimize lap times.
Average drivers will never be able to fully exhibit this car's capabilities, and if you get too cocky behind the wheel, you will be in a world of trouble. I have several years of testing fast cars on fun roads and plenty of tracks, and this car can quickly be a handful when you're anywhere near its limit. Blasting from corner to corner is lightning fast, as the supercharged V8 surges. With over half a mile of COTA's back straight allowed under full throttle, the GT500 easily clears 160 MPH, which is great considering its massive curb weight and huge downforce-inducing components mounted front and rear. Stab the brake pedal, and the Brembo brakes quickly eliminate speed while giving your blood flow a physics lesson.
Sometimes I think I'm funny.
Stitching together a clean lap while perfectly managing the power, the GT500 turned laps in the mid-2:20 range, which is in the same ballpark as plenty of supercars that cost much more money. I'm still stunned how good the GT500 was around COTA. Make sure you fill the gas tank before each session, as any use of wide open throttle will employ the pair of high-flow fuel pumps and dual port injectors to quench this beast's thirst, subsequently depleting your bank account. I topped off at the station next to the track upon arrival, and after an out lap, three flying laps, and a cool down lap, my return to the station to top off revealed that I consumed seven gallons of go juice.
My test car had the $1,500 handling package installed, which adds a Gurney flap to the rear spoiler and wickers to the front splitter. While great on the road, Michelin's Pilot Sport 4S tires quickly turn greasy on track due to the GT500's two-ton curb weight. If you're going to track this Mustang, get some stickier rubber that can cope with the stress inflicted by this Mustang's significant mass.
To go more hardcore, add $18,000 to your total for the carbon fiber track pack which throws in Pilot Sport Cup 2 rubber wrapped around exposed carbon fiber wheels, removes the rear seat, mounts a GT4 rear wing to the trunk, mounts wicker splitters to the exterior, and adds adjustable strut top mounts for extra tweaking on track. For my money, I'd rather stick to the cheaper handling pack option, remove the rear seats myself, buy an extra set of lightweight aftermarket wheels with additional sets of sticky rubber to swap on for track days, and stock up on track-focused brake pads.
Clear for takeoff.
Supercar Performance In An $80,000 Mustang
Ford is going to sell tons of GT500s to buyers who want to buy the most expensive Mustang and most powerful Ford to hit showroom floors. Sadly the vast majority of them will not have the driving abilities to show off what the car is capable of, and hopefully we don't see any videos of them infamously plowing through pedestrians at car meetups when owners try to dispatch all 760 horsepower as they leave the parking lot. Even though the GT500 costs more than the Hellcat and Camaro ZL1, there's no way I'd take either of those over this Mustang.
I don't imagine most owners are going to track their GT500, and they will still probably have loads of fun on winding roads, but this car's herculean power is going to be wasted by the average driver. If you've got exceptional driving skills and are doing regular track duty, you'll experience a wicked machine that competes with more exotic metal. After one fun week in the GT500, I have a ton of respect for what Ford has delivered. After years of mocking Mustangs for being a poor man's sports car that can't keep up with the majority of performance cars, I got served a big slice of humble pie by this super snake.