Review: The Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 is among the all-time greats
Bidding farewell to the one-hit wonder that stood ready to take on the world.
Enthusiast cars as we know them are changing. For better or worse, they're not the same as they were a decade ago. High-revving engines and slick manuals are becoming relics of the past, and the pursuit of speed in the ongoing numbers game paved the way for fat turbos, hybridization, and snappy dual-clutches. That's not to say today's sports cars are bad, not at all. They're just different now. The norm has evolved.
Knowing that, you could imagine the shock when Ford launched the Shelby GT350 for 2016 as a sort of spiritual successor to the Boss 302. Around that time, BMWs and Porsches were beginning to lean heavily into turbo technology for their performance lineups, and Dodge was sniffing glue riding on the glory of their shiny, new Hellcat. In a world where cars became increasingly digitized, here came the Blue Oval showcasing a naturally-aspirated, shift-it-yourself, rear-wheel-drive tribute to driving. Here was a track-focused Mustang that not only took the fight to rival pony cars but to the entire world, and thanks to a stellar owner on Turo, I got to experience it for myself for a couple of days. So how was it?
Good. Very good. Too good for this world.
This car is truly something special.
Objective reporting time! Launched for 2016 (although there is a limited run of 2015 models floating around), the GT350 sports a 5.2L "Voodoo" V8 with a flat-plane crankshaft, a wildly alien take on an American V8 and something typically seen on Ferraris and McLarens. The hand-built mill produces 526 raw horses and 429 pound-feet of twist and screams to a supercar-like 8,250 RPM. That power is routed exclusively through a Tremec six-speed manual which replaces the fragile Getrag MT-82 from lesser Mustangs.
In the hands of Car and Driver, the non-R models could clock off zero-to-60 in as quick as 4.3 seconds, zero-to-100 in 9.1, and the 1/4-mile in 12.5 at 117 miles per hour. They could pull as high as 0.98 g thanks to trick MagneRide shocks and meaty Michelins tires enveloping the 19-inch wheels (although this example had Nitto NT555 G2s in the rear and Toyo Proxes Sports in the front).
The tires measure a certifiably chunky 305 mm in the rear and 295 mm in the front with widened, vented front fenders to better sheathe them. Monster Brembos measure 15.5 inches with six-piston calipers up front and 14.9 inches with four pistons out back. Rotors are drilled, but later models from 2019 onward switched to a solid design after deciding that the drilled rotors were essentially a useless idea.
This example was a 2016 car with the Technology Package which replaced the cloth Recaros and rental car-grade center stack with heated and cooled comfort seats trimmed in leather and suede as well as a SYNC 3 touchscreen. Track Package goodies like auxiliary coolers and a larger spoiler became standard for 2017 following customer demand, but for everyday driving and canyon cruises, this car would more than suffice.
The Technology Package adds luxury and gizmos to an otherwise simplistic track car.
On the city streets between canyons, the GT350 stunned with its surprising degree of civility... Sort of. The climate-controlled seats are a godsend in the desert, and SYNC 3 is flawless with built-in CarPlay and Android Auto. MagneRide can be set to Normal, Sport, and Track with that last mode only available in the Track drive mode. All are firm, but none of them are ever truly harsh even over broken pavement. You will most certainly feel the bumps, but the ride never jolts you or induces lumbago after hours behind the wheel. So why sort of?
Tramlining, baby. All is well on the commute in your 526-horsepower Shelby until divets and cracks in the road start asking for their turn to steer. It's not as horrible as some journalist banter has led me to believe, but it would likely be worse with the grippier Michelins and a more aggressive alignment. You're not Ken Miles, so just leave the electric power steering in Comfort on the nine-to-five runs. That seemed to have ironed out some of the naughty behavior.
Now the real magic. The real reasons someone chooses to buy a GT350 over a more powerful GT500 or the modular GT. This car on a good road with nothing between you and the destination but miles of cascading asphalt is recipe for a dopamine overdose. Throw everything in Sport or Track, drop the hammer, and let this car give you a taste of heaven. If Flavortown was a car, this would probably be it. I think. Well, let's just hope you like a lot of spice.
The steering, while not the best steering around, deserves a trophy for the amount of feel it can deliver for being an electric rack. You'll feel it wriggle ever-so-slightly as you cross over bumps and exploit the chassis' grip as much as you safely can on public roads. Even with the questionable tire matchup on this specific car, there's always a surplus of grip, and it's happy to dig for every turn and rocketing onto every straight. Body motion is imperceptible, even when leaning hard onto the monstrous, tireless Brembos, and that disconcerting "shimmy" in the chassis as you load up under throttle which I experienced in the GT is nonexistent in the GT350.
This car didn't remind me as much of other Mustangs as I thought it would, or at least not stock ones. It felt too surefooted, too solid. This felt more like a BMW M3 fighter than anything else with similarly sharp responses, better steering, and no shortage of driver confidence. Forget those notions of brutish muscle cars on ox cart suspension because this is a real hero car that'd be just at home on a highway in Nebraska as it would be on the Nürburgring.
The Tremec manual is rock-solid and will ruin any other Mustang aside from the current Mach 1 which uses the same unit. The shifter is a tad too light for my taste as I would appreciate a bit more mechanical notchiness and heft, but the accuracy is top-notch. You could drive this thing with your eyes closed which you totally shouldn't do unless you have stellar insurance. In which case, knock yourself out. Just mind the featherweight clutch. That could take some getting used to. An ant could cough on it and cause the pedal to move.
The Voodoo V8 is as breath-taking as every piece of starstruck journalist word vomit will lead you to believe. This flat-plane masterpiece is equal parts heavenly and satanic. It can chug around town and merge on freeways with no problem. You know, like a normal person's car. Give it the chance, however, and it'll deafen the neighborhood with a banshee-like scream as you approach that legendary redline with straight-edged linearity. It's as smooth as a standard GT's Coyote engine when wafting around town, but it lopes at idle and jitters at high revs sending slight tremors through the shifter to remind you that you bought a Mustang GT4 with navigation.
Yes, it's a controversial engine, but some might say it's worth the gamble to at least experience. Also, a little birdie (and countless forums) told me the revised 2019-and-up cars are much more reliable with redesigned gaskets and the block from the GT500's Predator V8.
At low revs, it can feel no quicker than a GT, something that posers may find highly distasteful. But screw them. There is no quantifiable way to explain how surreal it is to get into the meat of the powerband in this thing and let it sing its battle cry. That's the appeal. The engine doesn't work for you. You work for the engine, and the rewards carry their weight in gold. This is the engine of an honest-to-God driver's car.
This car never runs short on fun factor or character.
That's the whole point of the GT350: to be a driver's car. This is not a quarter-mile king or a boulevard cruiser, and if you want one, Ford will happily sell other cars to better fit that bill. The GT350 can do those tasks just fine, but you know there's somewhere else it'd rather be. This car yearns to please you when the going gets twisty or when the stopwatch starts ticking. There's never a shortage of fun, character, or confidence. It's happy to play, and it will help you go faster, drive better, and grin harder without beating you up like an actual race car, and to think the revised versions get even better than this!
After roughly five years on the market, the GT350 has unfortunately proven to be too good for this terrible planet, and in an industry becoming increasingly obsessed with gimmicky technology, it seems unlikely it will ever have a true successor. Cars like these are dying out one by one, and the GT350 stands among the last vestiges of purism. It didn't need a bigass supercharger or techno-wizardry to be fun. The car simply was, and for that, it will be remembered for years to come as not just a kickass Ford Mustang with a Cobra badge but as one of the all-time greats.