You want to know when the “golden age” of muscle cars was? It wasn’t the 1960s, despite what your baby boomer auto enthusiast friends would have you believe. Sure, there was a lot of great stuff back then, and it was the birth of the muscle car idea — but back then, you couldn’t walk into your local Ford dealership with a suitcase full of cash and walk out with a 760-horsepower Mustang. The golden age of horsepower is right now, folks, because with that suitcase full of cash, you can head down to your local Ford store and walk out with this: the 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500, the ultimate Mustang, the quickest, most powerful Mustang that Ford Motor Co. has ever created.
It may share its name with the ponies that have come before it, but to say that it’s a very different animal is an understatement. The real question is this: Is it different enough to command a price premium over the already fantastic 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 and GT350R? I drove one around the Las Vegas area to find out. (Per our ethics policy, Cars.com pays for its own airfare and lodging at such automaker-sponsored events.)
Start with how it looks, featuring unique front and rear ends that aren’t shared with either the regular Mustang GT or the Shelby GT350. It has a huge grille with all kinds of honeycomb openings meant to feed that massive cooling system. It flows 50 percent more air than the GT350 and feeds things like an oil cooler and transmission cooler as well as the radiator and engine. It flows so much air into the engine bay that it required a new hood with a big extractor vent to get all the air out of the engine bay, as well.
The optional Handling Package makes it look even more aggressive with additional aero kit, such as front “splitter wickers” ahead of the front wheels that affect downforce and airflow, plus an adjustable rear wing with Gurney flaps. A lot of work has been put into the car’s aerodynamics, and for good reason — you need all the downforce you can get when you put an engine this powerful under the hood. So it definitely looks different from a GT350; score it some points there.
No One Car Should Have All That Poooowah
Here’s the big difference between the GT350 and GT500: The GT500 has a 5.2-liter supercharged engine making 760 hp and 625 pounds-feet of torque. It’s a different engine than the one seen in the GT350 — no flat-plane crankshaft here, the GT500 instead uses a cross-plane crank but still revs ridiculously high for a supercharged V-8. It makes its peak horsepower above 7,300 rpm, and has several other modifications from the GT350, such as sodium-filled valves, strengthened cylinder head bolts, computer numerical control-machined heads and more. But it’s the 2.65-liter Eaton supercharger nestled up top that makes the big difference.
You may notice one other big difference from the GT350 sitting at your right hand. Yep, that’s the shifter from a Ford Explorer, a rotary knob controlling a Tremec seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission adapted from the Ford GT supercar. Unlike the GT350, there’s no manual transmission offered for the GT500, and that’s perfectly fine — I don’t care what you say. Why? Because the thing can rip off shifts in 80 milliseconds. I defy you to even get your left foot from the brake to the clutch of a GT350 in 80 milliseconds. Combine that massively powerful engine with its immediate torque and the exceptionally fast and smooth seven-speed DCT, and you have a matchup that makes the GT500 something special.
Out on the street, it honestly doesn’t feel all that different from a GT350. The GT500 features the MagneRide electronically controlled adaptive suspension, so you can set it to Normal mode and it will putter around town happy as you please; it might even be easier to drive than the GT350, as you’re not fiddling with a clutch pedal in stop-and-go traffic. The ride is amazingly well damped, never beating you up or losing composure even on choppy pavement — of which there admittedly wasn’t much of on our brief street drive in the mountains above Las Vegas Motor Speedway. It’s smooth, it’s comfortable, it’s even relatively quiet. The revised suspension with its modified spindles (also seen on the 2020 GT350R) helps to reduce the tramlining for which the previous car was so notorious. You can daily the GT500 without a problem, although I’d suggest two modifications: Stick with the Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires that come with the standard GT500 and not the Pilot Sport Cup 2s that come with the optional Carbon Fiber Track Package. Skip the Recaro sport seats, as well.
While it’s not much different from the GT350 on the street, it blows the GT350 away on a road course thanks to all that extra power. You want some numbers? Ford says it’ll do zero-to-60 mph in 3.3 seconds, and the quarter-mile in 10.7 seconds. But it’s the immediacy of the power delivery that’s truly fantastic — the supercharged V-8 feels so much more responsive than the GT350’s engine in just about every situation. The GT500’s bigger brakes let you stay on the power longer and bleed off speed later with repeatable confidence. The brake performance is outstanding — 16.54-inch rotors up front with big Brembo calipers haul you down for a corner with breathtaking force. Handling was already outstanding in the GT350 and even better in the GT350R; it’s fair to say that the GT500 feels pretty similar in that regard. The steering is light, nimble and predictable, and the car doesn’t feel nearly as heavy as its numbers would suggest.
But it’s the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission that’s the real hero here. You won’t miss the manual transmission at all, I promise. Put the car in Track mode and just go. Don’t worry about shifting the paddles yourself, either; the transmission can do a better job of it than you can. It never faltered, lap after lap, and I never found myself in the wrong gear for what I wanted the car to do. And if you decide you need more thrust and a lower gear, just stab the accelerator — the lightning-fast downshifts seem hard-wired to your brain.
If drag racing is more your thing, you can do that, too. The GT500 comes with a line-lock function to make burnouts super-easy and launch control that makes repeated quarter-mile runs a bit simpler, though not totally flawless. You’re still trying to put 760 hp to the pavement, and even with the copious grip from the Michelin tires, that requires some skill. Still, it’s a bit easier than the system Dodge uses for the Challenger’s electronic aids. Once underway, the lightning-fast upshifts from the DCT are brilliant. Simply put, Ford has crafted one of the best driving, best handling track cars you can buy today, and engineers tuned it so you can drive it to work every day if you so choose.
The Disappointing Bit
Most of the letdowns from the GT500 come from the interior, which didn’t get much of a content or trim boost for the additional cost over a GT350. The GT500 features some carbon-fiber trim and those optional Recaro sport seats, but for a minimum price of some $73,000 and change, there should be more differentiation in the interior. Special colors, maybe some fancier leather trim, something to justify the price jump from the GT350 to the GT500. You can specify some additional bling in the form of the Technology Package, which adds creature comforts like navigation, a 12-speaker B&O audio system, blind spot warning, Shelby puddle lights in the mirrors and driver’s seat position memory, but it’s still a standard Mustang interior that doesn’t feel all that different from the base four-cylinder model.
And let’s talk about those Recaro sport seats. Just like the Recaros in every other Ford vehicle I’ve tested in the past 10 years, they’re not great. The big problem isn’t that they’re extremely narrow or insufficiently padded (although they are also both of those things), it’s that they’re not nearly as adjustable as they should be. If your butt is wider than the seat bottom bolsters, you’ll be sitting on top of them instead of down in the seat. And the seat bottom doesn’t adjust for rake as much as it should, so they sit rather high with the driver’s legs angled up — finding a comfortable driving position can be challenging. Definitely try the Recaros and the regular base seats before you spec which ones you’re going to have to live with. If you have a fit race car driver’s physique and aren’t too tall, and plan on using your GT500 mostly on the track, you’ll be perfectly fine with the Recaro seats. Everyone else had better think long and hard about checking that option box.
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The Competitiveness Question
It’s clear that Ford spent the majority of its time and attention on the bits of the GT500 that make it go faster. The engine is glorious, the suspension feels brilliantly tuned, the ride is impressive and the car’s abilities make you feel like a hero regardless of your driving skills. But it starts at a lofty $73,995 including destination fee, or about $12,460 more than a base GT350. Interestingly, the GT350R, with its additional standard content like carbon-fiber wheels, additional aerodynamic aids and Michelin Sport Cup 2 tires, costs $535 more than a GT500. But if you want to add all the optional content that GT350R comes with to the GT500, you have to add the $18,500 Carbon Fiber Track Package, which brings the GT500’s price up to $92,495. If you keep going and specify the Technology Package (navigation and B&O 12-speaker audio system for $3,000) and a paint job with painted-on racing stripes instead of vinyl stuck-on ones ($10,000!), you can push the GT500 over the $105,000 mark.
Is the ultimate Mustang worth $100,000? Shelby enthusiasts will undoubtedly think so and the car definitely has the performance chops to back up its lofty price, with abilities that are undeniable. It’s definitely quicker than a GT350R, but I’m not entirely sure it’s better, and that’s not because the GT500 isn’t amazing — it’s because the GT350R is already just that good.
There’s another problem looming on the horizon for the GT500. Across town, Chevrolet has just unveiled a mid-engine Corvette that promises supercar moves for the price of a well-equipped luxury SUV, just a bit less than $60,000. Ford maintains that the Shelby GT500 doesn’t compete with the new Corvette, but with prices that similar on two American V-8-powered sports cars designed to make their owners look like stars at local track days, comparisons are inevitable. We can’t wait to put them to the test.
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