It looks like we’re back to a familiar conundrum: should I buy a supercharged Mustang or a base Corvette? A base Corvette coupe starts at $49,515 with destination, and the only option that you’ll really need is the two-mode exhaust system at $1195, so a worthy Vette starts at $50,710. That’s actually $185 less than this particular Shelby GT500 coupe (and that’s ignoring any potential dealer markup on the Shelby). Yes, the Shelby has more horsepower, but the Corvette is a better handler, more fuel efficient at 16/26 mpg, and 707 pounds lighter. By no means is this an apples-to-apples comparison, but it’s certainly one that will be explored on many Web sites.
Ignoring the Corvette question, the Shelby GT500 is a riot. Mustangs and superchargers go together like beer and pretzels — even if you don’t particularly like the combination, you can respect its popularity. With horsepower and torque ratings well above the magic 500 mark, there’s a lot of power to play with. These Goodyear Eagle F1 tires require a good amount of heat before they start to grip, so giving the Shelby any noticeable amount of throttle around the first few turns results in an immediate (and enjoyable) loss of traction. I didn’t have a chance to explore the limits of adhesion once the tires were at operating temperature.
The key to understanding the Shelby’s $18,330 price premium over a Mustang GT is the factory warranty and availability of parts at regular Ford dealers. Yes, you’re getting a supercharger, a six-speed manual transmission, and some other go-fast goodies, for more money than the aftermarket may charge, but Ford is willing to stand behind this vehicle and guarantee that the key components will stand up to daily use. You simply can’t get that peace of mind from a collection of bolt-on parts, and this price premium is consolidated with your regular monthly payment, not sitting on high-interest credit cards.
Phil Floraday, Senior Online Editor
As Phil noted, a base Corvette makes much more sense at this price range, but I found myself thinking more about the Roush Mustang 427R we drove a few weeks ago. Most of us, myself included, wrote that a Shelby GT500 was a much better buy for its extra horsepower and dashing looks. Now, I’m not so sure. Not once during my time with the Shelby did I think, “Man, I’m glad I have 540 hp instead of 435 hp.” In fact, both of those outputs ridiculously exceed the capabilities of the Mustang’s chassis. It’s kind of like worrying whether you’ll get hit with a category four or five hurricane — either way, your town will be devastated.
I did think about the Roush’s barely legal exhaust note and rock-crushing shifter. The Shelby, in comparison, sounds and feels a bit ordinary.
Happily, there’s an easy solution: Skip the optional HID headlamps and navigation system, and use that money for the Roush exhaust and shift kit. That would be the baddest Shelby on the block.
This Shelby is the fourth Mustang we’ve had in the office in as many months (in addition to the Roush, we’ve had the pleasure of driving two GTs and a convertible). That familiarity is starting to breed some contempt for the Mustang’s interior ergonomics. In particular, I find I can never get my seatback adjusted properly and often bang my right knee under the dash as I lift off the brake pedal. I’ve also noticed that when I plug my cell phone into the 12-volt outlet between the center air conditioning vents, the power cord winds up tangled on the shifter. On the bright side, I’ve come to appreciate the Mustang’s basic talents, namely its sharp steering and grumbly exhaust (they all sound terrific) – even more for having experienced them on a regular basis.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
This is one cool-looking car! Zenlea brings up some very good points about the merits of the Roush 427R, but no current Mustang variant looks as badass as the newly face-lifted Shelby GT500. Couple that with the Shelby’s 540 hp (40 more than last year) and 510 lb-ft of torque and you’ve got a very intimidating ride, one that does the quarter mile in 12.8 seconds at 117 mph, according to our tests. I don’t have the talent to properly exercise the GT500 on the curves of public roads, but the car’s surges of acceleration and roaring engine when banging through the gears in a straight line are plenty satisfying.
I was a bit disappointed with the gearbox, however, as it has a sloppier feel than the Roush 427R and other Mustangs I’ve driven recently. Perhaps this vehicle has been subjected to too many overenthusiastic journalists. The cue-ball shifter atop the gearstick is a very cool and well-done detail, though, as is the cobra on the steering wheel. Elsewhere in the cabin, the comfortable seats feature not-too-big-or-too-narrow side bolsters and nice ribbed black-and-white seat covers, and the suede/Alcantara steering-wheel trim feels very nice in your hands, kinda like that of a BMW M car. Speaking of the Shelby’s steering, I think this is the best steering I’ve felt in any Mustang.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
I am no fan of the Mustang nor of muscle cars in general, but I thought the GT500 was a hoot. I really had a good time driving it and was happy to turn it back in only because I feared that if I drove it much longer, I would surely have an unfortunate roadside chat with the Ann Arbor police or a Washtenaw County sheriff’s deputy. As Phil noted, the tires take some time to warm up, so it’s relatively easy to rotate the rear end in, say, one of the new roundabouts that have been popping up in SE Michigan lately. Straight-line acceleration is fun, fun, fun, and the brakes are definitely up to their assigned task. I loved the bright blue paint job and the big white stripe, the cue-ball shifter, the suede steering wheel, and the handsome front seats. I hate to sound like a jingoist, but this car made me proud to be an American! I even enjoyed the live rear axle, because I goosed the throttle as I drove over each and every speed bump in our parking structure, just to hear and feel the rear wheels struggle for traction.
Joe DeMatio, Executive Editor
This GT500 certainly makes a statement. The screaming blue paint, bold American styling, and 540 horsepower create a perfect street cruiser that’s always ready to open the throttle and blast down an open road. Sadly, as Zenlea mentioned, it is missing any inkling of that furious exhaust note I loved on the Roush.
The interior is great, and I especially love the suede steering wheel. I also appreciate that 12-volt power outlet high on the dash. It is the absolute best location in any car on the market for plugging in your radar detector.
Most people will agree that Ford has done a phenomenal job molding the live-axle rear suspension into a respectable performer on the track and smooth roads. But the car still flounders when you ask it to combine ride control with aggressive handling. Around a quick rising corner, the GT500 was seriously unsettled by a sizeable but smooth dip on the right side of the pavement. The live axle was also jumping up and down well after crossing a set of railroad tracks into a 35-mph turn. With new competition from the Camaro and Challenger, I’m hopeful that the Mustang’s next major update will finally bring the independent suspension it deserves.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
2010 Shelby GT500 coupe
Base price (with destination): $47,175
Price as tested: $50,895
HID headlamps $525
Electronics package $2195
-Dual air temp controls
Gas guzzler tax $1000
14 / 22 / 18 mpg
Size: 5.4L supercharged V-8
Horsepower: 540 hp @ 6200 rpm
Torque: 510 lb-ft @ 4500 rpm
Weight: 3924 lb
19 x 9.5-in forged aluminum wheels
P255/40ZR19 front; P285/35ZR19 rear Goodyear Eagle F1 tires