On the modern muscle car battleground, no blow goes unanswered. Mere moments after the new Chevy Camaro SS was offered for testing, Ford parried with a 2010 Shelby GT500 armed with added firepower, a fortified chassis, and freshened interior and exterior appearance.
Let Ford Pimp Your Ride
The GT500 is basically a Mustang pimped by Ford’s revived Special Vehicle Team (SVT). Building on last year’s 500GTKR (King of the Road) edition, the new GT500 brings more aggressive body armor, a hotter supercharged 5.4-liter V-8 engine, and a host of chassis upgrades to avid Ford enthusiasts bent on running with the quickest Camaros and Challengers. Tagged with a base price of $48,175 – including delivery and a $1000 gas guzzler tax – keeping up with these Joneses doesn’t run cheap.
Malicious Visual Intent
The most notable styling touch is a prominent fascia standing ahead of the aluminum hood to toughen the GT500’s nose. Subtle apertures and blockers route air to the heat exchangers, the engine’s intake plenum, and the front brakes. As before, the job of the scoops in the hood is to provide a convenient escape path for trapped heat. Clever rear touches include a decklid spoiler fitted with a Gurney flap insert for improved aero performance, meaty 4-inch exhaust outlets, and the essential (but non-functional) lower air diffuser. Forged and machined SuperAlloy brand aluminum wheels shod with 19-inch Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar radials adorn the flanks. A triple dose of screaming racing stripes (hood, roof, sides) are standard but can be deleted, for those who’d rather not attract so much attention.
Responding to its loyal constituents, the SVT tuning team upped interior quality and content. The five-piece aluminum dash adornment panels are decorated with a polka-dot treatment while door panels, seat bolsters, and the steering wheel rim are blessed with Alcantara patches for added grip. Last year’s stitched-leather dash top has left the bill of materials. Tuck-and-roll leather seat trim is offered in black-on-black or black with a high-contrast racing stripe motif. The insert color palette includes white, silver, blue, and red. Snakes hiss from the seat backs and steering wheel hub. Another special touch is a white billiard-style shift knob inlaid with both an H-pattern and one final helping of racing stripes.
Man’s Best Friend
Even though the bucket seat bottoms are too short for optimum thigh support, the grippy panels stitched into all four bolsters do an excellent job of restraining a heavy-footed driver. Manual adjusters for seat rake and steering wheel position are crude for this price class but serviceable. Shift throws are delightfully short requiring a resolute wrist when the going gets quick. Those who want to share the GT500 experience with friends will be glad to know that there’s decent access to the rear compartment and adult-grade space in back. The most notable back seat hardship is red-neck and hot-head syndrome due to the rear glass beaming sunlight directly onto the rear passengers’ top extremities. Those who worship the sun should consider the GT500 convertible, which costs an extra $4900
Sights and Sounds
The GT500’s standard Shaker 500 sound system includes a six-disc CD changer, MP3 play capability, eight speakers, and Sirius satellite radio reception. A worthwhile upgrade is the Shaker 1000 package offering a full 1000 watts of audio power broadcast through 10 speakers. A magnificent voice-activated navigation system is packaged with dual-zone automatic climate control. Ford‘s handy Sync connection for routing mobile phones and media players through the sound system is standard in all GT500s
Blown to Run
This Shelby’s tower of horsepower now cranks out a healthy 540 horses at 6200 rpm and 510 lb-ft of torque at 4500 rpm. The incremental gain – 8 percent more horsepower, 6 percent more torque – comes from reduced intake and exhaust restriction and other subtle tuning touches. Under the hood, there’s a cold-air inlet duct and a patented resonator device that filters out excessive supercharger whine. Under the car, an X-shaped connector between the exhaust pipes helps keep the din within legal limits.
This V-8 is for all intents a truck engine blessed with several enhancements exclusive to the GT500. A long stroke ups the displacement to 5.4 liters but stops the rev potential at 6250 rpm. Forged aluminum pistons, four-valve combustion chambers, dual-overhead camshafts, and a forged steel crankshaft and connecting rods are the premium innards. Counting against every aspect of performance, this engine has a cast-iron cylinder block and the weight of its Eaton supercharger and intercooler plumbing piled high between meaty aluminum cylinder heads.
The GT500’s V-8 sounds pleasantly authoritative and rarely obstreperous. Occupants are treated to entertaining hints of blower whine. Stepping into the throttle with the revs barely above idle sends a booming resonance through the interior, a condition easily remedied by dropping down a few gears to zing the tach over 5000 rpm.
Changing the final drive ratio from 3.31 to 3.55:1 gives the new GT500 endearing vitality off the mark. Unfortunately, some of this joy is sacrificed by a slow-witted electronic throttle. Taller fifth and sixth gear ratios help deliver a reasonable 22 mpg on the highway so the gas guzzler tax drops a bit in this edition. A new dual-plate clutch provides progressive engagement, a sensitive pedal feel, and the brute force muscle to handle everything the supercharged engine dishes out.
Stiffer is Better
Chassis alterations include 7 percent stiffer front springs, 13 percent stiffer rear springs, a smaller front anti-roll bar, and dampers with significantly tighter rebound control. In addition, the wheel size is larger at 9.5 x 19 inches to support Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar tires providing a bit more grip with a more resilient ride. Conscientious tuning has yielded a car that doesn’t beat you up over poor surfaces combined with stringent body motion control.
The live rear axle located by three trailing and one lateral (Panhard rod) links lives on in this uber Mustang. Crossing truly evil corner bumps, the un-sprung axle’s momentum is a major handicap, but for most driving situations, there’s no hardship involved with the rudimentary suspension system.
We measured a nicely balanced 0.97g stick in left turns and 0.96g in right turns. At the adhesion limit, the front tires chatter noisily wide of the line as the car’s tail tracks obediently. With the stability control disabled, booting the rear tires loose to explore the drift zone is no challenge.
The recalibrated gas-pressure dampers do a nice job of managing pitch and roll motion except during hard braking and full-tilt acceleration. Also, during rapid left-right race track transitions, the GT500 exhibits a slightly top-heavy feeling.
Unfortunately, there is one circumstance where the GT500 trips. If excessive rpm is used during a drag-style launch from rest, the rear axle enters jack-hammer mode with violent hopping and intermittent rubber-to-road contact. The new axle ratio and added torque combo doesn’t work as well as the 2006-2008 arrangement. That’s an odd situation for a car that has such a devout straight-line, quarter-mile following. During recent tests of the new Camaro with an independent rear suspension–supposedly ill suited for drag use–we observed no such traction problem. To circumvent the axle tramp issue, the GT500’s electronic stability system has a launch mode that automatically modulates the engine’s throttle. It works as advertised.
Pinks Can Wait
What you really want to know is whether the GT500 puts the hurt on its obvious rivals – Camaro SS and Challenger SRT8. There’s no doubt it wins the power to weight ratio calculation. While we have conducted a first round of acceleration tests, the results are so far inconclusive due to adverse weather and traction circumstances.
This much we can say with confidence: Stopping performance provided by four-piston Brembo calipers in front and ordinary sliding calipers in back is significantly improved. Cornering grip is not only higher but significantly better than both the Camaro and the Challenger. What the GT500 lacks in suspension sophistication, it more than makes up with well chosen chassis calibrations.
The acceleration we’ve measured so far spots the new GT500 right on top of both its predecessor and the new Camaro SS, but quicker than the Challenger SRT8. The run to 60 mph took 4.9 seconds on the way to a 13.3-second, 112-mph quarter-mile. That’s disappointing for the hottest cannon in Ford‘s 2010 arsenal but surely not a final answer on this subject. As soon as the sun shines on a retest of the Shelby GT500, we’ll update the record with more legitimate acceleration figures.
Ford Shelby GT500 [no mustang in name though there is a horsie insignia in the windshield]
Base Price: $48,175
As Tested: $50,965 [includes hid lamps, nav, dual-zone A/C]
Engine: 5.4-liter DOHC 49-valve supercharged and intercooled V-8
Horsepower: 540 hp @ 6200 rpm
Torque: 510 lb-ft@ 4500 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
L x W x H: 188.2 x 73.9 x 54.5 in.
Legroom F/R: 42.4/29.8 in.
Headroom F/R: 38.5/34.7 in.
Cargo capacity: 13.4 cu. ft.
Curb weight: 3918 lbs.
EPA Rating (city/highway): 14/22 mpg