The interior is more grown-up. The steering wheel reach is a touch long, and the front seats' lower bolsters are too squishy for optimum lateral support, but there is convincing evidence that designers used this opportunity to improve on the already smart Mustang cockpit. The funky Falcon-esque gauge numerals have been replaced by contemporary scale markings that are more legible. The tach has been relocated to the right side of the cluster to tighten shift-hand-to-redline-monitoring-eye coordination. The dial rings are matte-finished instead of blindingly bright chrome. A nice grade of leather upholstery accented by red stitching is standard. Take your pick between an all-charcoal coloring or the striking two-tone treatment with red center panels on the doors and seats surrounded by charcoal borders.
Only three options are offered: Sirius satellite radio, a Shaker 1000 sound system, and a premium interior package. As the name boasts, the audio gear pumps 1000 watts through ten speakers and can play AM, FM, MP3, or CD source material (the last via a six-disc changer). The upgraded trim adds stitched leather covers for the top of the instrument panel, the armrests, and the center console, plus an electrochromatic rearview mirror and aluminum pedal covers.
Crank up the big V-8, click the faithful Tremec six-speed into first, and one touch of the gas is all it takes to rock you back to 1968, when a Shelby GT500KR (King of the Road) Mustang cost $4473. Back then, the 7.0-liter Cobra Jet V-8 delivered a bazookalike torque hit without waiting for the tach needle to climb the dial. Today, an even more forceful smack is provided by a medium-size V-8 pressurized to 9.0 psi by the belt-driven blower.
Unless you've got the Shaker cranked up with Bob Seger hammering out "Old Time Rock & Roll," there's no escaping the sound track revolution. Thanks to the government's pass-by noise standards, heavy exhaust rumble is a thing of the past. Instead of the horny honk of the Cobra Jet's Holley four-barrel sucking holes in the ozone layer, you get a blower serenade with the level of whine directly proportional to the engine's rpm. Chief engineer Jay O'Connell acknowledges that resonance chambers capable of quieting the yowl were considered but rejected because of the void they left in the Shelby GT500's character.
SVT chassis engineers had their work cut out dealing with the extra 340 pounds heaped onto the front tires. The added weight and stiff-sidewall tires collaborate to provide crisp on-center steering feel and sharp initial response. Since a complete overhaul of the suspension systems was out of the question, the SVT crew focused on retuning every bushing, damper calibration, bar size, and spring rate for this new assignment. What they achieved is commendable: a cornering limit boosted from the Mustang GT's 0.87 g to the GT500's world-class 0.95 g without trashing the ride or bombarding the cockpit with road noise.
A ballerina's balance is too much to expect of any true muscle car, so there is ample understeer when the Goodyears slide. However, a few laps circulating California Speedway's tight road course revealed a strategy that keeps the Shelby from tripping over its front feet: complete the hard braking with the steering dead straight, turn in gently, then add throttle well before the apex to encourage the rear tires to shoulder their share of the load. Plan B is to hurl the car into the bend, adding full throttle to hang the tail out. That works, but it's neither the tidy nor the quick way around any corner.