First Drive: 2011 Ford Shelby GT500

Julia LaPalme
2011 Ford Shelby GT500

2011 Ford Shelby GT500

A Better Balanced Beast

We were given the opportunity to drive the 2011 Shelby GT500 against the 2010 car back-to-back on Virginia International Raceway’s full 3.27-mile course. It wasn’t an apples-to-apples comparison, as the 2011 GT500s were equipped with performance packages, an option that wasn’t offered in 2010. Still, the track time highlighted how removing weight from the front end has altered the Shelby’s character. The 2010 car is significantly more sensitive to how it’s driven. Trail brake or get on the throttle too early and it’s happy to wag its tail. Take a corner too fast, and the nose-heavy machine will plow toward the outside of the turn. It’s certainly manageable behavior, but it takes patience and experience to learn exactly how to control this snake. The 2011 car, on the other hand, is much more neutral, requiring more deliberate or more ham-fisted inputs. The new car also stays much more stable and level over VIR’s esses, with their unsettling camber changes.

As with all 2011 Mustangs, the Shelby switches from hydraulic steering assist to an electric motor mounted on the steering rack. The steering feel isn’t quite as connected when you’re unwinding the wheel, but it’s still a great calibration that builds effort naturally and communicates nuances in the road. The steering"s most frustrating attribute is the lack of a telescoping column. The suspension is unquestionably firm, but we never found a spot of pavement on 180 miles of road driving where it became uncomfortable. Of course, that could be a function of the well-maintained roads rather than the suspension.

The power is predictably awesome. Ford claims that 80 percent of torque is available from 1750 to 6250 rpm. To publicize the engine's authority, Ford has switched the exhaust system from an X-pipe to H-pipe configuration while the plumbing has increased a quarter of an inch to a 2.75-inch diameter. The result is a note that’s just as raucous as before but offers more burbles and snaps for a livelier personality.

Small Changes Add Up

The changes made by Ford's Special Vehicle Team are quite subtle on the spec sheet and from outside the car. But from the driver's seat, they add up to a substantial difference that makes the GT500's capabilities more accesible and its handling more predictable. Topped with cherries like a more aggressive exhaust note and better visibility, the 2011 Ford Shelby GT500 is a truly meaningful enhancement. Bring on the Z28.

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