PONTIAC, Michigan—The current Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 arrived for 2016 like a thunderclap, its flat-plane howl shredding the synapses of, well, pretty much anyone within hearing distance. It packed 526 horsepower from its exotically cranked 5.2-liter V-8, handling chops that shamed every Mustang that came before, and a six-speed Tremec manual that, heroically, was the only transmission option. So why isn’t anyone talking about it anymore?
The next GT500, that’s why. With Ford’s 700-plus-hp, steroidal mega pony on the way for 2020, the GT350 has gotten lost in the corral. Hell, even the Bullitt has received more attention of late (which it deserves). But developing the new GT500 taught Ford lessons that it has now applied to the 2019 GT350, giving little brother both more civility and more capability while making it more approachable than ever.
Underneath, the GT350 gets 16 percent stiffer springs up front, six percent softer springs out back, a 24-mm rear anti-roll bar in place of last year’s 22-mm unit, recalibrated magnetorheological dampers, and available camber plates. The changes you can see are limited to a new spoiler with optional Gurney flap, slightly more closed area in the upper grille (to balance out the new spoiler), a redesigned set of wheels, and freshly adopted Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 rubber with a specific tread pattern. (The GT350 used Michelin Pilot Super Sports before.) The Gurney flap and camber plates come bundled together for $850.
An afternoon lapping the new GT350 on M1 Concourse’s tight, 1.5-mile course in Pontiac, Michigan, proved change is good. The cars we drove had Gurney flaps and camber plates, with the negative camber cranked all the way up. The new spoiler and its flap are said to significantly increase downforce at speed and reduce front-end lift, and also to offer lower drag.
While we’re not sure we achieved velocities on the short track that would have seen a big aero effect, we’d say the suspension geometry and new rubber are enough to positively glue the GT350 to the tarmac. Ford tells us that the capability of the Cup 2s—sized 295/35-19s in front and 305/35-19s out back, as before—drove many of the other chassis tweaks, and the tires offer grip for months, years even, and their utter tenacity had us rubbing out neck kinks long after we were done driving.
The steering remains on the light side, which is welcome during multiple-lap stints, especially on a course with as many low-speed, high-lateral-acceleration corners as at M1. It’s precise and feelsome and quick—although never twitchy. This is a car that still eats apexes for dinner and short chutes for dessert. Power from the 5.3-liter V-8 is delivered in a mighty and manageable wave, and there are few things in this world as wonderfully twisted as winding out a Ford Mustang—a Mustang!—to 8,250 rpm. And the noise. My God, the noise.
The ABS system that pulses the Brembo calipers under threshold braking has been reprogrammed, too, and it combines with the new aero to impart more stability under hard deceleration. The tail no longer wants to wag free of your control, liberating critical neurons to focus on heel-and-toe downshifts, front-end placement, and everything else that goes into proper corner entry.
A short road drive revealed the GT350’s promise of additional civility to ring true. The ride is still surprisingly compliant for such a beastly thing, and the car seemed to tramline a bit less over rutted and grooved surfaces. Credit the recalibrated suspension, which seems to offer more predictable straight-line behavior in addition to increased track prowess. This remains a mega Mustang you can drive every day.
That Tremec manual is a friend on the daily grind, as well, with blessedly short throws and positive engagements. We did experience an odd fault on the track where the reverse lockout stopped working, so trying to downshift from three to two resulted in us trying to slide the lever into the nonexistent gate below reverse. The repair must have been simple enough, however, as the cars were back on the track later in the day.
And if you want a manual transmission in your American-market Ford Performance product, you’re looking at the only option, as the GT500 will have a standard seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. Inside the GT350, there are a few new trim elements and standard dual-zone climate control, as well as newly available power adjustments for the heavily bolstered Recaro seats, an available 12-speaker B&O audio system (which we didn’t try for obvious reasons), and an 8.0-inch infotainment screen. Velocity Blue and Ford Performance Blue join the exterior palette, while over-the-top striping can be had in black, white, or Kona Blue.
While the broadening of the current-generation Mustang lineup has perhaps diminished the wider impact of the GT350, its audacious engineering—we’re still blown away by a flat-plane crankshaft in something not from Maranello—and the effectiveness of its 2019 improvements keep it among the coolest, most capable track weapons you can buy, certainly at its reasonable $60K entry price. The 2019 GT350 is not a car you should sleep on, and don’t sleep on the harder-core GT350R, either; it’s going to be updated for 2020. We can’t wait.
2019 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 Specifications
|ENGINE||5.2L DOHC 32-valve V-8; 526 hp @ 7,500 rpm, 429 lb-ft @ 4,750 rpm|
|LAYOUT||2-door, 4-passenger, front-engine RWD coupe|
|EPA MILEAGE||14/21 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||188.9 x 75.9 x 54.2 in|
|WEIGHT||3,800 lb (est)|
|0–60 MPH||4.3 sec (est)|
|TOP SPEED||180 mph (mfr)|