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2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 Test Drive: Automobile All-Stars Winner

Maybe the sequel should be “Ford v Porsche.”

It rumbled up to our Willow Springs test site clad in blazing Grabber Lime paint, "Over-The-Top" bright-white racing stripes, a carbon-fiber rear wing seemingly stolen straight off a GT Daytona race car, and a window sticker darn close to $94,000. Then it looked each and every one of us in the eyes and said, "Try me. I dare you. " So we gathered our collective nerve, strapped in tight, and hurled this supercharged, 760-horsepower Ford around the track like a pack of crazed bronc riders, gunned it down straightaways leaving fat black stripes of high-priced rubber in our wakes, felt our cheeks warp as we scythed through some of SoCal's finest mountain two-lanes, and simply whooped for joy at the sheer, shameless outrageousness of the fastest factory Mustang ever built. And when we were done, the echoes of its booming V-8 dissipating into the Mojave Desert, the new Shelby GT500 stood atop the winner's rostrum, a near-unanimous 2020 Automobile All-Star.

"Shockingly capable on the track and hugely involving on the road, the GT500's breathtaking sticker price seems worth every penny after you've savored a few moments behind the wheel," gushed Basem Wasef. Billy Rehbock concurred: "Hands-down the best Mustang I've ever driven. Defied my expectations of how I thought Ford's pony car could handle. The sound is just insane!" Online editor Ed Tahaney, after his road drive, simply jettisoned any hint of editorial restraint: "Driving the Shelby feels like battling mutants in a Mad Max sequel with Charlize Theron riding shotgun!"

A GT500 test drive will do that to you. Literally the driving force behind the Shelby's awe-inducing character is the 5.2-liter V-8 under its hood. Though it's likewise hand-built and shares the same block with the naturally aspirated version that powers its GT350 sibling, the GT500's V-8 benefits from 12 psi of supercharged boost (via a huge Eaton blower), bigger valves, an air-to-water intercooler, and, in place of the GT350's high-revving flat-plane crankshaft, a conventional crossplane crank for smoother, more balanced performance (and that iconic muscle-car burble at idle). The result: 760 horsepower at its 7,500-rpm redline and a Himalayan 625 pound-feet of torque at 5,000 rpm. That's more pony power than you'll find in the Corvette ZR1, the Camaro ZL1, and the Porsche GT2 RS. Hell, the Shelby cranks out 113 horsepower more than Ford's own $500,000 GT supercar. "Sick fast. Incredible engine pull," quipped our resident hot shoe Andy Pilgrim. He got that right: Ford claims a 0-to-60-mph time of just 3.3 seconds. And this green monster weighs almost 4,200 pounds!

Okay, now forget that weight figure entirely. It's all but meaningless here. Because, unlike any GT500 before it, this 2020 Shelby stops and turns and carves through the tightest apexes like a purebred exotic sporting machine. Magnetorheological shocks soak up road rash with ease while keeping the chassis poised and planted even at the extreme edges of grip. And grip the Shelby delivers in profusion, thanks in large measure to super-sticky, 20-inch Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires (part of an $18,500 Carbon Fiber Track Pack that also includes carbon-fiber wheels, the aforementioned rear wing, carbon interior accents, and leather-trimmed Recaro sport seats). "Finally, the GT500's chassis is up to the task of the prodigious power it churns out," noted Rory Jurnecka. "Handles very well—with quick and sharp left-right transitions through the esses—for such a relatively large and relatively heavy sports coupe," concurred Todd Lassa. Resident racer Pilgrim dubbed the GT500 nothing less than "an extremely capable track weapon."

The GT500 is funny that way. On paper, it doesn't look as good as it actually is. Yes, the massive brawn is there, but the two-plus tons of weight, the front-engine layout with that long, view-obscuring hood, the tallish 53.8-inch roofline, the two-plus-two cabin configuration (though the Carbon Pack deletes the rear seat entirely) … surely, the GT500 must be a complete handful on the track, big and tricky to navigate through a twisting mountain road?

Nope. With the old live axle ousted to the dustbin of history and sporting those mag dampers, racy Michelins, and savvy chassis electronics, the GT500 is fearsome in its capabilities yet utterly docile and predictable—even cornering at well over 1.0 g. Doesn't matter whether the drive-mode selector is set to Track or Normal, either—the Shelby hangs on without ever threatening to bite. It's uncannily Porsche-like in its polish and finesse. "The GT500 should have been the enfant terrible of this whole event, but it's not," said Aaron Gold. "It's big and muscly but also super-friendly, and you can push and push and push and it never hits back. Amazing. Loved it, loved it, loved it."

The hits just keep on coming. Mated to the records-rewriting engine is a world-class transmission, a 7-speed dual-clutch Tremec shifter that, at the touch of a paddle, can execute gear changes in as little as 130 milliseconds. Sure, some purists will complain about the lack of a manual (for that, get yourself a GT350), but there's no denying the brilliance and effectiveness of this cutting-edge tranny. It's darn-near Porsche PDK good, even when shifting all by itself in Auto mode around the track. Also on board: a carbon-fiber driveshaft mated to a Torsen limited-slip. And when you're finally ready to rein in the mighty V-8, the Shelby wears humongous Brembo binders (16.5 inches in front!) that deliver outstanding feel and never hinted at fade, despite countless track laps by our speed-hungry editorial team.

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For all of its guts-wringing performance and bigger-than-life swagger, the new GT500 is a remarkably approachable, almost luxurious machine. "This is probably the first GT500 that would be perfectly fine as a daily driver," Jurnecka averred after his road drives. Indeed, the Shelby offers everything from a gorgeous, 12-inch digital instrument cluster to dual-zone automatic climate control, proximity entry with pushbutton start, a nine-speaker audio system (a 12-speaker Bang & Olufsen hi-fi is optional), and Ford's Sync 3 voice-activated infotainment technology with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The GT500 is "twin-personality" in how it sounds, too: chose quiet mode, and the dual-exhaust system (with quad tips and electronic valves) murmurs like a good butler. Switch to Track, and the shattering engine noise would send the nastiest werewolf running home to mama.

It seems appropriate that the new GT500 should arrive not long after the release of the excellent "Ford v Ferrari," the movie in which Matt Damon (as Carroll Shelby) works alongside Christian Bale (as Ken Miles) to create the Ford GT40 race car that vanquished Ferrari (and everybody else) four years in a row at Le Mans during the Sixties. Of course, around that same time Shelby was also building the original GT350 and GT500 Mustangs, customized muscle cars better known for their straight-line go than their cornering finesse.

But now that's all changed. "It occurs to me this is what Carroll Shelby was looking to create," reflected Aaron Gold. "A car with true American character—stupid American power with that big supercharged V-8 and a driving position like a Kenworth—yet one that will run with the best the world has to offer (and we know, because those cars were here at All-Stars). The new GT500 really is the whole package, the Mustang Carroll Shelby wanted to build. Too bad he isn't around to see it."

2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 Specifications
PRICE $71,395 (base)/$93,890 (as tested)
ENGINE 5.2L supercharged DOHC 32-valve V-8/760 hp @ 7,000 rpm, 625 lb-ft @ 5,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
LAYOUT 2-door, 2-passenger, front-engine, RWD coupe
EPA MILEAGE 12/18 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 189.5 x 76.6 x 53.7 in
WHEELBASE 107.0 in
WEIGHT 4,171 lb
0-60 MPH 3.3 sec
TOP SPEED 180 mph (electronically limited)

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2020 Automobile All-Stars Contenders

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