2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 First Drive Review: It Doesn’t Bite
Street, strip, or road course—the choice is yours with the new GT500.
Modern muscle cars haven't been one-trick ponies for more than a decade now, with both the Chevy Camaro and Ford Mustang offering impressively competent corner-slayer models. At Ford, the latest and greatest road-course varietals bear the Shelby name. Both the GT350 and GT350R have won considerable praise for their composure, balance, and pace. Now, the GT500 joins the pack with 760 horsepower, launch control, and a mean new look. But is it as well-suited as its brethren to tracks with turns or is this the drag sheep of the family?
The new super-Mustang traces its heritage back to the classic GT500s of the late '60s, but it's the S197 Mustang GT500s that offer the most direct lineage. Those 2007-2009, 2010-2012, and 2013-2014 GT500s progressed from viciously sudden snap oversteer to more benign traits, even becoming something close to friendly in the final 662-hp models. But now, the first new GT500 in five years takes that friendliness to new levels while adding a great deal of actual capability.
2020 GT500: Specifications
First things first: the numbers. Under the hood of the 2020 Mustang GT500, you'll find a 5.2-liter V-8 engine force-fed by a 2.65-liter Eaton supercharger and rated for 760 horses and 625 lb-ft of torque. While it does share some architecture with the Voodoo engine found in the GT350, it's been modified somewhat for its role in the GT500. For one thing, the GT350's flat-plane crank has been swapped for a stronger, less vibration-prone cross-plane unit. For another, there's that supercharger.
Pushing a bunch of extra air into the engine with a belt-driven supercharger is nothing new, but Ford did something creative with this one: It flipped the blower assembly upside down. Why? Because it slightly lowers the center of gravity by putting the heaviest bits—the impeller screws—as low in the package as possible. That means the lighter intercooler portion sits on top of the assembly, the whole of which is slotted into the valley between the engine's cylinder banks. Backing it all up is a new seven-speed dual-clutch transmission co-developed with Tremec.
What does all that horsepower and torque mean in performance terms? The drag racers will be happy to hear the new GT500 hits 60 mph in just 3.3 seconds, per Ford, and knocks out the quarter mile in 10.7 seconds. The twisty track folks might be intrigued by the GT500's claimed 10.6 second 0-100-0-mph ability. But none of these handy spec-sheet factoids really give away just how fast the new Mustang GT500 really is, or even more important, how easy it is to drive wickedly fast whether in "base" form or equipped with the $18,500 Carbon-Fiber Track package.
Before you even open the door to the 2020 GT500, it's clear there's something different about this Mustang. The front end is more like a wireframe concept of a Mustang, the defining lines separated mostly by a fine mesh, the better to feed the many coolers, radiators, and ducts guiding air into and around the car. Pull the door handle and look into the cabin and you may find the optional Recaro seats with their suede upholstery and tall, deep bolsters. The Recaros are the most premium-feeling aspect of the new GT500, although even the standard seats are reasonably well suited to vigorous driving. The rest of the interior is pretty much familiar Mustang except for a numbered plaque on the dash and the rotary gear selector. Stab the start button and the brawny, 5.2-liter V-8 barks to life, settling into a slow, loping burble. Now you have to decide what kind of racing you're doing today.
2020 GT500: Road Course and Drag Strip
You see, the 2020 Ford Mustang GT500 is ready out of the box to cut incredible 60-foot times and ETs in the high 10s at around 130 mph. It's also ready to thrash a road course to within an inch of its life. We did both in our day with the car.
Drag racing couldn't be simpler. While you're waiting to stage, you can set your launch rpm via the readout for the standard launch control in the instrument cluster. Once it's your turn at the line, roll through the water box and use the menus to activate the brake system's line-lock function to enable a flawless burnout—gotta warm up the grippy Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires, after all. Disengage the line lock, roll to the staging box, mash the brake pedal and then the gas, and as soon as you see the yellow lights, release the brakes. All of the pent-up power is loosed at once, and you're fired toward the quarter-mile line and the horizon beyond. Hold the gas down and keep it pointed straight while the Tremec dual-clutch bangs out lightning-quick shifts until you're through the lights in something less than 11 seconds, even if it's your very first go in the car.
If jumping into a brand-new, 760-hp super-muscle-car and ripping off perfect run after perfect run sounds like a fairy tale, well, you probably grew up before computers were able to translate a driver's intentions—as distinct from their actions—into direct results. Between the launch control, the dual-clutch transmission, and the GT500's brilliantly tuned MagneRide magnetorheological dampers—which have a special program that allows for smoother weight transfer on launches—it's almost impossible to have a truly bad run.
On the road course, the story is much the same, although the lighter, higher-downforce Carbon pack is a great idea. The carbon-fiber bits not only add a more sinister vibe, they also improve aerodynamics at high speeds, include carbon wheels for better transitional dynamics, and come with Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires.
In Track mode, the car launches out of corners like a hellion and dives into them with a nimbleness and willingness to rotate that belies its 4,171-lb curb weight. Trail brake toward the apex, and the 2020 Mustang GT500 rotates smoothly and easily. Peek down at the instrument cluster and the built-in instruments might tell you you're cornering at peak loads beyond 1.40 g, and braking beyond 1.50 g. Rinse and repeat until you're worn out or you're out of gas; you're not going to get any brake fade from the massive, 16.5-inch front rotors pinched by equally massive Brembo calipers.
2020 GT500: Price and Equipment
All this track talk is well and good, you say, but what about the drive there and back? Presuming you're not hauling your $75,000 to $105,000-ish Mustang with a trailer, the drive will be splendid. Smooth, comfortable—even for larger folks, and even with the Recaros—and, if you toggle the exhaust mode a couple of times, even quiet, the GT500 is as docile and easy to drive on the street as any four-cylinder Mustang. On the infotainment front, there's a standard 12.0-inch touchscreen display and an optional 12-speaker B&O Play audio system. The only real downside to the GT500 as daily driver is the fuel economy: an EPA-rated 12 mpg around town and 18 mpg on the highway.
Yet for all the new 2020 GT500's brilliance on road courses and drag strips, it's this friendliness, this easy-going, no-surprises docility that truly distinguishes the new model from the GT500s of the past. Yes, there's a snake on the grille, but this car isn't going to bite you. In fact, it might just make you look like a hero.
|2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 Specifications|
|ENGINE||5.2L supercharged DOHC 32-valve V-8; 760 hp @ 7,300 rpm, 625 lb-ft @ 5,000 rpm|
|TRANSMISSION||7-speed dual-clutch automatic|
|LAYOUT||2-door, 2+2-passenger, front-engine, RWD coupe|
|EPA MILEAGE||12/18 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||190.2 x 81.9 x 54.3 in|
|0-60 MPH||3.3 sec (mfr)|
|TOP SPEED||180 mph (electronically limited)|