First Drive Review: 2010 Ford Shelby GT500
This 2010 review is representative of model years 2010 to 2013.
By Shaun Bailey of Road & Track
Sonoma, California — The acrid smell of tire smoke fills my nostrils. Minute particles of asphalt mix with vaporized custom Goodyear rubber as Shelby's 2010 GT500 effortlessly creates this impressive, pungent cloud. I've been told that 3rd gear burnouts are the best. I would have to agree.
The 540 bhp from the hand-built 5.4-liter supercharged dohc 32-valve V-8 is a 40-bhp improvement over the previous generation's 500, but it's more than that. Thanks largely to what was learned in development of the GT500KR (King of the Road), the GT500 is far more tractable and can really turn a fast lap.
Engine and suspension modifications are very similar to what was done for the GT500KR. Helping to squeeze out that extra 40 bhp is a new intake snorkel that draws air from the driver's side of the nose, which means the cobra emblem is now on the other side of the grille. Extra attention was given to steering feel and precision, and the work has paid off. The breakaway character of the car at the limit is easily predicted from the driver's seat. The communicative steering benefits from stiffer couplings and well-tuned front suspension geometry. The result is a car that likes to linger at the limit, but can be gently pushed into a graceful powerslide.
There is nothing more reassuring than a car that can be driven so confidently at the edge of its envelope. Where the KR required a smooth hand to keep things settled, the GT500 is forgiving yet still feels just as fast. According to the engineers, the KR is still slightly quicker in the corners thanks to its sticky tires, but I've now driven them both and the new GT500 really raises the bar for how a Mustang should drive. Live rear axle or not, the GT500 is a serious performance car that, with a starting price below $50,000, will be hard to beat for less.
The previously mentioned Goodyear tires are specific to this car. Although the label on the side says Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar, the less obvious tire code nearby means it's specific to the GT500, so when you order replacements don't forget this number. What's different, you ask? The tread pattern is altered to improve NVH, while the compound and carcass are tuned for handling. These tires come only on the coupe's 19-in. forged wheels. The buyer of the GT500 convertible isn't expected to take his car on the track, so it keeps the 18-in. tires and suspension tuning similar to the last generation's. But don't be fooled, the convertible isn't just the old car in a new body; it receives all the coupe's updates that don't adversely affect ride comfort. For the extra over-the-road smoothness and sun rays you'll pay $51,225.
A short shifter with cue ball knob, supplied by a company that actually makes cue balls, should be a requirement for every Mustang — the shifter's engagement is slick and its motion compact. The Tremec TR6060 6-speed has taller 5th and 6th gears for improved efficiency, resulting in 14 mpg city and 22 mpg highway. That's a 2-mpg improvement in highway driving. The GT500 isn't meant for sitting in traffic, but thanks to a new twin-disc clutch that lightens the pedal effort (and results in better tractability without sacrificing torque capacity), it's not a left-leg workout.
Other refinements are in such things as the stability control. The system now has three modes: traction off, sport mode and full off. Sport mode raises the allowable limits of the electronic safety net. But it also features a form of launch control that doesn't tell you it's working, but will manage torque and even lightly engage the brakes if needed. On a standing-start launch, the system will try to minimize wheelspin; the emphasis here clearly is to maximize acceleration.
Although a good driver can still outperform it, the system won't hinder a fast run very much. Our quarter-mile passes at Infineon Raceway's drag strip were into a strong head wind, so think of these acceleration numbers as slow estimates. With the system full off, it's easy to light up the rear tires in a haze of burning rubber without trying. In sport mode (my favorite), a controlled amount of wheelspin is permitted, the quick take-offs accompanied by much less tire smoke.
In fact, the sport mode behavior characterizes the GT500 as a whole — a muscular ponycar that has lost much of its hair-knuckle upbringing and gained some manners. If Ford keeps on this path, where each new Mustang gets better, we expect the next Shelby, likely the KR, to become more refined, a little more colorful and a lot faster.