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Driving the 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500

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All photos from the manufacturer.

You can now get a 760-horsepower Mustang with a full factory warranty. In the world where the Dodge Demon and Hellcat Redeye straddle either side of 800 hp that might not seem remarkable, but the 98-hp increase from the last GT500 makes the new 2020 model the most powerful Ford vehicle produced. And it’s docile enough to be daily driver. This is Mustang, America’s pony car, as grown up as it’s ever been.

There are plenty of reasons why a 760-hp car that doesn’t exhibit any murderous intent might not appeal to you, even on an observational level. If you’re a fan of the analogue experience of old cars or just don’t see the need for 3.3-second zero to 60 runs and a 10.7-second quarter-mile, well, the GT500 is not the car to change your mind. But still, even at a base price of $73,995 (including gas guzzler tax and destination), this is an impressive machine.

2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 interior

The optional Recaro buckets are supremely comfortable.

So how did we get here? On January 11, 1923, Carroll Hall Shelby was born in Leesburg, Texas. Okay fine, we won’t go through the long and complicated history of ol’ Shel’s automotive exploits. Jump ahead to the early 2000s when Shelby and Ford rekindled their partnership, leading to the return of the GT500 for the 2007 model year, boasting 500 horsepower. (And let’s take a second to remember how incredible that number was barely more than a decade ago.) 2010 brought a jump to 540 hp, followed by a redesign and a whopping 662 hp for 2013 and 2014. That last model went into production just as Carroll went out of production, making this 2020 model the first GT500 without Shelby’s sign-off.

The GT500 is now a recurring feature in the Mustang lineup, but the previous modern GT500s (like the original) have always been more about straight-line speed than all-around performance despite the best efforts of Ford’s engineers to mitigate the car’s nose-heavy nature. The 2020 model changes that, adding legitimate track prowess to super snake’s skill set.
But first, the power. As before, a supercharged V-8 sits under the hood. The new car starts with the 5.2-liter V-8 block from the 526-hp GT350 but uses a traditional cross-plane crank instead of the GT350’s racy flat-plane that allows for an 8250 rpm redline. Compression is 9.5:1. The GT500 tops out at 7500 rpm, but torque peak, 625 pound-feet at 5000 rpm, suggests that this engine still likes to rev. Ford beefed up the block construction (and applied those upgrades to the GT350 as well) to handle the 12 psi of boost from the Eaton TVS supercharger that sits atop the intake manifold. At 2650 cubic inches, it’s the largest blower Eaton makes. On the GT500 the supercharger’s rotors are inverted, sitting below the intercooler block to move the weight lower.
The engine is mated to a 7-speed Tremec dual-clutch automatic, and only a 7-speed Tremec dual-clutch automatic. This enables some of the GT500’s performance trickery, with shifts as fast as 80 milliseconds, and also takes out some of the fun. You can shift yourself in manual mode with the paddles on the steering wheel, but that’s not the sort of thing that will sway any clutch pedal purists.

2020 Shelby GT500 carbon wheel

The Carbon Fiber Track Pack option includes these carbon fiber wheels. Brembo brakes, 16.5-inches in front, are standard.

The rest of the changes compared to the Mustang GT and Shelby GT350 are extensive, like the wider front fenders that cover the 20 x 11-inch wheels. The suspension is revised with Magneride electronically-controlled dampers plus new springs and anti-roll bars. Brembo supplies the brakes, which are massive 16.5-inch discs in front squeezed by 6-piston calipers. Inside, the GT500 gets an Alcantara steering wheel, auxiliary oil pressure and oil temperature gauges in the center of the dash, and plenty of Shelby snake logos to go around.

Like many modern cars, the 2020 GT500 has several user-adjustable settings. There are five drive modes: Normal, Sport, Track, Drag, and Weather. Each one tweaks the car’s steering, suspension, throttle, and transmission response, and by default toggles the digital dashboard to normal, sport, or track display. The exhaust mode can be adjusted separately as well, and even goes to near-silent in quiet mode (at least until the mash the gas). All the settings can be complicated, and you can get lost in the instrument panels customizable option menus, but you can also just hit the start button and toggle the drive mode switch to your immediate personal tastes and ignore all the other stuff.

The rear wing is inspired by the Mustang GT4 race car.

Our press preview drive consisted of three segments: a road drive near Mt. Charleston outside of Las Vegas, Nevada along with drag strip and road course driving at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Starting out on public roads, my driving partner and I jumped in a base GT500, shod with Michelin Pilot 4S tires. Driving out towards the mountains the ridiculous super-Mustang feels… normal? Yes, the burbling exhaust and grippy Recaro buckets (a $1,595 option) make it clear the car is special, as does the view over the louvred hood. Try to drive semi-reasonably, though, and the throttle is easy to modulate and the ride is smooth. An on-ramp provides the first peek at the GT500’s power, which is immense but lacks any spectacle – the traction control light blinks as the transmission shifts to third, the intervention so smooth my driving partner barely noticed. The rest of the drive was spent at close to legal speeds from fear of encountering the local authorities, rumored to be on high alert. They weren’t, but that mundane trip up the mountain showed just how composed and comfortable the GT500 is.

Later at the drag strip we get a chance to check out Drag mode in the GT500, featuring a line-lock feature and launch control with adjustable RPM. Line lock is activated in the Ford Track Apps menu in the instrument cluster, accessed via buttons on the steering wheel. You hold the OK button for a few seconds to activate the mode, mash the brake pedal for a another few seconds, and then get a 15-second countdown timer to light up the rears. Launch control is more simple: Floor the brake and gas at the same time, watch the revs bounce at your pre-determined setting and let off the gas to blast off. It’s a neat party trick – who doesn’t love a sanctioned sprint beyond 120 miles per hour – but without the satisfaction of an applied technique, and a short delay in the between stepping off the brakes and forward movement makes reaction time hard to judge.

It’s hard not to stare.

If those first two driving segments showed the GT500 to be without drama, even to a fault, the road course is where things get interesting. And by interesting, I mean this car is incredible. This track segment takes place in cars with the Carbon Fiber Track Pack, an $18,500 option that includes carbon fiber wheels shod with Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 rubber, Recaro front seats, rear seat delete, front splitter wickers (removable vertical vanes on the edge of the front fascia that help tune the airflow), adjustable strut top mounts, and a huge rear wing.

Thus equipped the GT500 is a track weapon. 760 horsepower has a way of erasing mass that makes you forget the car’s husky 4,100-plus pound curb weight, but it’s not just the acceleration here. That’s the main difference between this and previous GT500s. There’s more grip than before, but the magic lies in how the GT500 responds to inputs. It’s nimble, carving through corners with a neutral attitude. There is so much grip it feels like you can’t get on the gas early enough, can’t brake late enough, and can’t corner hard enough. The exhaust booms so loud, even through a helmet, you can barely hear your own thoughts telling you to go faster. At the limit the GT500 is surprisingly predictable. There’s no butt-clenching moment of terror, no counter-steering heroics, just easy and predictable moves as the tires finally start to give up. Then you remember you’re driving a Mustang and, well, everything seems even more other-worldly.

The way the GT500 goes about its business brings up an interesting philosophical question: Do you want a car like this to be so smooth? The GT350 provides more visceral thrills, and the various Hellcats from Dodge are more fun at the drag strip. But Ford already makes the GT350, and it didn’t set out to make a Hellcat clone. The GT500 has morphed from being the one with the big engine under the hood into a Mustang worthy of the (overused) supercar designation. The goal with the GT500 was to make the fastest all-around Mustang ever made. On that front this car is a success, and it doesn’t give up any comfort to get there.

2020 Ford Shelby GT500 with 1967 GT500

It’s bigger, maybe not badder, but a heck of a lot faster.