First Drive: 2010 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500

April 5, 2009

When we first drove the 2010 Mustang GT, the chassis felt robust enough to handle another 100 horsepower—seems like somebody at Ford felt the same way. The 2010 Shelby GT500 gives us an extra 225. Gee, ummm, thanks!

Goodyear, the supplier of an all-new Eagle F-1 Supercar tire is probably likewise thankful given the way the latest Shelby can ignite its tires. While we're talking tires, the newest compound and tread pattern improve the mechanical grip of the doughnuts while quieting them down.

Sorry, we're getting ahead of ourselves…

As the afterglow of the 2010 Mustang's Fall introduction waned, the Mustang faithful were stung by the GT's dearth of power compared to the 2009 Dodge Challenger R/T and the 2010 Chevrolet Camaro. With 315 standard horsepower, the Mustang GT got walloped by the R/T's 372 ponies. Even worse, the base Camaro with a 3.6-liter V-6 produces over 300 horsepower. Ouch! The muscle car game is often played by numbers, and Ford was coming up shy.

Jamal Hameedi, Chief Program Engineer SVT explained the 225-horsepower jump from the GT and the big gap between the strongest Stang and the most powerful Challenger and Camaro, "We anticipated supercharged versions of the competition, and this was the power level we felt we needed to deliver." Indeed.

With 540 horsepower at 6,200 rpm and 510 lb-ft torque at 4,500 rpm, all is right again in the Mustang corral. The new Shelby gets its power from a supercharged 5.4-liter overhead cam V-8 with an iron block and aluminum heads. Ford claims the 2010 Shelby GT500 will run 0-60 mph in about 4.1 seconds, through the quarter mile in 12.1 seconds, and top out at an electronically-limited 155 mph. After spending the better part of two days behind the wheel, we can attest to this Mustang's ability to run at a very fast gallop. On a less than ideal day on the drag strip at Infineon Raceway in California, we ripped off high 12-second runs. Given ideal launch conditions and no headwind, perhaps 12.1 would be possible.

The standard six-speed manual gearbox has taller gears in 5th and 6th for better highway cruising. EPA mpg numbers are 14/22 mpg, or about what the much less powerful Mustang GT achieved in 2009. The throws are short and take some muscle, but the new dual-disc clutch is a smoothly-engaging pleasure.

Suspension components are tuned to deal with the 2010 Shelby GT500's power. Changes at every corner and a thinner front anti-sway bar makes the Shelby handle better than the 2007-09 edition (less understeer). Driving on all manner of roads, the suspension is stiff but not punishing. It can soak up bumps and broken pavement better than you might expect knowing that this is the last of the pony cars to use a live rear axle (Challenger and Camaro use an independent rear suspension).

Unlike past versions of Mustangs (think back several generations), the live rear axle would get all excited over bumps, especially when they were hit mid-corner. Only inexperienced drivers were surprised when their steed stepped way out of line. Try as we did, we were never able to make the 2010 Shelby put a hoof wrong. On the race track, driven sanely, the GT500 feels balanced and responsive.

The car can be driven with the throttle, and around the old Sears Point road course, the Shelby proved it could turn just as well as it goes straight. On a lower-speed figure-eight handling loop, we found that GT500 ultimately understeers. The car's uniquely programmed Advance Trac electronic stability control also proved its capabilities on this course. In its standard mode, fun was considerably damped. In sport mode, thresholds are raised enough to allow some oversteer and side slip, but crazy drifts are not allowed. To spin doughnuts or drift (both easy to do thanks to the stable chassis and 540 horsepower), Advance Trac must be completely shut down. Every driver at our press event drivers went faster with the system in sport mode.

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