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The 2020 Mustang Shelby GT500 sports supercar specs and performance while the Mustang nameplate keeps the price realistic. (Ford)

Ford’s max Mustang brings ‘world class’ into the sports coupe conversation

More than the latest go-faster variant of Ford’s icon, the 2020 Mustang Shelby GT500 is a refined performance coupe that deserves to be called a supercar.

There’s the old saw about a something being better than the sum of its parts. That phrase applies to the 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 — despite most of its parts being categorically bombastic. Its performance far exceeds any old-school ponycar yardstick, but those expecting a straight-line brute will be surprised. The Shelby GT500’s sublime chassis stands it more in the company of powered-up Porsches than howling Hellcats.   

The supercharged “Predator” 5.2-L V8’s stun-grenade numbers — 760 hp (567 kW) and 625 lb-ft (847 Nm) — might logically be blamed for perpetuating any perceptions of the Shelby GT500 as one-trick musclecar. It’s the “most power-dense V8 in America,” boasts Mustang chief engineer Carl Widman. The backstory is nearly as good as the raw performance.

It was long assumed that the Predator would be a supercharged variant of the heralded and high-revving 5.2-L “Voodoo” flat-plane-crankshaft V8 that debuted in 2015’s Mustang Shelby GT350. Instead, engineers fitted a conventional cross-plane crankshaft and changed nearly every internal component, retaining only the basic architecture from the Voodoo. A chief concern, it seems, was vibration.

The Predator blown V8’s power eclipses the Voodoo by an almost improbable 45% and it develops all that power without 8250-rpm revving, although that aspect of the Voodoo’s performance profile brings its own delights. Instead, the GT500’s supercharged V8 redlines a 7,500 rpm and makes do with a modest 9.5:1 compression ratio rather than the Voodoo V8’s octane-sensitive 12:1. In terms of power peak, however, the Voodoo and Predator are nearly identical: 760 hp comes at 7300 rpm for the Predator and 526 hp arrives at 7500 rpm for the flat-plane Voodoo.

The Eaton-developed 2.65-L supercharger — the biggest one the company makes, Eaton engineers gleefully confirmed — is cleverly fitted into the valley between cylinder banks in an inverted position, with its meticulously-clearanced aluminum lobes and other heavy components located at the bottom of the blower housing to reduce the unit’s center of gravity.

With so much power at your disposal, the Shelby GT500 makes a mile-long backroad straight frighteningly brief, as evidenced by the electronic limiting of the car’s top speed to 180 mph (290 km/h). And this engine makes the 0-60 mph (97 km/h) metric similarly seem almost too short to be relevant, as you hit 60 mph in 3.3 sec. Ford thoughtfully utilized the dragstrip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway to demonstrate to a media group that amateur dragster-journalists could routinely obtain mid-11-sec quarter-mile times with trap speeds exceeding 120 mph (193 km/h).

Conspiratorial in the Shelby GT500’s performance is the Tremec 7-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission — a design similar to the 8-speeder Tremec makes for the 2020 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray and the only transmission available. A launch mode and a dedicated “drag” setting for the chassis (which ingeniously softens the MagneRide magnetorheologic [MR] dampers to maximize rear-tire grip) combine to maximize acceleration. 

Using the GT500 to maybe 70% of its potential on twisting mountain roads, we were 98% satisfied with the Tremec’s decisions on gear selection. There are, or course, steering-wheel paddles to override whenever the driver wishes, but we were plenty impressed with the dual-clutch’s algorithms, whacking in aggressive downshifts during hard braking and blasting thru upshifts quicker than a human ever will.

The only letdown is the spindly drive selector — the same rotary controller found in many of Ford’s workaday models. This highlights the Shelby GT500’s sole debit in the “world-class” stakes: the more-or-less standard-issue Mustang cabin. Like the rotary controller, it leaves one feeling Ford bean-counters had to be thrown a bone or three. 

What lies beneath
All that dragstrip and top-speed business aside, the Shelby GT500 is as much about its chassis as it is its driveline. There are new control arms and upgraded suspension geometry that seems to make a palpable difference in the way the GT500 tracks and turns into a corner. Hard to say what the lighter-weight coil springs contribute to driver sensation, but it can’t be bad.

We’re on the fence about the special calibration for the electric power steering. The Shelby GT500 responds to steering input progressively and predictably, but there’s not enough information from either axle about how much grip you’ve got. The Shelby GT500 steers accurately, and Ford claims it has the most sheer (lateral) grip of any Mustang in history. But we wish its steering communicated more like the Porsche 911 it could beat on any given day.

There will be few complaints about the Shelby GT500’s braking hardware. Ford doesn’t offer carbon-ceramic rotors (a true supercar staple), but we were astonished at the retardation available from the 16.5-inch (420-mm) front and 14.5-inch (370-mm) rotors in good ‘ol iron, clamped by six piston Brembo calipers in front, four-piston grippers in the rear. Engineers said the system offers 25% more thermal-absorption potential than the GT350’s setup; at the Las Vegas speedway’s challenging road course, we tried to make them fade, but the brakes just kept coming back for more abuse. 

Customers who spec their own GT500 (particularly if future collectability is a paramount concern) may feel foolish for avoiding the Carbon Fiber Track Pack, which slathers around a fair amount of expensive weight-saving carbon, chiefly for the 20-inch wheels — each 35 lbs. (15.8 kg) lighter! — and a tacky cars-and-coffee rear wing and some interior trim.

For those who have the means to buy the $73,500 GT500, the Track Pack’s almost felonious (because you gotta have it) $18,500 add-on price helps move this Mustang toward being a six-figures investment. In further defense of the package, it also includes adjustable front suspension and bespoke springs and tuning for the already-delicious MR dampers, all of which amplify the GT500’s brilliant base chassis tune.

To now, we believed the Shelby GT350 and its alluring naturally-aspirated, flat-plane-crank V8 represented the effective limit of what could be done with the S550 Mustang architecture. But the arrival of the Shelby GT500 is a real distraction for those who formerly aspired to the GT350. The new Shelby GT500 is almost 50% more powerful and that’s hard to ignore. What’s even more difficult to disregard is that this newest and baddest Mustang is much, much more than just a big-engine ponycar. It’s a world-class performance car by any definition.

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