Full 2009 Ford Shelby GT500 Review
What's New for 2009
Changes are light for the 2009 Ford Shelby GT500, with standard satellite radio being the only addition.
Back in 1967, the Shelby GT500 was the most powerful Mustang to date, with 360 horsepower. This iconic pony car, along with its less powerful GT350 stablemate, was renowned for its snarling performance and distinguished by its wide body stripes and strip-style taillights borrowed from the Mercury Cougar. Years later, the GT500 would make a pop-culture comeback, starring as Eleanor alongside Nicolas Cage in the remake of Gone in Sixty Seconds.
Now the GT500 is back, and this time it has an equal amount of hp to back up that number. The 2009 Ford Shelby GT500 is a true embodiment of its illustrious forbear, with retro styling and an even more retro overall character. Like those muscle cars of yore, this car is all about laying as much power to the pavement as possible, with going around corners a secondary concern.
Those 500 horses are generated by an engine derived from Ford's future-classic GT supercar. Differences include a wet-sump oil system (versus race-oriented dry-sump), a cast-iron block (instead of aluminum) and a "Roots-type" supercharger (instead of an Eaton "screw-type" with 13.5psi). The result is an engine that's not as powerful or free-revving -- but its gruffer classic muscle-car character is certainly in keeping with the GT500's mission.
And that mission is obviously to go fast, obliterate tires, embarrass obstinate WRX drivers and make raucous noises more in line with an Albertosaurus than an automobile. On those counts, mission accomplished. This is truly a bad-a… er, nifty car that can rip from zero to 60 mph in 4.6 seconds and make the quarter-mile disappear in 12.8 seconds.
Unfortunately, also like those muscle cars of yore, the 2009 Shelby GT500 isn't that keen on going around corners. Ford did wonders with the antiquated solid-axle rear suspension in the Mustang GT, but 300 hp is a heck of a difference from 500 hp. Factor in the extra weight up front added by the GT500's motor, and the result is a chassis not entirely suited for carving up a twisty road. The heavy front end and tire-smoking rear-wheel drive produce odd driving dynamics, with understeer correction often resulting in wicked oversteer. The less rigid convertible in particular is a mess of body quivers and odd responses.
In other words, there are more refined coupes and convertibles available for the same amount of money. The BMW 335i, for instance, accelerates to 60 mph only a few tenths of a second slower than the mighty GT500. The most obvious competitor, though, is the new Dodge Challenger SRT8 -- it's more refined, almost as fast and less expensive to boot. But we have a sneaking suspicion that most GT500 enthusiasts would buy this Mustang for its distinct brand of muscle-car roots, muscle-car speed, muscle-car sounds and muscle-car looks -- nothing else matters. The 2009 Ford Shelby GT500 most likely represents the modern-day incarnation of a boyhood fantasy -- albeit now with the hp to back up that number.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Ford Shelby GT500 is a high-performance variant of the Mustang. As such, it seats four and is available in coupe and convertible body styles. The GT500 comes standard with 18-inch alloy wheels, high-performance Goodyear F1 tires (255/45 front and 285/40 rear), cruise control, hood-mounted heat extractors, a front air splitter, a ducktail-style rear spoiler, air-conditioning, leather-upholstered sport bucket seats with Cobra logos, a power driver seat and a 500-watt stereo with CD changer and satellite radio. The GT500 convertible also comes with a power-operated soft top. Both the GT500 coupe and convertible have "GT500" side stripes, while the coupe also has racing stripes over the nose and tail. Ford offers a stripe-delete option for buyers who prefer a less ostentatious look.
Options include xenon headlights, a navigation system, an upgraded sound system, multicolored interior lighting and a premium interior trim package that includes a leather-wrapped dash top, upgraded door panels, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and sport pedals. A sunroof is available on the coupe.
Powertrains and Performance
The rear-wheel-drive Shelby GT500 is powered by a 5.4-liter supercharged V8 that produces 500 hp and 480 pound-feet of torque. A Tremec six-speed manual is the only transmission available. In performance testing, the GT500 coupe went from zero to 60 mph in an impressive 4.6 seconds and yielded a 12.8-second quarter-mile time. The convertible did the same tests in 4.7 seconds and 13.1 seconds, respectively. Fuel economy is rated at 14 mpg city/20 mpg highway and 16 mpg combined.
With the huge disc brakes, brake fade is a non-issue and stopping power is amazing for such a heavy car -- a stop from 60 mph takes a relatively short 116 feet.
The GT500's Brembo brakes feature four-piston calipers and 14-inch rotors up front; and two-piston calipers and 11.8-inch discs in back. Also standard are ABS, traction control and front-seat side airbags. Stability control is not available and there is no spare tire, just a temporary inflation kit. Although the specific GT500 model hasn't been crash tested, the Mustang upon which it is based received perfect five-star ratings from the government for frontal-crash protection and front-passenger side protection. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety testing, the Mustang convertible received the second-best rating of "Acceptable" in the frontal-offset test, while getting the top rating of "Good" in the side crash test.
Interior Design and Special Features
Like the Mustang, the GT500 was designed to mimic the dual-cowl cabins found in its 1960s forebears. However, those classic cars didn't have an abundance of rock-hard plastics and other unpleasant materials that ultimately make the GT500 feel very cheap. The rubber-trimmed metal hand brake feels like it belongs on a John Deere grain harvester. The Shelby does boast some special attributes, like Cobra seat logos, more aggressive side bolstering and red stitching. Otherwise, you'll have to opt for the premium interior package (which includes a leather-trimmed dash top) to avoid the straight Mustang cabin experience.
If you can ignore the industrial interior trappings, the GT500 does feature comfy seats and a decent amount of cabin space given its sport coupe body. Trunk capacity measures 12.3 cubic feet in the coupe and 9.7 in the convertible.
With more power than any of the revered Shelby Mustangs of the 1960s, the 2009 Ford Shelby GT500 offers performance that's nothing short of intoxicating. Just as its specs suggest, the GT500 lunges forward with exotic-car-like verve when you boot the throttle. Gearchanges are positive and crisp, and the overall driving experience can be either civilized or brutal, depending on your mood and how quickly you move your throttle foot.
On most roads, the GT500 is predictable and easy to drive, although aggressive driving through twisty roads will upset the car due to the antiquated non-independent rear suspension. On the convertible, this is exaggerated thanks to the substantially less rigid body structure -- through turns and choppy pavement, the drop top tends to jiggle, shake and shudder like Dennis Franz moonlighting on "Dancing with the Stars." Also, the GT500's nose-heavy weight bias and abundance of rear-routed power contribute to an odd dynamic sensation that can best be described as "pushy loose."