Big Power, Big Refinement, Big Fun
It is, let's be honest, absolutely insane that Ford is setting this car loose on the American public. The 2013 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 is a tire-pulverizing, tail-spinning menace to society, and the Prius nerds already hate it.
You gotta love it, but the truth is, even we had reservations about the sanity of a 662-horsepower production Mustang, a Mustang powered by the most powerful production V8 in the world. What if it's too dangerous to drive on public roads? What if it only belongs on the track, and even then it scares the bejeezus out of all but the most gifted drivers? After yoga class and a mani/pedi we found ourselves wondering, "Should Ford really build such a beast?"
Well, it turns out our worries were unfounded because the 2013 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 is completely drivable. Pussycat? Not exactly. After all, it'll lay down two black stripes from here to the county line, and won't even break a sweat doing it. But it is far from the utterly unruly beast we expected.
Let's call it a refined beast. Albeit one that can top 202 mph.
Wound up by the Numbers
We try not to get too hung up on numbers, but we're talking 662 hp at 6,500 rpm (on 93 octane fuel) and 631 pound-feet of torque at 4,200 rpm. Those are monster numbers that can't be ignored.
And Ford's Special Vehicle Team (SVT) that built the GT500 didn't just bore the old 5.4-liter out to 5.8 liters and then head out for some beer and chili. The SVT engineers also increased the compression ratio to 9.0:1; added high-lift cams from the Ford GT, a larger oil pump, piston squirters, two 5.0-liter fuel pumps, larger injectors and three quarts of oil capacity; swapped in a 2.3L TVS supercharger; fitted a larger intercooler; and designed a massively upgraded cooling system.
And despite over 100 extra horsepower versus the outgoing GT500, the new car actually sees a 1-mpg improvement in both highway and combined EPA ratings, to 15 city/24 highway/18 mpg combined. Yes, a meaner and greener GT500.
Getting It to the Ground
But harnessing all that power to two rear tires is another story. That's where Ford's new launch control system comes in. It includes a new, easier-to-use adjustable rpm-holder similar to what's found on the Boss 302, but this system goes a step further and actually manages torque to control wheelspin.
We fiddled with different rpm levels to optimize/minimize wheelspin, our best run coming with a 4,100-rpm launch, netting 60 mph in 4.1 seconds (3.8 seconds with a 1-foot rollout like at a drag strip) and the quarter-mile in 12.2 seconds at 121.1 mph.
The tall gearing means it can hit 62 mph in 1st gear and finish the quarter-mile still in 3rd. And the Tremec six-speed manual, which actually now has longer throws in the interest of decreased notchiness, can be balky when rushed. The numbers are quicker than the previous GT500, but only by a few tenths and about 5 mph. True, 121 mph is fast, but is it 662-hp fast?
In the GT500's defense, the testing conditions weren't ideal. We were testing at a crowded event. By the time we did our first run at Atlanta Dragway, our car had already done nearly 20 passes, so the GT500 didn't quite get the numbers we thought it might. Under perfect conditions and the right driver this is an 11-second car, easy.
One thing's for sure, it is durable. Proof? Within about a two-and-a-half-hour window, five Shelby GT500s made 152 quarter-mile passes without a single failure. No overheating, no fried clutches, no broken driveshafts.
That's where things like the new carbon-fiber driveshaft (36 percent higher torque capacity and 14.4 pounds lighter) and upgraded rear axle come into play. Order the $2,995 SVT Track Package and you get an external engine oil cooler, diff cooler and transmission cooler. Everything about the GT500 has been beefed up.
When SVT started development on the 2013 GT500, it took a test mule to the Nürburgring in Germany. The initial feedback said that the car needed a much stiffer front end. SVT completely revised the new car's suspension settings, but then went one better and added a two-mode driver-adjustable damper system from Bilstein. It comes as part of the $3,495 SVT Performance Package that also includes unique springs and stabilizer bars.
It's worth the cash, too. Not only is the Normal setting significantly softer and less jiggly out on the street, but around Road Atlanta the Sport setting proved plenty stiff, even during the deceptive triple-digit speeds you suddenly find yourself achieving entering the course's downhill turns. The electric-assist steering has three modes, but we kept it in Sport where it's nice and precise with good feedback.
We were unable to do instrumented skid pad and slalom tests of the car in time for this report, but we will soon, so check back for an update.
The new Brembo brake package is said to give a 55 percent improvement in fade resistance. The front rotors are up to 15 inches with six-piston calipers. Yet, just as with the 2011 model, the pedal is spongy. This soft pedal was disconcerting barreling toward the first hard braking zone at Road Atlanta, but we soon realized that's just the way these brakes feel. Stand on the pedal with all your might and the car will stop. It just doesn't feel good doing it.
We'll record official 60-0 mph stopping distances soon as well.
Our test car was fitted with the optional leather Recaro sport seats, a $1,595 option. To save weight these buckets are manually adjustable, but we'll gladly put up with that to get their extra lateral support. Other than a few bits of Alcantara on the steering wheel and a Cobra logo here and there, the rest of the interior is mostly standard Mustang fare. That means a now-aging center stack and controls from another era. But in the case of the Shelby, who cares? We're glad SVT put all its money into the car's performance.
It also set about improving the car's sound. SVT worked hard to lessen the supercharger whine and increase the exhaust note, in this case switching to a quad-outlet design. You can definitely hear less intake noise and more exhaust than before, and it puts out a strong, deep growl as you get higher in the revs. Befitting its true dual-purpose nature, the GT500 is utterly subdued when trundling around town at modest revs.
Pricing for the 2013 Ford Shelby GT500 Coupe starts at $54,995, including destination. With the SVT Performance Package, SVT Track Package and Recaro seats, the as-tested price suddenly jumps to $63,080. There's a convertible version, too, which an SVT engineer told us is actually faster around a track than the outgoing GT500 coupe. Damn.
The Shelby Legacy
The 2013 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 is an obvious attempt to be all things to all Shelby Mustang fans — whether it's the Friday night drags crowd, track-day junkies or the guy who just likes to drive around town and show off. It's a jack of all trades, master of none.
Some hard-core enthusiasts might feel a Shelby should sound and act a bit meaner, that maybe this car is — believe it or not — actually too refined. Let them take it to a tuner and have them screw this GT500 up. For us, it does everything it needs to wear the Shelby name proudly.
In fact, we can't think of a finer tribute to the man who created the first Shelby Mustang back in 1965, and who passed away only a little over a week ago. Don't worry, Mr. Shelby, your legacy will live on in glorious fashion as long as the boys at SVT have anything to say about it.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.