Supercar performance, pleasing handling and ride balance, nice interior.
Weighs nearly as much as a Crown Vic, small rear seat.
You'd normally approach driving a supercharged, 540-horsepower Ford Mustang as if it were the actual reptile depicted in iconic badges all over its body — with a fair measure of caution, lest you irk it and suffer the consequences. In one case, you get injected with poisonous venom in the blink of an eye. In the other, you get spit off the road in the blink of an eye. Either way, it's bad news. However, the revamped-for-2010 Ford Shelby GT500 is actually a charmer when you want it to be, and obediently aggressive when the urge strikes to uncoil your favorite twisty road.
At nearly 2 tons, this hyperactive Mustang is more Clydesdale than quarter horse, but thanks to this year's tweaks to the suspension, transmission and tire fitment, the latest Shelby GT500 is a horse of a different color compared to the previous version. Whereas before it would get tripped up and wallow around when hitting midcorner bumps, it now gallops through them with minimal drama. This increases both the car's composure and the driver's confidence, making for a more enjoyable mount. And of course, putting the crop to this Shelby on long on-ramps or straightaways is great fun, with ripping acceleration that'll put butterflies in the stomachs of unsuspecting passengers and foolish grins upon the face of jubilant drivers.
During our saddle time, we took the Shelby GT500 through the winding roads of Napa Valley and also threw it around a road course at Infineon raceway. Yet even away from the adrenaline-pumping racetrack and the nearly deserted, picturesque two-laners in wine country, the 2010 Ford Shelby GT500 is just as endearing. A supple ride, easy clutch, comfortable seats, a much-improved cabin and coddling features (such as dual-zone climate control and Ford's Sync system) make the speedy Shelby easy to live with. At first, one may balk at a $50,000 price tag "for a Mustang," but take a look at the performance stats. These are numbers usually associated with $200,000 sports cars with prancing horses and raging bulls rather than a coiled-up snake on their snouts.
Under the functionally vented hood, the Shelby GT500 houses a supercharged 5.4-liter V8 that now sports a cold-air intake, a feature that contributes to the 40 additional horses gained for 2010. A revised exhaust with stout 4-inch tips also helps with the power cause. And those pipes sound fantastic, with a hearty rumble at idle and strident growl under hard acceleration that give nothing away to a '68 GT500 KR.
Matched to the powerhouse V8, the six-speed manual features a short-throw linkage topped by an old-school cue ball shifter. The stick's action is so precise that one staffer likened it to a Miata's — high praise indeed. A new dual-disc clutch requires less leg effort to operate.
At the test track, the 2010 Ford Shelby GT500 charged down the quarter-mile in just 12.4 seconds, an effort that simply slays its chief American muscle car rivals, the new Chevrolet Camaro SS (13.0 seconds) and the Dodge Challenger SRT8 (13.2 seconds). And we got that time running against a 14-mph headwind. The Shelby also sprinted to 60 mph in just 4.3 seconds, meaning that, if need be, you could ruin the day of the guy in the BMW M6.
Unlike before, however, the latest GT500 isn't strictly a straight-line machine — it also impressed us when hustling through the turns. With its crisp, well-weighted steering, eager turn-in, flat composure and steadfast stability, the 2010 version of the Shelby GT500 puts the previous one on the trailer. Whereas last year's more stiffly sprung GT500 would wiggle around and skitter off your line in a bumpy corner, this year's takes the bumps in stride without drama, with only the occasional sharp impact finding its way into the cabin.
Adjustable stability control offers a Sport mode that gives skilled drivers a little more leeway before kicking in, allowing tail-out powerslides when exiting corners. The revised Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar tires do their part as they offer an abundance of grip. When they do let go, it's in a progressive, predictable fashion.
Yank the reins back and this Mustang pulls up quickly. A max-effort stop from 60 mph ate up just 106 feet of pavement, while successive hard stops showed no fade, and the pedal controlling those beefy stoppers was easy to modulate.
For such a capable steed, the Shelby GT500 doesn't slug down the oats as quickly as you'd think. Fuel-economy ratings are better than last year (thanks primarily to taller 5th and 6th gears that bump up the highway figure) and stand at 14 mpg city and 22 mpg highway.
Although the front buckets don't have the multitude of adjustments that some full-on sport seats offer (e.g., adjustable side bolsters and extendable thigh support), they're well-shaped and firm enough for proper support on long trips. Beefy bolsters do a good job of holding you in place when pushing this pony in the curves.
The beefy, suede-wrapped steering wheel tilts but doesn't telescope, which wasn't a problem for shorter staffers, but we're not sure how 6-footers would feel (none were present for this test-drive). The backseat? What can we say? It's a Mustang not a Marquis, so kids and shorter adults will be fine, but those taller than 5-foot-5 or so probably won't be happy back there for longer stints.
Given its high-performance capabilities, the 2010 Ford Shelby GT500 provides an absorbent, agreeable ride over ill-maintained city roads and the cabin is fairly quiet at higher cruising speeds.
Like the rest of the Mustang stable, the GT500 features a complete refresh of its audio and climate controls, while maintaining a few old-fashioned touches (like the twist-knob headlight switch) for this old-fashioned type of car. The audio system thankfully retains a pair of simple knobs for volume and tuning, but its dedicated buttons and myriad touchscreen controls (included with the optional navigation system) are designed for the 21st century's digital entertainment options. This includes Ford's excellent Sync electronics interface, which allows easy control of cell phones and iPods through voice commands. The climate controls are simply laid out and easily, umm, acclimated to.
Though we weren't able to run the Shelby through our usability tests (stowage of a golf bag, a large travel bag and securing a child seat), the Shelby offers promise in this area. The trunk rates 13.4 cubic feet of capacity and the rear seat splits and folds down, considerably extending cargo volume.
Design/Fit and Finish
The 2010 Ford Shelby GT500 strikes a happy balance between looking like what we might've drawn in high school study hall (to be that young again!) and a purposeful sport coupe. The styling is retro without looking dated. Car buffs will note that the snake on the grille moved to the passenger side this year (to facilitate the cold-air intake) while the sleeker tail spoiler looks a bit more mature than last year's. The latter, plus a revised front airdam actually reduce and redistribute downforce, which improves the car's front-to-rear balance and thus its handling at higher speeds.
Leather and faux-suede sport seats with a racing stripe down their center highlight the cabin. If it's a bit much for you, the seats can be had sans stripe. Real metallic panels on the dash (shades of 1968), finely stitched upholstery and plenty of soft-touch material throughout give the interior the proper refined muscle car ambiance and banish past Mustangs' el-cheapo interior treatments to the history books.
Who should consider this vehicle
Those who missed out on a new Shelby GT500 KR back in the late '60s?or anyone with a fondness for unabashed, old-school American-style muscle and performance.