Ridiculous amounts of power; intoxicating engine note; aggressive styling.
Optional suspension is harsh; interior treatment unimpressive; no telescoping steering wheel.
Subtle isn't a word we'd use to describe the 2011 Ford Shelby GT500. From its aggressive styling to its brash exhaust note and tire-frying performance, this super 'Stang is as subtle as a fluorescent tuxedo. This latest version, however, does receive a few subtle improvements.
The big change is a lighter all-aluminum engine that reduces weight by 102 pounds and also consumes less fuel even as it adds 10 more horsepower. The result: better acceleration, improved handling and no more gas-guzzler tax. The 2011 Ford Shelby GT500 also gains a new SVT Performance package option that includes light yet stronger wheels that carry the new Goodyear Eagle F1 SuperCar tires, a stiffer suspension, a more aggressive axle ratio and a few cosmetic upgrades.
None of these alternatives can match the GT500's enthusiast-only leanings. Limited to 5,500 units, the Shelby is also a bit more special. In terms of a rollickingly good time, the 2011 Ford Shelby GT500 does without a shred of subtlety, one more way in which it differentiates itself from the other cars in its class.
There's a beast lurking under the long, bulging hood of the 2011 Ford Shelby GT500, one that's hungry for pavement and premium fuel. The supercharged 5.4-liter V8 screams with an amazing 550 horsepower and 510 pound-feet of tire-smoking torque. A short-throw six-speed manual is the only transmission offered — good thing, too, since saddling such an engine with an automatic should be considered a crime against humanity. This engine does have a shred of smartness, because a new aluminum engine block replaces the former cast-iron number, and the result weighs 102 pounds less, improving both straight-line performance and cornering balance.
Performance is the name of the game here. Launching to 60 mph from a standstill takes only 4.4 seconds and the quarter-mile arrives in 12.4 seconds at 116 mph. The GT500's brakes and tires are up to snuff as well, collaborating for a very short stopping distance of 104 feet from 60 mph. The 2011 Ford GT500 also handles a bit better than before as well, turning in a slalom run of 68.2 mph and pulling 0.97g on the skid pad.
With figures like these, the Shelby will outperform the Camaro SS and Challenger SRT8 (though the Dodge is surprisingly quicker through the slalom). The Corvette Grand Sport is essentially a dead heat in all of these metrics. With such a high priority on performance, however, the GT500's fuel economy is understandably low. The EPA estimates 15 city/23 highway and 17 mpg for combined driving. Temptation got the best of us, as we only managed 14.6 mpg overall, which was further degraded by a few truly abysmal tank averages of 10 mpg when the car was driven by our more exuberant test pilots.
Numbers can't convey what an absolute thrill it is to tear off a big greasy burnout in the GT500 or pitch the car into a raucous powerslide. It's this type of juvenile behavior that speaks to our primitive brain — the part of our psyche that craves red meat and yearns for stomach-churning thrill rides. When you're in this car, puritanical restraint is required in order to stay within the confines of driving ordinances, since the rear tires break loose with the slightest provocation from the accelerator pedal. Furthermore, the pronounced whine of the supercharger is so addictive, there should be a rehab program dedicated to kicking just that habit.
Before roasting them in plumes of white smoke, we found the new Goodyear F1 Supercar tires capable of keeping the GT500 tracking through turns with precision. The stiffer springs and shocks (part of the optional SVT Performance package) lack a reasonable amount of initial compliance, however, and the chassis skittishness that results requires a high level of alertness when you encounter any bumps while negotiating a corner. Compared to a 2010 Shelby GT500 we tested, our 2011 test vehicle no longer seems able to deliver a graceful arcing drift through a corner and instead seems more prone to snapping wicked loose. For this reason, we suggest the SVT option might be best only for die-hard track-day enthusiasts.
Meanwhile, the 2011 Ford GT500's new electric power-assist steering proves incredibly precise, with adequate levels of feedback, but the steering effort seems a bit too light for a car with such impressive performance. The same can be said for the clutch and brake pedals, but admittedly, these traits serve to reduce fatigue when driving in the confines of the city.
This Shelby GT500's optional suspension greatly reduces overall comfort. Moderate potholes and ruts send wince-inducing jolts through the cabin. Washboard pavement undulations are positively unbearable, making it hard to read distant road signs. On the rare stretch of smooth pavement, the cabin remains pleasantly quiet, with detectable (but not annoying) amounts of wind and road noise. Fortunately, the wonderful noises from the engine bay provide a constant soundtrack when cruising.
The well-shaped front seats serve us well on long road trips as well as short, lively drives into the mountains. A generous amount of padding keeps fatigue at bay without completely numbing the seat-of-the-pants feel. Side bolsters with strategically placed suede inserts keep us securely planted when cornering at the limit. Taller drivers might yearn for a telescoping wheel while trying to find an ideal position, though. The rear seats are much less accommodating, with a distinct lack of legroom that forces polite front-seat occupants uncomfortably close to the dash.
Unlike other modern muscle cars (this means you, Chevy Camaro and Dodge Challenger), the 2011 Ford Shelby GT500 provides a decent amount of outward visibility. The A-pillars are narrow enough to permit a good view toward the apex in a corner and the flip-down backseat headrests allow a fairly unobstructed rearward perspective.
The GT500's gauges are slightly more legible than the thin hieroglyphics found within the standard Mustang, but still put a strain on the eyes. The multifunction display in the center stack is much easier to decipher, but its low placement requires an uncomfortably long glance away from the road. Climate and audio controls are on the small side and not as easy to read or operate as we'd like, but at least the Sync voice activation system largely alleviates the need to fuss with them. The quality of the sound from the upgraded audio system is rather disappointing, lacking clarity regardless of the music source.
The amount of available interior storage might leave some drivers wanting, with a shallow armrest bin and door pockets, a glovebox that's dominated by the owner's manual and cupholders that impede access to the gearshift. The trunk can hold a generous 13.4 cubic feet and the 50/50-split rear seats fold flat to accommodate larger objects, though the pass-through is a bit narrow. It seems the Shelby GT500 is better suited to hauling in the figurative sense.
Design/Fit and Finish
The 2011 Ford Shelby GT500 takes the already aggressive and chiseled body of the Mustang and infuses it with even more attitude. The GT500's nose resurrects the spirit of the original Shelby Cobra roadster with a monstrous ovoid grille split by the front bumper. The lines from the massive grille are continued through the length of the hood, interrupted by a black plastic vent that channels heat out of the engine bay. The tail sports an extended rear wing with the slightest hint of a Gurney flap. Overall, the Shelby has a lower, more predatory stance.
The GT500's interior is pretty much identical to a fully loaded Mustang GT. A few cues like suede trim and some badges help differentiate the Shelby from its twin. Hard plastics abound, but most distressing is the center armrest, which is mostly flat, with unyielding ridges and corners. We are also not fond of the polka-dot pattern on the metal dash trim. All things considered, we think the cabin design and materials fall short of the GT500's $50,000 price of admission.
Who should consider this vehicle
The 2011 Ford Shelby GT500 will satisfy the rare individual who thinks the Mustang GT, Chevy Camaro SS and Dodge Challenger SRT8 are just too wimpy.
The added performance and meaner appearance come at a premium of more than $10,000, though, and that kind of cash can buy a lot of aftermarket hardware. The Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport will deliver similar performance at a comparable price. But the Shelby GT500 still has an undeniable cool factor, with a healthy dose of sinister.
We would, however, steer most buyers away from the harshness of the optional SVT Performance package.