It was only last year on Inside Line when the Ford Shelby GT500 stomped out wins against the Dodge Challenger SRT8, Chevrolet Camaro SS and even a Hennessey-tuned Camaro cranking out 559 horsepower at the wheels.
And it did it all with a solid axle.
Since then, the 2011 Ford Shelby GT500 has only become stronger. It now offers an SVT performance package with more serious rubber, lighter wheels and a shorter rear-end gear. Still, whether it's a stereotype or bias or whatever, the simple fact is that we've come to expect a certain kind of performance from pony cars.
And the GT500 just didn't deliver.
Rather, it over-delivered. With massive stick, serious brakes, huge thrust, killer sound and speed like we've never before experienced from this breed of car, it was, well, more than just a pony car. It's now a genuinely engaging driver's car — solid axle and all.
Less Weight, More Power
Ford will use large, polysyllabic words like "nanoparticles" and "atomizing" to convince you that the GT500's new 5.4-liter aluminum block is better than last year's iron block. We'll use one simple word: weight. That's because our 2011 model weighed a full 101 pounds less than the last 2010 model we tested (3,800 pounds vs. 3,901 pounds).
The new, lighter engine also benefits from a larger, more efficient intercooler which, coupled with a new 2.8-inch exhaust, liberates 10 additional horses, bringing the total to 550. Torque remains unchanged at 510 pound-feet. It's all lashed to a Tremec TR6060 six-speed manual transmission.
Remarkably, this GT500 also earns higher EPA fuel economy ratings (15 city/23 highway) than the 2010 model thanks to underbody aero changes and the addition of electrically assisted power steering. It's enough of an improvement that the 2011 Ford Shelby GT500 now avoids a federal gas-guzzler tax.
And then, as if all this unexpected excellence weren't enough, the GT500 shot to 60 mph from a standstill in 4.4 seconds (4.1 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip). It annihilated the quarter-mile in 12.4 seconds at 116 mph. Both milestones were achieved 0.2 second quicker than the last 2010 GT500 we tested, proving undoubtedly that the additional power is, in fact, present.
The GT500's short shifter did hang up a bit between gears, adding a tenth or two to our times, but shifts were quick enough to lay down rubber. Still, this isn't the first GT500 we've tested with shifter problems, which makes us question the value of its short shifter.
But the straight-line numbers don't even scratch the surface of the GT500's depth of talent. Its 68.2-mph slalom speed is better than all its competition and 1.6 mph faster than last year's model. And its 0.97g skid pad performance exceeds even that of our oh-so-grippy long-term Dodge Viper, which was tested on the very same surface. Did you hear that? A Mustang just beat a Viper in a performance test.
The new SVT package is a big contributor to the GT500's improved performance. Largely, it's the switch to Goodyear's new Eagle F1 Supercar G:2 tires sized 265/40ZR19 front and 285/35ZR20 rear, which improve the car's track numbers. Stiffer springs and an incrementally lower ride height don't hurt, either. A 3.73:1 axle ratio is also included vs. the base car's 3.55 gears.
Stopping from 60 mph in only 104 feet puts the 2011 Ford Shelby GT500 in Porsche territory despite a pedal that's softer than we would prefer.
Something New, Something Old
So it's somewhat remarkable, then, that this moderately revised über-Mustang is as good as it is — especially when one considers the utter lack of hydraulic assist in its steering system. Electric-assist power steering, after all, isn't anything new. But good electric-assist power steering is rare. Actual, useful feel in an all-electric system is something that's befuddled engineers and journalists alike for years.
But in the GT500 there is harmony. Because pointing the wheel of this machine requires real effort and yields genuine buildup as loads increase, providing a true sense of what's going on at the tire/road interface. It's a discovery that's as surprising as it is refreshing.
Some habits, however, die hard. And no amount of tuning will keep the ass of this otherwise well-tamed snake stuck to the ground when that ground is uneven. Certainly, Ford's SVT team has done an admirable job massaging the live-axle setup. We'll be the first to admit that it's the best tuned live-axle car we've ever driven — if not the best ever sold.
But the right combination of surface irregularities will still occasionally conspire to throw the 2011 Ford Shelby GT500 into otherwise uncharacteristic directional protests. It starts with a sideways hop of the rear end, and if that doesn't convince you to lift, the ensuing axle-bouncing racket followed by an imminent loss of control likely will.
Make It Softer, Captain
Inside, nothing visible is different. The Shelby's finer points include synthetic suede inserts on the seats and steering wheel, its cueball shifter and a general sense of quality and purpose that are a few rungs up the ladder from the standard Mustang.
The bolstered seats still only provide adequate lateral support and are rather soft — perhaps in an effort to cancel the suspension's busy-ness. Whether the GT500's ride quality will cramp your style is probably a matter of how you intend to use the car.
There's no denying that the SVT Performance package impacts the ride quality — Ford says it reduces lap times on a 2.3-mile track by 3.0 seconds per circuit. So if your daily agenda involves more burnouts than hot laps, then foregoing the performance package probably isn't a bad idea.
The Final Word
It shouldn't surprise anyone that the best pony car on the market is also the most expensive. Ford is asking $55,330 for this Grabber Blue 2011 Ford Shelby GT500, including the $850 destination fee. Fitted with the $3,495 Performance package and the $2,340 Electronics package, which includes voice-activated navigation and an internal 10-gigabyte hard drive, this is a pricey pony car.
But the real question isn't whether people will pay $55 large for a Mustang, because they will — especially one that says "Shelby" across the trunk lid. The more intriguing issue is what will happen when Ford inevitably decides that independent rear suspension should be a permanent fixture on the Mustang?
We're guessing the ass-kicking will continue.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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