by Roger Biermann
American muscle is known for its V8 rumble, brought about by a cross-plane crank configuration. But if you want smoothness, balance, and a screaming V8, a flat-plane crank is the only way to have it all. But if you want more than what a flat plane 5.0 Coyote V8 has to offer, you turn to Shelby in search of the most hardcore Mustang money can buy, the Mustang Shelby GT350. This is the hardcore 'Stang tasked with stepping into the ring with the Camaro ZL1, available only in 2+2 seater coupe configuration and ready to tear up drag strip and racetrack alike. The legacy of Carroll Shelby lives on…
Slip into the manual Recaro bucket seats, clad with simulated suede inserts, and you'll find the Shelby GT350's interior a familiar place. As standard, there's a 4.2-inch center display, and a tilt and telescopic leather clad steering wheel, and it feels almost like any other Mustang. That means slightly clumsy ingress and egress, particularly with the Recaros, and a 2+2 seating configuration with fairly cramped rear accommodation. If you want full leather upholstery, there's an options pack – though you lose the Recaros in the process. Options like dual-zone climate control and an 8-inch touch screen with SYNC 3 are available too.
Opt for the hardcore GT350R, though, and you lose air conditioning, the sound system, floor mats, the rear seat, and SYNC system. It's the price to pay for weight savings and precious split seconds on track, though they can be re-added with an optional R-Electronics package.
Adaptive suspension was previously an option on the GT350, but now finds itself as standard, and the Shelby is better off for it. The ride is composed on just about any road surface, with a smoothness not often associated with cars in this segment. But it's the composure during cornering that is most promising – whether mid corner or in a straight line, bumps fail to upset the GT350's balance. The steering is heavy, perhaps overly so, but lacks feedback and immediacy in its responses. It's still not a bad setup though, just not as good as the GT350R's.
Speaking of the R, it rides on carbon fiber wheels and a revised suspension setup, which feels lighter both in how it carries itself and how it turns – pointing quicker, changing direction more eagerly. Stickier Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires also improve grip levels, as do an assortment of aerodynamic bits and bobs.
The Shelby GT350's heart is its free-breathing 5.2-liter flat-plane crank V8, churning out 526 horsepower and 429 lb-ft of torque regardless of the R denomination or not. The Tremec 6-speed manual gearbox is the only shift option, and rear-wheel drive is the standard. Though redline arrives at 8250rpm, power seems never-ending, and the wailing soundtrack emitting from the quad-pipe exhaust system never gets old – particularly in its loudest setting. Acceleration for the GT350 is swift, 0-60mph in under 4 seconds, with the GT350R shaving a few tenths off that still.
Standard equipment is generous – this is a range topper after all – and includes xenon headlights, keyless entry, Track Apps performance telemetry, and a rearview camera. Optional packages allow for the inclusion of SYNC 3, and heated and cooled leather power-adjustable seats. On the GT350R, the R-Electronics pack adds dual-zone climate, the rear-view camera, SYNC3 with 8-inch touch screen, and navigation. The GT350 hasn't been crash tested, but other coupe Mustangs have, and scored 5/5 stars from the NHTSA and predominantly best-available ratings of Good from the IIHS.
The Mustang Shelby GT350 and GT350R are the ultimate incarnation of what the Mustang can be – a gun brought to a knife fight, and a deft tool of lap-time destruction in the right hands. The duality of sublime daily driver and hardcore track racer is epitomized by the GT350 more so than arguably any other car on the market today.