2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 First Drive Review: The Snake King Returns

First Drive / Comments

Ford's ultimate Mustang is back and better than ever.

460 horsepower from a big V8 engine in the Mustang GT would be overkill for most people. But Ford knows its customers aren't "most people." Having already brought back the Shelby GT350 name in 2015 as a track-focused model for purists, Ford knew it had to raise the bar even further by bringing back the most powerful weapon in its arsenal, the Shelby GT500. After a six-year hiatus, the new 2020 model is a world apart from its predecessor while still retaining all of its best attributes.

Whereas the old GT500 was built to cruise American highways at 200 mph, this new car is limited to a top speed of 180 mph. That's because Ford hasn't just designed the car to be quick in a straight line on the way to a muscle car show. Instead, the new GT500 aims to be the most track-oriented Mustang ever built. Ford isn't just attempting to take down the Chevrolet Camaro and Dodge Challenger Hellcat with this one - it's going after European supercars. But can it succeed? Ford flew us out to Las Vegas, Nevada to find out.

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Exterior Design: Spread Your Wings And Fly Away

At first glance, it's clear this is no ordinary Mustang. Ford has given the car double the grille opening for better cooling and, of course, the grille prominently displays the 'GT500' name and the signature Shelby snake logo. There is also a bulging hood with functional vents to accommodate the larger, supercharged engine along with wider bodywork to house the massive tires. As with the GT350, the GT500 utilizes the pre-facelift Mustang headlights as the designers felt they worked better with the car's squared-off aesthetic.

Optionally, the GT500 can look even more like a race car with a massive carbon fiber GT4 wing and front splitter wickers. The former is only available as part of a pricey Carbon Fiber Track Package but the latter can also be optioned as part of a much cheaper Handling Pack. The Carbon Fiber Package also includes a set of exposed carbon fiber wheels from Carbon Revolution, which look fantastic and reduce unsprung weight on the car.

Ford offers the GT500 in 11 fantastic colors and four different stripe options. Vinyl stripes can be had for just $1,000 but Ford also gives the option of painted stripes for $10,000. There are truly no ugly color options on this car but our favorite had to be the eye-catching Grabber Lime.

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Engine, Performance, & MPG: Positively Brutal

At the heart of the beast is a 5.2-liter V8 with a 2.65-liter roots-type Eaton supercharger generating a whopping 760 horsepower and 625 lb-ft of torque. For the first time ever, power is sent to the rear wheels through a seven-speed Tremec dual-clutch rather than a traditional automatic or manual. This decision is bound to anger some purists but the result is a 0-60 mph time of just 3.3 seconds and a sub-11-second quarter-mile time. Ford also says this new GT500 has broken the Shelby record for 0-100-0-mph with a time of 10.6 seconds.

The DCT is capable of shifting gears in just 80 milliseconds (in sport mode), which is faster than any human could do rowing their own gears. Hearing a Mustang shift this quickly is a new experience, as manual shifts produce a much different sound profile when accelerating. As an obvious side effect of having 760 hp, the GT500 drinks fuel at a rate of 12/18/14 mpg city/highway/combined.

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Interior Design: It's A Mustang

While the GT500 carries a high price tag, which we'll discuss later, don't expect more luxury than a standard Mustang. The biggest differences you'll spot from a base 'Stang are the lack of a physical parking brake and gear knob - the former has been replaced by an electronic unit and the latter by a rotating knob similar to what you'd find in an Edge. We wish the rotating knob and electronic parking brake freed up more space for storage but both worked without fault. Some might lament the loss of the manual transmission but the rotating knob only needs to be used once or twice for most drives and the gearbox it's connected to is simply fantastic (but more on that later).

Other interior differences include optional Recaro racing buckets, which exist as an option in place of heated and ventilated leather chairs. We found the Recaros to be well-bolstered without restricting movement, though the base seats will likely be more comfortable if you plan to drive the GT500 every day. The Carbon Fiber Package dresses the dashboard with some exposed carbon and also includes the Recaro buckets and a rear seat delete.

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Trunk & Cargo Space: A Usable Track Weapon

Despite being the most track-capable Mustang of all time, the GT500 functions well as a daily driver. Trunk space isn't compromised at all, meaning the GT500 offers the same 13.5 cubic feet of storage found in all other Mustang Coupes. Rear seat space is identical as well, meaning the back is only ideal for children and small adults on short journeys. We don't mind sacrificing the rear seats in the pursuit of performance because they are not very useful to begin with.

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Driving Impressions: Road Warrior, Track Predator

Be it on the road, drag strip, or race track, the 2020 GT500 is the most capable Mustang Ford has ever built. Our day began with hustling the GT500 on the mountain roads outside of Las Vegas. Here, the GT500 demonstrated its competency at taming the animal living under the hood. 760 horsepower seems like an excessive amount for street driving but the excellent traction control and DCT kept us from any Cars & Coffee-style embarrassment. The GT500 possesses European finesse and as a result, never felt scary or stressful out on the public highway. To be honest, having a manual may have been overwhelming to manage so much power.

Despite the dizzying display of speed, the GT500 is no less comfortable out on the road than a run-of-the-mill Mustang GT with the Performance Package. The MangeRide suspension soaks up the bumps well and even with the aggressive Michelin Pilot Sport Cup Sport 2 (which are typically pretty loud), it's easy to have a conversation with your passenger at highway speeds.

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On the drag strip, the DCT showed its greatest advantage. It's so quick, even an inexperienced driver can set a blistering quarter-mile time. We had the chance to run the GT500 three times with launch control set to 1,600 rpm and our best was 11.304 seconds at 127.39 mph. However, we also witnessed a couple of runs in the high tens. To help warm up the rear tires, the GT500 also offers Ford's excellent line-lock feature.

The GT500 impressed out on the road and on the drag strip but much to the surprise of any European sports car fan reading this, the track is where it shined brightest. Here, the car's impressive downforce kept it glued to the road like burnt cheese on the bottom of a frying pan. Despite our best efforts to unstick the car with a boot of throttle, the traction control managed the power perfectly without feeling intrusive. Even now, we can't figure out how 760 horsepower going to the rear wheels mid-corner wasn't enough to break the rear wheels loose. Ford has worked some magic with this car.

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Arguably the most impressive piece of the driving experience is the brakes. Massive 16.53-inch front rotors (the biggest on any production coupe) pair with six-piston Brembo brakes to slow the car down like it just crashed into an invisible wall. Braking can often be the scariest moment on the track for an inexperienced driver but the GT500 stoppers are among the best we've ever tested.

Likewise, the Tremec DCT was rapid, rattling off shifts exactly when we wanted them with no need to take manual control with the paddles. We were skeptical of Ford's decision to not offer a manual but after driving the car on the track, we didn't miss the third pedal. Ford says it calibrated the steering differently on the GT500 but it still felt like the lone weak point to us. It's not bad, per se, but we'd happily trade the three steering modes for just one steering setting with more feedback. This is one area where the Camaro still has the Mustang beat.

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Price & Trims: European Car Envy

Despite its humble origins, the GT500 is no cheap affair. Pricing begins at $73,995, including a $2,600 gas-guzzler tax. There are optional packages you must opt for to get the quickest GT500 possible. The lesser of the two packages is the Handling Pack for $1,500, which includes a Gurney flap on the rear spoiler and front splitter wickers. But if you want to go all-out, the Carbon Fiber Track Package is the big one for $18,500 including 20-inch exposed carbon-fiber wheels, Michelin Pilot Cup Sport 2 tires, rear seat delete, carbon-fiber instrument panel, carbon fiber GT4 track wing, adjustable strut top mounts, leather-trimmed seats, splitter wickers, and a wheel locking kit.

If you don't care about taking the car to the track, the Tech Package costs $3,000 for a B&O Sound System featuring 12 speakers, blind-spot monitoring, heated mirrors with puddle lamps, built-in navigation, and six-way driver's seat with three memory settings. You can mess around with Ford's numerous stripe combinations but we'd keep it simple with the Carbon Fiber Track Package, bringing the price to $92,495. Yes, it's a lot for a Mustang, but when you consider the performance-per-dollar, it's a bargain.

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Verdict: More Than A Muscle Car

Yes, not having a manual is a bit of a bummer and reading about this car isn't going to change your mind on that. But driving it, we couldn't find a single fault with the DCT, so we highly recommend trying one before you finalize your decision. Even if this car can't change your opinion, 2020 is the first model year since 1970 where the GT350 and GT500 will be on sale together and the former comes with a manual only. Both Shelby cars are fantastic but if you want the fastest lap times, the GT500 is unmatched.

The Mustang has been evolving for years and this new GT500 feels like the culmination of decades worth of improvements. This no longer feels like a straight-line car, modified to take corners with competence. The GT500 is a track weapon with the ferocity of a race car and the civility of a road car. Any automaker can simply strip weight out of the car, making it fast on the track but brutal on the road, but that's not what Ford has done here. The GT500 is the best of both worlds and we've never driven a better Mustang.

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