2011 Ford Shelby GT500 Convertible Review

The GT500 Convertible may be perfect for fun-in-the-sun, but it’s hardly a true performance machine

2011 Ford Shelby GT500 Convertible Review

“Oh Yeah. This will do just fine.” Those were our first words as the cop-magnet 2011 Shelby GT500 Convertible rolled up to the Arrivals area at Detroit Metro Airport.

FAST FACTS

1. For 2011 the Shelby GT500 Convertible gets the coupe’s suspension upgrades and is available with a Shelby Performance pack including even stiffer springs and shocks, staggered 19 and 20-inch forged wheels, Goodyear Eagle Supercar G.2 tires and a 3.73 rear axle ratio.

2. Like the coupe, the drop-top goes on a considerable diet for 2011 losing 120 lbs thanks in part to a new aluminum block engine.

3. Pricing for the coupe starts at $48,645 with the convertible priced from $53,645.

Henry and Patrick, SVT’s PR people, handed over the keys, and just said, “Have fun.”

And like that, we were off, the beginning of a 5,000-mile journey, in the most expensive Mustang you can buy. Starting in Detroit, we were to drive to New York City to participate in the Bullrun Rally, a 3,500 mile checkpoint-style rally from New York to Las Vegas over six days. We would see, on our coast-to-coast journey, almost every type of terrain and conditions that the United States had to offer.

The 2011 Shelby GT500 is not radically different from the 2010 model (shown) that it replaces, although it is significantly improved from the 2007-2009 models, which has been described as “a Crown Victoria with a supercharger on it.” The new car is faster, tighter, better appointed, and just, well, better.

NEW ALUMINUM BLOCK HELPS CUT WEIGHT

For 2011, the 5.4L Supercharged V8 is made entirely of aluminum, instead of iron, which saves 120 lbs, right out of the nose. In all honesty, you’d have to drive the ’10 and ’11 back-to-back to really notice, but lighter is lighter and we’ll take it. You may recall that a certain Ford supercar also had a 5.4L aluminum, supercharged engine, but the new engine, though it has the same power and torque output (550/510) is not the same as the Ford GT’s mill.

This new engine is a monster, at any rpm, at any time. With traction control disabled, the GT500 has no problem lighting up the tires shifting into fourth (yes fourth) on a hard pull. Ford has not yet quoted exact acceleration figures, but 0-60 in the low-4s and quarter miles in the middle-low 12s should be no problem for an experienced driver. The sound is nearly perfect, and ranges from a low, even rumble below 2000 rpm to a screaming beast with the right amount of blower whine as the revs start to climb.

HORRENDOUS FUEL ECONOMY

Additionally, this new aluminum engine is (somehow) efficient enough to not get hit with gas-guzzler taxes. Our testing disagreed, and though we were driving significantly faster than the EPA does, we barely saw 15 mpg in the car. During one particularly rapid blast, we burned through the 14.5 gallon tank in just 136 miles. In case you’re wondering, at 155 mph, the Shelby achieves 3.1 mpg. But with those levels of power, seriously, who cares? Under “normal” driving conditions in the coupe we got around 15-mpg.

The only place that we felt the engine fell short was in Telluride, CO, where the 10,000-foot elevation seemed to suck the life right out of the underhood troublemaker, and our ass-dyno told us we were down at least 100 horsepower. Once back below 6,000 feet, the engine felt normal again.

2011 DROP-TOP GETS UPGRADED SUSPENSION

For 2011, the Convertible also comes with the suspension upgrades that it didn’t get in 2010. Originally, Ford thought the Convertible was more of a “cruising” car and not a performance car, so they left the suspension softer for that year. Journalists and owners complained, and so not only did they upgrade the suspension to 2011 coupe-spec, but our test vehicle also came equipped with the Shelby Performance pack, which includes stiffer springs and shocks, a 3.73 axle ratio, and 19-inch front and 20-inch rear wheels with Goodyear Eagle Supercar G.2 tires.

The new tires help the 2011 GT500 coupe shave almost 9 seconds off the 2010’s lap time, and those improvements do translate to the Convertible as well, though we would suggest leaving the Shelby in the garage if you’re expecting rain (which Ford’s SYNC/Navigation system can show you, through its live weather map). The near-race compounds and treading used in this car mean that when things get wet outside, grip is a rare commodity, and if you get stuck in the rain, take it easy, for safety’s sake.

CONVERTIBLE CHASSIS NO MATCH FOR EXCESSIVE HORSEPOWER

Here’s the bad news: The convertible’s chassis isn’t nearly rigid enough to handle the Shelby’s 550 horsepower. Where most of the live-axle’s antiquated handling characteristics are dialed-out in the coupe through suspension and tire tuning, the convertible’s flexible chassis accentuates them, making this vehicle one of the most terrifying cars we’ve ever driven at high speed. Going through a fast bend, we hit a bump, and the back end of the car stepped out what felt like a foot. The GT500 has so much power that it’s very easy to find yourself entering a corner too fast, and the chassis simply can’t keep up. It’s important to note that this seems to be a problem exclusive to the convertible; we didn’t have any problems with the coupe at all.

We also take issue with the brakes: They are the same Brembo’s that are optional on the GT, and they just aren’t enough for this car’s extra 140-hp over the GT’s 412. Sure, if you stomp them a couple of times on the highway, they will slow you down, but they fade quickly when used hard repeatedly. We’d recommend all owners upgrade their pads and fluid at the very least.

COMFORTABLE AND FUN

However, the GT500 is a great car for road trips. Over the course of two weeks, we drove from Detroit, to New York, and then to Los Angeles, the long way. 5,000 miles later, and the GT500 never disappointed in terms of comfort or appointments. The interior is mostly standard-issue Mustang, but the upgraded bits are very nice, and are welcome touches. Alcantara covers the steering wheel, shifter boot, and inner seat bolsters, and the requisite Shelby stripes and Cobra logo run down the center of each of the bucket seats. The real-aluminum “polka dot” dash is carried over from last year, with subtle “GT500” badging on the passenger side.

The seats are wonderful for long trips; this particular author has suffered a burst (L4/L5) disc in my spine, so I know a bad seat when I use one. After 5,000 miles, my back was fine. For most of our journey, we had 3 people in the car, and even our back-seat navigator never complained of discomfort.

The driver inputs in the Shelby are among the best we’ve used, from the short-and-tight shifter, to the perfectly-sized steering wheel with Ford’s EPAS electronic power steering system, and the nearly-perfect pedal spacing that make heel-and-toeing easy with any type of shoes on. Driven back to back with a friend’s E92 M3, the Bimmer felt slushy by comparison.

The shifter, however, doesn’t reward fast shifting, which is strange for a car with such strong drag-racing heritage, so shifts need to be precise and direct at redline. Shift too quickly and the car will reprimand you with a very unpleasant grinding sound. The clutch has a wide friction zone, which makes smooth shifting very easy for all drivers, and at cruising speeds, our passengers really appreciated that.

LIMITED STORAGE SPACE

One area where all Mustangs, not just the GT500, fall short, is interior storage room. This stood out to us so much because of our lengthy road trip, which we’ll admit is more than a little unusual compared to what most folks will use the Shelby drop-top for. The door pockets are very small and won’t hold more than a few papers. The armrest storage console is large enough but if you need to access the USB/12V outlets in there, you won’t want to fill it up with stuff, and if you have a beverage any bigger than a standard can in the cup holders, shifting is a very awkward motion that must be done backhanded. The glove box is small, and doesn’t hold much beyond the owner’s manual. We know that there isn’t all that much more room to work with in there, but we’re always fans of elegant storage solutions, so we’d like to see that improved on the next-generation model.

The trunk is roomy enough, although the tail-lamp design makes the trunk opening rather awkwardly shaped, so large boxes and hard cases (like our camera gear) have to ride in the back seat.

THE VERDICT

After spending two full weeks with the 2011 Shelby GT500, we were truly sad to see it go back to Ford. The car certainly has its faults, but as a tool for putting a smile on the face of anyone who drives it, the Shelby is damn-near perfect. But what about the convertible’s chassis? What would make someone want it over a coupe?

The bottom line is this: The GT500 convertible is great to drive at 6/10ths. If you want a fast, stylish, comfortable cruiser for weekends in the sun and the occasional blast on an empty freeway or a canyon, the convertible is for you. If you’re planning on driving it on a track, or at 9/10ths on anything but a glass-smooth road, you really want a coupe. Trust us.

RELATED READING

2011 Ford Shelby GT500 Review 2011 Ford Shelby GT500: First Drive 2011 Ford Mustang GT: First Drive

2010 Chevrolet Camaro SS Review 2010 Dodge Challenger SRT8

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