2011 Ford Shelby GT500: First Drive

The Shelby GT500 is too much car for not enough man

2011 Ford Shelby GT500: First Drive

The Shelby GT500 is too much car for not enough man. OK, depending on who you are it might actually be the right amount of car. Heck, if you’re Brandon Davis, who clinched last year’s World Challenge championship in a Mustang Cobra, it might not be enough. But for mere mortals, it’s a monstrously powerful and frighteningly fast machine.

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FAST FACTS

1. For 2011 the Shelby GT500 now weighs 102 lbs lighter, mostly due to the switch from an iron block 5.4L V8 to an aluminum one.

2. Power is now rated at 550-hp with 510 ft-lbs of torque, easily enabling a low 4-second 0-60 mph time.

3. An SVT Performance package adds staggered 19-inch front and 20-inch rear forged aluminum wheels, Goodyear Eagle F1 SuperCar G: 2 tires, a 3.73 rear end, plus a stiffer and lower suspension.

4. Pricing now starts at $48,645 – just slightly more than a 430-hp Corvette.

That’s not to say the GT500 is an unwieldy performance monster. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. It’s nothing like an early Viper or original Porsche Turbo, vehicles that essentially had too much power for not enough car. Sure the GT500 has tremendous amounts of horsepower – 550 to be exact – but the rest of the car is not outmatched by the big supercharged V8 – which is quite a feat of engineering.

CUTTING WEIGHT WHERE IT COUNTS

The main reason for this is found under the hood. No, it’s not the addition of 10 horsepower. If anything, that’s only going to make the GT500 even harder to control. The biggest change for 2011 is the use of an all-new aluminum block 5.4-liter V8 – rather than last year’s iron block.

For 2011 the entire Mustang lineup has received a massive update. Sure the cars look mostly the same as last year, but the V6 and GT get all new engines and roughly 100 more horsepower each. By comparison, the Shelby’s added 10 is insignificant. But what the aluminum block does is drop over 102 lbs of weight from the super sports car – where it counts.

At 3,820 lbs it’s not what we would call a lightweight, but for some American iron (sorry, aluminum) that’s impressive. To put it into perspective, the current BMW M3 makes 414-hp and weighs roughly 3,700 lbs.

SVT TRACK PACK A MUST-HAVE

The GT500 now offers a more ideal 56/44 (front/rear) weight distribution and during our test at Calabogie Motorsports Park, it proved surprisingly good. To be fair, our test car did come with the SVT Track Pack, which includes staggered 19-inch front and 20-inch rear forged aluminum wheels with grippier Goodyear Eagle F1 SuperCar G: 2 tires, plus a stiffer and lower suspension.

In high-speed corners it feels incredibly well planted, begging to be tossed in with even more speed. Here the lowered suspension, (11mm up front and 8mm in the rear), makes a big difference.In the slower corners we were shocked at the lack of body lean, the new suspension really helping in this matter too, with front springs that are 20.5 percent stiffer and rear springs that are 9.5 percent stiffer.

Also aiding the new suspension are plenty of structural reinforcements for the chassis, which Ford says results in a 12 percent improvement in overall rigidity.

Along with the reduced weight out front, traction in the corners gets added benefits from the SVT package thanks to even wider front tires. Grippier rubber alone will make a difference, but adding a width size from the factory 255/40/19s to 265/40/19s also helps. Plus, those light-weight forged SVT wheels each weigh a few pounds less, cutting even more girth from the nose.

All these adjustments add up and now, driven properly, understeer can be avoided. Besides, with 550-hp, you’re more likely to encounter slap-you-sideways amounts of oversteer. That being said, with wider front tires we could also use some meatier slicks out back. The 285/35/20s do a fine job, but with 80 percent of the car’s 510 ft-lbs of torque available from 1,750 rpm, the GT500 requires a feather-light foot.

TRACK CAPABILITIY EXTENDS TO STEERING AND BRAKES

The most popular form of motorsports associated with the Mustang is undoubtedly drag racing. Sure the GT500 will haul to 60 (in a tick over 4 seconds) and burn down the quarter mile, but it’s obvious that Ford engineers have designed the GT500 for lapping days on a road course.

Further emphasizing that point are the car’s steering and brakes. For 2011 the GT500 now uses an electric power steering setup and its actually quite good. We say actually because most modern systems, while decent, still aren’t quite up to delivering the sort of steering feel and reaction as a conventional hydraulic unit. Whether you’re just adjusting the wheel by a few degrees to carry speed though a fast kink, or you’re dialing in all sorts of angle for a tight low speed corner, Ford’s EPAS system is light and direct – and thanks to all those improvements the car follows its front wheels like it should.

As for the brakes, they continue to be phenomenal and perfectly capable for this big American machine. With the stickier tires in the Track Pack, Ford claims a 7 percent improvement in 60-0 braking distance – which is incredible considering last year’s model would easily do it in under 110 feet.

Another testament to the GT500’s road racing intentions is the fact that Ford designed a new radiator system to deliver 40 percent better cooling – ensuring the blown V8 stays at maximum operating potential.

Watching other Shelby’s whip down the front straight at the track you’ll be compelled to duck, with the blower’s whine preceding the roaring exhaust like an incoming missile. Once it passes, however, you’re left with a booming roar that makes the GT’s 5.0-liter V8 sound high-pitched in comparison.

NOT QUITE PERFECTION

But with so much focus on this being a track-capable car, there’s still room for improvement. For starters, the pedals aren’t great for heel-toe shifts – even with this driver’s big 13s. The gearbox isn’t the best either. While the throws are nice and short, for such a track-focused car , we’d like smoother shifts that take less effort.The current setup in the GT500 is more typical of American cars of yore. Normally we’d let that slide, but considering how absolutely amazing the rest of the car is, and how much it costs, we’re really looking for Ford step up its “racing ergonomics.”

ON THE STREET

Supportive on the track with a decent amount of side bolstering, the GT500’s seats also make for a pleasant drive on the street. They’re soft to sit on and beautiful to behold. The driving experience itself is actually quite civilized – when you want it to be. Even with the lower and stiffer SVT suspension we didn’t find it harsh.

With the new changes for 2011, Ford is also boasting improved fuel economy. We know owners probably think they don’t care, but not having to fill up as often is always an added bonus. The new numbers go up a tick in each category, now rating 15/23 mpg (city/highway). But the best part is, this now means the dreaded gas guzzler tax no longer applies to the Shelby GT500.

THE VERDICT

Priced at $48,645 (although you really should add in the 3,495 SVT package) the GT500 represents an outrageous performance bargain. That’s just slightly more than a base Corvette – which only has 430-hp. And while it does carry the stigma (if you can call it that) of still being a Mustang, this is far more than just a Mustang.

The weight and handling improvements made to the 2011 Shelby GT500 make for an incredibly capable track machine. Dare we say, too capable? As we said before, it’s too much car for not enough man. The GT500 can now be driven with finesse and even operated at its limit – if you’ve got the skill and the guts. No longer can owners complain that this horse is just too wild. The 2011 Shelby GT500 is now up to the task and boasts capabilities that stretch beyond the limits of most anyone who will ever drive one.

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2011 Ford Mustang GT: First Drive
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