The last Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 had a murderer’s reputation, eventually borrowing the famed "widowmaker" nickname from Porsche as its supercharged iron block V8 and solid rear axle dispatched careless drivers with a savage, simple fury. So take a look at the spec sheet for the new 2020 model—the most powerful Ford ever from the factory, with 760 horsepower and a 3.3-second 0-60 mph time—and you might think we've got another serial killer on our hands.
The 2020 GT500 fits the deviant profile, its 5.2-liter supercharged V8, dual-clutch transmission, extensive aero work, and aggressive suspension tune raising an FBI profiler's red flags. Cars & Coffee crowds, beware. But in reality the Shelby GT500 stops short of walking up to the edge of its glass cage and whispering "Hello, Clarice." Seven hundred and sixty horsepower has never felt so accessible, and neither has the all-around potential of the current Mustang platform. Yet that newfound balance means this generation's super-Stang loses some of the unhinged character that prompted Carroll Shelby to declare the original 1967 model the first car he was really proud of building.
Progress is a good thing, generally speaking. The 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 will win over some new fans, possibly for life, but believers in the old school will be left wanting.
The 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500, By the Numbers
- Base Price (As Tested): $73,995 ($84,495)
- Powertrain: Supercharged 5.2-liter V8 | 7-speed dual-clutch automatic | rear-wheel drive
- Horsepower: 760 horsepower @ 7,300 rpm
- Torque: 625 pound-feet of torque @ 5,000 rpm
- 0-60 MPH: 3.3 seconds
- Top Speed: 180 mph (limited)
- Curb Weight: 4,171 pounds
- Quick Take: The Mustang Shelby GT500 is a livable track-rat, but its everyday ease masks the character that made previous generations great.
On the Road, It’s Just a Mustang
Blindfolded, you could slide into the GT500’s interior and be almost unaware you’re in something other than a base model Mustang. Replete with semi-soft plastic surfaces, faux leather and Alcantara, fake chrome or brushed aluminum trim pieces, Ford’s Sync infotainment, and HD gauge cluster display are all carried over from a run-of-the-mill ‘Stang. Look closer and a collector plate adorning the dash, an unusual-looking rotary transmission dial, and a pair of optional race-spec Recaro seats set the stage for the Shelby.
There’s nothing particularly wrong with these humble guts. The heavily bolstered thrones are comfortable and everyday tasks—or an impromptu cross-country trip for a good New York City bacon-egg-and-cheese sandwich—are well within its purview. Score one for balance.
At juridicial speeds, the GT500’s conventional character carries on. Normal Mode relaxes the electric power steering’s resistance and the adaptive MagneRide suspension is almost McLaren-esque in its surprising softness—your coffee and fillings are both safe. Likewise, that supposedly hellacious 5.2-liter supercharged V8 barely burbles above a whisper.
There’s zero sense that 760 irate horses are straining breathlessly at the gate, little hint of the 625 pound-feet of belly-twisting torque under normal throttle loads. Ford’s seamless Tremec-sourced 7-speed dual-clutch transmission—the only transmission available and a segment exclusive—is partially to thank here, delivering 80-millisecond shifts and keeping the V8 revving scarcely above idle when left to its own devices.
So does it matter that the serenity, comfort, and daily driven ease on display here don't line up with the reputation of a big, bad snake? Are GT500 customers willing to fork over $73,995 for something that doesn't ooze power and unbridled charisma below 50 mph? The bulging, hatcheted hood and fixed rear wing are certainly dramatic touches. But considering the heritage behind the name, there's almost too much Avis and not enough NASCAR in the driving experience around town. Fortunately, the traditional derangement returns when you put the 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 on a track and start banging off curbing and blitzing 1,320-foot strips.
On Track, It’s a Predator
Ford engineered the GT500 to dominate all, whether on the street, track, or drag strip. With free reign over Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s drag strip and road course to conduct a thorough shakedown, and someone else's tires to burn through, we found it to be a performance powerhouse with a few caveats. Don't get us wrong—this is the most capable Mustang ever made, and LVMS’s 2.4-mile road course is a perfect place to display its true athleticism. Pop the car into Track Mode to stiffen the suspension, increase steering resistance, throw open the exhaust, and switch off traction control, and only lightning travels faster through a chicane. Turns fall with such vengeful quickness you’ll think each killed the GT500’s father. Schumacher-level skill isn't necessary to wrestle this Shelby around a track; the closest experiential analog is the Nissan GT-R's clinical performance.
Counterintuitively, where skill is helpful is in a straight line. Ford claims the GT500 is capable of clipping 60 mph in 3.3 seconds and a quarter mile in just 10.6 seconds. This is achieved with the optional Michelin Pilot Cup 2 tires and a brief dance involving Drag Mode (which stiffens the front suspension and softens the rear to get the tires to hook harder), launch control, and speedy dual-clutch shifts. But that wasn't our experience on the drag strip. There's a noticeable delay between releasing the brake and the car surging forward, and our reaction times on four runs using LVMS’s Pro Tree Light help illustrate the issue.
The first pass saw a 1.025-second reaction time off the line as the pause caught us off guard. Two more passes trying to finesse it saw that reduced to 0.787 and 0.766 seconds respectively. A final pass sans launch control yielded a 0.520-second R/T, an 11.463-second quarter mile, and a trap speed of 130 mph—our best of the day on all counts.
A software update could probably fix the gap, and mechanical faults end there. But something else gnaws at the experience—between the blisteringly quick dual-clutch doing all the shifting, the lateral grip of the tires and chassis, the haste at which you’re able to throttle out of a corner, the stomach-clenching six-piston Brembo brakes, and how easy it is to put it all together, you might as well be riding Space Mountain in the Mustang Shelby GT500. In other words, you’re not the hero of the story.
In looking for balance, Ford let the pendulum swing too far towards buttoned-down. You won't see a Ford exec crashing one on an IndyCar pace lap like the Corvette ZR1, for example. To some, that's a good thing. To others, it's a retreat. The barbarism that remains in the GT500 can only be found on the ragged edge, when the tail steps out and the supercharged V8 roars like a lion on the business end of a cattle prod and you start driving like the world depends on it. But hiding that character at such an extraordinary level makes it mostly inaccessible.
A Snake with Ground-Down Fangs
Lightning bolt-fast with an animalistic V8, a snappy dual-clutch gearbox as quick as any PDK, and over 700 horsepower flowing to the rear wheels, the 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 is as close as the Blue Oval will ever come to a modern Porsche 911 fighter. It's not quite a widowmaker, though, and it doesn't feel like a GT500 through and through. Relegated to a world of speed limits and ever-present police, it might as well be a $35,000 GT. From behind the wheel, practically nothing sets it apart from its base-spec brethren apart from the view out over that bulging hood. And on track, driving skill is almost inconsequential unless you're running at the limit
The 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 may be practically perfect in every way, but who ever bought a Mustang for its Mary Poppins-perfection? People buy Mustangs because they’re brash, gasoline-swilling slabs of American distillate flipping the bird to pearl-clutching decency. Besides, Ford already built a European-stomping ‘Stang, the sharp-handling GT350R.
Carroll Shelby used to say his favorite car was the next one he was going to build. Maybe the next Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 will bring back that homicidal character.