2013 Ford Shelby GT500: First Drive

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This is insane. Truly. Just a few years ago, it would have been unthinkable. Now it's not just real, it's available from your local Ford dealer, with a warranty. For about sixty grand. It's a 200-mph Shelby Mustang with 662 horsepower.

It's an American supercar for the 99 percent.

It's also, as you'd expect, fun. At its heart, it's still very much a 2013 Ford Mustang, with all of the incremental improvements and tweaks that have been made over the car's model run, plus a whole host of changes to the chassis, suspension, and, front and center, the engine.

The 2013 Shelby GT500's 5.8-liter supercharged V-8 runs at about 14 psi from the 2.3-liter Eaton TVS twin-screw unit, generating that massive 662 horsepower figure along with 631 pound-feet of torque. But that's not the whole story. The large displacement V-8 and supercharger mean there's so much torque available at any given RPM, there's rarely less than 500 horsepower on tap.

Not that you'd necessarily know it from the way it drives around town. This is easily the most docile 600-plus-horsepower car around. A relatively light clutch (pedal effort is about 30 pounds), tall gears, and smooth power delivery make it as easy to cruise from stoplight to stoplight as it is to rocket off toward the horizon. The Bilstein selectable ride suspension offers normal and sport mode settings, and the difference is instantly noticeable. You'll want the normal setting on the street unless you like punishment, but on the track, the sport mode is shockingly capable.

It's so easy, so drama-free, and so simple to drive in part because of the advanced stability control--which will still let you play a bit in its half-off mode--and driver-tunable launch control, which enable even relatively inexperienced drivers to get off the line and around a corner or twelve with minimal issue, and to do it quite briskly.

2013 Ford Shelby GT500

2013 Ford Shelby GT500

Enlarge Photo
For the more experienced driver, completely disabling the traction and stability control opens the door to access all of the engine's ability at any point--and potentially shines a light on any inherent shortcomings in the chassis and suspension. But even with everything off, in the hands of a pro driver, the 2013 Shelby GT500 is remarkably balanced. Very grippy Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar G:2 tires help show off the GT500's excellent dynamics, providing smooth and progressive breakaway at and just beyond the limits, allowing the driver to explore the edge without paying a sudden and massive penalty.

In short, the 2013 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 is an immensely impressive, capable, and outright fast car.

But there's something missing. The mojo. The infectious, addictive character that makes it impossible to step out of the driver's seat on a track day. The sense of anticipation that wakes you up early on a Saturday morning, keys in hand.

It's hard to explain how a really well-executed, high-power, blazingly quick car can come up just a bit short on the fun factor, but the GT500 somehow does. It pains me a bit to admit it, but it's true.

Not that it's not fun--it is--it's just not nearly as fun as you might expect. It doesn't have the magic some cars have. Having driven each of the previous years' GT500s back through 2009, nearly every year bringing significant advances in performance, power, or both, the 2013 GT500 certainly delivers on paper. It even delivers on the track, be it a road course or the drag strip. But it just doesn't deliver a noticeable upgrade in giddiness.

There are a few other areas where the mega-GT500 leaves a bit to be desired, too: the still-just-a-Mustang interior (though at this price point, we don't count it as a fault; it's just reality); the braking at high speeds lacks some initial bite, likely as a compromise for that easy around-town nature, but we'd really like a bit more whoa when applying the stoppers above 130 mph; and the sound, while very throaty and aggressive, can be a bit too much, a bit too loud, unless you're just loping along in high gear; and speaking of gears, the gearing is just too tall.

2013 Ford Shelby GT500

2013 Ford Shelby GT500

Enlarge Photo
If you're making regular 200-mph runs, it's probably just right. Likewise, it's very well matched to the drag strip, requiring just two shifts to get to third gear and trap speeds above 120 mph. But between the GT500's stout 3,852-pound curb weight (or 3,970 for the convertible), and the tall gears, acceleration just isn't the Hammer Of Thor experience you expect. Sixty miles per hour comes in just 3.7 seconds--all in first gear--and 100 mph takes just 7.9 seconds, but the numbers don't relate the experience behind the wheel.

After a couple of days thrashing the 2013 Shelby GT500 on the street, the course at Road Atlanta, and at the drag strip, I came away incredibly impressed at the technical and technological prowess SVT and Shelby have managed to pack into what began life as a Mustang, for a price on par with an upper-mid-range sports car. I even came away with a smile. But I didn't come away wanting to buy one.

Disclaimer: Ford provided transportation and lodging to and around Road Atlanta for this review, including a rather impressive buffet and a modestly-equipped room.

 
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