By on June 28, 2010

If you read my Mustang GT introduction and Performance Pack on-track test articles, you know that I am an unabashed fan of the 2011 Mustang GT. On a road course, it is very probably the fastest normally-aspirated ponycar in history; it’s certainly the best-conceived, best-assembled, and most satisfying ponycar I’ve ever had the pleasure of driving.

The 2011 Shelby GT500 hasn’t received quite the amount of media attention devoted to its five-liter little brother, but it is packing two significant upgrades. There’s an SVT Performance Pack, which includes larger forged-aluminum wheels, revised suspension settings, a 3.73 axle ratio, and a unique Goodyear F1 Supercar tire. Ford has also taken advantage of a unique “Plasma Transferred Wire Arc” process to create an aluminum 5.4-liter V8 that makes 550 horsepower, ten more than last year’s iron-block monster. The payoff is a 120-pound weight savings.

Lighter, stronger, better-handling. Let’s go to the track.

The GT500 was made to hunt Corvettes on a dragstrip or road course. This image, one of just a few captured by our “Flip” camera before it self-destructed at one hundred and thirty-eight miles per hour or thereabouts before the famous “Kink” at Nelson Ledges Road Course, shows one of the highlights of a dogfight we had with a NASA ST1-prepared Corvette. 440 horsepower at the rear wheels, big Hoosier slicks, and a competent driver. In the end, he wrung out about a 1.5-second-per-lap advantage on us, but he was sufficiently impressed by the Shelby to stop by and ask how it handles on-track.

My answer was, “Very well.” The bespoke Goodyears don’t quite deliver a Hoosier’s worth of grip, but they do have one R-compound-like trait: the gap between squeal and slide is fairly small. I’d require an identical-car test to make sure, but I’m of the initial opinion that they are probably very close to the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup in terms of overall dry-weather performance.

After our exploratory first session with photographer Neil Switzer on-board, the Shelby never again had to yield for anything short of a true race car. Street Corvettes, STis, EVOs, M3s, and the like were mere snacks for the gaping grille. The 2010 GT500 had a far more “pointable” front end than its predecessor; the 2011 offers a similar improvement. Yes, it understeers; every production car does. With that said, it doesn’t understeer much and it more or less matches its five-liter sibling in steering feel and feedback.

Power from the supercharged engine is solid, delivered in unsurprising fashion across a broad band, and very subject to heat soak on our ninety-two-degree Ohio day. The Cobra’s best laps were its first few, before the tires could cook and the brakes could fade.

And do they ever fade. I complained about the brakes in the 5.0 GT not being up to the car’s raw speed potential. These are the same calipers, pulling back the reins on an additional one hundred and forty horsepower. It was necessary to completely change my braking philosophy, often “coasting in” briefly before stabbing the pedal all the way to the floor and over-dialing steering for an initial slowing effect. As a result, the GT500 isn’t nearly as kind to its tires on a road course as the 5.0. A change in pads and fluid would bring the Brembos up to snuff for light track day work, and I’m sure most owners will make the change.

When they do, they will discover what a pussycat the GT500 is on a racetrack. Seriously. I’ve never driven a car with this kind of pace, particularly a RWD-only car, that was so easy to operate. There are no surprises. Nelson Ledges is famous for the washboard surface used for braking after the “Kink”. It’s not uncommon for cars to loop out there with very little provocation, as shown by yours truly below in my NASA Performance Touring Neon:

The Mustang is flawless in this zone despite the solid rear axle. There’s a bit of hop-and-skip, but the rear end never threatens to come around. This is a well-sorted car. We turned AdvanceTrac off from the first session on and never had cause to regret it. The GT500 requires no electronic babysitter; the inherent stability of a big, heavy (though not as heavy as previously) engine serves as the paperclip on the nose of this particular paper airplane, and the well-damped suspension ensures that the body never acquires enough motion above the tires to cause difficulty. A solid throttle foot will assist in turning the car during slow corners but that’s more for show than go.

The GT500 is wonderfully track-ready, but most of them will never see a road course. To display the car in an alternate light, I took it to the ComFest in Columbus, Ohio and exposed it to a crowd of hippies. I would like to tell you that they cheered as I smoked the tires all the way through second gear, a block away from the Natural Hemp Products booth, but the curses and thrown objects seemed rather half-hearted. Perhaps they are Ford fans in the making. The stunning, perfectly tanned young woman who took me in her pedicab from my parking space to the concert area smiled with approval at the SVT-Pack-unique narrow stripes and black wheels, pronouncing the car “kind of neat”. This, from a woman who rides a bicycle for a living.

It’s impossible not to like the GT500, even if you’re a alterna-chick who probably considers the Prius a wasteful use of the planet’s nickel supply. It’s an unashamed love letter from Ford’s SVT division to traditional America, Friday nights, and pretty girls in halter tops reclining against the Cobra-emblem fender. I’d like to own one myself. I’d fix the brakes and see if I could get the “Shelby” crap off the car. This is an SVT product and it deserves to be badged as such. With all respect to the chicken farmer and his long legacy of suing everybody from his friends to his fans, there’s no reason to have the Shelby name on this Mustang. SVT Cobra should suffice.

There is one tiny problem. All the improvements over the 5.0 GT are worth having, except perhaps the supercharged engine. Even with the improvements, the blown 5.4 simply doesn’t shine against the standard 5.0 the way it did versus the three-valve 4.6. My perfect Mustang has all the goodies from the Shelby — the SVT performance pack, the forged wheels, the Alcantara wheel — and a fully-tuned, max-power normally-aspirated V8. No heat soak, no extra weight, no complications. Big V8, revving hard. I’d call it… the Boss.

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21 Comments on “Review: 2011 Ford Mustang GT500...”


  • avatar
    dwford

    The thing I like best about the 2011′s is that Ford finally recognized the importance of under the hood aesthetics. Part of the joy of owning a muscle car is opening the hood and showing off the engine, but the previous Mustangs were very ugly under the hood. Not these 2011′s. Nice job.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Why buy this when a 6.2L Mustang is on the horizon?

    Also, 3.73 is pretty loafy for a performance car.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      I’m not certain the 6.2L fits in the Mustang. From what I understand, it’s a tight fit in the Raptor!

    • 0 avatar
      raph

      Naw the 6.2 Raptor V8 would fit nicely (as does a Boss 429 – See Jon Kasse’s Boss 9)

      http://www.hotrod.com/newsstand/hrdp_0710_fords_experimental_racing_engine/photo_01.html

      This is a Raptor V8 punched out to 7L sitting in a Mustang engine bay. The 5.4 DOHC V8 resiging in there now measures nearly 30 inches wide and from the bellhousing flange to the end of the crank pulley about 25 inches long. If its got a problem fitting could only see it as a length issue (maybe height as well, but I doubt it as Ford could probably design a low profile intake) since the bore spacing is bigger.

  • avatar
    NorthwestT

    I’m growing my mullet back and gonna git me one of these.

  • avatar
    ajla

    If I was lucky enough to have $60K to spend on a car, it would either go to this or the C63.
    _______
    The new 5.0 must be an amazing motor if the one thing you’d give up is the supercharged 5.4L.

  • avatar
    matt

    Hopefully they upgraded the seats. Absolutely zero bolstering in the “regular” ‘Stangs.

  • avatar
    lawmonkey

    Good review Jack. But seriously, it gets tiring keeping up with all the Mustang variants. I wish Ford would trend toward VW and Audi (or even its own D3) as far as using the same platform and under-the-skin bits with differentiated exterior and interior styling. This feels like it could be a successful special model with some differentiation, or at least more special than the equivalent of a few option packages on a normal Mustang. Given the inherent goodness of the GT, having a more exclusively styled model could give more people a reason to pony up the price premium than just having an incremental performance bump.

  • avatar
    Buckshot

    Yawn
    So the Mustang is the eight wonder of the world then?
    If a want a commercial from Ford, i can go to Motortrend.

    Why is it that every other review here is a Mustang???
    This is a niche vehicle that just sells in one country.

    It handles good on the racetrack, but what about that old solid rear axle on real roads?
    On any other road than an even race circuit, you probably need to be suicidal to drive fast in corners.

    • 0 avatar
      srogers

      The Mustang has been worked over and refreshed for 2011.

      It’s a fun and fast car with an enthusiastic fan base and a relatively great history. Why wouldn’t car people want to hear about the new fastest version of it?

      I think that a very small percent of the population is so skilled that a solid axle will hold them back from their potential. It might have a little more effect on the ride on a bumpy road – but if this is of great concern to someone, they probably shouldn’t be looking a pony-car in the first place.

    • 0 avatar

      Mustangs sell, and articles about Mustangs sell just as well. One journalist from one of the buff books told me recently that in 2009, the 9 best selling buff books of the year all had Mustangs on the covers. I make videos on the internet, and anything tagged “mustang” gets twice as many views as anything else.

      It also happens to be really good. You can’t go that fast for $35 grand anywhere besides a Mustang GT. The GT500 is the fastest real 4-seater you can buy in the US for under $100k. And although it has a live axle, it’s the best live axle anywhere, and the Mustang’s competitors have average-at-best IRS systems based mostly on those from outdated sedans. I’ll take the best live axle over an average IRS any day, especially if I’m drag racing, which an enormous percentage of Mustang owners are.

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    Why doesn’t Ford use this platform to make a performance sedan? How awesome would that be? Considering the fact that much of the design could be reused, it should be easy to keep the costs in line. Consider how many Mustang sales are lost to wives who veto such an “impractical” car? Seems like an easy way to pick up sales.

  • avatar
    trk2

    They did, it was called the Lincoln LS.

    Or rather the Mustang was developed from the Lincoln LS platform.

  • avatar
    niky

    And to make matters worse, the LS had IRS, too.

    Nice article. A lot of people are of the contention that no Mustang is capable of racing a Corvette on the track… but just a second and a half off a Hoosier’d Vette? Mad.

    It ain’t what you’ve got, it’s how you use it. And apparently, the Mustang uses what it’s got very, very well.

  • avatar

    CTS V-COUPE for me please…
    http://www.epinions.com/content_515761540740

  • avatar
    Matthew Sullivan

    So all Ford had to do to finally make a Mustang than can beat my 2003 Evo on a road course was give it more than TWICE my Evo’s 271 horsepower? Great job, Ford. ;-)

  • avatar

    “Even with the improvements, the blown 5.4 simply doesn’t shine against the standard 5.0 the way it did versus the three-valve 4.6.”

    Until you throw a smaller pulley on the blower, or better yet, put a Whipple on it…. ;-)

  • avatar
    NickR

    Two things would keep me from getting this over a standard 5.0. One, I am inherently cheap. Two, I have visions of myself saying ‘Really officer? I had no idea.’ over and over again.

    If I overcame those two obstacles, I’d also want to rid it of the Shelby branding. He doesn’t seem like a likable person, and he’s pimped his name waaaay too often for it to have any real cache.

  • avatar
    Z71_Silvy

    For all that money…you can buy a much better car. The GT500 is not very good looking and all it really is good for is straight line drags.

    Yet another half-hearted effort from Ford.

  • avatar
    Power6

    I still don’t like that live axle one bit. But in fairness it seems that any decent handling car with a bunch of horsepower elicits the “it is only good at drag racing” contingent to come out. I saw the same thing when I had my SRT-4, a good handling car and a ball on the track, but based on the low price and perhaps the buyer demographic there is an assumption it is an ill-handling turd with a bunch of horsepower.

    I think Jack has shown that SVT, much like SRT over at Chrysler, turns out some more well rounded vehicles than one might assume.

  • avatar
    fiveliterdave

    I enjoyed reading this older review. I have this IDENTICAL car, and oddly mine was a Ford media vehicle. I have not had much luck tracking down it’s history. So far so good, handles killer and ran 11.91@120 at the dragstrip on stock tires.


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