When you want to spend around $100,000 on a car in Europe, few ideas are dumber than buying a pickup truck. Except for this one.
Six-hundred-and-sixty-two-horsepower. Live rear axle. A nearly two tonne curb weight. That sounds like something that belongs on a dragstrip. The problem is, we have no dragstrips in the Czech Republic. What we do have, though, are twisty roads. And, being a not-exactly-filthy-rich-postcommunist-country, they aren’t in the best condition. In fact, they’re a lot like Michigan or Britain’s roads. You want something like a hot hatch, with lots of compliance and suspension travel.
But muscle cars seem to have a cult following here. The owner, a young man called Honza (that’s Jack for you Americans), drives a diesel Mercedes as his daily vehicle. He bought the Shelby after a long line of fast motorcycles, but he isn’t some crazy US-car loving freak like me – he also looked at Porsches, a GT-R and even a Ferrari. The GT500 grabbed his attention because of its bang for buck. Even at about $100,000 at one of our grey-market importers, it’s tough to beat.
When I got the chance to review the car and shoot a video with it, I was of course thrilled. But, strangely, it wasn’t the notion of driving a 600+ car that interested me the most. What I was most anxious to know, was how a Mustang drives on local roads. This was something I was dying to know since I drove a Boss 302 on an improvised autocross track. I wanted to know whether my feeling that I should buy a current-gen Mustang as soon as they get cheap is right, or whether I end up disappointed, like with the Chevy Suburban.
Before even delving into the performance side of things, I was struck by how practical the GT500 is. The trunk is huge for a car this size, easily dwarfing the Camaro’s puny cargo compartment. Honza’s 5’10 girlfriend folded herself neatly into the rear seat without complaints.
Not even five minutes later, Honza asked me whether I feltthe live rear axle bobbing around, as we rounded a left-hand bend.When I asked how fast we’re going, the answer was not the 110-115mph I was estimating, but 150. And yes, the car really doesn’t feel as planted as the European competition at these speeds, although it’s very clearly capable of being driven in such way.
Finally, I got to drive. Since this was part of a video shoot, it was mostly driving to and fro at 20 to 30mph, doing awful lots of three-pointed (sometimes more-pointed) turns in tight places.And its civility continued to impress me.
As long as you don’t have too heavy of a right foot, it drives like a very smooth, solid grand tourer. And it’s just a tiny bit harder to handle than your parents’ Ford Focus – the clutch is a bit heavier and its action a tad too sharp, the shifting is slightly heavier, and of course, the car is big and kinda hard to see out of. But you could drive this car in traffic, every day, without complaints.
Even on large wheels, and with stiffer Shelby suspension, the car is still quite comfortable on the broken pavement. Or maybe not comfortable, but definitely bearable. It’s no Town Car, but a ride on a backroads won’t send you to your dentist.
However, I could’ve expected this. After all, it’s just a Mustang. A fairly big American coupe for the masses. It may be a Mustang with an ungodly engine and fat wheels, but it’s still a Mustang. And being comfortable enough will not make it worthwhile to own in Europe all by itself. A $100,000, 662hp automobile should better be fun. And here, the GT500 can run into a bit of trouble.
Czech roads are nowhere as tight as French or British ones, but they are still tight. And twisty. Driving fast in the hairpins with a Shelby is not exactly good idea – send it sideways (which should be easy with all that horsepower), and you’re at risk of hitting the trees on both left and right side of the road, at once. On the other hand, a 5-series BMW is even larger than the Mustang, and no one finds it too big for EU roads.
The main difference between the Shelby and BMWs or Audis is not the size. It’s the strange squishiness, a slight hint of instability of the suspension. With the Mustang (and I felt the same while autocrossing the Boss 302), you never feel totally in control, and the car never feels totally planted. I know that the Boss should be able to take on the BMW M3 on the track. And I guess the GT500 will at least come close, if it doesn’t beat it as well. But here, on those roads, in my hands? No way. I’ve driven a BMW 335i (F30) here, and I know it would dust the Shelby.
In a BMW, or anything similar, it’s awfully easy to go fast. Those cars feel stable and planted and surefooted. They don’t talk to you about their insecurities, they just go like hell, and don’t bother you with it. You can tackle a sweeping backroad corner at 100mph with the 335i, and never think twice about it. The Shelby would probably be able to keep up – but only if you got balls, because it does let you know how fast you’re going.
I couldn’t really find out what it feels like on the limit – I’m not that good, and the owner is not that generous. But at those maybe 70% I could try, the Shelby already started to feel “exciting”, while BMWs and others pretty much feel like nothing’s happening up until some 90%.
Some of you may take it as a criticism against the Shelby. And from a certain point of view, it can be – if you want a car that’s easy to drive fast, this is not the one. But driving really fast on public roads is dangerous and expensive business. What most of us really want is the feeling of speed. The notion that you have a machine to handle and that you have to work for the speed. And the Mustang gives it to you in spades.
The only problem is the power. In twisties, even half throttle is a bonkers idea. In the first hour or so of driving, I never even heard the supercharger whine – I didn’t have the space necessary to step on it and run it at more than maybe 3000 rpm. Only later, when we got to the faster roads with some straightaway sections, I had a chance to make a few full-throttle runs. Maybe five or six seconds a time, with the speedo running up to some 100 – 110mph. In those moments, I rejected my previous idea that 662hp is simply too much. It isn’t. It’s wonderful. Even for those short blast.
But to really enjoy the car, to be able to really rush it on backroads, the Shelby is too much. As Jack wrote, you have to feather it all the time even on the track. On B-roads, it’s dangerous to even look at the accelerator the wrong way. The rush from flooring it is wonderful, but also terribly short.
So, would the Boss be the right choice for European buyers? I don’t think so. Maybe if you live in Germany, or Spain, or anywhere else with new, high-quality roads. Otherwise it’s too hard, too sporty for the broken roads. No, I suspect that the best Mustang for European roads will be the 5.0 GT Performance Pack. Those great Recaros will keep you in place, the large brakes will be very needed on our roads, and the lesser engine will actually make the car more fun.
I would even go further and suggest that the best Mustang for Europe may actually be the V6, but there’s still the fact that it’s a V6. Owning an American car in Europe sort of requires for it to have a roaring V8. Otherwise, the V6, with its lighter weight and better balance, may very well be the best Mustang for an European. I will have to borrow one to find out.
Until I drove the Shelby, I thought that the IRS suspension of the 2015 car will be a vast improvement of the car, making it really usable in Europe. Now? I’m not so sure. I think that the 2015 Mustang Ecoboost will be a great car, and will work on European roads quite well. But I’m a bit worried that it may be much closer to the modern BMWs than to this Mustang.
@VojtaDobes is motoring journalist from Czech Republic, who previously worked for local editions of Autocar and TopGear magazines. Today, he runs his own website, www.Autickar.cz and serves as editor-in-chief at www.USmotors.cz. After a failed adventure with importing classic American cars to Europe, he is utterly broke, so he drives a borrowed Lincoln Town Car. His previous cars included a 1988 Caprice in NYC Taxi livery, a hot-rodded Opel Diplomat, two Dodge Coronets, a Simca, a Fiat 600 and Austin Maestro. He has never owned a diesel, manual wagon.