Christian Wardlaw | December 11, 2019
Mere weeks before Ford introduced the 2021 Mustang Mach-E electric vehicle to the world, I spent a day with the automaker’s most powerful street-legal car ever: the 2020 Mustang Shelby GT500.
New for 2020, the Shelby GT500 is bred for the drag strip and the track, and is the meanest factory Mustang to ever roll off of an assembly line. The claimed specifications are impressive: 760 horsepower, 625 lb.-ft. of torque, acceleration to 60 mph in 3.3 seconds, a quarter-mile time of 10.7 seconds, and an electronically limited top speed of 180 mph.
Based on the Shelby GT350, the GT500 adds a 2.65-liter supercharger, a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission (DCT), and a full structural, suspension, steering, and braking massage. Line Lock and launch control stand ready to make a novice look like a pro, and drivers can adjust modes for the powertrain, steering, and active exhaust. You can even switch the car to Quiet mode so it doesn’t wake the neighbors when you’re making the Sunday morning run to the local cars & coffee.
For this review, J.D. Power evaluated a 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 equipped with white racing stripes and the Carbon Fiber Track Package. The price came to $93,870, including the $1,095 destination charge. Testing took place in and around Las Vegas on public roads and at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the Ford Mustang Shelby GT500, it is helpful to understand who buys Mustangs, and what they like most and least about their vehicles.
The Mustang competes in the Midsize Sporty Car segment against the Chevrolet Camaro and Dodge Challenger. In the J.D. Power 2019 Automotive Performance, Execution, and Layout (APEAL) Study, the Mustang ranked lower than both the Camaro and Challenger. The Shelby GT500 is Ford’s answer to the Camaro ZL1 and Challenger SRT Hellcat.
Not surprisingly, owner demographics and psychographics are well matched between the three cars, but there are some differences with Mustang owners. The median age of a Mustang owner is 55 years (vs. 52 years for the segment) and median annual household income is $107,051 (vs. $105,910). In terms of gender, 77% of Mustang owners are male (vs. 76%).
Mustang owners are more likely to agree that they avoid vehicles they think will have high maintenance costs (83% vs. 79%), and they’re more likely to agree that a first consideration in choosing a vehicle is reliability (93% vs. 89%). Mustang owners are also more likely to agree that they’re willing to pay extra in order to get the latest safety features (80% vs. 76%).
Owners say their favorite things about the Mustang are (in descending order) the engine/transmission, exterior styling, interior design, driving dynamics, and infotainment system. Owners indicate their least favorite things about the Mustang are (in descending order) the visibility and safety, climate system, seats, storage and space, and fuel economy.
In the sections that follow, our expert provides his own perceptions about how the Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the 2019 APEAL Study.
To increase aerodynamic downforce at speed and to maximize engine cooling, the Shelby GT500 has a different front fascia with larger grille openings and a huge vent in the top of the hood. Upgrade packages add aerodynamic bits and pieces as well as a choice of rear wings and a set of exposed carbon fiber wheels. Paint stripes are optional.
The end result is a mean-looking, purposeful sports car. For a stealthy look, stick with a dark color and skip the stripes, Performance Package, and Carbon Fiber Track Package. If you want attention, the latter package bolts on the carbon fiber wing from the Mustang GT4 sports car. Just add Grabber Lime, Twister Orange, Velocity Blue, or Race Red paint and you’ll have speeding tickets in no time.
In standard specification, the Shelby GT500’s interior is much like that of other Mustangs. You get unique trim, a special plaque, and a revised center console with a rotary transmission dial that controls the DCT. Carbon fiber trim is an option, either with the Carbon Fiber Track Package or without it.
When you buy a Shelby GT500, you’re paying for performance, not a luxurious interior. As such, this sports car is full of inexpensive plastics, and plenty of engine and road roar makes its way into the cabin. But this is to be expected from a car that’s ready to race right out of the box.
Stick with the standard-issue seats if you’re a larger person, because the optional Recaro performance seats are relentless about bolstering your body. They accommodate 5-point racing harnesses, though, so if you’re heading to the track, you’ll need them.
Mustangs do not have accommodating rear seats. Headroom prevents taller adults from riding in the back, which is good since legroom is almost non-existent. Reserve this space for kids or luggage. And note that when you get the Carbon Fiber Track Package, Ford deletes the Shelby GT500’s rear seat in order to save weight.
Heated and ventilated front seats are standard for the Shelby GT500, along with a dual-zone automatic climate control system. In spite of the car’s black interior and the late fall Nevada heat, the Shelby GT500 kept me cool – even when driving on the track.
The controls, however, do leave something to be desired. The chrome temperature rocker switches ought to be knobs, and the function buttons are all crammed together low on the center of the dashboard where they’re hard to see and use.
Every Shelby GT500 comes with Ford’s Sync 3 infotainment system, which includes an 8-inch touchscreen display, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, satellite radio, HD Radio, and nine stereo speakers. Mustang owners are happy with this setup, rating the technology higher than most people do for other makes and models.
In my experience, Sync 3 offers intuitive operation and pleasing graphics. Sometimes response to input lags a bit, but generally speaking this technology works well.
If you want a navigation system and a 12-speaker B&O Play premium sound system, you’ll need to upgrade the Shelby GT500 with the optional Technology Package.
Nobody buys a Mustang for its plentiful interior storage or big trunk, but the Mustang Shelby GT500’s 13.5 cu.-ft. cargo area easily accommodates enough luggage for a 2-person road trip.
Interior storage, however, is limited. Aside from a small tray under the row of toggle switches on the dashboard, a shallow center storage bin, narrow door pockets, and the cupholders, all you’ve got is the glove compartment. Or you can just toss things into the back seat.
Within its competitive set, the Mustang offers the best outward visibility, in part thanks to large rear quarter windows that make it easier to reverse out of slanted parking spaces. The Mustang Shelby GT500 includes a standard blind-spot mirror for the driver’s side of the car as well as a reversing camera, and the Technology Package adds a blind spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert.
When it comes to safety ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the Mustang is well matched to the Chevy Camaro and performs better than the Dodge Challenger.
Ford fortifies the Shelby GT500 with a monster of a motor. It’s a 5.2-liter V8 with a 2.65-liter supercharger tucked between the cylinder banks. It makes 760 horsepower at 7,300 rpm and 625 lb.-ft. of torque at 5,000 rpm, and depending on which active exhaust mode you’ve selected, it bellows with fury at wide open throttle.
Purists will bemoan the Shelby GT500’s standard 7-speed DCT, wishing instead for a manual gearbox. However, given the paddle shifters and full automatic, semi-automatic, and full manual driving modes, combined with the sheer velocity at which the Shelby GT500 can travel, you don’t want to mess around with a clutch pedal, a stick, and trying to match revs when you’re screaming up to a corner at triple-digit speed. Do you?
That was my experience, anyway. On the road course, I was so focused on other things, like making sure I stayed on the pavement and didn’t swap the nose for the tail, that I was grateful not to add gear shifting to my list of responsibilities. And with the drivetrain in Track mode, the DCT was so good that I never bothered to take manual control with the paddle shifters.
On the drag strip, my best run was 11.189 seconds at 130.23 mph. I’ve been driving cars with manual transmissions since I was 16, and I can guarantee you that with a stick there is no way I could’ve done that.
In Las Vegas traffic, the DCT was equally helpful, saving my left leg a certain workout. Yes, some people are going to be cranky about the lack of a manual gearbox, but don’t count me among them.
According to the EPA, the Shelby GT500 should get 12 mpg in the city, 18 mpg on the highway, and 14 mpg in combined driving. During testing on public roads, the car averaged 14.8 mpg.
Driving a Mustang Shelby GT500 on public roads won’t be for everyone. The car is loud, stiff, and when equipped with the optional Recaro front seats, uncomfortable. With that said, if you keep the standard seats, switch all of the dynamic settings into Comfort or Normal driving modes, it’s not any harder or less satisfying to drive than a typical Mustang GT.
On the drag strip, after using Line Lock to warm the tires with a big, smoky burnout and launch control to get the car off the line, it rocketed down the lane without a hint of tail-waggle. Astonishing, really.
Where the Shelby GT500 shines brightest, however, is on a road course. It goes around turns better than it screams in a straight line, and as long as you leave the stability control on, it puts the power down safely and smoothly. Grip is ungodly, acceleration out of corners and down the straights is ridiculous, and if you thread a chicane off the racing line or enter a decreasing radius corner with too much speed, the car is remarkably forgiving.
With the 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500, the automaker set out to build a car that was just as capable on a road course as it was on a drag strip. Consider that goal met.
In comparison to the Camaro ZL1 and Challenger SRT Hellcat, the Shelby GT500’s numbers compare favorably. Winners of any given contest are dependent more on driver skill than car capability.
Where the Ford has a harder time making a case for itself is with regard to value. The Shelby GT500 isn’t cheap, with a base price starting several thousand dollars higher than the Camaro and Challenger. Is it worth the extra cost? I suppose that depends on your brand loyalties, what kind of transmission you want, and how you plan to drive.
The final takeaway is this: With the arrival of the Mustang Shelby GT500, Ford is no longer playing second- or third-chair in the American muscle car symphony.
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