By Mark Maynard
At the risk of losing my badge as a car enthusiast, I’ll admit I wasn’t looking forward to a test drive of the 2010 Ford Shelby GT500.
The last-generation model had more brawn than brains. And while a 500-horsepower, tire-smoking muscle car always has interest, this one turned into a workout after a few days. The clutch was cast iron, the gearbox was coarse and the suspension was punishing. It doesn’t take a week to figure out that a little more budget could have smoothed off some very rough edges.
But all is forgiven with the reworked 2010 model — even if it is a $50,000 Mustang. After seven days, I wasn’t ready to give it up for the next test vehicle. The re-engineered car satisfies with every gear grabbed through the short-throw shifter and every barely legal crackle of dual exhaust. The new car should be in dealerships this summer.
And more and better things are planned for the 2011 model, which goes on sale this fall.
Camaro and Challenger have their charms, but I wanted to drive the GT500 everywhere — and did. I was not that charmed by the competitors.
I’ve felt stiffer clutches in an Audi. I didn’t miss a gear all week nor did I stall the engine once on takeoff. The gearing is spaced right for town cruising, the engine revs are low at highway speed and there’s plenty of power for lazy second-gear starts. The steering weight is ideal, the pedals are (at last) perfectly positioned for heel-toe shifting and acceleration is absolute without any drive-by-wire delay.
It’s not that enthusiasts won’t want to make improvements to the GT500, but the basic bones are so much better from which to layer on enhancements.
The heart of the GT500 is its 540-horsepower, supercharged 5.4-liter V-8 and six-speed manual transmission. The Shelby treatment is applied to a Mustang GT, with such touches as an aluminum “Power Dome” hood with cold-air intake for the supercharger.
Other features include Le Mans racing stripes and GT500 side stripes (which can be deleted), rear spoiler, cue-ball shifter knob, supercharger boost gauge and SVT graphics, and Brembo 14-inch vented front disc brakes with four-piston aluminum calipers.
There is real leather in the seats, real aluminum on the instrument panel and suedelike Alcantara inserts. The front seats are full and supportive without overly restrictive bolstering. The Shelby treatment applies perforated centers, Alcantara trim and GT silver-gray strips. Cool and understated.
The steering wheel is wrapped in smooth leather, with Alcantara sections at the grip points and smooth, metallic-looking plastic at the thumbs. At night, the cool touch of the thumb grips guided my hands to a comfortable 9-and-3 position. Now, if only the wheel would telescope.
This muscle car goes fast, stops with authority and turns well, even without a true four-wheel-independent suspension. The rear setup has been significantly refined and is comprised of a three-link solid axle, coil springs, Panhard rod, stabilizer bar and twin-tube gas shocks. The rear end still wants to skip across bumps when pushed hard in corners, but it doesn’t clunk and bump as it once did.
AdvanceTrac stability control has several performance modes, including Sport for track driving. The system also can be turned off, while leaving anti-lock brakes active. Other safety features include front and side air bags and Ford’s Personal Safety System of front belt pretensioners, load-limiting retractors, driver-seat position sensing and crash severity sensing.
The suspension doesn’t inflict pain, but it does feel rugged — as if you could slide this car off the track, through the gravel, jump a berm, plow back onto the course and keep racing. (My typical style of track driving.) The ride can be choppy on some sections of grooved, concrete highway and it can be surprisingly smooth on other surfaces. A 37-foot turning circle is helpful in the mall parking lot.
The cabin is fairly well soundproofed (for a Mustang) to filter road harshness and still allow some good mechanical sounds. The architecture allows good sightlines over the hood and over the shoulder. The back seat has legroom for small adults and the trunk has plenty of room for the week’s groceries or a weekend getaway.
The “low restriction” dual, stainless-steel exhaust puts out some beautiful tones through 4-inch exhaust tips. The sound doesn’t become monotonous, but it is just obnoxiousness enough to let the family know when you’re about a block from home.
What’s not to like? The doors shut with the clatter of a $20,000 Mustang and some of the plastic trim looks cheap for a $50,000 car. The front Brembo brake calipers are iconic, but the rear brakes look entry level and could use a dress-up kit. And the 16-gallon tank doesn’t last long with fuel economy of 14 mpg around town and 22 on the highway.
Some may damn this car as an environmental disaster, but in reality, the driver is a dinosaur-hugging environmentalist. Each owner knows very well the precious energy contained in every drop of 91-octane fuel that will feed this car. And he or she will enjoy every mile and every dollar spent, which includes the $1,000 gas-guzzler tax.
Ford will sell thousands more six-cylinder Mustangs, Fusion hybrids and four-cylinder Focuses and Fiestas to offset the dark halo of the GT500.
Fortunately, Ford still has the financial independence and an enthusiast’s pulse to know that there is a segment of people who will choose this car because they like it, not because it’s good for them.
2010 Ford Shelby GT500
Body style: four-passenger, rear-wheel drive coupe
Engine: supercharged, DOHC, 5.4-liter V-8 with aluminum hood and cold-air intake
Horsepower: 540 at 6,200 rpm
Torque: 510 at 4,500 rpm
Transmission: Tremec TR6060 six-speed manual
EPA fuel economy estimates: 14 mpg city, 22 highway; 91 octane required
Fuel tank: 16 gallons
Length/wheelbase: 188.2/107.1 inches
Curb weight: 3,924 pounds (4,022 convertible)
Standard equipment includes: remote locking, power mirrors, center-console armrest with locking storage, six-way power driver’s seat with power lumbar and adjustable headrest, cruise control, power mirrors and windows, eight-speaker Shaker 500 audio-CD-MP3 audio system with input jack, Sync with 911 Assist (voice-activated in-car communication and entertainment system), ambient interior mood lighting (seven base colors), 19-inch Goodyear F1 Supercar tires and forged aluminum wheels (18s on the convertible)
Shelby treatment: Le Mans racing stripes and GT500 side stripes, rear spoiler, floor mats (with front silver perimeter stitching and GT500 embroidered logo), short-throw shifter with cue-ball knob and Alcantara console cover, supercharger boost gauge and SVT graphics, leather- and Alcantara-trimmed steering wheel with metallic thumb pads, metallic-trimmed pedal pads, Brembo 14-inch diameter vented front discs with four-piston aluminum calipers
Safety features include: AdvanceTrac stability control with Sport mode, traction control, front and side air bags, and power assisted four-wheel disc brakes with ABS (Brembo four-piston front calipers)
Base: $48,175, including $850 freight charge and $1,000 gas-guzzler tax; price as tested, $50,895
Options on test car: Electronics package ($2,195) adds navigation and dual-zone AC; HID headlights, $525
Where assembled: Romeo, Mich.
Mark Maynard is driving in cyberspace at Mark.Maynard@uniontrib.com.
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