Calabogie Motorsports Park, ON – “Okay, we’re coming to the back straight here…third gear, once you get past the apex you can really open it up.”
This is just one of the many instructions given to me by my instructors (often accompanied by helpful and calming hand gestures) during my day at the Calabogie Motorsports Park, where we gathered to test our mettle at the wheel of the most powerful production Mustang ever, the 2013 Shelby GT500.
How powerful, you ask?
How does a 5.8-litre V8 that makes 662 horsepower and 631 pound-feet of torque sound?
Well, if I’m honest, it sounds great but you really have to get on it if you’re planning on hearing it. Straightforward progress in a car this powerful is effortless; I can assure you that the GT500 can clear 180 kilometers-per-hour (as we did on Calabogie’s two straights, many times) without breaking a sweat, evidenced by a surprising lack of noise inside the cabin.
But oh, when you hoof it, that delectable sound made up of something like two parts growling animal and three parts rolling thunder will have you delving deep in to the power band (both peak power and torque arrive at 6,250 r.p.m.) over and over again. It’s seriously addictive and seriously troublesome how quickly high three-digit speeds arrive once that V8 and its intercooled supercharger get on boil.
In addition to a new Eaton Roots-type supercharger, engine internals have been beefed-up with the help of cams sourced from the parts bin for the Ford GT supercar, new piston cooling, cross-drilled cylinder heads and a stronger charge cooler for the intercooler. In order to adequately transmit that power to the wheels, the transmission gets beefed up with stronger gears and a dual-disc clutch.
It’s good that we had instructors with us during our laps, as Calabogie is a challenging course. For starters, it’s a narrow course that’s wooded and full of elevation changes and blind corners that you wouldn’t even realized existed if you hadn’t been to the course before, which I hadn’t. They had some cones set up that aren’t normally there to show you the way through the turns, but when you’re behind the wheel of a Boss 302 or Shelby GT500, that’s some small solace. Cones or not, you’ve still got immense power under your right foot.
In that light, the Shelby acquitted itself well—in fact, it’s amazing how well it conceals its 1,438 kilo curb weight. Corners are taken with hardly any body roll, even if you tackle them with gumption and get the Goodyear SuperCar G:2 tires chirping, and of course acceleration out of the gate is blistering (expect sub-four second 0-100 km/h times). That being said, we also got the opportunity to drive the Boss 302 Mustang (watch for our full road-test of that vehicle soon) and while the Shelby is definitely a dynamo on the track, I felt the Boss pipped it just a little—felt that much lighter and agile thanks to manually-adjustable sport suspension and a lack of back seats. But it only makes 444 hp and indeed, Ford makes no bones about it; the Boss is the track car, the Shelby the ultimate ‘Stang that can be used to cruise the boulevard and tackle the track from time to time.
So, we also had the opportunity to try the car on the roads around Calbogie, which sits about 90 minutes Northwest of Ottawa and it’s here that you really get to see where the Shelby fits in a crowded Mustang line-up that includes the Boss 302, GT and V6 with convertible versions of the latter two. The Shelby is comfortable on the track, no question, but this is the ultimate Mustang (it even gets its own section, apart from “lesser” Mustangs on Ford.ca), which means that you get all the power and creature comfort features you’d expect from a luxury grand tourer, but one that just happens to be able to hit 202 miles-per-hour. That’s not a typo. 202 miles-per-hour, or 325 kilometers-per-hour.
You get electronically-adjustable two-mode Bilstein dampers (normal and sport, selectable via a button mounted to the right of the wheel and part of the $3,000 Performance Package that also gets you a torsen limited-slip differential), heated seats, stability control, traction control, ABS, electronic speed-sensitive power steering and MyFord Touch infotainment. The best part? You can get all this, plus all that power for $61,699—that’s 662 horses for less than the cost of a Nissan GT-R ($103,980, 545 hp) or Jaguar XKR-S ($139,000, 550 hp). Add performance bonuses like the Track Apps system (which includes an accelerometer to track the G’s you’re enduring, your 0-60 mph time and braking time) and launch-control system, and you have a complete package that does a good job of walking the line between a race car and grand tourer. Of course, many will bemoan the lack of an automatic option–the one and only transmission is a six-speed manual–but they’ll probably get over it when they realize that it’s because there’s just too much torque for an auto to handle. That image becomes even clearer when you consider that there’s also a convertible version available, albeit at a $5,000 premium over the coupe.
There are cars that may have a slightly more sporting bent that you can have for similar money, such as the Chevrolet Corvette (which starts at in and around 60 grand), or even a Porsche Cayman S,which you can have for a hair over 70K. Both of those cars, however, have less power than the Shelby and come with less standard features. The GT500, then, really is as close as you can come in the automotive world to being in a class all its own, as long as you can get over typical Mustang bugaboos like an overabundance of plastic surfaces and a variety of creaks and rattles that accompany every drive.
Watch for our full road test of the Shelby later this summer.