Quicker, Smarter, Nicer — Yet Still a Bad Boy Flush fit for the aluminum hood emphasizes the look of the fascia itself; functional extractor vents deal with the heat of supercharged power. By Chris Walton, Chief Road Test Editor Date posted: 04-05-2009 Supercharged, intercooled 5.4-liter V8 - 540 hp; 510 lb-ft of torque - 6-speed manual transmission - 3.55:1 final-drive ratio - 19-inch forged-aluminum wheels It's something like trying to drive the 2010 Ford Shelby GT500 on a roller-coaster, only there are no steel tracks to keep you from slithering off the pavement and ending up in a flaming heap of 540-horsepower Mustang. You can't even see where you're going, really. Hard on it, the GT500's rear tires begin spinning just as you can see nothing but sky in the windshield. You're on top of the hump at the entrance to Infineon Raceway's Turn 6, and as your stomach and both right-side tires go weightless, you start a long, long dive to the left, sliding sideways all the way down the hill and around the 180-degree corner. The Shelby GT500 is so torqued up with the cornering force from the low-profile 19-inch tires and the drive from the supercharged V8 that you can practically hear the welds popping in the chassis. But something is different this time — palms are not slick with sweat, tires are not threatening to let go at the most inopportune moment and steering left in order to go right is a joy and not a reflex of self-preservation. The 2010 Ford Shelby GT500 gets 2 mpg more on the EPA highway cycle this year. The Ford engineers are really proud of this. But every time we make another lap and slide down Turn 6, we have our doubts that fuel economy is what this car is about. Serving Our Inner Adolescent Stability control can be dialed in for different surfaces, while a launch rpm can be pre-determined electronically as well. We're behaving like adults as the Ford engineers tell us all about the 2010 Ford Shelby GT500, even as we hear a couple of the cars making shake-down runs on the quarter-mile strip at Infineon Raceway a few hundred feet away. And in many ways, the GT500 itself is trying to act more like an adult, casting aside the muscle-bound character of the 2007 Ford Shelby GT500. As the Ford people tell us, they started with the limited-production 2008 Ford Shelby GT500KR, the exclusive (1,700 examples built) and revenue-enhancing (MSRP $79,995) Mustang produced last year. And aside from a few fewer Shelby badges (the KR had many to spare), the GT500 is like the KR in almost every way, except it's built at the Mustang plant in Flat Rock, Michigan, rather than at the Shelby facility in Las Vegas. You can tell as soon as you open the new GT500's hood, complete with hot-air extractors. The supercharged and intercooled DOHC 5.4-liter V8 with its truck-style iron block is still in place, but now it carries a conical air filter in its own sealed cold-air box behind the left-side headlight, an innovation that increases airflow while resisting power-sapping heat soak. For the GT500, this new cold-air intake required the migration of the iconic Cobra badge on the grille from the left side to the right side. With premium fuel and more aggressive ignition timing plus a less restrictive exhaust, the result is 540 hp at 6,200 rpm, an 8 percent increase. Torque output goes up fractionally to 510 pound-feet at 4,500 rpm. Thankfully, the telltale supercharger whine has been significantly diminished with clever intake plumbing, while the idle burble and bad-boy tailpipe blat have been accentuated by the 4-inch exhaust system. Totally Awesome The brake pedal doesn't feel right at first, but the brakes can be modulated very well and there's a crazy amount of capability. It's not a lot of extra power, but your inner adolescent can put it to good use because the final-drive ratio is 3.55:1, 7 percent shorter than the former 3.31:1 rear-end gears. This means a useful increase in twist at the new, 19-inch forged-aluminum rear wheels, and the result is a blast to 60 mph from a standstill in a blistering 4.3 seconds (4.0 seconds with 1 foot of rollout, like on a drag strip). In comparison, the 2007 Ford Shelby GT500 made the run in 4.6 seconds, while the 2010 Chevrolet Camaro SS did the deed in 5.0 seconds (4.7 seconds with rollout) and the 2009 Dodge Challenger R/T recorded 5.5 seconds (5.3 seconds with rollout). Quarter-mile performance is totally awesome as well, as the GT500 makes its best pass in 12.4 seconds at 114.7 mph. That's not only a useful margin over the '07 car with its 500-hp powertrain, which did the deed in 12.8 seconds at 112.6 mph, but it also makes the Chevrolet Camaro and Dodge Challenger look like weak-ass sissies. The Camaro turned the quarter in 13.0 seconds at 110.9 mph and the Challenger did 13.9 seconds at 103.2 mph. We might have gone even quicker and faster in the Shelby GT, except for the 14-mph headwind we faced at this track close to San Francisco Bay. While it's as easy as ever to haze the rear tires off the line, the new softer tire compound has improved the bite. If you value bracket-racing consistency over all-out performance, the AdvanceTrac stability control's new Sport mode will do its best to optimize (though somewhat limit) traction for you. You might even select the launch rpm electronically for varying surfaces. Adulthood Comes to the Shelby GT500 The steering doesn't have a lot of feel, but there's plenty of front grip and you can now flick the Shelby GT500 into a corner. Though the GT500 has that big beat from under the hood that gets your attention, it has the tractable character of the KR, so it's easy to drive. You can feel it in the controls. Everything operates with an easier, friction-free feel, so you don't feel like you're riding some kind of beast that's trying to spit you off at the first opportunity. The steering shaft is stiffer to deliver crisper response, even though the steering ratio remains at 15.7:1. The effort level for the brakes is scaled to humans, not superheroes. The shift action of the short-throw Tremec six-speed manual is short and sharp, not stiff. Even the clutch is surprisingly easy to modulate thanks to the use of larger, more robust copper/fiberglass plates that engage more progressively. Compliance and balance are the secrets here, an approach more grown-up than the former Shelby's brawny, stiff-legged tuning. Where the previous GT500 and especially the KR would hop over a lane line if there were a twig at the apex of a corner, the 2010 GT500 acknowledges road irregularities, but those events don't linger and oscillate more than once. Bam, and it's done. It begins with a compliant suspension tuned to deliver lots more roll control, only it comes from nearly twice as much rebound damping than before rather than simply stiffer springs. More negative camber at the front wheels also helps the steering bite with more effect when you turn into a corner, especially since the revised Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar tires carry a softer compound. Balance comes from a revised aerodynamic profile meant to improve high-speed handling and stability. A revised front splitter reduces front-end lift by 31 percent, while the rear wing is trimmed out to actually increase lift. Downforce can be tuned with the small Gurney flap. Driving in the Real World The live rear axle doesn't work in theory but it sure does in practice; excellent rebound damping is the secret. This Shelby GT makes you believe you're in an exclusive performance car, not just a Mustang with a decal package. The seat upholstery is real leather and the inserts are suede. The rim of the steering wheel is suede. The silver trim for the dash is real aluminum, and it has a zippy dimpled finish. Soft-touch plastic is used and the gauges are specific to the GT500. When you fire up the car, the Shelby Cobra logo appears on the navigation screen. With one hand on the suede rim of the steering wheel and the other on the shift lever's white cueball (manufactured by an actual billiard supply company) that has been inscribed with the racing stripes that are the visual theme of the GT500, you're looking forward to the drive. We drive along California highway 1 from Stinson Beach to Fort Ross, and then cut inland through the California wine country to Calistoga. The Shelby lets you know that it has a live rear axle, but it doesn't make you slow down for fear of upsetting the car — a real breakthrough. If only it weren't for the seat headrests giving your head a nudge every time the axle kicks. And this thing gets fuel economy. Although the final-drive ratio is far shorter than before, 5th and 6th gears are much taller. So the result is an EPA-rated 14 mpg city/22 mpg highway. Coming to a Showroom Soon The Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar tires have more grip and break away more predictably: P255/40ZR19s in front and P285/35ZR19s in the rear. We can't think of a more difficult place to drive a 540-hp pony car than Infineon Raceway, but once all the Ford people were gone and we were left on our own with the 2010 Ford Shelby GT500, we did lots of time on this 2.5-mile roller-coaster. And once we flicked off the stability control, the Shelby GT came alive. You could flick the Shelby into corners, and we came down Turn 6 with smoke coming from the rear tires. And the brakes offered good modulation and a crazy amount of capability. By the end of a day, you can't help but like this car. It's stonking fast (though it doesn't always feel that way), it slides very controllably (especially when you find that special place that's like Turn 6) and it actually looks special (and exclusive) for a change. We'd even order one ourselves (though the stripes would have to go). You can order one for yourself when it arrives in dealerships in the early summer. The price of the 2010 Ford Shelby GT begins at $48,125, and this includes the now-lower $1,000 gas-guzzler tax (thanks to the GT's 22-mpg highway rating) and $850 destination charge. Loaded with options as our test car was, the price can easily surpass 50 grand, though. But like the original Shelby GT500, there's a level of sophistication and even luxury sewn into the fabric of this undeniably rapid and capable muscle machine. Sure, it'll throw down consistent 12s in the quarter-mile and slide around corners with glorious plumes of tire smoke, but it'll also tell you what traffic conditions lie ahead, play DVDs and promote marital harmony with dual-zone climate control. Name another 540-hp coupe for $50,000 that can do all that. New 4-inch exhaust system increases power, promotes that bad-boy blat. MSRP of Test Vehicle: $52,140 What Works: More power; better tires; better dampers. What Needs Work: Ever-present nudges from forward-canted headrests whenever live axle encounters a bump. Bottom Line: The most capable and most livable Shelby yet. Performance 0 - 30 (sec): 2.0 0 - 45 (sec): 3.1 0 - 60 (sec): 4.3 0 - 75 (sec): 5.9 1/4 Mile (sec @ mph): 12.4 @ 114.7 0-60 with 1-ft Rollout (sec): 4.0 30 - 0 (ft): 28 60 - 0 (ft): 106 Braking Rating (Excellent, Good, Average, Poor or Very Poor): Excellent Slalom (mph): N/A Skid Pad Lateral acceleration (g): N/A Handling Rating (Excellent, Good, Average, Poor or Very Poor): Excellent Acceleration Comments: As you would imagine, it's not at all difficult to roast the rear tires on a launch and ruin a good quarter-mile run. Luckily, the clutch uptake and throttle progression are intuitive and easy to learn, so a quick run is available and repeatable once you know what to do. Listen and feel your way throught the first 60 feet and don't botch a shift, and a run in the range of the low 12 seconds is possible. Handling Comments: Although we didn't have a proper skid pad on which to test, there was a smaller-diameter one available. We learned it was very easy to overburden the front tires and find a terminal understeer at this relatively low speed. At higher speeds (60 mph or faster), it's possible to drive through the understeer with generous throttle application, and hence, glorious (and gratuitous) oversteer. Braking Comments: Soft initial bite with moderate idle stroke. Once into the meaty part, these brakes are tremendous and fade-free with ample modulation. Exemplary fade resistance, and near-zero ABS hum or flutter.