2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 Test Drive

Introduction

2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 front and side view

Photo: Ron Sessions

There’s been a lot of excitement recently with the unveiling of Ford’s first electric-powered sport-utility vehicle, the Mustang Mach E. Swift, silent and green, the upcoming Mach E doesn’t share a single mechanical component or piece of sheet metal with the gasoline-powered Mustang fastback coupe. But what Ford aims to tap into with the Mach E is the Mustang’s aspirational status among its enthusiastic and loyal followers and a 55-year legacy of driving enjoyment.

Ford wouldn’t be able to do that if the Mustang didn’t occupy a special place in the automotive universe. So for 2020, Ford is introducing an all-new Mustang Shelby GT500, its first since the 2014 model year. Taking its place alongside existing Mustang coupe and convertible variants, the EcoBoost 4-cylinder, 2.3-liter High Performance, GT, Bullitt and Shelby GT350, and with 760 petroleum-fueled horsepower lurking under its power-dome hood, the 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 is no less than the most powerful Ford production car ever. Yes, more powerful than the ultra-limited-production Ford GT supercar.

This review is based on a 100-mile Sunday morning jaunt through the asphalt canyons of downtown Los Angeles and into the Angeles National Forest via the winding and technically challenging Angeles Crest highway, a favorite playground of superbike riders and sports-car enthusiasts. Tip: the Velocity Blue GT500 fit right in.

Exclusivity has its price, however, with this particular GT500 #L0025 as designated by a dash-mounted plaque stickered at $94,265 including $20,870 in options, the $1,095 destination charge and a $2,600 gas-guzzler tax. Yep, the GT500 is EPA-rated at 12 mpg city/18 mpg highway/14 mpg combined, if anyone asks. They won’t.

Styling and Design

2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 Hood Louvers

Photo: Ron Sessions

While the Shelby GT500 shares the same overall fastback profile and bobtail rear with legacy three-bar vertical tail lamps common to all Mustangs, there’s significant differentiation up front. A unique jet-fighter-inspired front-end, a deep-set grille opening that’s twice the size of the GT350’s, an extra aggressive-looking front fascia with aerodynamic splitters and a domed composite hood with functional louvers give the GT500 its very own, meaner, race-ready look. Wide-flared fenders hugging 20-inch wheels complete the take-no-prisoners look.

The outsized snout has a mission, helping feed a radiator, and engine, transmission and differential coolers with 50 percent more air. Big extraction louvers on the hood help get hot air out of the engine bay.

An optional $18,500 carbon-fiber Track Pack adds a bunch of race-inspired content with a gnarly looking, adjustable carbon-fiber GT4 rear wing, adjustable strut top mounts, front splitter wickers, 20-inch carbon-fiber wheels and Michelin Pilot Cup Sport 2 performance tires.

Features and Controls

2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 dash steering wheel

Photo: Ron Sessions

Open a door and you’re greeted by the same working-class interior you’ll find in any Mustang with hard plastic on the dash, doors and console. Cheering up things a bit is a grippy leather-and-suede-trimmed flat-bottom steering wheel, and leather inserts on the doors and console break up the plastic monotony. The standard heated and ventilated power front seats are leather-and-suede covered and the rear chairs with split fold-down seatbacks get leather hides as well.

Opt for the Carbon Fiber Track Pack and the instrument panel gets dressed up with a swath of carbon-fiber across the twin-cowl dash, plus it deletes the vestigial rear seat and substitutes stiff-bolstered Recaro front seats for the comfortable and supportive base seats.

Be advised that going with the Recaros loses the heating, cooling and driver-seat memory of the base seats, plus the Recaro’s rigid side bolsters don’t fit all body types. So, if you’re thinking of buying a GT500, definitely do a butts-in-seats test beforehand.

Safety and Technology

2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 Michelin Pilot Cup Sport 2 performance tires

Photo: Ron Sessions

If you’re looking for the latest in safety and driver-assistive technology, the GT500 isn’t your pony. While the top Mustang rolls with eight airbags, stability and traction control, anti-lock brakes, a backup camera and optional blind-spot and rear cross-traffic monitoring, this is a car you’ll want to drive yourself without a lot of “help” from electronic nannies. So, no adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping, driver attention monitor, automatic parking aids or other semi-autonomous stuff.

As for infotainment tech, the GT500 comes with much the same content as in other Mustangs. Standard is a 9-speaker AM/FM stereo with HD radio and SiriusXM, a CD player and an 8-inch SYNC 3 touchscreen with FordPass Connect Wi-Fi for up to seven devices. Ahead of the driver is a driver-configurable 12-inch full-color LCD instrument cluster that can keep the driver abreast of the launch control and line-lock features via the selectable Track Apps and display the GT500’s selectable drive modes, including Sport, Weather, Normal, Drag and Track.

Driving Impressions

2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 5.2-liter supercharged V8 engine

Photo: Ron Sessions

The GT500 is good at doing a lot of things but first and foremost this top-dog Mustang is all about the engine. The hand-assembled, supercharged, all-aluminum 760-hp 5.2-liter V8 is not only fun to show off at cars and coffee meets, but it also has rip-roaring thrust across the engine speed range all the way to its 7300 rpm horsepower peak with great low-end grunt (650 lb-ft to be exact) to boot. The GT500’s sound signature is enriched by an adaptive, large diameter exhaust system that crackles, pops and roars at wider throttle openings and quiets down to a tolerable rumble at cruising speeds. There’s just enough whine when accelerating to know the engine is supercharged.

The supercharged V8 is mated to a Tremec 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, which is incidentally the maker of the 8-speed dual-clutch automatic in the 2020 Corvette Stingray. As with other dual-clutch automatics, the GT500’s is a bit lurchy in stop-and-go city traffic but reels off rapier-quick cog changes once underway. Paddle shifters deliver satisfying manual control, but the dual-clutch automatic shifts quicker than any human can and frees up the driver to concentrate on accelerating, turning and braking. Unlike the GT350, no manual gearbox is available in the GT500. A carbon-fiber driveshaft drives the rear wheels, working through a Torsen limited-slip differential. Ford says the GT500 can rocket from rest to 60 mph in 3.3 seconds with the available launch control feature.

On the road, the GT500’s electric-boosted rack-and-pinion steering offers precise control and quick response. Effort is driver-adjustable. Once the car takes a set in the turns, there’s no fussing to maintain the line. It simply goes where it is pointed. Body roll in corners, at least at legal speeds, is non-existent. The standard Magnetic Ride Control dampers that can instantly react to changing road surfaces and driving dynamics deliver a well-composed ride that’s never abrupt or choppy despite the immense grip from super-wide Performance-spec Michelin Pilot Sport 4S or Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 summer performance 305/30R20 front and 315/30R20 rear tires. Huge rotors and Brembo calipers at all four corners provide fade-free stopping power.

Conclusion

2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 rear view

Photo: Ron Sessions

It’s more than a little ironic that as carmakers unveil aspirational zero emissions electric vehicles with style and performance such as the Mustang Mach E that we’ve also entered the golden age of performance cars. Pick your passion, whether it’s a 650-hp Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, a 797-hp Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Redeye or the focus of this report, the 760-hp Ford Mustang Shelby GT500, there has never been a time when so much gasoline-powered horsepower was available to the performance enthusiast right off the showroom floor. Even as some analysts predict electric-car acceptance will reach 10 percent in the U.S. by 2030, fossil-fueled vehicles still have a huge following.

If you want to squirrel away one of these ground pounders, be sure to have your finances in order.  Our GT500 test car, which stickered out at $94,265, would have easily topped the $100,000 mark with a few more stripes on the body and a Technology package that includes swipe and pinch navigation, a 12-speaker Bang & Olufsen premium audio system, and blind-spot and rear cross-traffic monitoring. For a Mustang that goes like no other.