Christopher Little

Thoroughbred: Ford Mustang Shelby GT350

If there’s one impression that the Mustang left with us, it’s that Ford has engineered a spectacular performance car that hasn’t yet been stretched to its full potential. That was our final judgement of the 2015 Mustang GT, a little too soft and a little too quiet. The Shelby GT350 is neither of those.

The 60s and 70s encompass the great American horsepower war. Marketing departments sizzled with ever-growing competition in displacement, power, and performance. Race on Sunday, Sell on Monday was the mantra. Enthusiasts will look back on the 2010s and surely consider this the second great American horsepower war. As with real war, the weapons have become far more sophisticated. The delineation between the car that raced on Sunday and the car sold on Monday has gotten fuzzier. The ready-to-track street cars of today have higher standards for safety and economy. But that hasn’t stopped the Big 3 from building the leanest, meanest modern interpretation of the muscle car ever. With that, however, they’re not really muscle cars any more.

The Shelby is quite special, starting with its appearance. This is no ordinary Mustang wearing a body kit. All the bodywork forward of the a-pillars is unique and the entire package is focused on using the air to help the GT350 perform. A new aluminum hood, some two inches lower than a Mustang GT in places, is more aggressively slopped and features a central air extractor. The front fascia features separate ducting for the radiator, air intake, brakes, engine oil cooler, and transmission cooler. The aluminum front fenders bulge outward to accommodate the wider track and 10.5 inch front tires. Behind the front wheels, massive fender vents draw air out of the wheel wells. The front splitter, ducted undertray, rear spoiler, and aggressive rear diffuser provide downforce. The later even routes air to the differential cooler, now standard for 2017. The rear wheel arches extend out to cover the 11 inch rear tires. Painted in bright Grabber blue with black stripes, these not-so-subtle changes bring an unspoken aggression to the Mustang’s posture. It looks leaner, meaner, and wholly more imposing than the GT.

Flat-plane V8s are normally reserved for race cars and the occasional exotic. It is, perhaps, the most special part of the GT350. Producing 526 horsepower and 429 lb-ft torque, this 5.2L V8 is the most powerful naturally aspirated engine Ford has ever put in a production car. The flat-plane layout allows for an engine with a broader torque curve and higher redline, 8250rpm versus the 5.0L V8’s 6,750rpm. The benefits can be felt…and heard! With the performance exhaust activated, this Mustang might be one of the loudest production cars on sale today. From a throaty burble at idle to a unique howl at wide-open throttle, and all the popping and crackling in-between, the GT350 announces its arrival and departure to the entire neighborhood. Ford’s unique head’s-up display shift lights accompany the changing tune. The distinct sound is instantly recognizable to anyone who’s heard it before.

The free-revving engine is paired exclusively to a lightweight Tremec six-speed manual transmission and Torsen limited-slip differential. New for 2017, all GT350s come equipped with the previously-optional coolers for both. The transmission boasts some of the most direct and positive engagements we’ve ever experienced. The only oddity lies in an extraordinarily light clutch pedal, which feels a bit dainty in such a performance-oriented machine. The next pedal over pulls up on the reigns with Brembo six-piston front and four-piston rear calipers clamping down onto two-piece cross-drilled rotors. While the clutch may be light, the brake pedal is just about perfect. Unlike some performance cars, there’s no severe initial bite, just smooth linear travel that offers plenty of security and feedback.

Keeping the Shelby GT350 planted, Ford developed an all-new MagneRide continuous damper system. The system continually reacts to provide a surprising level of comfort while cruising or a shocking amount of composure in more spirited circumstances. Not only do they work on their own, they respond to the different drive modes in the Mustang. Sport tightens the dampers, boosts the steering effort, increases the accelerator sensitivity, and opens the exhaust valves. Track mode brings about the same changes while also raising the limits for wheel spin and slip angle. One the road, it’s one of the least intrusive systems we’ve come across that still managed to keep us pointed in the right direction. For those that enjoy running the lights, there’s even a Drag setting where line lock, launch control, and tweaked stability settings allow for optimized launch traction.

Unique appearance, motorsports-derived drivetrain, and we haven’t even mentioned the driving experience. All of these enhancements unlock the Mustang’s full potential. There’s a balance and precision from the entire platform. The steering, thanks to the revised setup and solid bushings, offers superb feedback. The massive Michel Pilot Super Sport tires grip well beyond expected levels, meaning the car is cool and comfortable in situations where the driver might not be. There’s so much grip, in fact, that sometimes the front tires chase the road surface, requiring a firm hold of the steering wheel. That wheel is still festooned with a few too many buttons, sometimes feeling crowded. But other than those complaints, you won’t want to leave the comfort of the Recaro seats. This is a serious performance car, but as high as its limits are, the Mustang doesn’t take itself too seriously. With the settings dialed down, it remains comfortable for daily driving. Maxed out, it becomes a hardcore competitor.

From our first experience in 2015, it was clear the Mustang platform had enormous potential. But the standard GT just didn’t use it all. The Shelby GT350 is the Mustang we’ve been waiting for. It captivates you with its elegant yet aggressive lines and the intoxicating noise, but you keep coming back for the driving experience. This new generation kicked a lot of tradition. But in doing so, it takes the pony car to a new level with engineering and developments never before seen on any Ford. In that regard, it’s a true thoroughbred.

-Christopher Little

2017 Ford Mustang GT350
$54,295
Electronics Package $1,300
Over-The-Top Racing Stripe $475
Gas Guzzler Tax $1,300
Destination Charges $900
As Tested MSRP $59,970

Related:
Show Horse: 2015 Ford Mustang GT

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