When the 2010 Shelby GT-500 was introduced just a year ago it was a major leap forward over the outgoing 2009 model in every way. It came with all new styling, a significantly upgraded interior. Underneath the skin the 2010 GT-500 received drive train and suspension refinements that built upon the 2008-2009 GT-500KR and added 40 horsepower.
The improvements over the 2009 model were so substantial that Ford’s SVT skunk works could have easily sat back for 2-3 years and let it ride. Instead though they have unleashed an all new aluminum block version of the 5.4 liter DOHC supercharged engine, saving over 100lbs. See, they have been listening to the chorus of enthusiasts complaining about wieght.
Horsepower is up by 10 with improvements in tuning and hardware. Intercooler capacity is increased 40% to better manage air-charge temperatures when driving hard. A larger diameter exhaust system now measures a girthy 2.75″ front to rear. Not only do these enhancements make it sound even sweeter but improved fuel economy now means there is no more gas guzzler tax for 2011 models. Under the hood the engine gets a fresh new look with Ford blue valve covers and a silvery aluminum sheen.
SVT says they had mulled building off the new Coyote 5.0 liter engine for the GT-500 but felt that the venerable 5.4 liter engine was a more iconic and exclusive power plant for the Shelby. The latest iteration of the 5.4 V8 is the closest thing to the engine that powered the Ford GT super car ever to be shoehorned into the Mustang. The new aluminum block has an electrically fused iron cylinder coating measuring only microns thick. This increases strength without the weight of sleeves and gives better thermal efficiency as well as a host of other benefits. Six bolt main bearing caps and increased oil passage capacity build on an already bulletproof design going forward.
For 2011 SVT also added the optional Performance Package for the GT-500. And after spending a day driving the car with and without it, we highly recommend you spend the extra $3450 for it. The package includes a larger 19″ front and 20″ rear wheels wrapped with Goodyear Eagle F1 SuperCar G:2 tires. The wheels save you about 15 lbs of unsprung weight. A 3.73 rear axle ratio gives a better feel in your back accelerating while stiffer spring and damper rates tighten up the ride significantly. Larger diameter anti-roll bars front and rear also net noticeably flatter cornering. SVT also chose to give cars with the Performance Package a unique look with Ford GT inspired striping and fine spoked smoke satin wheels.
With all these new specs to consider, when Ford invited us to Virginia International Raceway to get behind the wheel we took them up on it. They had both 2010 and 2011 GT-500′s on hand for us to compare back to back. Our press cars were also equipped with roll bars and racing harnesses so we would feel plenty confident pushing the envelope and having some fun while getting a true feel for the capabilities of the cars.
The first and most significant difference you notice behind the wheel of the new 2011 Shelby GT-500 is the steering feel. This year the GT-500 and its Mustang brethren traded hydraulic power steering assist for an all new electric power assist steering (EPAS). EPAS allows for the less numbed steering feel of a manual steering rack at speed and offers better assist at low speeds. SVT has done a great job tuning the steering to feel natural and perfectly weighted. At speed on the road course at VIR the 2011 GT-500 felt far more precise transitioning in curves as the system provides little if any assist when you are at full steam. At slow speeds the steering has a lot lighter effort and feels a lot sharper. Because there is no power steering pump, you don’t pull on the engine RPM when you turn ether.
The lighter front axle weight is immediately noticeable turning aggressively into curves. There’s a lot less vagueness and understeer than in the 2010 models. And the 2011 GT-500 was lot easier to drive faster right out of the gate due to its far more confidence inspiring steerng response. Less turn in angle was necessary to change course and knowing that your inputs would be replied to more aggressively made the drive more fun. SVT says they tuned the suspension around the GT-500 exclusive Goodyear Eagle F1 SuperCar G:2 tires. The result is very predictable behavior right up to and past the limits of adhesion.
So how does it perform? While we did not independently instrument the 2011 Shelby GT-500 during our drive in the countryside of North Carolina and at VIR, Ford stated they have achieved 0-60 in 4.2 seconds in their own testing. The quarter mile comes in at 12.3 seconds at 119mph. Road holding breaks the 1G barrier at 1.02 and you can stop from 60-0 in 107 feet. Ford tested the 2011 GT-500 at VIR two weeks ago against the 2010 GT-500 and netted a 9 second faster track time. You can see the video of this here.
On the refinement front Ford added a significant amount of structural and sound deadening enhancements to the 2011 GT-500 over the 2010. This includes stiffer bracing for convertible, acoustic foam fill in structural boxed areas, and new wheel aprons. The result is a much more expensive feeling and sounding car that better justifies its $48,645 base price than before. You pick this up in how the car feels, sounds and responds to cruising back roads, driving in traffic, and hammering it on the track.
The takeaway from our road and track testing is that Ford has raised the bar on the 2011 GT-500 almost the same distance as they had from 2009 to 2010. It’s that good and it’s that different. The refinement and precision in the new steering system alone is worth buying the car for. It really makes it a lot more fun to drive. The new Performance Package is a must and at $3495 it isn’t much in the larger scheme of things. You’ll regret it if you pass it up. And if you’re thinking of DIY, you could not replicate all of its line items in the aftermarket for less. And even if you could you wouldn’t have the engineered feel you get straight from SVT. Best of all, if you don’t care for the unique stripes you can check the delete box on the order form.
In closing let there be no doubt that Ford is hell bent on improving their cars in this new era of recapturing the American market. Whether it be refinements, performance increases, and visual wow they aren’t sitting back and resting on their laurels. This may just be the best Mustang ever built, just as was the 2010 GT-500. The only question remains, what will they do next?