• Apr 7th 2009 at 2:58PM
  • 48
2010 Ford Shelby GT500 - Click above for a high-res gallery

The first day of our Ford Shelby Mustang GT500 drive was spent on a variety of public roads, almost all of which the car handled with skill. The next day was spent at Infineon Raceway on three different courses: a low-speed figure-eight, the drag strip, and the track. It was here that the car sealed its credentials, going from capable hi-po steed to "How do you like me now?" The answer: We like you. We like you a lot. Follow the jump to find out why.

Photos copyright ©2009 Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc

Ford knows its audience. The down-and-dirty Mustang guy is taking his car to the track – specifically, the drag strip. Drag strip guys like their solid rear axles and Mustang buyers have made sure to let Ford know the Mustang should stick to that formula. And in the Shelby, that solid axle is an asset when you pass through the raceway gates: you put 540 horsepower down on the ground and the car behaves the way you want it to. It's Heaven. And this is where the GT500 overwhelmingly wins its case.

First up is the second-gear figure-eight. Putting the car in AdvanceTrac's Sport Mode gives you plenty of rope to swing for a good time and not nearly enough rope to hang yourself. Exploring the car's behavior on loop after loop, the only thing you're looking out for is understeer – the car exhibits minimal roll and excellent behavior on the brakes so your job is to keep from getting greedy and plowing into the curve at 80 mph.

But there's a lot of room before massive understeer rears its head, and even when it appears, it doesn't come in suddenly. You can do a decent lap just while getting to know the car, without even trying. Make the tires chirp a bit and you're in for a good lap. Get the tires talking to you the whole way through the curve, stay glued to the cones, and even though you can feel the front end thinking about straying, it holds the line perfectly. Push a little harder and you can even lightly left-foot-brake and bring the nose back into line when needed.

Pass that boundary, however, and the front doesn't want to hear about following the cones anymore – figure-eights became parabolas. Turn the traction control entirely off and it's like dropping a Clydesdale in a Steeplechase – burnouts between the curves, and instant oversteer if you call up too much power before you got the GT500 straight again. But again, this isn't the Mustang's preferred turf. So we were off to the drag strip, where the Shelby made its biggest impression of the day.

The changeable winds made comparing times over the course of the day a challenge, but the constant was we were always driving into a headwind. The first journo to go got into the Grabber Blue car and pulled out a 12.33 -- faster than Ford's officially listed time. Asked to back it up an hour later he did a 12.5. Some drivers were getting their 60-foot times under two seconds. A photographer who had never been on a drag strip before did a 12.8 on his third run.

What we're saying is that, if you don't get greedy, the car is thoughtlessly easy to drag. The controls are great, you don't need to worry about any other dynamic aspect of the car, and the live axle shines. Check out either car taking off and there's barely any squat. Let the revs run past 6,000 before you shift and the car will still be pulling in fourth gear as you pass the finish. The GT500 also comes with an always-on launch control that works optimally at about 3,500 rpm in the Advance TracSport Mode, 2,500 rpm when everything's turned off. It works well, but even going without the assistance you can still put in some rewarding times if you keep your head about you at the start.

Then we had the road course for dessert – a small section of Infineon, with blind turns and serious elevation changes. The car pulled its weight in every way, all the way around the course. With 540 supercharged horses you never worried about acceleration. And this is the third time we're bringing it up, but it deserves mention again: the stoppers and the car's behavior under hard braking are exceptional. Panic stop at 80 mph and there's nothing but linear deceleration. It is a non-event. If they hold up over an entire day like that, there are going to be some happy racers.

At speed, the car is stable all the way. We wrote yesterday that the car is 50% more stable than the previous model. That was incorrect: the car is 50% better than the GT500KR; it is 75% better than the previous GT500. At 120 mph there is only 20 pounds of lift, and because the rear now has 50% less downforce, the car's behavior remains more constant as the speeds rise. And if you want to change the downforce, all you need to do is swap in a different Gurney Flap.

Once you know you can go fast and stop without drama, all you need is to be ability to carry speed through corners. It's our pleasure to report that you can check that one off as well. Turn in is stable and confident. Stiffer than the last model, this GT500's yaw moments don't happen suddenly, and even leaned over in a turn, the Mustang wasn't put out by kerbs. Even the large-ish steering wheel felt completely natural on the track and the specially-developed Goodyears gripped like octopi.

When we adjourned, we were thoroughly satisfied – it was everything you want a track day – and a track car – to be.

The GT500 is, in fact, probably everything a Mustang lover would want it to be. And it should garner respect from anyone who appreciates performance unattached to an astronomical price tag.

Is there a compromise? Yes. There is a compromise, as in single one: it's not a fan of tight twisty bumpy roads with crazy cambers. Since there are hundreds of thousands of roads that don't fit that description, more most people they'll be easy to avoid – and besides, all you need do is take your driving down to Level Eight when you find one. Compromise solved.

But the car is $48,000, has 540 usable horsepower and you can get in and get fast quickly on both the road and the track. The controls are commuter-car friendly and the ride is good when cruising at virtually any speed. The interior is well done, can carry four people, has front and side airbags and Ford's Personal Safety System. There's even a fantastic (optional) navigation interface and a load-lugging trunk. The car is easily tweaked, won't need a government bailout to maintain, and is mean looking enough to make Thomas de Torquemada say: "Maybe we should burn it at the stake, just in case..."

Our complaints number this many: zero. Who cares about a live rear axle when you have this much power and can go this fast on the track and on almost every road for $7,000 less than a Porsche Boxster S... and carry three other people and groceries and luggage while doing it? We don't. The GT500 and its live rear axle can find a home in our garage any day and we will love them both equally.

Photos copyright ©2009 Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 6 Years Ago
      This car is still based on the the old platform is it not? The same platform that underscored the Lincoln LS, Jaguar S-Type, and even the new XF. If that's the case, would it be all that difficult to bolt that rear end onto a Mustang?

      If I recall correctly, Ford used to make an IRS kit (from the Cobra) for the last iterations of the Fox platform cars...
      • 6 Years Ago
      Looks menacing.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I think this is finally a fantastic car for the performance dollar, but the live axle has to go for me. They've done a super job of keeping it under control, but compare one of these to a CTS-V back to back and you'll see how composed IRS puts down 550 hp. Before I get flamed, I'm not trying to compare the CTS-V to this (they are very different cars) ... just the suspension.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I'll tell you why people bitch about lack of IRS - it's because they drive cars on less than ideal roads on daily basis! I bought my 06 GT vert & loved it - until dash rattles, broken e-brake cable that took 2 months to fix, and having almost hit a dump truck that was in the next lane as I was coming off the ramp and the car jumped almost half way into oncoming lane. I was going 35MPH tops when that happened. Sold the car after less than a year of owning it.

      I love the looks and the power, it's going to be hard going back to the experience of catching the car every time you go over a bump or a expansion joint...
      • 6 Years Ago
      • 6 Years Ago
      Now I want one. The blue one looks so damn nice.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Drag racing is lame, they should turn it into a track car, forget the drag racers.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Damn Autoblog... when you put it like that, I want one too.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I think you guys are forgetting that Ford already tried putting an IRS in the Mustang. The Cobras between 99-04 all had IRS in it and most of the people (including myself, i have owned a 95 Cobra, 2000 GT, and a 2003 Cobra) HATED the IRS.

      For the average car, IRS is not a problem. But for Mustang owners, it was a big headache. When launching the car hard, massive wheel hop caused a lot of the rear ends to break. Not only that, the IRS ended up putting a lot of unnecessary weight onto an already heavy car. Tons of Cobra owners ended up swapping out their IRS for the 8.8 Live Axles for the reliability and weight savings. One argument is that if Ford had designed an IRS able to withstand the abuse (like on the C5's and C6's), then people might be willing to give it a chance.

      Even so, if there were an even number of fans wanting an IRS versus Live Axle, Ford has no incentive to put one in the Mustang. There has to be overwhelming demand for an IRS in order for it to make financial sense. From what I can see, having been in the Mustang community for over a decade, I don't see that being the case.

      Also, my cars with live axles (granted they had suspension mods & sticky tires) were not bad at all on the street.
        • 6 Years Ago
        amen and thankya. Well put.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Wow those were some great times. I asuume the guy who recorded a 12.8 worked for car and driver. Their time was 12.9. I remember when car and driver were at the top of the car mags when it came to extracting the best time out of a car. The credibility of car and driver takes another blow. oh yeah I want this car
      • 6 Years Ago
      I wonder what will happen to all those GT500KRs that dealers are holding on to 'hoping/praying' the economy comes back and people pay 'market prices'?

      This car is an amazing refinement of a classic muscle car. Only thing missing from the 'Stang line up is a 400-425hp variant to tackle the Challenger SRT-8 and Camaro SS.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Think of the 2011 Mustang Mach-1 with the 3.5 EcoBoost V6 making 400+ HP and 400ftlbs (at 1500 rpm) and lighter than the GT. The Mach-1 should be the technology platform for Mustang while the Boss 302 gets the new 5.0 Coyote V8.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I love this car...do you guys have any videos of your testing days with the car? posst emm.
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