Driven: 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500

The best way I can describe driving the 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500, is that it’s like you’re driving “Goliath.” The 2020 GT500 is Ford’s “most powerful, street-legal car” built to-date. With 760 horsepower, the GT500 certainly has the power you would expect from a modern Ford, it sounds like a V8 Mustang should, unsurprisingly, its straight-line performance is killer, and track-handling is on point, but where the GT500 will surprise you the most is with its street manners. 

At its core, it’s still a Mustang. The Recaro seats are comfortable, and back seats are standard if you care for them. The air conditioning is great, and the interior layout and materials are all very familiar. The trunk is still large enough to put a body inside. 

After driving my 2014 3.7-liter Mustang to Las Vegas, I was excited to get behind the wheel of a Mustang with more than double my daily driver’s power. The last GT500 Ford produced was made the same year as mine, and it came with a 5.8-liter, supercharged V8 with 662 HP. To give you some perspective, the 2020 model has nearly 100 more horsepower from a smaller engine.

Specs That Matter

The 2020 GT500 comes powered by a 5.2-liter cross-plane crank V8 topped with an inverted Roots-type 2.65-liter supercharger, with an air-to-liquid intercooler. Ford boasts the set up is capable of 760 horsepower and 625 lb-ft of torque. The engine redlines at 7,500 rpm, which is high for a supercharged application, and power is sent to the rear wheels via its seven-speed Tremec dual-clutch transmission.

According to Ford, the top speed is limited to 180 mph. The GT500 will hit zero to 60 mph in just 3.3 seconds and will do a quarter-mile in 10.7 seconds. More impressively, the GT500 is capable of zero to 100 mph and back down to zero in 10.6 seconds.

How’s it Drive?

At the start of the day, I was partnered up with another female journalist who had been sharing stories of press cars past. Her roster included McLaren, Bentley, and Ferrari. When she asked to drive the GT500 first, I obliged as I felt I must be in safe, capable hands. 

Almost immediately, she peeled out of the parking lot and nearly lost control. My advice: the car can be calm and tame, but you have to make sure you can be as well, especially when the tires are still cold. 

Ford’s press drive put us on a long stretch of Nevada highway with the GT500 for roughly 45 minutes. The destination was Mt. Charleston, and allowed us to cruise around between 65 and 70 mph, with the engine humming along blissfully below 2,000 RPM. 

I found my preferred driving settings to be in Sport+ with the steering and exhaust also set to Sport Mode. The settings err on the slightly obnoxious side, but I found it easy to quickly switch the exhaust to “Quiet Mode” when a cop rolled up.  

That said, the car does not blend in. Even when painted the most boring shade of silver-gray, the gaping front fascia and rear wing are undeniably attention-grabbing. 

The car is perfectly happy to settle into commuter driving and geared so that you never feel bored with it despite keeping the speeds low. Still, we all know that’s not what it’s made for and in its “sport mode” and “track mode” it’s urging you to floor it, and as soon as you get on the accelerator, the transmission shifts down a few gears and almost instantly the car becomes the snarling monster it is. 

While behind the wheel, I thought I might miss the manual transmission in the GT500, but honestly, the Tremec dual-clutch is ten. It’s fast and efficient, and hits the gear you want when you want it. 

I struggle to keep most any S550 centered in the lane because, to me, it feels like such a heavy car, and I don’t know where it is in the road. While there’s no getting around the fact the GT500 is and feels like a big car, the large hood scoop helped me exponentially with keeping it in the center. 

With so much power and Ford’s delightfully bright and beautiful color options, you will want to be mindful of the gas pedal and exercise some responsibility and restraint. That said, the most challenging thing I experienced while driving the GT500 was obeying the posted 45 mph speed limit on some sections of the road. 

To satisfy the urge to floor it, Ford provided us with a quarter-mile drag strip to use.

Drag Mode 

Ford says the GT500 will do the quarter-mile in 10.7 seconds, and with the right conditions, it’s absolutely possible. 

To fully appreciate the performance of the car, let me provide some context: the drag strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s elevation is around 2,000 feet, and it was a hot day. I was in the last media wave, and the cars had already been put through the paces of four other groups with 20-30 other journalists. I am not a drag racer by any means, and my experience driving on the drag strip is limited. The track uses a different tree than I was used to, and it was my first time in the car using line-lock or its drag strip mode. 

My first pass was 11.8, then 11.6, and finally 11.23 at 130 mph. Let that sink in… 

Recently I got to get behind the wheel of the 2020 #ShelbyGT500 <3 Check it out!

Posted by Nicole Ellan James on Monday, November 18, 2019

In drag mode, you can apply the brake with your left foot and floor the gas, which activates the car’s launch control. Once you take your foot off the brake, it seems the car will pause for a second before taking off; however, once it accelerates, it’s extremely forceful, and you feel the G-force push against you. It’s more intense than a jet taking off. 

Before each pass, Ford encouraged us to use the line-lock feature, which allows you to lock the front brakes so that the rear wheels can spin without the car moving forward. It is 100-percent fun but mainly to warm up your back tires. 

Behind the wheel, the car didn’t feel hot or worn out as I expected, even after my three passes, each with its fatty burnout. It was apparent the vehicle could launch itself like this all day. 

How To Do A Burnout In The GT500

To activate line-lock, the wheel must be straightened out, and the car must first be in drag strip mode, which will ask you to verify that you know that you are about to do something risky. Then you will select the Shelby snake on the steering wheel, which brings up “Track Apps.” 

Next, scroll down to “Line Lock” and hold the OK button until a picture of a spinning wheel fully appears on the digital gauge cluster. You will release OK and then press the brake down as firmly as you can. The trick is to apply a soft amount of pressure to the brake while setting everything up so that you can use more force when prompted. 

The brake will buzz and push back; you will see another prompt to hit OK after that. 

Once you’ve activated line-lock, as crazy as it sounds, you can remove your foot from the brake and mash the throttle for 15 seconds. I was extremely hesitant and skeptical about applying throttle without pressing the brake, but the car didn’t take off and stayed where it should while doing a big gnarly burnout. 

Track Performance

I love road racing and have much more road course seat time than any other style of driving, aside from the daily commute. The days of a Mustang being a straight-line-only machine are long gone. On the track, the GT500 is a killer. 

Several 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500s were set up with roll bars/harness bars for the track testing portions of the media event. Each was fitted with a six-point harness as well. LVMS is a long, technical course with plenty of sweeping turns, a decreasing radius turn, and a chicane. 

On the straightaways, the power is addictive, and the noise is absolutely intoxicating. The massive brake calipers and 16-inch front rotors encourage you to brake a little later with each corner, making its weight transfer with ease as it slows to cornering speeds.  

You feel the weight of all eight cylinders and its beefy supercharger sitting over the front axle when you drive and turn. 

The Pilot Sport Cup 2s are fabulous on the track. They provide the GT500 with so much grip that you get yanked around in the driver’s seat despite how well you think you are strapped in. 

Given the limited time with the car and my experience to date, I wasn’t crazy enough to go 100-percent with the GT500 on the road course, so I opted to ride passenger with Ford Performance Vehicle Dynamics Engineer Steve Thompson. I’m a massive fan of riding shotgun on a track session when there’s a trained professional around because they know the car and track much better than I do and are way better performance drivers than I am.

Thompson cleared the pit lane and nailed the throttle immediately toward the first corner. The GT500 roars through the corners, its grip just managing to catch what the engine put down. 

With Thompson at the wheel, the GT500 was nothing short of impressive. The grip through the corners was unworldly. Thompson kept the car balanced on the edge of grip, barreling through the turns with the tires screeching. 

I was impressed after my time with the car, and I knew it was fast, but at the hands of a pro, the vehicle is really f*cking fast. 

“But does it drift?” I asked Thompson through my giggles as my hot laps came to an end, his response was to floor it through the straightaway and flick the car through the first sweeping corner. The answer: it “sort of” drifts. It struggled a bit, but that could have been due to whatever driving mode it was set at, though it felt like the traction control had been left on. 

Conclusion 

Having driven almost all the Mustangs offered in 2020, I’m asked which one I would get or which one is the best. My response is that it really depends on what you intend to do with the car and how you want to use it. 

A lot of people want to compare the GT350 and GT500, but they aren’t comparable other than the fact they are both Mustangs. The GT350 is an analog sports car with suspension and aero that can only be described as magical, along with its high-revving flat-plane V8 and six-speed manual. Meanwhile, the GT500 will tackle the precision track stuff just fine though it’s not quite as confidence-inspiring, but it is an absolute riot on the drag strip. 

In terms of overall performance, the GT500 is capable of anything, anywhere, at any time. If you can’t get the GT500 or you dislike its EPA estimated 12 mpg in the city and 18 mpg on the highway, go for the EcoBoost High-Performance Pack Mustang. It’s considerably less in all aspects than the GT500, but comes across like a mini-GT500 and gives you enough performance to have fun. 

My time with the GT500 wasn’t long, but just enough for it to stand out as a ferocious, loud, and tire-smoking memory in my mind.

2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500
VEHICLE TYPE Front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, 2- or 4-passenger, 2-door coupe
BASE PRICE $73,995
ENGINE TYPE Supercharged and intercooled DOHC 32-valve V-8, aluminum block and heads, port fuel injection

Displacement: 315 cu in, 5163 cc

Power: 760 hp @ 7300 rpm

Torque:625 lb-ft @ 5000 rpm

TRANSMISSION 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
DIMENSIONS Wheelbase: 107.1 in

Length: 189.5 in

Width: 76.6 in

Height: 53.7–54.3 in

Passenger volume: 55–85 cu ft

Trunk volume: 14 cu ft

Curb weight (C/D est): 4200 lb

PERFORMANCE: 60 mph: 3.3 sec

0-100-0 mph: 10.6 sec

¼-mile: 10.7 sec

Top speed: 180 mph

EPA FUEL ECONOMY Combined/city/highway: 14/12/18 mpg

Photography by Nicole Ellan James

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About the author

Nicole Ellan James

As an automotive journalist and avid car enthusiast, Nicole Ellan James has a passion for automotive that is reflected in every aspect of her lifestyle. Follow Nicole on Instagram and Facebook - @nicoleeellan
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