When is enough enough? For Ford’s SVT performance-vehicle team, the 2013 Shelby GT500 provides the answer, and it’s a resounding “never.” There’s no other conclusion after driving this muscle-car creation. It gained 112 horsepower for 2013, making for an incredible 662 hp total from its supercharged V-8.
The 2013 Ford Shelby GT500 is an unruly beast, an automotive hooligan — and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
The Shelby GT500 coupe starts at $54,995 including a $795 destination charge, and the convertible lists for $5,000 more. A number of performance-oriented options raised the price of our test coupe to $63,080. The Shelby GT500’s base price is a few hundred dollars below that of its prime competitor, the 580-hp Chevrolet Camaro ZL1.
Going & Stopping
Driving the Shelby GT500 requires a certain level of restraint from your right foot. The rear end readily swerves to the side if you jab the gas pedal — even on warm tires and dry roads. Though the rear steps out willingly — even with all the electronic safety features on — it happens in a predictable way, and it’s easy enough to quell the motions by backing off the gas.
That controllable nature of the 2013 Shelby GT500 is one of the key qualities that make it better than its predecessor, which was skittish and prone to snap oversteer. Abrupt, uneven power delivery from that car’s supercharged V-8 didn’t help matters, either.
Making the car’s tail squirm and wiggle never gets old, but the lack of grip makes it difficult to take full advantage of the considerable power at your disposal — 662 hp at 6,500 rpm and 631 pounds-feet of torque at 4,000 rpm. It’s a constant battle to keep the rear tires hooked up. The Camaro ZL1’s rear tires are nearly an inch wider, and a larger contact patch could help check some of the Shelby GT500’s power-delivery issues.
The Shelby GT500’s baritone exhaust note is fitting, and it won praise from our editors. Mash the gas pedal, and the primal, lion-like roar is a perfect match for the car’s thrilling power.
The high-performance powertrain doesn’t make the Shelby GT500 difficult to drive in stop-and-go traffic, though you’ll get more of a workout than you would with a regular Mustang GT. The clutch pedal is quite a bit firmer, but it doesn’t take long to learn where the clutch engages, and there’s enough slippage to make smooth starts second-nature.
Like the clutch pedal, there’s a lot of tension in the six-speed manual transmission’s shifter, much more than the Mustang GT’s manual. Short throws engage each gear with an uncommon level of mechanical precision.
EPA gas mileage estimates for the Shelby GT500 are 15/24/18 mpg city/highway/combined, which improves on the 2012 model by 1 mpg in both highway and combined driving, despite the 112-hp gain. Ford boasts that the Shelby GT500 is exempt from any gas-guzzler tax. That’s true, but after a week in the Cars.com garage, the car’s average fuel economy stood at 14 mpg. That was a result of enthusiastic miles, to be sure, but it meant frequent trips to the gas station, as the Shelby GT500’s tank holds only 16 gallons.
The car comes with a Brembo-brand brake system that includes discs that measure 15 inches across in front and 13.8 inches in back, with six-piston front calipers and single-piston rear ones. The brakes bite hard early and offer admirable linearity across the pedal’s range of motion.
Ride & Handling
The Shelby GT500’s track-mindedness comes through in its suspension tuning. Our car had the optional Performance Package, which includes SVT-tuned Bilstein dampers with two modes: Normal and Sport. The package also adds a limited-slip differential, unique wheels and special rear springs.
Even in Normal mode, the ride is firm by most standards, producing a pronounced jounce when you hit a bump. The car quickly settles itself after such a hit, but Chicago roads are rarely smooth for more than a couple feet, and the suspension picked up all their imperfections. Sport mode makes the ride even less forgiving.
The ride is significantly firmer than a Mustang GT’s, and I wonder if Ford has gone too firm with the Shelby GT500’s Normal mode. It’d be nice if one of the settings were comfort-oriented, but as it stands there’s hardly enough difference between the two modes to warrant a button to select between them. Their similarity means this car is definitely at the edge of everyday drivability if you spend many miles on compromised city pavement.
That said, the GT500 drives well on the highway. It settles in nicely around 70 mph, and you can’t feel the movements of the live rear axle like you can in the regular Mustang.
There’s a nimbleness to the Shelby GT500 that’s missing from the Camaro and Dodge Challenger. Steering turn-in is quick and immediate, though it happens without much road feel. It’s an electrically assisted system and it includes three modes — Standard, Sport and Comfort — that vary the amount of power assistance. Like the suspension, the difference between the steering modes is minimal, and more variation would be welcome.
The Shelby GT500 is smaller than the Camaro and Challenger, and you’ll feel that in corners, but it’s not engaging like a Porsche Cayman S. It’s still a muscle car, even if it is a modern one.
One of the Shelby GT500’s pleasant surprises is cabin visibility. The front roof pillars are relatively upright, yielding great forward views, and over-right-shoulder visibility is good, too. It shows that you needn’t have terrible visibility (like the Camaro does) in order to have a stylish car.
One of the Shelby GT500’s subtle highlights is its ability to manage wind rush. Cruising on the highway with the windows down results in plenty of cabin turbulence in most cars, but this car’s interior is remarkably calm by comparison. The rear wheel wells could use more sound-deadening material, however, because you can clearly hear road debris bouncing off the underbody.
The optional Recaro front seats are another high point that drew praise from numerous editors. Available for $1,595, the bucket seats offer an ideal blend of comfort and support, with large side bolsters to keep you in place in fast corners. The integrated head restraints were fine by us, but some drivers might prefer a height adjustment.
The backseat could be usable for taller adults if headroom weren’t so limited. I’m 6-foot-1 and had to sit with my head tilted to the side; I couldn’t sit straight up without bumping into the rear window. It wouldn’t have been a problem if I were a few inches shorter, but the Challenger’s backseat is more accommodating.
Interior quality is a mixed bag. The upper section of the interior features a padded dashboard and an overall premium appearance, but glance down at the hard shiny plastic center console, and the drop-off in quality is immediately apparent. Panel fit could also be better.
Instrument legibility is another shortcoming. Though not as bad as the retro script of the regular Mustang’s gauges, the tight hash mark and number spacing makes it hard to check your speed at a glance — vitally important in a car like this. The configurable instrument lighting — a Mustang signature feature — lets you specify the backlighting color, but it can’t help the cramped gauge layout. The speedometer and tachometer needles are tiny, too.
The 2013 Mustang coupe received the best score, Good, in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s primary frontal crash test, and the second-best rating, Acceptable, in the side-impact crash test (the Mustang convertible was rated Good). The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also tested the Mustang coupe, giving it four out of five stars overall and a five-star rollover rating.
Standard safety features include antilock brakes and an electronic stability system, which are required on new vehicles as of the 2012 model year. There are also standard side-impact airbags for the front seats that include head-protection extensions.
Shelby GT500 in the Market
Fuel-efficient and alternative-energy vehicles have been the stars of the car world the past few years, but a horsepower war has also been quietly raging among carmakers, and the 2013 Shelby GT500 is perhaps the most audacious effort to date. It’s as if the car exists in a universe parallel to Ford’s other products, promoted as they are for their fuel efficiency and green cred.
Every car has a mission, whether it’s a Chevrolet Suburban or a Nissan Leaf. The Shelby GT500’s mission is a pretty obvious one — extreme performance, straight from the factory — and after driving the car there’s only one conclusion: Mission accomplished.
By Mike Hanley
September 11, 2012