DETROIT — The menacing image of a king cobra poised to strike has been synonymous with Shelby Cobra Mustangs since 1965, but the badge for Ford’s new 2020 Mustang Shelby GT500 — at 760 horsepower, the most powerful street-legal Ford ever — could equally easily be a winged pillow.
It’s brutally quick — 3.3 seconds 0-60 mph, 10.7 seconds in the standing quarter mile — but not remotely punishing, simultaneously the fastest and most comfortable GT500 ever.
Thank a brand new dual-clutch seven-speed automatic transmission and Magneride adaptive shocks, plus the undivided attention of Ford Performance chief engineer Carl Widmann’s team virtually since the day the last killer Shelby, the Mustang GT350, hit the road in 2015.
The GT350’s handling raised the stakes for the GT500. The new car answers with a straight flush: handling, straight-line speed, dramatic looks, ride comfort and a dynamite dual-clutch automatic transmission.
Prices for the 2020 Shelby GT500 start at $70,300. It should be in dealerships any day.
Howling on the outside, quiet on the inside
The magic starts with the engine, a supercharged 5.2L V-8 that can howl like a banshee but leaves the cabin quiet enough for conversation at normal levels. There’s even a “good neighbor mode” you can program so as not to wake somebody sleeping next door.
Floor it and the engine races to its 7,500 rpm redline, pushing occupants back like a runaway, well, mustang.
The prospect of 625 pound-feet of torque on tap should be enough to scare anybody away from hard acceleration on public streets, but sticky Michelin performance tires and unobtrusive electronics keep the GT500 from being uncomfortably edgy.
The dual-clutch transmission holds gears for maximum acceleration and delivers satisfying downshifts under braking in sport mode. The Porsche 911’s DCT was the benchmark as Ford developed the new gearbox. Sport mode delivers the quickest shifts, just 8 milliseconds — quicker than a human can press the clutch in, let alone change gears, according to Ford engineers.
Adaptive shock absorbers keep the car from squatting back on its rear wheels even with the accelerator floored. The ride is surprisingly smooth.
Ford specified 20-inch wheels to make room for massive 16.53-inch front brake discs that deliver 25% more heat dissipation than the GT350’s brakes. Improved heat dissipation means the brakes continue to work longer under sudden extreme stops and deceleration from high speeds.
How high? The carbon fiber aerodynamics package produces a maximum of 550 pounds of downforce to keep the GT500 from leaving the ground — at 180 mph.
The thick steering wheel wrapped in suede-like Alcantara sets you up for success when the white line is at 12 o’clock to let you know when wheels are aimed dead ahead, an important consideration when you could be drag-racing at wide-open throttle from a standstill.
That same steering wheel connects to a rack that’s unique to the GT500, with extra large electric motors to turn the big, sticky tires. Response is quick, but not nervous, just what you want driving around the technical street course at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Advanced controls help novices master drag racing, which requires a lot more skill than those who haven’t done it expect. You can dial in launch control and heat the tires with electronically controlled burnouts for maximum traction. I hit 111 mph in a quarter-mile run, despite accidentally short-shifting with the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifter.
The high-bolstered optional two-tone Recaro front sport seats look great, but I found the seat-bottom bolsters so high that I continually bumped my head getting in and out of the Shelby.
The rest of the interior is comfortable and easy to use, with a combination of dials, buttons, voice recognition and touch screen.
$21,495 gets you lots of options
The Shelby GT500 I drove had $21,495 in options, mostly the $18,500 carbon fiber track pack that includes 20-inch exposed carbon fiber wheels, assorted other carbon fiber pieces and leather trimmed Recaro seats. Its total price of $91,795 also included a $2,600 gas guzzler tax.
The GT500 lineup is as colorful as a bag of Skittles: bright green and orange in addition to deep metallic blue, gray, black, red and silver.
Mark Phelan is the Detroit Free Press auto critic. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.