2016 Ford Shelby GT350 Mustang Road Test
Bury the throttle, stay committed deep into 4th gear and the 2016 Ford Shelby GT350 will show you 130 mph over the blind crest that is Turn 1 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. It's fast, certainly, but there's so much more.
You see, when flat out, this most special Mustang produces an unholy, pants-ripping yowl that pummels its way down your ear canal, past your eardrums and straight into your soul. The flat-plane crank in the new 5.2-liter V8 makes it both velvety-smooth and wicked efficient. It snorts up cannonballs on overrun and barks like a pissed Doberman between shifts. And even at 7,500 rpm there's a pile of meaningful revs left to unload.
It's not exactly a Ferrari-like wail, though there's certainly some of that in there. And it's not all pushrod bellow like a Corvette or Camaro. This is something decidedly different. Something all-new, and something very, very good.
How Is the GT350 Different From a Standard Mustang?
First, there's the engine. Both the GT350 and GT350R get an all-new 5.2-liter V8 that cranks out 526 horsepower and 429 pound-feet of torque on 93-octane fuel. It makes less on 91 octane, which is the best fuel available in large portions of its market (like California). How much less isn't entirely clear. Adam Christian, Ford Performance's internal combustion technical expert, is non-committal in providing an exact number but hints that 15-20 hp is likely.
The Tremec six-speed manual transmission is 10 pounds lighter than the Getrag box in the base Mustang and is the only transmission offered. It's coupled to the engine via a dual-disc clutch that actually feels a little light for our tastes. An external air-to-oil heat exchanger housed in the front fascia is responsible for cooling the gearbox on GT350s with the optional Track package. It's standard on the GT350R. A Torsen limited-slip differential distributes torque to the ground through a 3.73-to-1 ring and pinion.
The chassis is also thoroughly revamped. Optional magnetorheological dampers utilize fluid filled with ferrous material that changes viscosity as an electric current is passed through it. It's a proven technology and probably the best solution for damping a car in need of a wide range of adjustability. Five drive modes (Normal, Sport, Weather, Track and Drag) tweak damping, throttle and steering maps.
Unsurprisingly, spring and stabilizer bar rates are increased over the standard Mustang. They're increased further on the more aggressively tuned GT350R. So thorough is the under-car renewal that there are new alloy uprights at each corner, the front track width is wider and the steering geometry is revised. In other words, most mechanical similarities to the 2015 Mustang are gone.
How Do They Drive?
Certainly the driving experience is dominated by the stunningly effective engine, but it's such a thoroughly complete machine that praising the engine alone does a disservice to the utter competence of the whole package.
The engine is a wildly flexible thing, capable of producing meaningful yank at 4,000 rpm and continuing the party well past 8,000 rpm. The result is a desire to shift only to hear the engine wail at a different speed.
And here's the thing about the GT350 — particularly the GT350R — on a racetrack: It doesn't feel, sound or even deteriorate like a street car. No, blindfolded, this could be a dedicated racecar. Steering inputs are met with alarming response. You turn, it turns. There's no secondary motion. The MR dampers are fully utilized to control roll, pitch and dive, creating an all-new experience unlike any other contemporary competitor.
Braking, thanks to 15.5-inch front rotors and six-piston Brembo calipers, is hugely confident. Always.
This is a driver's car that begs for the deliberate moves made by those who drive for a living, but it's forgiving enough for the rest of us. Its indifference for racetrack duty is stunning. Five hours of tire-frying, brake-torturing laps were dismissed with simple refueling.