By Steven Cole Smith, Tribune Newspapers
June 24, 2010
Let's address this and get past it quickly. There have been more expensive Mustangs, but they were all race track-ready cars. Truthfully, this one is pretty close to being a racer. And since it's the best Mustang I've ever driven, and that includes all those race track-only models, the price seems -- well, still expensive. But justifiable.
The 2011 Mustang Shelby GT500 has been updated since last year, most notably with the replacement of the cast-iron engine block with an aluminum block that weighs 102 pounds less. That may not seem like a lot on a car that weighs 3,820 pounds -- or, in the case of our convertible, 3,969 pounds -- but since that weight comes right off the nose of the car, it's noticeable.
Add to that the new electric power steering, which replaces the hydraulic booster, and the new Shelby definitely feels lighter. At first, the steering seems too light -- not enough road feel, not quite sensitive enough -- but after a day or two, I actually liked it better than the old hydraulic steering.
And add to that a new $3,495 "performance package" that includes larger but lighter wheels, as well as brand-new Goodyear Eagle F1 SuperCar G2 radial tires and this Shelby (named for Carroll Shelby, the car builder who invented the high-performance Mustang), feels remarkably light on its feet. While this performance package stiffens up the suspension, the ride remained more than tolerable on even the worst pavement. This Shelby has supercar power, but it's prepared to handle daily driving duties.
Speaking of supercar power, the 5.4-liter supercharged V-8 now has 550 horsepower, 10 more than last year. And improved fuel mileage still won't please Ralph Nader, but at an EPA-rated 15 mpg city, 23 highway, it no longer gets saddled with a federal "gas guzzler" tax. The only transmission offered is the ubiquitous Tremec six-speed manual, and it feels right, as does the clutch operation.
Inside, the Shelby is pretty plain for the price -- lots of charcoal plastic on the center console and dashboard. The test car had the $2,340 "electronics package," which gets you a navigation system and a few other features. The leather-clad front seats are excellent -- seat comfort was a real sore point until a few years ago -- and you probably know enough about Mustangs not to have high expectations for the cramped rear seat.
To lower the cloth top, undo two latches at the windshield, and press a button. It works well, but at $60,330, you might expect one of those neat folding hardtops.
On the road, Ford and its Special Vehicle Team engineers have added enough bracing to the chassis to make the convertible feel just like the coupe, even over the roughest railroad tracks. There is zero chassis flex, which results in taut, sure-footed handling. Acceleration is amazing: Ford has quieted the supercharger to the point where you have to roll down the windows to hear it contribute.
Which also lets you hear that wonderful V-8 exhaust note. Suddenly, $60,000 doesn't seem that pricey.
2011 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 convertible
Base price: $53,645
Price as tested: $60,330
EPA rating: 15 mpg city, 23 mpg highway
Engine: 5.4-liter, supercharged, 550-horsepower V-8
Transmission; Six-speed manual
Length: 188.2 inches
Wheelbase: 107.1 inches
Bottom line: The best Mustang ever and priced like it.
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