A few small, but very important updates that make for the icing on a very good cake.
DETROIT, MICHIGAN – As the brainchild of the late Carroll Shelby, Shelby American has been a staple of American automotive performance and motorsport for more than half a century. Today, Ford (and their Ford Performance division) has adopted the Shelby name for their hopped-up Mustangs, and although it was originally introduced in 2016, the 2019 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 gets a series of incremental improvements that aim to make it better and bolder than ever before. Ford Canada invited DoubleClutch.ca Magazine near Detroit, Michigan last week to M1 Concourse (link here), which is a new private race track for auto enthusiasts who aren’t really into the local country club. While there, we got to put the the Shelby through its paces on the track, and got to talk to the design team about many of the subtle changes.
The changes for 2019 aimed to make the Shelby GT350 a more balanced car on both the street and the track. In other words, Ford Performance wants you to have the best of both worlds. The goal was to make the car easier to drive at its limits, while also returning increased grip and better overall drivability. On the outside, new aerodynamics and a new rear spoiler – with a “gurney flap” on the trailing edge – is as much function as it is form. The new design has less drag at higher speeds while also offering more downforce, which pairs well with the chassis improvements.
The GT350’s MagneRide suspension has been tweaked to take advantage of the new aero, and the spring rates have been adjusted at all four corners. Michelin was tapped to come up with a GT350-specific tread compound for the Pilot Sport Cup 2 tire, which builds on an already-renowned design for performance driving aficionados. On top of all of this, the electric power steering, stability control, and anti-lock braking systems have all been re-tuned based on what Ford and Shelby have learned via their own competitive racing efforts.
Remaining unchanged for this year is the fire-breathing, 8,250RPM redline, 5.2-litre flat plane crank V8 engine. With a forged aluminum block, peak power output is 526 horsepower at 7,500RPM, combined with 429 lb-ft of torque at 4,750RPM. On the road, this V8 is easily one of the best sounding and most responsive engines on the market today, with a dual-mode exhaust that cranks everything up to 11. The stratospheric redline and torque curve mean that there are revs for days, and winding out to the top of second and third gears at M1 Concourse was about as much fun as one can have with their clothes on. This is a very special engine.
While the upcoming GT500 variant of the Shelby Mustang will have a seven-speed dual clutch transmission, the GT350 caters well to purists with its six-speed Tremec TR-3160 manual. A more compact unit than the more commonly known TR-6060, the 3160 is still plenty strong for its application and emphasizes shift feel and ease of use. In practice, the shifter is direct and engaging, allowing for precise shifts that feel good in the hand. Clutch feel is pretty close to any other V8 Mustang available, which means a heavy but easy to modulate pedal that punishes you only a little bit in daily driving. Heel-toe rev matched downshifts are easy as pie, and you’re going to have to do them yourself, as there is no automatic rev match function. 2019 5.0-litre GT and Bullitt Mustangs (reviewed here) can get the auto rev match for this year.
On the track, the handling updates and fantastic powertrain couple together to make the Shelby an extremely easy and predictable car to drive fast. After taking a few laps to learn the layout at M1 Concourse, some very aggressive driving followed, and the GT350 took it all like a champ. The Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires stuck like glue after getting a little bit of heat in them, and wide-open-throttle corner exits in second gear didn’t make them flinch at all.
Handling balance could be described as pretty neutral, with progressive understeer coming into play if entering a corner a bit too hot. The anti-lock brakes and stability control in track mode also perform well, allowing enough manual driver input while leaving a safety net that doesn’t rain on the fun parade. Steering was heavy and felt like it offered good feedback to the aforementioned understeer, and the wicked-good Brembo brakes showed no fade despite abuse from automotive media all day long.
On the street, the GT350 is about as livable as its milder Mustang counterparts. Firmness would be about the same as a 5.0-litre GT with the Performance Pack 2, which is about as stiff as you’d want in order to maintain enough comfort for longer trips. The magnetic ride suspension works absolute wonders in both performance and more sedate settings, and the drive loop down varied conditions (including potholes) on the fabled Woodward Avenue didn’t break any backs. Fuel economy is rated at 17.2L/100KM in the city, and 11.3L/100KM on the highway – both using premium. On our drive loop, we saw 14.7L/100KM.
Pricing on the 2019 GT350 starts at $75,600 before taxes and fees. Some of the options available include Recaro seats for an extra $850, exposed carbon fibre instrument panel for $850, and $600 for racing stripes. The $400 Electronic Package adds Bang & Olufsen audio, blind spot monitoring, heated mirrors with memory, cobra puddle lamps, and navigation. The Handling Package is a must-have for $1,000, and adds adjustable strut top mounts and the rear gurney flap spoiler. For those looking to go full bore, the GT350R package is $10,000, and brings to the table 19-inch carbon fibre wheels(!), carbon fibre rear wing, front splitter, rear seat delete, red accent stitching, unique chassis tuning, and the aforementioned adjustable strut top mounts.
All in all, the 2019 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 is not a bad value compared to the likes of the BMW M2 Competition (reviewed here) or the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. It more than holds its own against these two heavy hitters, and all three make for some serious weekend track weapons that somehow manage to be survivable in daily driving on the street. Everything from top to bottom is the real deal here, and it shows the progress that the Mustang has made since moving to an independent rear suspension for the current generation. Although it has received relatively small incremental updates, Ford Performance has gone and made a good car even better, which is just icing on the cake, really.