While the 2016 Shelby GT350 carries the Cobra badge, it calls to mind the 2013 Mustang Boss more than the insane Shelby GT500. We spent a week roaming the GTA in the latest Super-Stang, and it was a revelation, a spectacular mix of power, superb handling and balance, and carnal noises that will have the Cobra faithful foaming at the mouth.
8 cylinders, 5.2 litres, 1 flat-plane crankshaft = Voodoo
Although it shares its core with the Mustang GT’s 5.0L ‘Coyote’ V8, the GT350 has a black magic all its own. Hand built by a pair of master builders on a moving line, it gets a unique flat-plane crank shaft, an uncommon layout in today’s V8s. The flat-plane crank is lighter than the typical cross-plane crank (for a great explanation of the differences and handy dandy diagrams, check out this Jalopnik piece), can rev higher (8,250 rpm anyone?), but at the expense of some additional vibration. That’s just fine by us. In addition to the flat-plane crank, the GT350’s ‘Voodoo’ V8 has been bored out to 94.0 mm (up from 92.2), lined with pixie dust, blessed with hollowed stems (intake) and sodium-filled (exhaust) valves and with parts shaved and drilled out in the private bits to save as much weight and rotating mass as possible.
6 Gears, 1 clutch
Another of the most charming aspects of the GT350 is that it is only available with a manual transmission. This may cut into its marketability and sales numbers, but damned if we don’t respect Ford for sticking with the enthusiast’s choice. We wish we could say it is a revelation, but while the shifter gets the job done, firmly and surely, the clutch has some odd, uneven weight and springiness that I found distracting. Still, despite any quirkiness, the manual control meant more quality time in the powerband and exhaust-howling antics in tunnels and anywhere the sound would be magnified.
526 horsepower and 429 lb-ft of torque
Although the engine spins all the way up to 8,250 rpm, and sounds like a chorus of deranged hyenas (or was that me laughing all the way up to redline?), the 526 peak horsepower arrive at a similarly frantic 7,500 rpm, good for more cackling and wild grins. Torque arrives at a much more sane 4,750 rpm, 429 lb-ft of it downright reasonable compared to the previous gen Shelby’s 662 lb-ft, which simply demolished traction and evaporated rear tires in one quick puff of smoke. The GT350’s genius is just the right amount of power for manageability and maximum fun. At any given time, you can chirp the rear tires or get a little wiggle off the line, yet the GT350 doesn’t feel like it’s only purpose is to send you into a ditch the instant your attention wavers or your right foot gets a little too heavy.
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4.3 seconds to 60 mph
At 4.3 seconds to 60 mph (96 km/h), as recorded by Car and Driver, it’s not going to challenging Hellcats at the drag strip, but as stated earlier, the GT350 has traded in ridiculous horsepower and rocket launcher acceleration (in only the most delicate and capable of hands and feet) for a more subtle capability that the Boss displayed: control. Even a Mustang GT is about all the muscle one needs on the street, and the GT350 tops that and offers plenty of juice for powering up straights on track days or just for kicks. But for the record, the GT350 is still respectable at the strip, C&D reporting 12.5 seconds through the quarter-mile at 117 mph (188 km/h).
With a smaller lump than the previous Shelby, weight is down, thought perhaps not by as much as we would like. 1,705 kg is fine for a cruiser, but the Camaro SS, with its big, honkin’ 6.2L V8 (which produces a very generous 455 lb-ft), weighs 1,671 kg, and the base BMW M4 weights a svelte 1,626 kg, and that’s not even a lightweight special. Still, it doesn’t feel cumbersome, with more than enough power and excellent feel from its meaty, weighty though not particularly quick steering.
4-wheel independent suspension
With the Mustang finally joining the 21st century and fully independent suspension, the range of capability for the base car and performance models has taken a massive leap. The Boss of the previous generation was a beast on the track, with its own ungodly glorious noises, but it was a rough ride and unsettled over the broken and uneven pavements out in the real world. The Shelby’s front double-ball-joint MacPherson struts with tubular stabilizer bar and integral-link independent rear suspension with coil springs, tubular stabilizer bar and mono-tube dampers keep the car flat and balanced through any speeds and g forces reasonably attainable on public roads, while still offering a livable day-to-day ride. It’s firm and severe bumps will jostle the car, but it settle nicely, without the rear end skipping around too wildly even if you hit a bump through corners.
The GT350R also offers an adaptive “Magneride” suspension as part of the Track Package, which also includes heavy duty front springs, aluminum strut tower brace, oil, transmission and differential coolers and an Integrated Driver Control system. The Magneride dampers can vary the damping rates from milder to firmer using its driver control settings, so it will make for more pleasant cruising while retaining the firm, sporting demeanour for track days or spirited cornering.
Working in concert with the well-sorted suspension, the GT350’s brakes were always sharp and strong, with great feel and control, giving confidence no matter the speed. Of course, only extended time at the track would reveal their true durability and capability but in our brief time the 394-mm front brakes and 380-mm rears were everything I would hope for in a world-class sports car. As to their composition, they are vented and cross-drilled discs, with Brembo six-piston fixed aluminum calipers in front and four-piston fixed aluminum calipers in back.
As with any performance car, tires are critical for grip and braking, and the rolling stock on the GT350 is Michelin Pilot Super Sport rubber on staggered 19-inch aluminum alloy wheels. The front wheels measure 19 x 10.5 inches with 295/35ZR19 tires and the rears 19 x 11.0 with 305/35ZR19 tires. A rare option in this price range is a carbon-fibre wheel package that is part of the GT350R trim.
Carbon fibre is stiffer and lighter than most any alloy, but is pricey and time consuming to manufacture, so it’s usually reserved for exotics and high-end luxury cars and usually in critical chassis elements, but the GT350R’s wheels are a brilliant way to improve performance and reduce weight. The 19-inch carbon-fibre wheels are also a tad wider with stickier Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 rubber 11.0 inches in front (305/30ZR19), 11.5 in back (315/30ZR19).
In the case of the GT350, let’s just pretend R is a number. In addition to those novel carbon-fibre wheels, the GT350R keeps all the parts of the Track Package with its upgraded suspension and Magneride adaptive dampers, adds some performance goodies while deleting others. Between the carbon-fibre wheels and
deleting various frivolous amenities like stereo, nav system, rear seats, floor mats and back-up camera, the GT350 trims its curb weight to as low as 1,658 kg. If you select the Electronics Package, it adds all those goodies back in, and still weighs less than the base GT350 at 1,680 kg. On the positive side, it switches to a carbon-fibre spoiler, adds a chin splitter and gets unique chassis tuning to unlock even more performance potential.
For a car of this calibre, $70K (once you factor in the $63,788 MSRP, $1,650 Destination charge and various taxes) is pretty darn cheap. The GT350R, with its greater performance focus starts with an MSRP of $80,688, and it’s clearly the choice for those looking at occasional or frequent track time.
At that price point, it’s in the mix with BMW M4s, Porsche Caymans and even creeping up on the Jag F-Type, so it’s heady company, but it has the power, the speed and now handling to go toe-to-toe with those sports cars. And that’s what this Shelby GT350 is: a sports car through and through, and this is Shelby’s first crack at the Mustang’s newfound advanced chassis, so we expect even greater things as they can tinker with development and find ways to shave weight and add grip, downforce and power.