2016 Shelby GT350 Review – Impressing the in-laws since ‘65
This, however, was a Mustang with a growling, pulsating, 526 hp V8 under the bestriped (of course) bonnet, dual sports exhaust that can be made louder with a press of a button and – most importantly for what I had planned – a launch control system.
THE PROS & CONS
- What’s best: Monster V8 power, owning a piece of automotive lore
- What’s worst: Plasticky interior, bit rough ‘round the edges
- What’s interesting: Multi-link rear axle turns GT350 from drag strip star to circuit star
A huge smile on your face. Blood rushing. Heart racing. Eyes wide as saucers. These are all things that the 2016 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 (take a breath) will give you.
But chances are, dear reader, you knew that.
Did you know, however, that it could earn you brownie points with your father-in-law, too? It can.
Which is good, because I was going to need it as his daughter – my wife – and I were going to be away for Father’s Day. It wasn’t entirely on my account, but being the great guy I am, I decided to do what I had to to help smooth things over for myself and the missus. So, we took him out the weekend before Father’s Day instead.
We planned on driving out the ‘burbs ‘round Vancouver; she would drive with her mother in the latter’s sensible Honda CR-V crossover. Me and the father-in-law? The unashamedly non-sensible GT350. Well, I guess that’s kind of a “beauty’s in the eye of the beholder thing”, because the GT350 makes a tonne of sense. It just depends on who you ask.
Now, just plopping my wonderful in-law in the gorgeous (and fit as standard) Recaro seat and going for a nice cruise to the country would’ve been one thing, and he likely would have been fine with it. This, however, was a Mustang with a growling, pulsating, 526 hp V8 under the bestriped (of course) bonnet, dual sports exhaust that can be made louder with a press of a button and – most importantly for what I had planned – a launch control system.
It’s not that my wonderful in-law isn’t a car guy, per se; he has owned a number of eclectic cars in his time, including a Datsun 240 and a Fiat X1/9; the latter, especially, is not something just anybody buys. So, I was sure he wouldn’t be opposed to a little quick-start action.
With that in mind, I found a nice, wide open road in the farmland just outside of town, and proceeded to get on with it.
“There’s just this one thing I want to show you, sir…”
Activating the ‘Stang’s launch control is not as simple a task as it is in, say, a Grand Cherokee SRT. It doesn’t take much to learn, however.
First, make sure the car’s in “track” mode. Then foot on the brake, put it in neutral, navigate through the TFT display between the gauges to turn launch control on, and a handy gauge comes up, showing at which revs the clutch will be allowed to slip. Choose which you’d prefer – 4,400 r.p.m. is a sweet spot – back into first, pedal to the metal, pop the clutch and…
Before you know it, you’ve slotted the short throw lever into third gear and are bleeding speed off, the GT350 having exploded to the 80 km/h limit in what feels like 2 seconds, pinning your head into the supportive seatback. Not wanting to stray too far into the speed stratosphere, I was short-shifting; wring it out while on-track and you can hit 100 km/h in just over four seconds. Those are not muscle car numbers; those are sports- or even supercar numbers. It’s incredible, and this isn’t even the fastest version! There’s an “R” model that, among other things, shaves an additional 0.4 seconds off the 0-100 time!
Brownie points? Check, and then some. He was practically ready to pay for his own Father’s Day brunch…
That’s the thing about Mustangs in general, but especially special Mustangs like this one. While the late Carroll Shelby himself was never able to work on this particular car, you can rest assured that his aura is positively dripping from every pore. He may have taken a little issue with the fact that the car no longer has the drag-specific live rear axle, but if the man – who was a racer himself, once – ever got a chance to actually see what Ford’s chassis engineers have been able to do, I’m sure he’d be impressed.
Like the Mustang on which it’s based, the GT350 now has a multi-link rear axle that has been further tuned for the Shelby. A set of magnetic dampers has been added; that’s a Ford first, and similar to what Chevy does with the Corvette Z06 and what Ferrari and Audi are doing with their sports cars, too.
The result is a car that gets a lively rear end, but not one that’s so lairy that you’re constantly wrestling to keep it on-point. The dampers help push the big, sticky 305-section rear tires firmly into the tarmac below, while the adjustable traction control system manages to stop itself from robbing you of having too much fun on the twisties.
Before this test, I had the opportunity to take the GT350 out on the Driver Development track at the world-renowned Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, and while I’m no racer, it certainly helped make me feel like one. That well-sorted chassis deserves top marks, and is not something I’ve ever felt I’d feel from a pony/muscle car like this. Even the previous-gen version of this car, the Boss 302, was well done but would always be restricted by that rear axle. That’s no longer the case.
It’s not all completely analogue, either; there are five drive modes, for example, that electronically modify your throttle inputs, steering weight, traction control severity and more. Once you’ve pre-selected a mode, you can drill deeper and modify specific settings within it, much like you can do with BMW’s M-cars. Like a heavy wheel, but a bit less response on throttle tip-in? You can have that. What about firmer dampers, but looser steering? As much as I would advise against that, go ahead. The GT350 won’t stop you.
Thing is, with 295-section front tires, bus ruts in town are going to cause some problems. It’s to the point where deepest examples of these through-town thoroughfare hair-raisers will actually have the wheel writhing in your hands. It’s not for the faint of heart, this car.
That’s even before we start talking about the engine.
We can wax poetic all we want about how this latest car lets you access your inner Frank Bullitt, how all you want to do is throw a crash helmet on and go racing and so on. The real gem, though, with this Mustang or any before it, is what sits under the hood. So important, in fact, the door sills actually have “Engine: 5.2 LITER V8 FPC” inscribed on them, so you know what you’re dealing with as soon as you open the door.
A flat-plane crank , naturally-aspirated monster of a motor that revs to a stratospheric 8,250 rpm, normally the territory of highly-tuned Japanese four-bangers or Italian thoroughbred sports cars.
I mentioned the power figures, but let’s have a look, just one more time: 526 hp. 429 lb-ft of torque. A flat-plane crank (The “FPC” on the door sills), naturally-aspirated monster of a motor that revs to a stratospheric 8,250 rpm, normally the territory of highly-tuned Japanese four-bangers or Italian thoroughbred sports cars.
And the sound.
I know; pretty much every reviewer writing about this car is going to mention how addictive, or feral, or unadulterated, or maniacal – yes, let’s go with that – the sound through the dual exhausts is. That’s because it absolutely deserves to be mentioned here and everywhere else this car may appear. Remember when I said it makes sense if you’re of a certain mindset? Well, people with that kind of mindset want the loud antics. That’s why you get a car like this; it’s a loud n’ proud hunk of American muscle and it makes no apologies for it. Because if it did, all you’d hear is Ford making apologies for building a Mustang that has to make apologies.
Not me, though; I hear no apologizing because I’m too busy concentrating on the detailed noise I’m getting from my powertrain. You can leave the exhaust in loud mode with the press of a button, but there’s something to be said for the way the exhaust note automatically changes as you get higher in the rev band even if you don’t have the button pressed. It’s kind of a way of reinforcing the idea of just how fast you are going, and how manic things have gotten. With a car like this, it’s as much about the presentation as it is about the performance. Lucky for Ford and the GT350, it’s got both of those angles covered.
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Not that you need the changing exhaust note per se; the acceleration is so manic that you’re so focused on getting the shift points of the six-speed manual just right (and making sure your eyeballs don’t suck into the back of your head) that you may miss the fact that it changes at all. This feels nothing like any Mustang I’ve tried before.
We mentioned a little about the classic hood striping; there’s that, but there’s so much more to denote this as the Mustang of Mustangs. The massive, wide open grille, for example. It’s so deeply recessed in its opening that you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking there’s no grille at all, just a massive tunnel leading to the engine bay. It’s the most obvious feature of a front end that has been completely redesigned in the name of better aerodynamic stability. Then there are the black wheels shrouding massive Brembo brakes; that’s 15.5 inch ventilated and cross-drilled rotors at the front, and 14.9 in. items at the rear, pinched by six- and four piston calipers, respectively. In short, its exterior styling is indicative of the noise its powertrain produces.
Inside, while there’s still a lot of plastic – a hallmark of Mustangs since their inception – there are plenty of special touches. The dash plaque that denotes your chassis number, for example. Or the sueded steering wheel and seats. Even the fact that hardly any Ford logos can be spotted inside adds a layer of uniqueness. It’s almost all Shelby Cobra logos, all the time.
I guess the tech on-hand here is worth mentioning. Yes, I know: when you’re manhandling a fire-breathing muscle car, the last thing you’re likely going to be thinking about is the in-car entertainment. However: the Shelby is one of the first Fords to get the new SYNC3 interface. It’s piles more responsive than the outgoing platform, with crisp, clear new graphics and a nifty display that has all your key commands running across the bottom of the screen. So when you’re trying to capture that claimed 4.3 second 0-100 km/h time, your infotainment can keep up.
Not that it really needs it, though. That powertrain that’s now braced by a chassis that can really handle it means that while the drag racers might have their nose a little out of joint with this car (at first, anyway; I’m sure they’ll be sold after the first two quarter-mile passes), pretty much everybody else will be happy with what’s being offered. The new Mustang has done wonders for the new Shelby, and enthusiasts everywhere will be happy that they’ve managed to get it so, so right.
I know my father-in-law was.
Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 2016 at a glance
BODY STYLE: four-passenger coupe
DRIVE METHOD: 6-speed manual transmission, rear-wheel-drive
ENGINE: 5.2L V8 (526 hp, 429 lb.-ft.)
CURB WEIGHT: 1,706 kg
BASIC PRICE: $62,599