2008 Ford Shelby GT500

    (6 Reviews)




    MSRP
    $42,330
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    2008 Ford Shelby GT500 Expert Review:Autoblog


    Click above for a high-res gallery of the 2008 Shelby GT500 Mustang


    Sometime around late 2003, I first saw the car that was at that time still known as Condor. Condor was the Ford internal code name for the SVT version of the yet to be publicly shown S197 Mustang. At that time, most everyone outside of Ford was still anticipating that this car would be the new Mustang Cobra. Somewhere along the line to launch, Ford had settled its long standing conflict with Carroll Shelby and Condor ended up wearing one of the other classic Mustang badges from the '60s. The Shelby GT500 eventually started rolling off the Flat Rock, MI assembly line in both coupe and convertible forms for the 2007 model year.

    Ford recently dropped off a Grey 2008 GT500 coupe at the Autoblog Garage for a few days, and we just had to share. By coincidence, the GT500 arrived about three weeks after the Mustang Bullitt we reviewed. While the Bullitt was about as understated as a modern Mustang can get, the GT500 is anything but. The Shelby is slathered in stripes, badges, spoilers and driving lights. The GT500 also has a very different powertrain from the Bullitt. Find out how the GT500 compares to the stealth 'Stang after the jump.


    Photos Copyright ©2008 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.



    click any image to enlarge


    As I said before, the GT500 is the anti-Bullitt. Under the bulging hood, the 4.6L SOHC V8 has been replaced by a 5.4L dual overhead camshaft V-8 with a supercharger sitting in the valley between the banks. If that spec sounds familiar, that's because so far it matches the plant from the now discontinued Ford GT. However, the engine in this super pony is quite a bit different. The GT used an aluminum block with dry sump lubrication. Unfortunately, the dry sump configuration couldn't be packaged in the Mustang so Ford swapped in the wet sump 5.4L block used in the F-150. The bad news is that the truck block is cast from iron rather than lighter weight aluminum.

    The downside of the new block is a significant weight penalty. The GT500 carries about 550 lbs more mass than a regular GT, with most of it over the front axle. Of course, not all of that is due to the engine. Some comes from additional equipment installed in the Shelby. The GT500 weighs in at a porky 3,920 pounds with the balance shifting from the GT's 54/46 to a more nose heavy 57/43.



    While the iron block is different from the GT, the aluminum cylinder heads were retained from the super-car. With the 8.5 psi of pressure in addition to atmospheric pressure, the 5.4L V8 churns out 500 hp at 6,000 rpm and 480 lb-ft of torque at 4,500 rpm, making this by far the most powerful series production Mustang built to date. There are some even more limited production variants coming like the GT500KR and the Super Snake (Ford spokesman Alan Hall reminded me that the Super Snake is not actually a factory authorized package but is in fact post title and sold by Shelby Automobiles), but those are more like factory authorized tuner specials. What is particularly impressive is that Ford is able to make this much power while meeting all of today's emissions standards. Unlike engines from the '60s, Shelbys these days idle smoothly at a nice steady 600 rpm, never failing to start or suffering from vapor lock on hot summer days.



    Transferring all that power and torque to the rear axle is handled by a Tremec TR6060 six-speed gearbox. That makes this the only non-five-speed gearbox in the current Mustang lineup. At the other end of the prop-shaft sits a live axle with the same three-link and Panhard rod setup as every other S197 Mustang. When the GT500 was first revealed in early 2005, many fans were appalled that the independent rear suspension of the previous generation Cobra would no longer be available on the most powerful Mustang. Seems like most are learning to live with it.

    Let's go back to that first red Condor prototype I saw back in late 2003. When I saw it, the car was up on a hoist and the rear end was clearly visible. At that time, there was an IRS installed in the car. That was the last time I saw a Condor with IRS. All subsequent examples reverted to the live axle and the IRS prototypes were also retrofitted. Why did Ford seemingly go backwards? Cost, weight and performance are the likely culprits. Too much of the first two and not enough of the latter. For the most part, the live axle configuration of the S197 is among the best of it's type ever created. For a relatively simple hardware configuration, Ford engineers did a great job sorting this one out. That's not to say it's perfect. There are limits and the GT500 does exhibit some axle tramp under maximum acceleration.



    Speaking of acceleration, the GT500 has plenty of it, although surprisingly not that much more than the Bullitt. While the super 'Stang has a 185 hp and 155 lb-ft advantage over the Bullitt, all that extra mass and tire-limited traction mean that it is only marginally quicker on the road. While the GT500 is undoubtedly fast, it doesn't really feel much stronger. Those extra 550 lbs feel ever present and the increased weight over the front axle only makes things worse. Even the clutch and shift effort feel marginally heavier than the Bullitt.



    The seats, thick leather-covered steering wheel and dash covering are all shared with the Bullitt as well, though the metal trim panel is absent in the Shelby. The oil temperature gauge is also supplanted by a boost gauge in the GT500. One negative effect of the visual "enhancements" applied to the GT500 is reduced visibility to the rear. The spoiler on the rear deck cuts a surprising amount from the view through the rear window.

    The fastest way to launch a GT500 is to bring the tach up to 3,500 rpm and drop the clutch and then get ready to shift before the engine bounces off the rev-limiter. I didn't do that with this particular example because I didn't have the opportunity to take it to the track and Ford asked us not to shred the tires too much. On the move, squeezing the "go" pedal hard brings up a hellacious wail from the Roots-type blower as the tach needle sweeps around to the red-line. The combined blower whine and exhaust roar make for quite a symphony, but frankly I preferred the sound of the Bullitt with its more classic, naturally aspirated note.



    When it comes to changing direction, all the extra mass of the Shelby gives it a somewhat leaden feeling, especially compared to the Bullitt. The springs are stiffer in order to support the extra weight and that has a deleterious affect on the ride quality. In real world driving, the Shelby feels far less nimble and downright less pleasurable to drive. Braking, too, is another mixed bag. At the front corners, the GT500 gets Brembo-sourced 14-inch rotors and four-pot calipers. The stiff Italian calipers provide fantastic pedal feel, but again, the extra stopping power is at least partly consumed by the added weight.

    Is the GT500 worth $10,000 or more than a Bullitt or any other well-equipped GT? It depends on whether you want the bragging rights of having the most bad-ass Mustang. One possibility that the GT500 offers not available with the Bullitt is a convertible. On the other hand, you can always get a GT convertible for even less. For my money, I'd choose the Bullitt and pocket the extra 10 grand to help pay for ever more expensive gas. The GT500 is marginally quicker, but not in any way you can use in everyday driving. The Bullitt is just plain easier to live with as a daily driver.




    Photos Copyright ©2008 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.


    KITT Shelby GT500 KR – Click above for high-res image gallery

    At age 8, I had a bed time that ranged from 8:30-9:00 PM. That time went unmodified for years, until my dad decided that I could stay up once a week to watch a new show called Knight Rider. It featured my favorite new car at the time; the Pontiac Firebird. The original KITT was black, looked fast, and had more whiz-bang features than any of Bond's Astons.

    Fast forward to 2008 and blogging can keep me up to 1:00 AM or later, but my late night job has some serious benefits. I get to drive the cars of my dreams. About a week before this year's Woodward Dream Cruise, though, I had just such a vehicle drop into my lap. We got a call from Ford that a very exciting vehicle was available for the taking; a replica of the actual Ford Mustang GT500 KR that plays KITT in the upcoming television series. It's no Firebird and it certainly doesn't come from General Motors, but it just may be one of the coolest vehicles on the road today at any price. Hit the jump to read our starry-eyed rendezvous with KITT.



    All photos Copyright ©2008 Chris Shunk / Weblogs, Inc.



    First off, we're not nearly as excited about NBC's remake of the Knight Rider series as we are about the car itself. This particular one is essentially an all-black Shelby Mustang GT500 KR with seriously tinted windows, a base-thumping Shaker 1000 sound system, a fully functioning red LED light bar integrated into the hood, and a Knight Rider edition Mio nav screen with the voice of KITT giving you directions.



    But that's it, because the interior of this replicar was not KITT-ed out, so to speak. There are no controls for launching rockets or the infamous "Turbo Boost" button from the original series, and unfortunately passenger seat ejection is not an option. If we were at all disappointed that these Hollywood-style gadgets didn't come with the car, Ford's supercharged 5.4L V8 sledge hammer was underhood to make us feel better.



    Ford had originally planned to remove the already powerful stock blower of this GT500 KR and replace it with something more potent from the Ford Racing parts bin. Blue Oval management decided against it, however, because the resulting 605 horsepower and 570 ft-lbs of torque would have been too much power in the hands of amateurs. Regardless, KITT never lacked neck-wrenching twist while traversing the highways and byways of southeast Michigan while in our hands.

    Besides, the unique exhaust note of the GT500 KR is our own personal siren's song, and we wouldn't want it messed. Then there's the wonderful, almost sinister whine of the stock Eaton supercharger. The first time we went wide open throttle, there were actual chills running down our backs. Don't worry, you'll get to hear how the GT500 KR KITT sounds a little later in a video we produced.



    If you get a GT500 KR straight from the dealer, you'll be paying around $80,000 for an additional 40 hp more than the already beefy GT500 and a lot of carbon fiber to cut down on weight. That brings the blown V8's total to 540 hp and 510 ft-lb or torque. This jet-black KITT pony car has the same open air element, carbon fiber front splitter and wonderful short-throw Hurst shifter as the standard GT500 KR, but the lighter-weight hood is now burdened with the mechanicals required for the working light bar. When we lifted the hood ourselves, it felt like it was cast from a massive chunk of iron. The KITT 'Stang also came with chrome 20-inch rims and 255/285 Goodyear Eagle F1 rubber, which gave this GT500 KR a visual exclamation point and first class grip for cornering in one package.



    On the road, KITT garnered plenty of stares. Big surprise, right? When the sun went down and we turned on the car's nose-mounted light show, there was more rubber-necking than a carbeque on I-75. We'd have kept it on all day long, but the red LEDs are virtually invisible until dark. And yes, we were dorky enough to purchase the Knight Rider theme song on iTunes, which was fun to jam at stoplights.



    When we weren't drawing attention with the KITT car, we went searching for open road on which to flex NBC's favorite muscle car. As expected, the force-fed V8 had plenty of punch off the line, and even with massive 20-inch rims and low-profile tires, KITT was surprisingly comfortable on rough roads. We only had the car for a few days so we weren't able to test Ford's claim that it can achieve 1 G of lateral acceleration, but we were sure to have as much fun as possible without getting into serious trouble.



    One thing we learned was that the GT500 KR's traction control should be turned off with extreme caution. The rear will step to the side a little during acceleration with the traction control engaged, but the system gently puts the 4,000-lb coupe back on a straight path. Without assisted traction, however, you can kiss the electronic safety net goodbye. Those race-ready Goodyear tires have little chance of maintaining contact with the pavement if you get on the petrol pedal of this live-axle pony car.



    While we were in general thrilled with our time spent driving KITT, we did have a couple gripes. For starters, all that horsepower doesn't result in a much faster Mustang than the GT500 or even the Bullitt we drove earlier in the year. In fact, the lighter, less expensive Bullitt is the most fun to drive Mustang on sale today. Then there's the interior. It's just a regular old Mustang interior except for Cobra badging on the seats and steering wheel. Some irrelevant carbon fiber or maybe Recaro seats would have been nice in a car that costs $80,000, but they're not included.



    Other than the red LED light bar, the only other KITT-specific item in our GT500 KR was the Knight Rider edition navigation system by Mio. It's basically a standard Mio nav system, but uses the actual voice of the original KITT, William Daniels. The system also greets you by name whenever you turn on the car and flashes red on the sides when KITT talks. The nav system does as well as any other in getting you from place to place, but it looks like KITT, talks like KITT and is therefore infinitely cooler than your garden variety Garmin or TomTom.



    Regardless of whether or not the upcoming rehash of Knight Rider goes boom or bust, the car will always be an icon. And regardless of whether KITT is a 1982 Pontiac Firebird or a 2008 Shelby GT500 KR, if it's black, talks, fights crime and has a red light bar, it's still KITT. After spending time with this example, it's clear that NBC could have done far worse than using a bad ass Shelby GT500 KR as the 2008 version of KITT. It looks damn good (when not in Attack Mode), sounds even better, and is as fast as any car needs to be. And for the record, I stayed up past my bedtime every night KITT was parked in the driveway.

    BONUS: Keep an eye out for the short.. ahem... film we produced starring KITT. It's at least as good as the new Knight Rider show will be.



    All photos Copyright ©2008 Chris Shunk / Weblogs, Inc.


    2008 Shelby GT500KR – Click above for high-res image gallery

    I have to admit, the Shelby GT500 was somewhat of a letdown. I have no complaints about the 500 horsepower or the muscular lines, but at nearly 4,000 pounds, it's got a serious weight problem. The iron block, 5.4-liter V8 and the addition of a supercharger puts much the weight in the worst possible place -- the front -- so the GT500 feels unmotivated around the corners compared to a regular Mustang GT. Other complaints include a suspension that doesn't seem up to snuff to handle the prodigious power, as well as a vague and rubbery shifter. Despite its shortcomings, the GT500 is one of the world's best performance bargains. Never before has such a powerful car been available for so little cash (although the Ford dealers did a pretty good job of ruining its value with markups). Still, one couldn't help but think that the GT500 could have been better.



    All photos Copyright ©2008 Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc.

    Check out First Drive: 2008 Shelby GT500KR, Part 2 by clicking here.


    Enter the GT500KR. It's the next step above the standard GT500, and the first Shelby Mustang to declare itself 'King of the Road' since 1968. A quick walk-around shows the upgrades applied at the Shelby facility in Las Vegas. Carbon fiber is used in several places, including a new heat-extracting hood, the front splitter, and on the mirror covers. The 18-inch aluminum wheels look strangely small compared to the 20-inchers on the concept, but they are handsome nonetheless, wrapped with Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar tires. Out back is a revised spoiler lip that cleverly mimics the diffuser design below, and there's also a new exhaust system developed just for the KR. Inside, it's pretty much standard GT500, except for the plaque on the dash, KR stitching in the headrests, and a new short throw shifter with a white ball knob. Under the hood, the KR gets a new open element intake system that, along with revised programming and the new exhaust system, is good for another forty horsepower. The suspension has been modified as well. The car sits lower than before and has slightly more aggressive settings. SVT engineers claim that the GT500KR will consistently maintain 1.0g of lateral acceleration. We'll have to see about that.

    The keys are handed over and we're on our way. There's good news already. The new shifter that replaced the one in the standard GT500 is infinitely more satisfying. It provides clean, short shifts and moves directly into the next gear without any hesitation. That alone makes the car better to drive. Despite the firmer suspension, the KR has a pretty compliant ride and would be a suitable as a daily driver if it was asked.

    After getting through some traffic lights, we head up into the mountains above Salt Lake City and start getting into some curves. Once again, we're pleasantly surprised at the changes SVT and Shelby have made. The KR feels lighter on its feet than the normal GT500, even with two additional photographers stuffed in the back seat. It feels more planted and handles tight turns with far less drama. The additional horsepower doesn't seem too noticeable, although the two extra bodies, camera and video equipment in the trunk probably offset that gain. It would probably be a different story if there were only one a driver in the car.

    After forty-five minutes of driving the KR, we're left wondering why Ford didn't build the GT500 this way in the first place. Truthfully, it probably wouldn't have been that much more difficult. Yes, the carbon fiber hood probably wouldn't be a feasible production item from Ford (it's a company first), but the shifter, suspension tuning, and extra power would have been relatively simple. It's too bad these cars will be probably be going for around six-figures after dealer markups. And don't even think about building your own – Ford and Shelby have agreed that they won't produce any of the other parts except for replacements on existing KRs.

    While we loved driving the KR on public roads, Ford is giving us the opportunity to test it out on the track. Tomorrow we'll be headed to Motor Millersports Park to see how the GT500KR drives on the track. Stay tuned...



    All photos Copyright ©2008 Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc.

    Check out First Drive: 2008 Shelby GT500KR, Part 2 by clicking here.

    Travel and lodging for this media event was provided by the manufacturer.


    GT500KR First Drive – Click above for high-res image gallery

    Our initial drive of the Shelby GT500KR on public roads revealed that Ford, SVT and Shelby had addressed many of the issues that we had with the standard GT500. The KR's revised suspension is better balanced and more capable of handling the excessive amounts of horsepower and torque that the blown 5.4L generates, and a new short-throw Hurst shifter makes changing gears a joy instead of a chore. To top it all off, a Ford Racing cold air intake, new exhaust system, and 3.73 gears give the KR an extra kick in the pants. The changes were so spot-on that we wondered why Ford didn't build the GT500 this way in the first place.

    With a ride like the GT500KR, however, only so much of the car can be experienced on public roads. At 540 horsepower and 510 lb-ft torque, the KR quickly reaches posted speed limits and the car stays well under its limits around corners. Fortunately, Ford let us loose to run hot laps around Miller Motorsports Park. Follow the jump to see how the "King of the Road" fared at the track.



    All photos Copyright ©2008 Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc.

    Click here to read First Drive: 2008 Shelby GT500KR, Part 1.



    Upon arriving at the track, we discovered a sort of Mustang paradise. A host of Challenge and driving school Mustangs were joined by the full Mustang lineup, including the V6, GT, Bullitt, Shelby GT, and GT500. We were able to sample the Bullitt and Shelby GT to acquaint ourselves with the 10-turn, 2.2-mile west course of Miller Motorsports Park. After a few laps in each it was time to get into the KR.


    Our initial impressions of the KR on the road were further reinforced at the track. Its suspension is better balanced and makes the car feel lighter on its feet – not as much as the trimmer Shelby GT or Bullitt, but more so than the standard GT500. The chassis is predictable and is relatively easy to control even when the tires start to lose traction. That didn't happen too often, though, because of the incredible amount of grip that the KR generates. We didn't necessarily notice this on public roads, but the Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar tires absolutely shone at the track. Their compound is unique to the KR and is close to being an R-compound. That said, they still maintain a relatively robust tire wear rating. You would think that breaking loose the tires with 540 horsepower and all that torque would be relatively easy, but not so with the KR. Much more throttle can be used coming out of apexes compared to the standard GT500, and corners can generally be taken at higher speeds. Ford claims the KR can consistently maintain 1.0g and we're inclined to believe that.

    The increased grip also helps to improve the KR's braking capability. The ABS has been recalibrated to work with the stickier tires and stopping distances from 60-0 mph are cut by six feet compared to the stock GT500. Each KR also comes with a functional brake duct kit that feeds cool air to the brakes via NACA-style ducts in the lower front fascia. Despite several hours of non-stop driving at the track, the 14-inch Brembo brakes had no problems with fading.

    The GT500KR is and will most likely remain the highest-performing Mustang ever offered by Ford. It blends the power, looks, and heritage that aficionados cherish, but now it adds a level of handling to make it the ultimate Mustang. The only downside is that so few will be made and that so few owners will experience the hard work and development Ford put into the car. With only 1,571 examples set for production throughout 2008 and 2009, a majority of KRs will most likely be purchased as investments by collectors and turn into 'King of the Garage'. Still, that doesn't take away what Ford, SVT, and Shelby have accomplished here. They could have simply added some bolt-ons, made a few cosmetic changes, slapped on the KR badges and called it a day. This is actually what we thought they did when we first saw the GT500KR at the 2007 New York Auto Show. People would still have paid thousands over MSRP just to have one if that were the case. Instead, Ford made sure that the car lives up to its name. Is the KR still the King of the Road? You bet.

    Click here to read First Drive: 2008 Shelby GT500KR, Part 1.



    All photos Copyright ©2008 Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc.

    Travel and lodging for this media event was provided by the manufacturer.

    The following review is for a 2007 Model Year. There may be minor changes to current model you are looking at.

    New Shelby model adds supercharged muscle.

    Introduction

    The Mustang remains one of the most widely recognized, respected, and desired nameplates in the automobile business. The Ford Mustang defined the pony-car segment in 1964; Plymouth's Barracuda may have beaten Ford to the showroom by 16 days, but it was the Mustang that set the sales records. The 'Cuda is gone now, and so are the Camaro, Firebird, Cougar, Javelin, Challenger, and every other would-be rival, leaving Ford's pony to prance alone. At least for now. 

    For 2007, the 210-hp Mustang V6 and 300-hp Mustang GT are joined by the new 500-hp supercharged Shelby GT500, offering its own look, tuning, and equipment. 

    Available in fastback coupe or convertible body styles, the Mustang V6 models make nice, stylish cruisers. The GT is an absolute hoot to drive, making all the right sounds, hanging onto corners tenaciously, and delivering thrilling acceleration performance. The Shelby GT500 adds to the fun with its near-Corvette performance. It's quite tossable, making for good sport on gymkhanas, race tracks or back roads. Its solid rear axle can get bouncy on bad pavement, and you'll want snow tires (four of them) for Northeastern or Midwestern winters. 

    It may be retro inspired, but the Mustang is a thoroughly modern car. Redesigned from a clean sheet of paper for 2005, today's Mustang is faster and more agile than ever. It delivers the bold styling, rear-drive performance and affordability that have been Mustang hallmarks for decades, but it's smoother and quieter and better built than older models. 

    Its interior looks like a throwback from the '60s, but it's functional and well finished. Granted, interior space is limited, especially given its exterior dimensions; and the back seat might better be described as a package shelf. 

    The Ford Mustang is an American success story. It holds true to an idea that still appeals to people of all ages, decades after the original was launched. Forty-three years after it created an automotive niche all its own, Mustang is both true to its roots and better than ever. 

    Lineup

    The Mustang comes in two body styles: coupe and convertible. Each is available with a V6 or a V8. A five-speed manual transmission is standard; a five-speed automatic optional ($995). The 2007 Mustangs come in just two trim levels each for the V6 and for the V8-powered GT. 

    The V6 Deluxe Coupe ($19,250) comes with one-touch power windows, power mirrors and door locks, keyless entry, air conditioning, AM/FM/CD with auxiliary input jack, tilt steering, speed control, rear window defroster, 16-inch wheels, and a split-folding rear seat. Its 4.0-liter overhead-cam V6 generates 210 horsepower. 

    The V6 Premium Coupe ($20,175) upgrades to 16-inch bright-machined wheels with chrome spinners, plus a six-way power driver's seat, and 500-watt audio system with six-disc CD changer and MP3 capability. 

    The V6 Deluxe Convertible ($24,075) and V6 Premium Convertible ($25,000) are equipped the same as the coupes, except they delete the split-folding rear seat and add a powered folding top. 

    The GT Coupe ($25,275) comes with all the same equipment as the V6 Deluxe, plus sport seats, in-grille fog lamps, complex reflector halogen headlamps with integral turn signals, a rear spoiler, performance suspension, and performance tires on 17-inch painted aluminum wheels. Its 4.6-liter overhead-cam V8 produces 300 horsepower. 

    The GT Premium Coupe ($26,455) adds a 500-watt CD changer and Aberdeen leather-trimmed sport seats. 

    The GT Convertible ($30,100) and GT Premium Convertible ($31,280), are equipped similarly to the coupe versions. 

    The Shelby GT500 comes as a coupe ($40,930) or convertible ($45,755). The GT500 is powered by a 5.4-liter supercharged V8 developing 500 horsepower. It incurs a gas-guzzler tax ($1300). 

    The Pony Package ($750) for V6 models adds a firmer suspension, 17-inch painted aluminum wheels, a custom grille with fog lamps, and other visual upgrades, giving these more economical Mustangs something closer to the look and handling of a GT. 

    A new California Special package ($1895) spiffs up a Premium GT with 18-inch wheels, side scoops, unique tape stripes, rolled bright exhaust tips, black leather trimmed seats with unique 'Cal Special' contrasting Dove or Parchment inserts, a larger air intake, a deeper chin spoiler, and unique front and rear fascias. The name refers to a special limited edition offered to California Ford dealers in 1968, but this Cal Special will be available nationwide. The GT Appearance Package ($245) features rolled exhaust tips, an engine cover with a Pony emblem, and a hood scoop. 

    Options include a new comfort group ($575) that includes an electrochromic mirror with compass, heated front seats, and six-way power for the front passenger seat. Stand-alone options include an active anti-theft system ($328); 1000-watt audio ($1,295); an interior upgrade package with leather-wrapped steering wheel, satin aluminum trim, and other cool-looking goodies ($460); power-adjustable driver's seat for the Deluxe Coupe ($365); heated front seats ($250); and 18-inch wheels ($825). Sirius Satellite Radio ($195) joins the option list for '07, and DVD-based navigation will be available on later 2007 models. 

    Safety features on all Mustangs include dual-stage front-impact airbags and three-point belts for all seats. Antilock brakes and traction control are standard on GTs and optional on V6 models. Front passenger side-impact airbags ($380) are optional on all models, so be sure to order them as they are designed to offer torso protection in a side impact. 

    Walkaround

    Nothing says modern American sporty car better than this latest Mustang. Its long hood and short rear deck capitalize on 40 years of pony-car heritage. The current Mustang features classic design cues that have defined Mustangs since the 1960s: C-scoops in the sides, three-element tail lamps and a galloping horse badge in the center of the grille. Its menacing shark-like nose is reminiscent of the 1967-70 models. 

    Yet the Mustang follows modern trends by offering ever-larger wheels, including two distinct 18-inch wheel designs for the GT. So trimmed, the Mustang looks more aggressively handsome than ever, and much like the concept cars that grabbed everyone's attention at the 2004 North American International Auto Show. 

    And while the Mustang's retro-inspired look pleases the eyes, there's a lot of updated technology you don't see, starting with an aluminum hood to trim weight. The modern Mustang is based on the same mechanical platform as the Jaguar S-Type, albeit with some cost-trimming measures such as its live-axle rear suspension. 

    Relative to previous Mustangs, everything under the car has been substantially upgraded. The brakes are bigger by nearly 20 percent. A completely new front and rear suspension yields a much quieter, smoother ride as well as much more precise steering during hard cornering. New engines deliver performance with efficiency. Optional antilock brakes bundled with traction control give any a fighting chance in bad situations. 

    All Mustang engines are secured to the body with hydraulic mounts, which absorb and counteract vibration and pulsing. By adapting ideas and components from luxury cars, Ford has given the current Mustang a level of sophistication its predecessors never had. Yet the Mustang heritage of low-cost performance and flashy styling has not been compromised one iota. 

    Like its muscle-era namesake, the Shelby GT500 stands out with a unique front grille and bumper fascia, providing both a functionally larger and unimpeded air intake, while reducing air flow under the body. A unique engine hood with dual air-extraction slits is domed to clear the larger, 5.4-liter engine. Around back a vintage-style duck-tail spoiler on the decklid and a series of four strakes under the rear fascia contribute to air management (or at least the appearance of it). Carroll Shelby's signature striking-Cobra emblem glowers from the gas cap and from a characteristically off-center position in the grille. The whole package rides on unique 18-inch rims sporting Ford's SVT (Special Vehicle Team) logo. Just as in 1968, coupes are topped by Le Mans-style racing stripes. They look terrific, though we're not sure they should carry down onto the rear bumper where they compete with the rear license plate. 

    Shelby convertibles feature a premium fabric for the top. 

    Interior

    The Mustang interior is as blatantly throwback as the exterior, and nearly as well done. It's sporty and crisp in appearance and straightforward in function. 

    There's a heavy dose of 1967 Mustang inside, with the dash divided into distinct right and left pods, blended with modern touches. Chrome-ringed air vents align across the dash, precisely in line with the gauges, and the steering wheel has three spokes with a center hub marked by the horse-and-tricolor-bars logo. While some of the materials have a cost-saving look and feel, the package is not bad given the high style and price of entry. An interior upgrade package adds red leather seats, red door inserts and red floor mats on cars with appropriate exterior colors. 

    Along with its new inside duds, Mustang offers an optional color-changeable instrument panel display, with 125 color schemes to choose from. It's a gimmick, to be sure, but it's easy to use, and it can brighten your day, and especially your night, as you drive. We're all for that. Speaking of brightening, however, there's enough shiny metal on this car's dash and steering wheel to create some glare problems for drivers on sunny days (just like the old days). Another interior upgrade package, with satin or dark-finish aluminum inserts instead of chrome, goes a long way toward eliminating traces of cheapness. 

    These are the good old days in terms of roominess in the Mustang. The 107-inch wheelbase and 187.6-inch overall length of the current model are the longest of any Mustang since 1973, and are within an inch of the dimensions of the 1969-70 model. But Ford has learned something about space efficiency since then, so today's Mustang offers more front-seat hip, leg, elbow and shoulder room than any previous generation. We found the front bucket seats to be comfortable, supportive and retentive in hard corners. 

    The back seat, however, isn't much more accommodating than in the old fastback 2+2 variant of 1965-68. It's not a place adults will want to spend any time. At least it still folds flat, just like in the old days, to expand luggage capacity. 

    And even without folding the back seat, the Mustang's trunk is as large as those in some more overtly practical sedans. 

    Seats in the Shelby are more aggressively bolstered, and the positions of the speedometer and tachometer are swapped. The Shelby is upholstered in black leather, with or without red inserts. All interior chrome is replaced by satin-finish aluminum for reduced glare. Snake logos slither on the seatbacks and steering-wheel hub. 

    The standard sound system that comes in the Mustang is good. The 500-watt upgrade is reasonably priced as part of the premium package, and adds a six-CD changer. The 1000-watt upgrade will impress most audiophiles, but the extra subwoofers in the trunk steal a good chunk of cargo space. We'd be inclined to pass on those. 

    Driving Impression

    The Mustang improves those things that have appealed to so many different kinds of drivers for more than 40 years, and it nearly eliminates the bad traits of traditional pony cars. In general, the good has gotten better and the bad, less so. 

    The previous-generation (1994-2004) Mustang was still built around a body shell that dated from 1979, and it was about as stiff as wet rope. Ford claims the current Mustang's body/frame is 31 percent stiffer and it feels it. This Mustang is simply much more rigid and rattle-free than its predecessor. A rigid foundation provides the basis for a host of good things, including improved ride quality, sharper handling, and less interior vibration. 

    This new-found solidity applies to the convertible as well. By their nature, convertibles don't offer the chassis rigidity of hard tops. Cars that cost five times as much as the Mustang tend to get shakier when the fixed roof is removed to design a convertible version. In the Mustang convertible, you will notice some shimmy in the windshield frame that you'll never see in the coupe. Yet when it comes to overall rigidity, the current Mustang convertible is light-years better than its predecessor. 

    The convertible's folding top is simple and straightforward to operate. Unhook it from the windshield header and it powers back behind the rear seat with the touch of a button. The ultimate in posing requires that you manually install the optional boot cover, but the folded, exposed top and frame don't look bad without it. 

    The wheelbase is relatively long, six inches longer than the previous generation (pre-2005), and that makes a difference in terms of ride quality. The ride has smoothed out, and the remaining harshness is of a completely different (and smaller) order. 

    The rear suspension uses coil springs and a lightweight three-link design with a Panhard bar to keep all motion under constant control. It's about as good as a solid-axle suspension gets, and greatly reduces skipping and bouncing at the back of the car. 

    The steering is crisp, precise and confidence inspiring. 

    The brakes work well in high-speed highway driving situations, as we found during a test in Los Angeles. If you want ABS, you automatically get (and pay for) traction control, which has a dash-mounted off switch for special situations. (Drag racing, for instance.)

    The 4.0-liter V6 engine is technologically sophisticated and a solid performer for urban, exurban and suburban duties. The ratios in the five-speed automatic transmission seem well matched to the available torque. When the automatic gets into overdrive fifth gear, the engine goes quietly into economy mode until called upon for a lane change, a pass, or an uphill charge. This is a large-displacement V6 and it sounds more muscular at full throttle than any previous Ford V6 engine. Yet it rates 19/25 city/highway mpg with the automatic transmission, and 19/28 mpg with the manual. 

    Indeed, the V6 Deluxe is the most popular model (about 70 percent of Mustangs sold today are V6s), and we like it. For just around $20,000, it delivers good torque, good acceleration and generally good road manners, with a sportier feel then previous six-cylinder Mustangs. And while it has less power than the V8 and smaller tires, the V6 seems slightly more eager to turn in for coners, a bit more agile than the nose-heavy GT. (The GT weighs about 150 pounds more, and almost all of that is on the front wheels.)

    The GT, on the other hand, is a 300-hp, five-speed pavement-ripper for about $25,000. The three-valve-per-cylinder V8 engine features both variable camshaft timing and electronic throttle control. The Mustang GT will run 0-60 mph in about 5.5 seconds; it will out-brake a large number of sporty cars; and it handles better on canyon roads that any previous Mustang GT, with a minimum of body roll and a large portion of tire grip. Expect 17/23 mpg with the automatic, 17/25 with the manual. 

    The GT l. 

    Summary

    The Ford Mustang looks and feels like an all-American car, and that's a good thing. It's quick and fun to drive and offers combination of style, performance, and handling that's hard to beat for the money. The V6 Deluxe is a stylish, sporty cruiser. The GT is a serious performance car. And the Shelby GT500 raises it to Corvette performance levels. 

    NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Jim McCraw filed this report from Los Angeles; with Mitch McCullough reporting from Dearborn and Los Angeles. 

    Model Lineup

    Ford Mustang V6 Coupe Deluxe ($19,250); V6 Coupe Premium ($20,175); V6 Convertible Deluxe ($24,075); V6 Convertible Premium $(25,000); GT Coupe ($25,275); GT Coupe Premium ($26,455); GT Convertible ($30,100); GT Convertible Premium ($31,280); Shelby GT500 Coupe ($40,930); Shelby GT500 Convertible ($45,755). 

    Assembled In

    Flat Rock, Michigan. 

    Options As Tested

    5-speed automatic transmission ($995); interior upgrade package with satin aluminum trim ($460); side-impact airbags ($380); active anti-theft system ($328) convertible boot cover ($160); wheel locking kit ($50). 

    Model Tested

    Ford Mustang GT Premium Convertible ($31,280). 

    *The data and content on this web site is subject to change without notice. Neither AOL nor any of its data or content providers shall be liable for errors in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon.

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