The Shelby Mustang bloodline is legendary. When Ford (F) teamed up with Carroll Shelby in 1965 to build the GT350R, it was basically for “homologation” purposes so Ford could race the car under SCCA rules. This was basically a race-spec car for the streets. The regular GT 350 wasn’t much different, either.
You probably also recognize it as “Eleanor,” the classic Shelby Mustang GT500 made famous in Gone in 60 Seconds (the 2000 version). This was the car of baby boomer dreams.
The car lived on for a few years and went away in 1970 after Shelby terminated his contract with Ford. Flash forward to 2005 and the Shelby name was brought back to designate certain high-performance models Mustangs, featuring the distinctive “cobra” emblem identified with Shelby.
For 2017, Ford has two variants of the Mustang Shelby, the GT350 and its even racier version, the GT350R, both powered by a flat-plane crank, naturally aspirated 5.2L V8 (codenamed “Voodoo”) pumping out an astounding 526 hp and 429 lb.-ft. of torque. Naturally these only come with 6-speed manual transmissions (purists rejoice).
Ford dropped off a 2017 Shelby Mustang GT350 in “Grabber Blue” for a weeklong road test. I eagerly took the keys and got to work.
The GT350 is quite stunning in Grabber Blue, which is an exclusive color for 2017. And of course you have to love the heritage white racing stripes.
When you’re driving the car in “normal” mode, you would think you’re driving a pretty tame sports car with a manual transmission — it’s that easy to drive. My only complaint is a relatively longish clutch pedal. I’m not sure why Ford went with that mechanism, but you do get used to it and it’s relatively light. The smooth-shifting 6-speed works wonderfully. And the high-performance dual-disc clutch gives you a little jolt sometimes during gear change, letting you know this isn’t a standard Mustang.
“Normal” mode is best for what Ford says is daily driver use. You can hear a little exhaust rumble, but it’s nothing that will jolt your neighbors out of their seats. Now put it in “sport” mode, and you have a whole new animal. Throttle sensitivity is heightened, the magnetic dampers stiffen, and the steering requires a bit more effort.
But — the engine now comes to life — and it’s angry. The exhaust growls and roars when you rev the engine, driving it in sport mode is where this car needs to be.
You mash the throttle and the car leaps forward and keeps going. You think you’re reaching the redline but you’re not, as the GT350 is still pulling in 3rd and 4th gear — with the real action happening after 3500 RPM. The handling of the car is surefooted and planted, even with over 500 hp hitting the rear wheels. It is an awesome feeling driving this car down an open interstate, or twisty-two lane highway.
There’s also a track mode that is really designed for, you guessed it, track use. Everything is even more heightened with launch control enabled (it’s also enabled in “sport” mode too), dampers are stiffened, and traction and stability control are basically turned off.
I took it on a long road trip, and the GT350 performed admirably as a GT cruiser. On the highway you can have your fun with the exhaust blaring, or turn it down with the exhaust switch, which opens and closes a baffle to keep things a bit muffled. During our trip back home, we were hit with rain and several snarling traffic jams. The GT350 has a rain, or “weather,” driving mode to ease the car in these situations, although it can still be a bit hair-raising driving on summer tires (in this case Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires on 19-inch wheels). The “weather” setting and smooth shifting manual made things easier during these annoying moments.
The interior is fine enough, with our tester awash in Alcantara and really great Recaro sport seats. There’s not much backseat room to speak of, but that’s not exactly why you have the car. Ford’s SYNC system works just fine, and you also get “track” apps that depict race metrics like g forces and acceleration times. The Shelby’s interior is basic enough to not really merit much else attention, although I did dig the red start button with the Cobra emblem on the steering wheel.
The GT350 starts at $54,295, with our tester stickering at $59,970. With all that you get at this price, you have to ask whether this is one of the best, if not the best, value in sports cars. After all, a BMW M4 will set you back at least $66,200, and a Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 (GM) with 650hp starts at $61,140. These cars aren’t cheap, but they are attainable for a lot of people who value performance.
Driving the GT350 is a visceral experience, one that is hard to describe in words and must really be experienced. I wasn’t the biggest Mustang fan before driving this car (we were a GM family growing up), but the GT350 has changed my tune. The GT350 is simply an awesome, driver-focused car that rewards spirited driving, and it’s not just some one-dimensional muscle car.
The experience of driving it is a feeling that I can still remember vividly. I’m not kidding. This car will stay with you, even when it’s gone… In fact I’m missing it right now.
Pras Subramanian is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. You can follow him on Twitter here.