The GT350 is back, baby. The last factory Ford Mustang to wear the vaunted badge disappeared nearly a half-century ago; based on the Mustang GT, it was a street-legal track weapon produced in partnership with Carroll Shelby. Ol’ Shel may now be gone, but the ties between his name and Ford’s pony car are as strong as ever. And the new GT350, which picks up where the original GT350 and the 2013 Boss 302 left off, may be the best-ever example of the breed.
The outgoing GT500, the most recent Mustang with a Shelby badge, was all about violent, face-flattening velocity, teaming 662 bombastic, supercharged horses with a solid rear axle. Ford’s newest Shelby takes an entirely different approach. For starters, it’s based on the latest “S550” Mustang chassis, which packs a fully independent rear suspension. The GT350 builds on that with Ford’s first suspension with magnetorheological dampers, unique bodywork that’s shaped for aerodynamics first and everything else second, and a naturally aspirated 5.2-liter V-8 with a flat-plane crankshaft. It’s a thoroughly modern pony built for racetracks with apexes instead of those with burnout boxes. (Ford isn’t abandoning that niche, however, as a new GT500 is in the works.)
We Can’t Complain, It’s on a Flat-Plane
The V-8 engine skips turbo- or supercharging in favor of a sky-high redline—there’s no official number yet, but we’ve heard 8000-plus rpm—and that fancy flat-plane crank, a trick favored by Ferrari. For those unfamiliar, a flat crankshaft design involves attaching the crank pins at 180-degree intervals rather than the usual 90; this allows for a firing order that bounces back and forth between the two cylinder banks, providing evenly spaced exhaust pulses.
It’s all about better breathing, and it results here, says Ford, in the most powerful naturally aspirated engine the company has ever produced. The carmaker hasn’t yet released final output ratings, but it does tell us to expect more than 500 horsepower and 400 lb-ft of torque. Hell.Yes. For comparison, the Boss 302 made 444 horses and 380 lb-ft from a naturally aspirated 5.0-liter V-8, and the new Mustang GT gets 435 and 400 from its updated five-oh.
If there’s anything flat-crank engines are known for beyond big revs and a bunch of power, it’s their unique sound. On this point, Ford promises we won’t be disappointed: “Make no mistake, this is an American interpretation of a flat-plane crankshaft V-8, and the 5.2-liter produces a distinctive, throaty howl.” Happily—very, very happily—the engine can be paired only with a six-speed manual. Output is then routed to a standard-equipment Torsen limited-slip differential; a diff cooler can be ordered, and it feeds on airflow directed from the rear diffuser.
As mentioned, the new Shelby features MagneRide, Ford’s first-ever application of the continuously controlled magnetorheological damping system. This setup alters shock stiffness at each corner independently every 10 milliseconds based on the car’s yaw angle and suspension load. The GT350 joins various General Motors vehicles—including the Corvette and the Camaro ZL1—the Audi TT and R8, and multiple Ferraris in offering the technology. In the Shelby, the suspension can be cycled through five modes, which also control steering effort, throttle sensitivity, the exhaust, and programming of the ABS and traction- and stability-control systems.
Advanced Shocks and Beefy Brakes, Too
Compared with the regular Mustang GT, the Shelby has tweaked springs and bushings, a wider front track, and a ride height lowered by an as-yet-unspecified amount. The new Mustang is already a stiff piece, but Ford says rigidity is bolstered here by an injection-molded carbon-fiber-composite grille surround—yes, really, although we’re a bit dubious of its effectiveness—and an optional lightweight strut-tower brace.
Unlike the carbon-ceramic-brake-equipped Camaro Z/28, Ford opted for two-piece iron rotors with aluminum hats for the GT350. They ought to deliver stupefying deceleration all the same, as they measure 15.5 inches up front and 15.0 inches at the rear. Six-piston Brembo calipers squeeze the front discs, while four-piston units are installed at the rear. The new Shelby rolls on 19-inch aluminum wheels 10.5-inches wide up front and 11.0-inches wide out back; sticky Michelin Pilot Super Sport gumballs with a GT350-specific tread face, sidewall construction, and compound are standard.
As for aesthetics, every body panel forward of the A-pillar is unique to the new Shelby (shown in GT350-only Avalanche Gray in the first studio photos), with a lower, steeper aluminum hood designed to more tightly hug the engine below. A large central heat extractor maximizes underhood airflow and is said to reduce front-end lift.
A Couple More Special Messages to Go
Aluminum front fenders with larger flares cover the Shelby’s wider rolling stock, while inner and outer fender venting extracts air from the wheel wells and sends it down the car’s flanks. Inlets in the front fascia send air to the front brakes and—with the available Track Pack—to optional coolers for the transmission and engine oil. An aggressive Shelby-labeled front splitter will help downforce and make parking-lot curbing a headache. There’s a low-profile decklid spoiler, an underbelly aero tray, and the aforementioned rear diffuser, too.
Inside, Recaro sport seats and a flat-bottom steering wheel make the car’s mission pretty clear, and the instrument panel loses some brightwork to cut down on glare. An optional Tech Pack brings power seat adjustment and leather upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, upgraded Shaker audio, and the eight-inch MyFord Touch infotainment screen.
The 2016 Mustang GT used the last-generation Boss as its benchmark, and the all-new pony is indeed a tremendously capable, rewarding, and satisfying car. The Shelby GT350, however, appears poised to put overall Mustang performance on another plane—and we’re only partially referring to its engine. We can’t wait to experience this one for ourselves.
source: caranddriver.com By ROBERT SOROKANICH