2013 Ford Shelby Mustang GT500 review

This is the kind of car that could do more than just get you into trouble with Johnny Law.
This is the kind of car that could do more than just get you into trouble with Johnny Law.
This is the kind of car that could do more than just get you into trouble with Johnny Law.

Highs

  • Muscle car style with sports car handling
  • Shameless power and speed
  • Supercar performance for trailer park pricing (wait, am I allowed to say that? Call it ‘Bargain Bin’)

Lows

  • Brakes aren’t built for endurance
  • Traction isn’t easy to come by
  • Average interior fit and finish

DT Editors' Rating

Whoever coined the phrase “less is more” obviously never sat down with the engineers at Ford. Or, maybe those Ford guys were just childhood all-stars at King of the Hill, but either way, the 2013 Shelby GT500 has The Most.

At 662 horsepower, it has the most powerful production V8 in the entire industry. At 202 miles per hour, it has the most top speed out of any Mustang to come before it. And hey, with a base price that lands below $55,000, it also offers the most affordable way to buy an entire ranch’s worth of ponies, period.

Like the existing Ford Raptor and the old-school Ford GT, the Shelby GT500 is a product of Ford’s skunkworks, the Special Vehicle Team, or SVT division. To better understand what exactly makes these cars special, Ford tossed us the keys and suggested that we stay away from wet roads. Noted.

What’s New

The 2013 Shelby GT500 looks a little different than last year’s model, but not by much. It has LED running lights, gunmetal wheels, and its styling has been lightly massaged. That’s not what really makes 2013 a special year for the GT500, though. This car is all about power: hedonistic, unadulterated power. With its 662 horses, the 2013 model has 112 more horsepower than last year’s model, earning the reputation for producing more powerful than any other production V8 on the market… ever.

This is the kind of car that could do more than just get you into trouble with Johnny Law.

It’s a 5.8-liter V8 with a supercharger that dishes out an immense 631 lb-ft of torque, and it’s nearly impossible to keep the back wheels from spinning. Where does 662hp and that much torque land in the realm of performance cars? Up with the most expensive Porsches and Ferraris – and above rivals like the Corvette, Camaro ZL1 and Challenger SRT8. Is it as refined as an Ferrari or Carrera 4? No, but that’s not the (price) point and it’ll likely show most of those cars it’s taillights at the drag strip. Pink slip, please.

Supercar-like muscle isn’t worth much if you can’t keep it on the road, though, and the SVT engineers have also given the Shelby more than just a few suspension and software upgrades to make this muscle monster somewhat nimble. With the SVT pack, the GT500 gets adjustable dampers and a race-tuned suspension, and every car comes with the Mustang Track Apps, Brembo brakes and a launch control system built-in. Because you’ll need them.

So, while the 2013 Shelby GT500 may look like the next-of-kin to the 2012 model, it’s essentially an entirely different beast underneath, and we like it even more this way.

Middle-American Royalty

It’s an interesting experience, driving around in a GT500. This particular writer lives in the middle of the city, and it took less than five minutes to realize that this car didn’t appreciate the neighborhood, and the neighbors didn’t appreciate the car. It’s loud. The deep, burbling exhaust is a thing of muscle car beauty, but there’s no way to turn it down. Neighbors complained that they could hear it come to life in the garage, hear it echoing between buildings as it drove down the street, and they could hear the tires chirping as it pulled out of the driveway in the morning. They just didn’t get the mechanical glory of the Mustang, what with their nearly sterile 328i’s and SLKs.

More than that, the broken roads and bumper-to-bumper traffic weren’t friends for the Mustang either. With its street-slick tires and extra-firm suspension, dodging potholes became more of a necessity than a game, leaving other drivers to swerve and shoot me murderous stares more than just a few times.

That’s why I took it south of the Atlanta to Georgia’s farmlands.

There we found open roads where the Shelby could gallop and an audience of folks who dreamed of owning a car like this one day. Where the city folks simply called it a “Mustang,” our friends outside the metro area knew exactly what this was.

Here, “Shelby” was a word with heritage, and “GT500” was the king of the ranch. Even at gas stations, of which this thirsty car will see plenty, people stopped to share their stories (or stories they had heard) about Mustangs winning races against Camaros, or how a nephew was named after Carroll Shelby. With that, the GT500 is probably the fastest thing I’ve ever driven that has been so warmly received. Maybe it’s because it’s a patriotic car, or maybe it’s because you can get into one for what seems like achievable money, but either way, the GT500 is the kind of car that doesn’t leave people making assumptions about how you see yourself–it’s more of a “good ole boy who made it” kind of feeling, and that felt like home to me.

Behind the Wheel

Calling the car fast would be an understatement. A severe one. The Shelby GT500 offers dangerous speed capabilities that really requires some finesse to drive at extra-legal velocities. But it’s not yesteryear’s muscle car, either—this Mustang is smarter than that. Once you become accustomed to the massive torque and learn that even feathering the accelerator garners more speed than you’ll likely ever really need, you find that the suspension really is refined and the weight of the car makes it a very predictable machine.

Yes, it likes to step out in turns, but it won’t completely break loose unless you’re just not paying attention. Push the pedal to the floor from a stop, and the back end will swerve, but it’ll find its straight line. Eventually. It’s as if James Bond went to a Halloween party as a NASCAR driver in a tuxedo. It’s refined, a little country, and then refined again underneath, making for a diabolically fast car that has the moves and smarts to survive to the next mission.

Ford Mustang Shelby GT 500 driver view

Brakes are strong and feel great on short drives, but continuous aggressive use leads to significant fade. Sadly, I didn’t get the chance to take the car to the track, so I couldn’t make good use of the lap timers and other technologies built in with the Track Apps tech suite. However, we can see where they’d come in handy for performance testing – or just improving your lap times. The apps are able to time your 0-60, 0-100, 1/8th and quarter-mile times, measure your gravitational pull as your accelerate, brake and corner, and measure braking performance, too. We’ve seen tools like these in other, more expensive performance vehicles before, it’s great to see that owners of the Mustang GT will enjoy them as well.

Worth It?

The 2013 Shelby GT500 makes for an interesting value proposition. If you’re the kind of guy or gal who has always loved Mustangs, it’s for you. And, if you’re the type who enjoys the showmanship, this is a relatively budget-friendly way to fend off a few much more exotic cars in drag races. That said, I’d encourage anyone shopping for the GT500 to take a few performance driving courses before (or shortly after) they make their purchases. This is the kind of car that could do more than just get you into trouble with Johnny Law. Due to it’s enormous power, it can be a dangerous car when driven without skill or restraint, and more so than most.

But then again, that’s what makes the Shelby Mustang GT500 so much fun. It’s a true muscle car, and for now, it’s also the most muscular one in its class.

Score: 8 It’s powerful beyond belief and surprisingly agile, but still lacks some refinement.

Highs

  • Muscle car style with sports car handling
  • Shameless power and speed
  • Supercar performance for trailer park pricing (wait, am I allowed to say that? Call it ‘Bargain Bin’)

Lows

  • Brakes aren’t built for endurance
  • Traction isn’t easy to come by
  • Average interior fit and finish
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