Snake Bitten, New Fangs And Suite Of Upgrades Bring New Venom To 2019 Shelby GT350 – First Drive Review – By Carl Malek



When the legendary Shelby GT350 first appeared in its current form back in 2016, it not only signaled the resurrection of arguably one of the most iconic nameplates in Mustang history (behind the equally legendary GT500 nameplate of course) but also reaffirmed the Mustang’s aspirations to be a serious track offering for enthusiasts that prefer the sharp corners and switchbacks of a race track to quarter mile times and the straight line driving experience of a drag strip. With a track tuned chassis, racing honed external pieces, and a potent 5.2 liter flat plane crank V8 (dubbed “Voodoo”) lurking under the hood, this snake was eager to please all who bought it. It also made a splash here at Car-Revs-Daily in 2017, when our very own Tom Burkart reviewed one of these beasts. But it’s no secret that underneath its strong performance numbers and equally strong sales figures, lurked a few areas that needed refinement, specifically interior comfort, and the ever enduring chase for more power and speed. The 2019 Shelby GT350 aims to address all these and so much more with its mid-cycle update, but can the 2019 Shelby GT350 finally translate into a true all round package for eager enthusiasts? We were eager to find out the answer, and bring our coverage of this unique Mustang model full circle in the process.

 

Minor Styling Revisions Add Subtle Depth To Track Focused Formula:

 

When one first looks at the 2019 Shelby GT350, they will be forgiven if they think not much has taken place with this update. Indeed, the exterior styling retains a lot of the same basic characteristics and design DNA that defined the 2018 model, which should please it’s loyal fanbase immensely. Looking at the car through a sharper lens though does reveal some of the more subtle changes that lurk underneath the skin of this serpent. For example, an all new rear spoiler is now on deck, and can be outfitted with an optional Gurney flap, while an all new grille close out section adorns the front end. Both of these elements were designed with experience Ford gained from wind tunnel development of their road course race cars, as well as its latest performance star, the 2020 Shelby GT500. In the case of the GT350, both of these components help enhance aerodynamic efficiency, reduce front end lift, and the Gurney flap maximizes rear downforce when pushed hard on the track. But as far as aesthetics are concerned, these new pieces help make the GT350 look even meaner than before, and when paired with certain color combinations, outright sinister. This is especially apparent when viewed against track focused rivals like the Camaro ZL1 and even the Challenger Hellcat.

The exterior styling also retains a lot of the Mustang’s core values, with a rippling front hood, a sleek side profile, and the trademark taillights with sequential turn signals. These roots help create a good aesthetic platform for the GT350, and the enhancements that come with this particular model really feel like they are complimenting the car, versus being tacked on as an after thought. Our favorite styling element has to be the optional carbon fiber wheels. First making their debut on the 2016 GT350R, these pricey hoops resume their tour of duty for 2019, and help add an aura of character to the car, along with shedding some weight to boot. Just be careful not to damage them, they are very expensive to replace if you should curb one when out and about in town.

 

More Comfort And Technology Brings Balance To The GT350

The 2018 GT350 could be accused of having a split personality, being a superstar on the track, but also being a punishing beast when tasked with street driving. While the GT350 still prefers to have plenty of time in its hairpin filled natural habitat, Ford engineers made several revisions to the interior in an attempt to make it a more livable place to spend time in. For instance, an all new 12-speaker B&O sound system from Bang & Olufsen is now available on the GT350, and is now controlled through the standard SYNC 3 infotainment system which features an 8.0 inch touchscreen. The stereo did a good job delivering crisp sound, and was a welcome companion while navigating the traffic snarled streets of downtown Birmingham. Dual zone climate control is also standard issue, and is a nice luxury oriented touch that should please more comfort oriented buyers, though look for more track focused drivers to not be thrilled with the extra weight that it adds to the car.

Our road going serpent had the standard power adjustable leather sport seats with Miko suede inserts versus the more aggressively bolstered Recaro units. These thrones proved to be a very comfortable place to spend time in when we were able to make long jaunts up and down Woodward Avenue, and provided good amounts of lower back support. Like other Mustangs, many of the controls are easy to reach, and the cockpit has a very driver oriented design. Visibility is good for the most part, though the big rear spoiler on our tester did chop into rear visibility somewhat. This made some lane changes and parking situations a bit of a challenge, but you get used to it very quickly.

Driving the GT350 on the road also revealed that there is good leg room in the cabin, and it was very easy to find a driving position that allows you to fully engage in the elegant synphony that comes with rowing your way through the gears. Our only complaint centers around exiting the car, with the seat’s side bolstering making entry and especially exiting the GT350 a bit of a challenge, which forces occupants to do a slight bit of contortioning to successfully navigate them. We will give Ford props however for tailoring the roofline to fully accommodate a racing helmet. Unlike other vehicles that we have driven on the track over the years, we found that headroom with a helmet is still very good, and it didn’t present itself as a major hassle when entering and exiting the car after rigorous track work.

 

Armed And Ready For Track Duty:

With all the comfort that has creeped its way into the GT350 for the new model year, it would be blasphemy if the 2019 version sacrificed some of its track capability for the sake of pure comfort. We are pleased to report that the 2019 GT350 is still a potent track weapon that is just as approachable as when we first met it a few years ago. A naturally aspirated 5.2 liter V8 still provides the glorious soundtrack, and with 526 horsepower on hand, a potent thrill ride as well. The 429 lb-ft of torque that accompanies that figure helps give the GT350 blisteringly fast acceleration, and it allows the car to eagerly attack long straight aways and sweeping turns. To find out just how potent it is, Ford took us to the M1 Concourse Raceway in Pontiac, Michigan, which allowed us to truly appreciate the GT350’s willingness for track related fun. The 1.5 mile road course is a short drive away from our office, and the course proved to be a very good test for the track focused GT350 tester Ford let us whip around the formidable road circuit. Acceleration is authoritative and direct, with shifts from the six speed manual gearbox being laser accurate and crisp. The clutch is light and approachable, and is a big time improvement from the clutches in older GT500s, which were beefed up to handle that model’s extra power, but felt like they were connected to large bags of bricks in process. This lightness helps the car mesh more in sync with driver input, and allows occupants to build more confidence as the laps progress.

Another key player in this are the new Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires which were engineered specifically for this particular model. A GT350 specific tread pattern and different tire compound on the 295/35 front and 305/35 rear tires helps improve grip, which in turn enhances acceleration as well as lateral acceleration when they are pushed to the limits out on the track. The tires are shod on standard 19-inch aluminum wheels with the hoops and tires helping to deliver more stiffness as well as better braking thanks to the way the setup allows more air into the Brembo fixed caliper brakes. A six piston setup is mounted up front, while slightly smaller four piston brakes are placed at the rear.

The fore-mentioned aerodynamic enhancements make their mark out on the track, with the spoiler mounted Gurney flap on our car making a noticeable impact on rear downforce as the speeds climbed higher. Braking was strong from a wide variety of speeds, with very little fade and efficiency loss noticed during our track runs. Sharp corners revealed just how much precision has been added to the suspension thanks to stiffer springs, a recalibrated suspension tune, as well as upgrades to the dampening offered by the GT350’s MagneRide active suspension system. The GT350 is a very precision focused instrument on its home turf, but when out on the road, the revisions do little to quell some of the front end tramlining that we observed on our road test. As was the case with the Performance Package 2 Mustang that we reviewed awhile back, the big front tires like to follow every groove and imperfection on the road surface like an eager terrier, and as a result, an attentive hand is needed on the steering wheel to help keep the snake on its intended path. Both car’s have a distinctly diffrent suspension tune, and this quirk is a direct result of the tires versus anything to do with the suspension itself.

 

Value Quotient:

Pricing for the 2019 Shelby GT350 refelcts the level of performance and capability it brings to the table, with the base model starting at $59,140. Stepping up to the GT350R model causes the price of admission to jump to $67,135. Adding the Gurney flap is an $850 extra while specing the Technology Package and its Bang & Olufsen infused charms will require eager buyers to shell out $2,000 to add it to their purchase. While Ford did not have formal pricing figures for the cars that they had on hand, a trip to the company’s online configurator reveals that a fully equipped example is capable of apporaching the $70,000 barrier before taxes and fees, with “R” variants easily crossing that figure. This pricing is on par with the Challenger Hellcat though the Mustang has better handling manners and less weight to lug around than the more comfort focused Challenger.

A much more formidable contender however is its arch-nemesis the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. Like the GT350, the ZL1 is designed to be a track focused version of the Chevrolet Camaro and it brings its own suite of track focused hardware to Chevy buyers (especially in ZL1 1LE guise.) The Camaro has a bigger 6.2 liter supercharged V8, and as a result, boasts more power with 650 horsepower to counteract the GT350’s 526 ponies. Unlike the Mustang, the Camaro can be equipped with either an automatic or a manual transmission, but suffers from some of the ergonomic challenges that plauge others in its model family, these include inferior outward visibility, a smaller trunk, as well as GM’s infamous skip-shift feature when out on the open road.

The ZL1 also has an initial advantage in pricing, with the manual version starting at $62,995, but adding options (including the $7,500 ZL1 1LE package) pushes the price over well over $70,000 before taxes and fees are applied. Look for the 2020 GT500 to be a more focused competitor to the ZL1 when it arrives on the scene, but until then, the 2019 GT350 will be tasked with holding off the ZL1’s challenge, and we suspect that it will be able to do so, especially once drivers have a chance to get fully acclimated with some of the inner character and performance that lurks in the GT350’s chassis.

With a suite of revisions and even more performance than ever before, the 2019 Shelby GT350 aims to renew its goals for track domination, while also living up to the iconic heritage that was first sowed into the public eye by Caroll Shelby and the first GT350s that thundered their way down race tracks across the country in the 1960s. With the manual transmission itself being even more of a threatened species than ever before, it’s good to see that belligerent stalwarts like the GT350 still know how to have fun with this old school setup, while also adding just enough refinement, technology, and comfort to lure in a new generation of muscle car buyers that view technology and mobility as key buying points.

 

 

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