The 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350R is a very interesting elixr for many car enthusiasts. When we sampled it earlier this year at the M1 Speedway, we were immediately entranced with the serpent’s ability to deliver world class track performance. This includes having the muscle necessary to blast through long straights and the grip to find the apex every time. But how does the GT350R fare beyond an average track day, and is it worth paying the extra cost over a slightly cheaper base GT500? We we’re eager to find out.
Reptilian skin wows the neighbors, and Twister Orange is a welcome summer drink:
The exterior styling of the GT350R will immediately draw stares when your cruising through town, or even through your neighborhood, with some of the baffled residents of our subdivision actually walking over to admire the car in the driveway of our office. The R retains much of the core DNA of its lesser GT350 sibling, but it amplifies all the right bits to make sure that it’s visually the center of attention. The Twister Orange paint of our tester certainly did a good job of visually popping with the sunlight, but it’s ultimately the contrasting black accents that really drive home the point. The telltale sign of the R treatment on the outside is the presence of red badging, with the snake emblems on both the front and the rear being painted blood red. The Brembo brake calipers are also adorned in red, and they work nicely with the carbon fiber wheels. Those novel hoops help shed 60 pounds of precious weight, but be careful where you park, curbing one will be a very expensive ordeal. When compared with some of its rivals, it certainly has a look all of its own. It’s sharper than the Dodge Challenger, and it even manages to look far prettier than some flavors of the Chevrolet Camaro.
Tight interior provides plenty of track ready support:
The interior of the GT350R will arguably be where the bulk of the changes make themselves apparent. The GT350 was already a potent measuring stick when it came to providing a race ready motif, and it’s good to see that the GT350R builds upon this proven formula. Our example featured standard Recaro front sport bucket seats, which provide plenty of support, and proved to be surprisingly accommodating on our road trip to our video shooting grounds in Hell, Michigan. Rear passengers will be forced to stay home, with the R pitching the rear thrones to save weight which is fine with us, since it allows taller passengers to stretch out into a better driving position to make better use of the clutch pedal. Other R goodies include splashes of red stitching, a prominent red center line on the steering wheel, and a strip of carbon fiber on the dashboard (a $500 extra.) The ambiance is very reminiscent of some European performance offerings, and drives home the track ready spirit of the car.
But far from being a pure track day stripper special, our tester also arrived with a few options. This includes the $2,000 Technology Package which brings Blind Spot Monitoring, a premium touchscreen infotainment system with navigation, and a premium Bang & Olufsen stereo. These features are welcome adornments, but if we had our say, we would sacrifice the stereo and navigation but keep the Blind Spot Monitoring system since it does add some security when making lane changes on the freeway, with the rear spoiler chopping into rear visibility. The trunk can also accommodate 13.5 cubic feet of space which trumps the Camaro, and is within striking distance of the vault like cavern that Challenger owners enjoy.
On or off the track, this snake can party:
Performance for the 2020 GT350R still comes from a 5.2 liter flat plane crank V8 that makes 526 horsepower and boasts a lofty 8,250 rpm redline. The 429 lb-ft of torque on hand is nothing to sneeze at, and allows the GT350R to make the sprint to 60 mph in the low four second range. A six speed manual gearbox is the sole transmission here, and it offers a very distinctly analog driving experience. The gearbox certainly makes its mark out on the track, but when tasked with driving around town, the manual is still a very approachable tool of burden. Shifts are smooth, and the clutch has a distinct take point. With other performance machines, you often encounter a heavy clutch that makes you work for the performance. Here, the manual allows drivers to progressively get more comfortable with the car, that in turn, encourages you to explore more of the GT350’s limits. Around town, it makes the GT350R into a good daily driver, with the car being unfazed by long treks in traffic jams. As expected, practicality does take a hit with the rear seat delete forcing buyers to rely solely on the still spacious trunk for a haul of groceries or your racing gear.
Reps from both Ford’s Icon Vehicle and Ford Performance divisions claim that the GT350R serves as the perfect border between the standard GT350, and the fire breathing GT500, in the pecking order. The GT350R certainly borrows a few tricks from the latter, with the car borrowing the front suspension and the front steering knuckle from the GT500. These two components help improve balance, and also reduce the amount of tram lining that the front wheels tend to do. The R still requires a keen eye to help correct any abrupt deviations, but we will say that the R felt more composed and less darty than the PP2 Mustang that we reviewed a few years ago. But the question remains, does it serve as the perfect way to evolve your way into the range topping GT500?
To find out, we decided to do some studying before our tester arrived at the office, and made the trek to the Autobahn Country Club in Joliet, Illinois where Ford Performance was holding their GT500 Track Tour event. While the 90 plus degree heat made some sections of the venue feel like an oven, the event’s various segments gave us the opportunity to learn about some of the lengths that Ford engineers went to ensure that each model had its own distinct identity, which in turn allows them to appeal to a wide range of enthusiasts. In the case of the GT500, the evolution between it and the GT350 is very apparent, with Ford designers extensively modifying virtually ever aspect of the Mustang to help prepare it for GT500 duty. This includes a revamped front fascia which was designed to provide maximum cooling to the 760 horsepower monster lurking under the hood.
The GT500 also uses more advanced carbon composite materials which helps shed weight, and in turn gives the penultimate Mustang more of an assertive nature out on the track than the GT350R. After we completed some hot laps in the GT500 on the twists and turns of the Autobahn race circuit, we were able to fully understand Ford’s assertion of driver evolution. The GT350 lineup helps you get familiar with the Mustang’s handling behavior, and also helps prepare you for the task of handling the 200 extra horsepower that the GT500 brings to the table. For more details on the GT500, you can check out Tom’s review of the model here.
But ultimately, it’s about driver preference, and in the end we would prefer the GT350R over the GT500 when it comes to playing the role of the talented jack of all trades. While the GT500’s automatic is a welcome departure from the heavy clutched Tremecs that once defined older more straight line focused efforts, it also deprives the driver of some of the intimate feedback and control that a pure manual brings to the table. The GT350 and its wilder R version retains that welcome connection between you and the road, and the less powerful 5.2 liter is a far better tool for beginner and intermediate drivers to play with before they eventually make the leap to the range topping GT500. As a bonus, the GT350 is not subject to the same wild markups that have come to define the GT500, with a few of the Ford dealerships in Metro Detroit slapping markups of over $15,000 on top of the existing MSRP price.
Pricing for the 2020 Shelby GT350 starts at $61,635 which puts it firmly in the hunt with the Dodge Challenger Hellcat, certain flavors of the Chevrolet Camaro, and even some European rivals like the BMW 4-Series. Moving up to the GT350R increases the cost of admission to $74,630 which is a noticeable bump over the default GT350. Our tester arrived with a small bundle of options including the $2,000 exposed carbon fiber dashboard trim, the $495 Twister Orange paint color, as well as the $12,995 needed for the R package itself. All told, these options and more helped our tester gin in at a final figure of $78,220. That’s just shy of $80,000, but it’s still a fairly good value for those that want a car that can be a good track weapon on the weekends, as well as a commuter for the days when going to the office and acing your workplace presentation takes higher precedence.
At the end of the day, the 2020 Shelby GT350R certainly checks many of the right boxes for performance car enthusiasts. It’s a very noticeable upgrade over the GT350 on the track, and it also manages to have a degree of usability in the rigors of the daily commute. Its pure analog nature is not for everyone, but for those that can fully unlock all it has to offer, the 2020 GT350R is a very compelling instrument that might even play a few notes better than its more powerful GT500 sibling.
Carl Malek has been an automotive journalist for over 10 years. First starting out as a freelance photographer before making the transition to writing during college, his work has appeared on numerous automotive forums as well as websites such as Autoshopper.com.
Carl is also a big fan of British vehicles with the bulk of his devotion going to the Morgan Motor Company as well as offerings from Lotus, MG, and Caterham. When he is not writing about automobiles, Carl enjoys spending time with his family and friends in the Metro Detroit area, as well as spending time with his adorable pets.