Just when we were bemoaning the fact that our early drive time in Ford’s Shelby GT350R Mustang just wasn’t enough, we realized that our annual winter testing gig at Savannah’s Roebling Road Raceway was just around the corner. Call it a coincidence, or just dumb luck, we’ll call it perfect timing.
Among the host of iconic Mustangs that have hit the streets over the years, the Ford Shelby GT350R Mustang certainly holds legendary status. And this 2016 version, the most track-capable production Mustang ever, in case you haven’t heard, must be experienced at speed to be truly appreciated.
That’s what we’re here for. And it doesn’t take many laps around the track to determine that this car is the genuine article, and a thrill ride like none other.
True to the Shelby heritage, it feels light, balanced, and incredibly responsive to both steering and throttle inputs; charging through corners with a no B.S. approach. There’s as much throttle-on oversteer as you care to conjure up, but otherwise the car just hunkers down and rips around.
The suspension gets a total rework from its Mustang GT beginnings. Stiffer springs, bigger anti-roll bars, new bushings and ball joints; resulting in a lower track-tuned alignment. Even MagneRide dampers are standard.
There are all-encompassing drive modes of course, but even in Track mode, there’s a little bit of an electronic safety net; though you have to get yourself really out of shape before it steps in.
The power never seems to let up, and the car sounds like the lapdog of Satan; with an exhaust note that’s not so much a V8 rumble, but a stressed out snarl that shrieks…”get out of my way!” Brakes are terrific; hauling us down lap after lap with no fade, no drama.
The GT350R comes with a Tremec TR 3160 6-speed manual transmission only, and the high take up of the clutch makes for some tricky launching. But there is launch control to help with power delivery; transporting us to 60 in 4.0-seconds flat.
This engine revs like crazy, building power the whole way to a sky-high redline of 8,250 rpm. And the flawless action of the shifter helped us manage it well on our way to a 12.3-second ¼ at 119 miles-per-hour.
You’ve probably already heard that the flat-plane crank aluminum 5.2-liter V8 is the most powerful naturally aspirated engine from Ford yet. But, just to be sure, here are the numbers; 526-horsepower 429 lb-ft. of torque.
There’s an oil cooler to help keep temperatures in check, and coolers for the transmission and 3.73 Torsen limited-slip rear as well.
Naturally, everything is ensconced in some beastly body work; with purposeful add-ons that include a vented hood and fenders, side skirts, front splitter, rear diffuser, and of course a big carbon fiber wing.
Speaking of carbon fiber, this car’s 19-inch wheels are also made of the stuff; wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires, 305/30 up front, and 315/30 in the rear. In addition to those wheels, R models get red brake calipers and red pin striping added to the front-to-back racing stripes.
Inside, seats are comfortable, wrapping you just right; and ride quality is easily doable for cruise night prowls, though it still feels more like a race car than a street car.
Here in the R, shaving weight was a priority, coming in at 3,655-lbs; only 50 less than a 5.0-liter GT, but 105-lbs. lighter than the standard GT350.
So you have to do without A/C, a radio, rear seats, trunk carpeting, or a backup camera. Unless you find any of them a real necessity, in which case you can pay to have them put back in.
The unfortunate aspect of this GT350R is that unlike the original ’65 Competition models, that were purchased specifically to hit the track for SCCA racing; most of these new ones will end up sitting in rich dudes’ garages. Way too bad!
Not that you need to be a hedge fund manager to afford one, as they start with a sticker of $63,495. And if your high performance wants are a little more subdued, a base GT350 with the same engine has an MSRP of $49,995. Mind you, dealer markups are pushing both prices to near and over 6-digits. But hey, that’s still way less than a restored ’65 original!
We can’t imagine ‘ol Shel’ being anything less than pleased with this piece of American automotive ruthlessness. We gave it our Drivers’ Choice Award for a reason. The 2016 Ford Shelby GT350R Mustang is easily our new favorite ‘stang, and this year’s top American performance car value.
Engine: 5.2 liter V8
Torque: 429 lb-ft.
0-60 mph: 4.0 seconds
1/4 mile: 12.3 seconds @ 119 mph