Steve Baur
Former Editor, Modified Mustangs & Fords
March 1, 2009
Photos By: Kevin DiOssi

There seems to be an endless supply of Mustang tuners in the market these days, but few of them have what it takes to produce a truly viable high-performance Mustang. Steeda Autosports in Pompano Beach, Florida, has always impressed us with its product offerings, and for good reason. During the week, Steeda works closely with Ford utilizing the technology transfer program to ensure that its components meet or exceed factory specifications. On the weekends, you'll find the Steeda staff at any number of racetracks in Florida, as they put their products through the ultimate high-performance tests.

We recently had a chance to workout the company's mid-level Mustang package, but don't let the middle grade fool you into thinking this is some body kit and cold-air combination. Not even close. The supercharged Steeda Q500 was designed to take down the likes of Shelby's GT500 and GM's Corvette ZO6. It's a serious player in the high-performance car market.

Being that this particular Q500 has been the development mule for Steeda, it has seen more parts than probably any other car on the Steeda campus. Its current configuration is what one could expect if they bought a complete car through one of Steeda's dealers, or if they just called up Steeda Autosports and ordered the Q500 components. While the 4.6L long-block has been left untouched, its been supercharged using Whipple's efficient Gen II twin-screw blower. The intercooled system offers 10 psi of manifold pressure, and the Gen II delivers more airflow in a lower rpm range to improve low-speed throttle response and power.

Complementing the supercharger is an upgraded fuel system that utilizes Steeda's GT500 dual-fuel-pump setup, along with 34 lb/hr fuel injectors. The system is good for 600 flywheel horsepower, so it's plenty safe for the Q500s output. Aside from Steeda's Adaptive Performance Calibration--more on that later--the only other engine modifications are Steeda's cold-air kit and stainless steel axle-back exhaust.

Making that kind of power in a car of the S197's heft requires stopping power that is capable of pulling the behemoth down from speed--repeatedly and without fail. To that end, the Q500 wears a 14-inch rotor/four-piston caliper arrangement up front and a 13-inch rotor with the stock rear caliper setup at the back. Steeda's brake cooling system is also on board to keep the binders chilled. We can attest that the brakes work very well, even when pushed hard on an open road course like Sebring International Raceway.

When we picked up the Q500 to snap some photos, the car was sporting Steeda's brand new 20-inch wheels. Details were limited at the time this was written, but they should be hitting the streets by the time you read this.

And it's those high-speed corners at Sebring where you'll most appreciate Steeda's full complement of suspension components. Front and rear sway bars, camber plates, a bumpsteer kit, ball joints, lower control arms, a Panhard bar brace, a strut tower brace, and sport coil springs all wear the Steeda name, and join a quartet of Tokico D-spec shocks and struts. Steeda's brand new adjustable Watts Link rear suspension was fitted to our Q500 and replaces the stock Panhard bar. Unlike most Watts Linkage setups, Steeda engineered an adjustable center mount so that you can alter the rear roll center to optimize handling and feel.

As with the engine, the rest of the Q500's drivetrain is relatively stock, though a Tri-Ax shifter manipulates the Tremec 3650 five-speed transmission, and an Exedy Mach 600 clutch transfers the power. The 8.8 rear axle has been left untouched.

The interior and exterior have been given the full Steeda complement of styling cues, from the Sidewinder door graphics to the custom gauge faces and leather upholstery. The exterior styling elements give the S197 Mustang an aggressive and sporty appearance, without seeming overly gaudy. We loved the vibrant red-on-black combination, but you can get a Q500 in any factory color you like.

The Nitto NTO1s did well to plant the Q500's 490 lb-ft of torque out of the gate.

In fact, the Steeda catalog is an a la carte shopping mall, where you can buy just about anything for your car. If there are too many choices for you to make, Steeda has prepared a number of packages from which to choose. The Q350 is the entry level Mustang packing 350 naturally-aspirated horsepower, and once you have mastered that, you jump right into the Q500. Believe it or not, the Q500 isn't the most potent package that Steeda offers. There is a Q650 that should give you your speed fix if 500 hp isn't enough. If you've got a Ford Focus, Fusion, V-6 Mustang, or a Shelby GT500, Steeda has you covered as well.

Adapting And Overcoming
About 20 years ago, many thought the computer-controlled cars of the day were doomed when it came to having fun and making horsepower. Twenty years later, Steeda shows you how to have supercar horsepower, big-block torque, and slot-car handling--all thanks to the latest in computer-control technology. Engine control units, or car computers, have made leaps and bounds since the '80s, and the Steeda Q500 we recently sampled features the very latest in computer control. When flashed into the Mustang's "Spanish Oak" processor, Steeda's Adaptive Performance Calibration (APC) actively monitors the engine's performance and makes adjustments as needed.

In addition to the numerous Steeda appointments, the Q500's interior was also stocked with a pair of Aeroforce A-pillar gauges that allowed us to monitor boost, coolant temperature, and inlet air temperature among other engine parameters.

"When you put a cold-air kit on an '05-and-up car, it cannot maintain the proper air fuel ratio and it ends up running incorrectly," says Steeda sales manager Gus Irizarry. "There are a few exceptions to this, but those kits that do run correctly without tuning are doing so by not substantially increasing engine airflow. Without a substantial increase in airflow there will not be a substantial increase in horsepower. In our own testing with kits like these, as well as independent testing, we have only seen gains of 7 to 8 hp without tuning, and around 15 to 18 hp with tuning."

Your standard computer programming doesn't adapt for modifications, nor does it adjust timing based on fuel octane. Irizarry adds, "With the naturally aspirated setup, the owner can run any level of fuel octane from 87 to 93 octane and the computer will automatically adjust spark timing to provide maximum, detonation-free spark timing and power. Of course the maximum power is achieved with the higher octane gasoline, but the owner does not have to worry about retuning with a handheld tuner every time he wants to change gas grades or worry about being stuck with one type of fuel due to only having a high octane tune. The vehicle will automatically adjust and provide the best performance for the conditions."

The Q500 carved up the Corvettes at the autocross like they were a Sunday ham. We even took one of the Vette guys for a couple of laps and they commented on how smooth and controlled the Q500 felt compared to a Z06.

You'll need slightly more than a stock Mustang, though, to enjoy the benefits of the Adaptive Performance Calibration, as it needs to be used with Steeda's Cold-Air kit and Charge Motion Delete Plates in order to be CARB-legal. In addition to its adaptation to various gasoline grades, the APC has also been tested on a naturally aspirated engine with Comp Cams NSR (no spring required) camshafts and found it can adapt to them as well.

"On supercharged applications the system is designed not only to adjust timing based on fuel in the 91 to 93 octane range to keep the motor from dangerous detonation, but it can also adjust to changes in boost," says Irizary. "So if you are running a Whipple with 8 psi of boost and change several pulley sizes to take it up to 12 psi, the system will automatically adjust fuel to maintain proper fuel levels and timing for best power without detonation."

In order to stay CARB-legal, the Adaptive Performance Calibration is currently limited to about 500 rwhp, as the programming received its CARB certification using a certain injector size. You can, however, pop in some bigger injectors, add a bigger mass air meter, and take power output well north of that.

This Q500 tester was equipped with Steeda's adjustable Watts Link rear suspension.

On The Road
Steeda loaned us the Q500 for a few weeks, and we were able to put on several hundred miles of road testing in addition to our performance testing. This author's commute logs 84 miles per day, so if there were any quirks to be found, there was plenty of opportunities for them to show up.

Ride quality was very comfortable, and we suspect it might even improve if the car was equipped with the standard 18-inch wheel/tire combination, however we must say that the 20-inch combo that came on the car was one of the best riding 20-inch wheel/tire packages we've sampled for an S197 Mustang.

The suspension was noticeably stiffer than stock, but extremely livable for a daily driver. Granted our test was limited to the relatively smooth roads of Florida, though we have sampled other Steeda products on the pothole-infested New Jersey roadways and never found them to be overly stiff.

Behind the wheel, we enjoyed the short-throw Tri-Ax shifter. It has to be one of the best we've tested for the S197 Mustangs. It made powershifting at the track very easy and always nabbed the correct gear. The Exedy Mach 600 clutch is a bit on the stiff side, but if you drive your vehicles like Steeda does, then you want something like the Mach 600, which can handle the powershifts and master the horsepower during a good road course thrashing.

Overall, the Q500 is a blast to drive on the road. There's instant torque available any time you want to feel the surge of acceleration. It's more fun than anyone should be able to have on his/her way to work.

At The Strip
While we had barely possessed the Q500 for 24 hours, we promptly took it to the dragstrip for some quarter-mile mischief. We didn't do anything more than open the hood between runs, and we thought that the mack daddy 20-inch wheel/tire package that we rolled in on might hamper our exploits. Luckily for us the rear 20x11 Cognac three-piece wheels were dressed for the occasion, brandishing Nitto Tire's brand new 305/35/20 555R drag radials.

The Z06 owner that we frequently lined up next to wasn't so lucky in the tire department, as his Goodyear F1s just couldn't plant the power. After a Second-gear burnout, we raised the revs to 3,500 and slipped the clutch at the third amber light. The rear tires chirped a bit and the Q500 picked up and charged hard. A 1.91 60-foot time was not optimal, but not bad for our first hit. The quarter-mile clock delivered a 12.31 at 110.55 mph. On the next run we raised the launch revs to 4,000, but it overpowered the tires and slowed our e.t. Run number Three headed in the right direction with a 1.86 short time and a 12.18 e.t. at 115 mph.

We were on to something now, as we fine-tuned our launch rpm and throttle/clutch release. On run number Four, the first 60 feet disappeared in 1.75 seconds, and the clocked lit up with an 11.97 at 115.53. As for the Z06 guy--well, he never got out of the 12.40s. Thanks to the Nitto 20-inch drag radials, we were able to make good use of the Q500's prodigious amount of torque, and smoke the Z06 every time we lined up against him. Steeda told us that our particular Q500 has gone as fast as 11.81 at 121 mph, but that a shorter tire was used, which would change the torque multiplication and give it better acceleration. If you're going to run the 20-inch wheels full time, you may want to change the rear axle ratio. Still, we went 11.97 with the factory 3.55.

Apex Predator
In addition to our dragstrip thrash, we made a few laps in the Q500 around Sebring International Raceway, but we were relatively easy on the car since we hadn't had much time strapped in the Q500's leather cockpit, nor had we logged many hours on the famed Sebring Raceway. We purposely planned this test of the Q500 to coincide with our local autocross so that we could get a good day's worth of time behind the wheel and on a course that we knew rather well.

For the autocross, Steeda shipped us a set of its Ultra-lite 18x9.5 wheels wrapped in Nitto's NTO1 autocross rubber. These were a slightly stickier compound than the Nitto 555RII tires that were on the car at Sebring. We expected the NTO1s would up the ante in the autocross stakes, and that was important given the fact that the autocross is put on by the Florida Corvette Racing Club. That's right, we dropped the Q500 right in with a frenzy of Corvette guys, and while we were giving up some 400-500 pounds in weight to the svelte sports cars, we were packing 500 hp and 490 lb-ft of torque.

Craig Ellis was in the same run group as we were, and his C6 Z06 was set up for maximum attack wearing Hoosier rubber. His first run of 0:37.897 seconds set the bar for the run group. Our first effort of 0:41.335 seconds offered promise, but we had our work cut out for us with eight other Corvettes and 17 other competitors of different makes and models.

We whittled down our time consistently, recording a 0:41.675, 0:40.961, and a 0:40.09. Then we ditched our passenger and clocked a 0:39.836 and a 0:39.949. Ellis, meanwhile was knocking down a 0:38.302, 0:38.077 and eventually a best of 0:37.873. By the end of the day, we were able to slice through the cones in 0:39.302 seconds, and even got down to a high 0:39-second time with a passenger. With two people aboard, the Q500 had to weigh in close to 3,900 pounds, if not a bit over that. Not exactly lightweight, but at least the car was balanced.

Speaking of balance, we found the Q500 to be quite neutral in handling, and it responded quickly to small changes in tire pressure. Have a little understeer? Lower the front tire pressure. Is the tail hanging out? Lower the rear pressure. It was quite simple and easy to tune the car for your driving style just by removing or adding 2-3 psi of air. The less you have to work on a car at a track event, the more fun you'll have, and we had a blast. The Corvette guys, probably not so much since the bright red Q500 was trouncing nearly everything in attendance. Out of 27 cars, including nine Corvettes, the Q500 placed Second for the day.

Achieving Maximum
It costs money to go fast, and the Q500 requires its fair share of George Washington's to perform as well as it does. Since our tester was a development mule, it didn't have a window sticker, but Steeda tells us a similarly equipped Q500 retails for about $50,000, or about $19,000 if you bring your Mustang GT to Steeda Autosports for a Q500 makeover.

The cost of speed was felt at the pump, too, as the on-board computer told us we were averaging just 17 mpg, and we verified that with our own calculations coming up with 17.45 mpg on one tank. We even saw 15.25 mpg on another tank, but truthfully, the right pedal is extremely addictive so practice some self-restraint and the numbers should improve.

For the money, you simply can't ignore the Q500 as a performance-per-dollar bargain. The great thing with Steeda is that you can take your stock Mustang GT and build a Q500 as funds permit, so you don't have to crack that big nut all at once like the Vette guys do. The Whipple supercharger upgrade alone will get you halfway there, but if you want to make all of that power work for you, then you'll need the rest of the mods. In the end, it's the complete package that rocks the competition.