Steve Turner
Former Editor, 5.0 Mustang & Super Fords
August 3, 2012
Photos By: Ford Motor Company

We really should have known better. You truly can't judge a car by its specifications. As we have followed the saga of the '13 Shelby GT500, it's official power spec grew from an estimate of 650 hp to an official 662 hp. It's really easy to get caught up in the excitement of the most powerful factory Mustang ever built. Even we got caught thinking this car might be some sort of uncontrollable, raging hulk of a muscle car.

Certainly it packs the muscle to back up that rep. Lay into the throttle from a standing start and you are burning rubber with ease--till the AdvanceTrac tames the tail-wagging. However, one-dimensional cars are not the business of Ford's vaunted Special Vehicle Team. Nope. SVT believes in building cars that can do it all and do it well.

As we saddled up in the '13 GT500 for the first time near the Atlanta airport, it felt all too familiar. Sure, we've been stalking its development every step of the way, but moreover the car's innards are practically identical to the outgoing GT500. Yes there is a new 4.2 LCD display between the gauges and the optional Recaros have upgraded Alcantara accents, but at first glance the cockpit could easily be that of an earlier version.

Embarking on the drive, it was immediately apparent that the '13 GT500 doesn't pack the gut punch that you might expect. Between the calming AdvanceTrac system and the revised gearing, the modern Shelby is set up for long legs and efficient use of its power.

Obviously SVT opted for taller 3.31 gears to enable this car's world-class top speed. Only three gear ratios are altered in the Tremec TR-6060 six-speed from the prior GT500: First (2.66 versus 2.97), Second (1.82 versus 1.78), and Fifth (0.77 versus 0.74). The change in Fifth is negligible, but First and Second combined with the 3.31 gears dampens the off-the-line punch. Certainly these changes also make the car more tractable, but we suspect drag racers will want 4.10s, and enthusiastic street drivers will opt for 3.73 or 3.90 cogs.

In stock form, the '13 is lithe and long-legged. It takes some adapting to the higher clutch effort and taller gears around town. The latest clutch workout resides in a happy spot betwixt the leg press in the '07-'09 cars and the effortless pedal in the '10-'12 versions. You might hate it in Atlanta rush hour, but we trust it's needed to corral 631 lb-ft of torque.

Once the party is rolling, the gearing is enjoyable and totally livable for everyday driving. On the highway, though, everything under 80 mph seems like you aren't even moving. The coupe is quiet and the exhaust note blurs away. It seems like you're crawling in Sixth unless you get to our preferred highway speed. And don't worry about slowing down. Just a touch of the pedal and the initital bite of those new six-piston calipers scrubs off speed easily.

At the other end of our street cruise through the congested highways around Atlanta was the glorious Road Atlanta. We've been here a few times, but never in a car with so much power. Ford wisely limited the pack of wild media to partial laps on the vaunted course and added an artificial chicane on the long straight heading into Turn 10.

We were afforded just single laps on this path, and after a couple reconnaissance laps, were able to pick up speed and get some feel for the '13's capabilities. In short, this iteration of the Shelby carries itself like the heavyweight to the Boss' welterweight. It is agile, capable, and muscular. The extra weight is apparent but not overwhelming, as the substantial torque and AdvanceTrac toggled to Sport Mode helps the driver keep the GT500 dancing on the edge.

Naturally, our examples were set up with the optional $3,495 SVT Performance Pack (821A) and $2,995 SVT Track Package (55S) with all the extra cooling, adjustable dampeners, and more. Really, the only weak link in the this chain for track duty is the brake pads. Obviously race pads don't work on the street, so it's an expected upgraded for open-track heroes. However, our own road course hero--Editor-at-Large Tom Wilson--was starting to fade the stock pads on his later laps, so keep better pads in mind on high-speed tracks like Road Atlanta.

Certainly this GT500 is the most capable handler yet, but we couldn't help but be enticed by the second day's activities at Atlanta Dragway. Not only did the dragstrip allow for exercising the '13 GT500's more muscular side, but it allowed for a bit more freedom.

After a once-through with the car's new launch control system, we were afforded three back-to-back passes before giving up the reins. This allowed for working on our technique. Launch control provides consistency, but it isn't a panacea for poor technique. You can't just dump the clutch on street tires. For more on that, check out the sidebar on the Launch Control (below).

As our time in the latest GT500 came to an end, we traded the caged, track-ready car for a stocker and it was back to the airport in a convertible. The droptop had the same pleasant street manners as the coupe, but the exhaust note was a bit more pronounced. Of course, a performance car needs a bit of personality.

For us that personality is still a bit reserved. In stock form, the '13 Shelby GT500 is the best combination of power and finesses delivered from the factory yet. It's so balanced that it belies its true raw potenial. After years of experience with hopped-up 5.4 GT500s with fewer electronic masters, the '13 GT500 seems like it's holding out on us. It's just ready to burst through its street clothes and reveal its alter-ego.

This is just the beginning.

Horse Sense: Perhaps lost in all the excitement about the '13 GT500's impressive power is the car's fuel mileage. Not only does it sell without incurring an annoying gas-guzzler tax, but it ties the outgoing '12 GT500's city fuel economy numbers with a projected 15 mpg around town and betters the highway numbers by 1 mpg at 24 mpg.

Every car we drove featured the Performance Package (821A) wheels, which fuse elements of spoked and mesh styling. The darker wheels in this year’s PP are finished in a color called Tarnish. Both the standard and PP wheels wear Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar G2 rubber.