Evan J. Smith
Freelancer
August 27, 2015

Glorious. That’s how we would describe the 2015 Shelby GT350 and the GT350R, a pair of Mustangs designed and built to push the boundaries of technology, horsepower and handling. Above all pomp and circumstance, above horsepower numbers, above history, above the lure and mystique of Carroll Shelby—enthusiasts want to know—does the Shelby GT350 have the mustard. Most importantly, is it a formidable successor to the wildly popular 662 horsepower GT500?

In a word—YES! We’ll reiterate, it’s glorious—freakin’ glorious. If you fancy wonderful exhaust noise, the ultimate in handling and dynamic looks, the GT350 is for you. Driving this car, especially the R-model in anger, will be a defining moment in your life.

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It’s pretty impressive that Ford had the guts to switch direction of the Shelby product and step away from the very thing that made the Shelby a winner since 2007—BOOST. Ford led the horsepower game for a long time, until being unseated recently by the Dodge Hellcat. So Ford had a choice—go after the one-dimensional Mopar, or get back to the Shelby roots for the 50th Anniversary model.

“We looked at using a blower, but it’s something we’ve done already so it almost seemed too easy,” said Jamal Hameedi, chief engineer at Ford Performance. "Instead of supercharging, we went with a flat-plane crankshaft and that’s really exotic, but it takes a lot to get this to work,” he admitted. There are specific exhaust headers designed to maximize scavenging, a tuned-runner intake and big cams.

Formulating a plan, engineers extracted a magical output of power and sweet song from 5.2 liters of V8. And now, MM&FF is at Laguna Seca in California and there are a dozen or so GT350 and GT350R Mustangs waiting for us. Looks can be deceiving; in this case they are not. The GT350 is dynamic and sinister to the eye, and it’s wickedly fun to drive.

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With the seatbelt clicked, we tapped the “Start” button and the 5.2L roared to life, and with a grin we were off to tackle the big sweeping corners and the famous Corkscrew. The Tremec transmission glides through the gates with smoothness and precision we’ve not experienced in a street transmission and it has a nice mechanical “click-click” when you swap gears. Warming up, we breathed on the throttle and felt the mid-range power press me in the seat.

We’re driving a Shelby, no mistake. And we could feel 50 years of heritage nudging us on. The sounds and sensation are elevated and the performance is unreal. Once you dig into the loud pedal, the GT350 responded by gunning along at an advanced pace.

After moving from the GT350 to the GT350R, everything ramped up—including our excitement level. The R is connected to the track; its tires, dampers and suspension provide a perfect balance of grip and feel. And the brakes, they’re not too shabby either. What Ford has done is provide an insane amount of performance and capability that lets you go really fast without any nervousness found in earlier Mustangs. It’s stable under extreme braking, neutral as can be whether chucked in a corner or setup smoothly and you can get with it with lots of throttle on corner exit and the pony digs and drives off with no drama.

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Did we mention the sound this thing makes? We may have, but it’s worth another mention. Above 3,000 rpm the pipes open and release a symphony of burnt combustion gasses from the 12:1 compression rocket. It’s just amazing, sounding more like a race engine, than your typical Mustang V8. And it revs forever, which is incredibly cool.

This Shelby possesses handling compliance and horsepower that is balanced and gives the Shelby the overall performance to stay sure-footed under all conditions. A track like Laguna Seca will expose a vehicle’s weakness, but we simply couldn’t find one.