MT reviews the 2011 GT500
If the current Shelby GT500 had lived on essentially as is for a few more model years, we wouldn't have complained. Equally at ease on a drag strip, road course, or the freeway home, the 2010 GT500 always seemed to land at the top spot of each comparison it entered. But like the rest of the Mustang lineup, the GT500 is getting a host of updates for the 2011 model year. SVT engineers were able to tinker with the formula and apply knowledge gleaned from testing the present car and customer feedback. When looked at individually, the upgrades to the 2011 Ford Shelby GT500’s upgrades may not impress. But when you’re behind the wheel, the GT500’s modifications more than equal the sum of their parts.
To prove it, Ford brought a slew of 2010 and 2011 GT500s to Virginia International Raceway and gave us the keys. The two cars are deceivingly similar side-by-side, but under hood of the 2011 model is an all-aluminum supercharged 5.4-liter V-8. And we mean all-aluminum -- Ford has supplanted cast-iron liners with a technology called Plasma Transferred Wire Arc. The process first appeared on the Nissan GT-R (under license from Ford), and it works by coating the cylinder walls with a steel wire that's fed through a 35,000 degree plasma jet. According to Ford, the resulting 150-micron coating is lighter, more durable, and improves heat transfer through the block versus iron liners, and it will last the lifetime of the vehicle.
Otherwise, the new aluminum engine is an evolution of the Ford GT mill. Its output eclipses that of the supercar -- and the outgoing GT500 -- at 550-horsepower and 510 pound-feet of torque. And don’t forget about the weight benefits: In total, Ford has subtracted 120 pounds from the 2011 GT500 over the outgoing car, and the majority of that weight comes off the nose of the 3800-pound super coupe. Besides being faster in every capacity as a result, the Shelby is now exempt from the gas-guzzler tax.
So it's lighter and more powerful, but what about grip? That's where we come in. Well, kind of. Ford's already let the lap times do the talking, running a 2010 and 2011 GT500 back-to-back at VIR and shaving nine seconds off the 2010’s best time. While the weight reduction played a big role, we're also giving props to the $3495 SVT Performance Package. With it comes a set of asymmetrical Goodyear Eagle F1 SuperCar G: 2 rubber -- a welcome change from the "screamin'" Eagles found on the base car. The option also installs a 3.73:1 limited-slip rear -- standard is 3.55:1 -- stiffer springs, a slightly lower ride height, retuned AdvanceTrac, and forged wheels, sized 19-inch front and 20-inch rear. Those wheels were the engineer's choice, by the way, as the honeycomb construction is both strong and lightweight.
Let's clarify though: This option is best reserved for those chasing the eleven-tenth. When cruising along the boulevards, it’s the kind of ride that could unsettle the Starbucks in your cup holder.