With the outfield road course at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in front of me, I flip the toggle at the base of the 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500’s center stack to Track mode. The rumbling, grumbling, engine note perks up, the steering get heavier, the magnetic ride dampers stiffen up, and the transmission switches over to its most aggressive program. 

This Rapid Red GT500 is decked out for ultimate road-course performance. It has the $18,500 Carbon Fiber Track Package, which includes sticky Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires, wider and lighter carbon-fiber wheels, an adjustable carbon-fiber rear wing, a carbon-fiber instrument panel, form-fitting Recaro bucket seats, and a rear-seat delete. For the track, Ford has adjusted the rear wing to add 6 degrees of pitch and removed the front scoop’s undertray for more airflow. Those tweaks help the car create 550 pounds of rear downforce and 88 pounds of front lift at the GT500’s electronically limited 180-mph top speed. Much of that front lift is caused by the virtual 550-pound gorilla sitting on the trunk.

This car also has a bolt-in half roll cage and a six-point harness to keep drivers with varying degrees of talent and brains safe.

On the track, the GT500’s personality is a tale of grip aided by continuous improvement. When this generation of Mustang first hit the market in 2015, it added an independent rear suspension that should have been a boon to handling. However, the rear end bounced through corners and didn’t play well with the front end. Over the years, though, Ford engineers have tweaked the IRS to tie down the rear end and given various versions of the Mustang great traction with a series of wider (now 305 mm front, 315 mm rear on the GT500) and stickier tires (in this case, Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s).

Since its inception in 1967, the GT500 has always been the straight-line car compared to the GT350. This GT500 weighs 200 pounds more than its GT350 stablemate and the supercharger adds 86 pounds up front, but it handles all the same.

The GT500 hurtles toward the corners with drag-car speed, then attacks them with the finesse of a road racer. The steering ratio isn’t overly quick at 16:1, but it feels quick and precise, with a healthy bit of weight in Track mode. The magnetic ride dampers limit lean, and the car turns in sharply, sticks ferociously, and tracks a true line.

The 180-degree turn 4 and decreasing-radius turn 11 lefthanders should be especially challenging for a 4,081-pound beast with 55 percent of its weight over the front axle, but the GT500 handles them well. The car does what I tell it to with the throttle and brake. Go in too fast or build too much speed mid-corner and it starts to push. Let off the gas or dab the brake and the front in tucks in. Kick the throttle upon corner exit and the rear end steps out a few degrees. However, that is easily corrected with dab of opposite steering angle, and then I can continue on my intended path.

Ford’s new king of the hill builds big speed, hitting nearly 140 mph on the straights. Massive serving tray-sized brakes handle it all with a firm pedal, unflinching stability, and a marathoner’s endurance. The fronts are 16.5-inch discs—the largest brakes on any coupe, anywhere—with 6-piston Brembo calipers and the rears are 15 inches in diameter with 4-piston calipers.

This car’s handling is aided by the light weight of the carbon-fiber wheels and the grip of the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s. Unfortunately, the Carbon Fiber Track Package is the only way for buyers to get the Cup 2 tires, and its $18,500 upcharge brings the total for a 2020 GT500 to more than $90,000.

The GT500 now turns as well as it accelerates. But just how fast is where it’s always been capable, on a dragstrip?

I roll the Velocity Blue 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 into the burnout box. Double tap the Cobra button, hold the OK button, mash the brake pedal until it fights back, then full throttle. Line lock: engaged. Michelin Pilot Sport 4S rear tires: roasted.

Click the OK button again to disengage the line lock and the GT500 emerges from a cloud of tire smoke, ready to make its 1,320-foot run.

I creep up to the Christmas tree, put my left foot on the brake, and pin the throttle with my right to activate launch control. The pro tree flashes three yellows then green. I let off the brake, and the world blurs.

The supercharged 5.2-liter V-8 barks, the 315-mm wide Michelins scrabble for traction, and the GT500 vaults forward with all the fury and subtlety of a rocket launch. In Drag Strip mode, the new 7-speed dual-clutch transmission’s shifts take longer but make the car quicker. Rather than the 80 milliseconds of Sport mode, the shift from 1st to 2nd takes up to 150 milliseconds. The engine’s revs don’t dip and the taller ratio of 2nd gear brings down the rpm instead of the computer. The effect is a push forward during the shifts rather than a pause in power, and a Ford engineer says it means as much as two tenths of a second on the strip.

The car runs straight as an arrow down the track, makes one more shift from 2nd to 3rd, and barrels past the finish line. I speed through the traps at 130.05 mph and the sign flashes a time unheard of even a decade ago: 11.36 seconds.

Meh, not that great. That’s incredible for a street car but far off what the 2020 Mustang Shelby GT500 can do. The 1,700-rpm launch, whI defined in the instrument panel’s Track Apps before the run, caused too much wheelspin and I didn’t stage on the stickiest part of the starting line. A Ford engineer shows a 10.85 is possible in these conditions (70 degrees and sunny at 2,000 feet of altitude), and Ford quotes a best ET of 10.70, straight from the factory line. I guess that’s what you get with 760 horsepower.

This V-8 is the literal and figurative heart to the GT500’s speed. Atop the same 5.2-liter block as the Shelby GT350 sits an Eaton 2.65-liter roots-type supercharger that spins up 12 psi of boost in the GT500. To avoid excessive vibration, this engine has a cross-plane crank instead of the GT350’s flat-plane crank and many of the internals are beefed up or tuned for more performance. The head bolts are longer to handle the extra cylinder pressure of an additional 234 hp, sodium-filled exhaust valves help dissipate heat created by this much performance, and a 92-mm throttle body—the largest Ford has ever used—dumps all that air into the cylinders to match copious amounts of dino juice. It all adds up to 146 hp per liter of displacement and it launches the GT500 from 0 to 60 mph in 3.3 seconds.

On the street, the 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 is a rolling menace. Its gaping black maw of a grille screams intimidation, as does the big, black rear spoiler. The white, black, or blue stripes (available in tape for $1,000 or paint for $10,000) along the top surfaces read race car, and the rumbling, snarling, and oh-so-loud engine note says, “get the hell out of my way.”

Unfortunately, it doesn’t feel as special inside as it looks on the outside. The hard plastics on the doors and center console are economy-car quality, despite the bits carbon-fiber and Alcantara trim. Plus, those engine sounds hinder conversation.

The wide 305s up front also want to run along road seams, though that issue doesn’t seem as egregious as it is in the Mustang GT with Performance Pack Level 2.

Conversely, the transmission and magnetic dampers team up to enhance the on-road experience. In Sport mode, the dampers aren’t too firm, and they soften up to create a livable ride in Normal mode.

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The 7-speed dual-clutch transmission provides crisp, smooth shifts in both modes, and taps into the V-8’s wall of power in any mode. It works well with this monster motor, though that monster doesn’t always feel so intimidating. Even more than Dodge’s Hellcat V-8, which can remain subdued on the street, the GT500’s V-8 doesn’t release the hounds unless my right foot tells it to.

The GT500 has always been fast in a straight line, but past versions haven’t turned all that well. The 2020 Mustang Shelby GT500 changes that, especially when equipped with the Carbon Fiber Track Package. Its supercharged engine makes it fast in a straight line, its dialed-in suspension makes it fast around a road course, and its look and sound make it feel special. Fifty-two years of evolution have turned the Mustang Shelby GT500 into a street, strip, and road course hero.

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