Road & Track / Travis Okulski / December 1, 2020
(Photos courtesy of DW Burnett, Road & Track)
Each year, Road & Track invites the most significant performance cars that have debuted in the past 12 months to participate in this group test. That means everything from high-horsepower pony cars like the 760-hp Ford Shelby Mustang GT500 to lithe sport sedans like the Mercedes-AMG CLA45.
Previous contenders and winners aren't invited back without serious updates. That means 2020 participants like the C8 Corvette and our winner, the Hyundai Veloster N, are absent from this event.
But it was the GT500’s environment.
This newest generation has 100 more horsepower—760 in total, from a supercharged 5.2-liter V-8—but it also has a stiffer chassis, magnetorheological adaptive dampers, Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires on carbon-fiber wheels, and the first dual-clutch gearbox to ever grace the Mustang lineup. It also looks serious, low and wide with a massive splitter and an adjustable wing that isn’t just for show.
It shrinks around you on track, feeling like a GT4 car. The suspension is firm and the steering communicative, reminiscent of BMWs of old. Power delivery is instant and ferocious, paired with that truly wonderful dual-clutch gearbox. Yes, yes, a manual would be wonderful, but this transmission is legitimately great. Unlike so many others, it’s programmed beautifully, allowing for aggressive downshifts that other dual-clutch systems might deny.
It was clear that one car had made an impression above all others. While some staffers loved the Mini or the Bentley on the track, our conversations just kept returning to the Mustang, and how Ford’s engineers had made such an approachable, fun machine out of the most powerful car in this test, no matter if you were pushing it hard or just chasing laughs. The big question was whether that track prowess would hold up on the road.
On the road, with the traction control set to “slippery” mode, the GT500 gives you just enough wheelspin to let you have some fun, shutting things down before they get out of hand. The Sport Cup 2s are acceptable in most conditions, with more wet-weather ability than you may have been led to believe. And the ride quality is fantastic—firm, yes, but not bone-crushing like the Mini or hyper-distant like the Bentley. It strikes a wonderful middle ground.
It was the quickest vote in PCOTY history. A unanimous choice that should be obvious by now. The Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 is a true triumph, and one of the all-time great pony cars. A genre-redefining epic that brings a little Trans Am to the street and makes you feel like a hero on the track. There are so few cars like this, a willing partner thoughtfully designed and engineered to be a track rat and a back-road demon alike, an ultra-high-performance brute that’s useful in all kinds of weather. Even without our car’s optional Track Pack, the GT500 is beyond capable.