A car can only be as good as the tires it's wearing. Those four rubber donuts translate the driver's every intention into acceleration, braking, and cornering. So, it stands to reason that the most powerful Ford ever made—the 760-hp Mustang Shelby GT500—should be significantly better when it's wearing the stickiest tires available. In the GT500's case, that means plunking down an extra $18,500 for its Carbon Fiber Track Pack, which includes carbon-fiber wheels wrapped in gummy Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires.
However, we've now spent two weeks with the latest mega Mustang on its standard Michelin Pilot Super Sports and can vouch that it delivers an experience just as exhilarating on these summer tires as when it's fitted with track rubber. We've previously tested the GT500 with its full go-fast outfit, so we have the seat time and the data to draw a complete comparison. Here's the big surprise: The GT500 gets off the line quicker and posts faster acceleration times on its standard street tires. At 3.4 seconds to 60 mph and 6.9 seconds to 100 mph, the Super Sports are good for two-tenths of a second compared to the Cup 2s.
Predictably, the advantage swings in the opposite direction—and by a much larger margin—when you look at its cornering grip. Equipped with the Track Pack, the GT500 posted a mind-scrambling 1.13 g's on the skidpad. The Super Sports managed a mere 0.99 g, although on both meandering back roads and our favorite local road course, these tires will trick you into believing they're cornering harder. We attribute that to the GT500's direct reflexes and finely balanced handling. The tires approach their limit of adhesion with predictable and easily controlled manners. The car will tend toward understeer if you enter a corner too fast and gentle oversteer if you rush the exit. In other words, it does exactly what it should do, with a precision and repeatability that reminds us of Porsche's best sports cars.
With Ford's magnificent Predator supercharged 5.2-liter V-8 howling in your ears, every one of your senses is ratcheted into a high state of alert. Pinning the throttle will leave you feeling like you've chugged a Mountain Dew, stuck your nose in a bottle of Vick's Vapor Rub, and dropped a handful of ice down the back of your shirt. You've never been as awake as when you're trying to wring the full capabilities out of the GT500.
This car is so well-rounded that it's hard to pick out the star of the show. An engine that pulls with this much intensity and emits a bellow that can be heard for miles would be the obvious choice. But the excellence of its chassis is more unexpected, which strengthens the argument for giving it the nod. This car manages to feel hundreds of pounds lighter than its 4171-pound curb weight suggests. And the standard MagneRide dampers give the GT500 the uncanny ride quality of something costing three times its $74,095 base price. Then there's the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, which is so adept at picking the right gear it would disappear from this discussion altogether if its shifts weren't so perfectly punchy.
That the Shelby GT500 preserves its excellence on its standard street tires proves that there are no flaws hiding behind the immense grip of the optional track tires. The GT500 is a beautifully balanced car—an all-around performer with no glaring weaknesses even when the tires are limiting its full capabilities.
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