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You may think of the Mustang as a drag-strip special, a muscle car built for straight lines and stoplight hauls. Ford, though, is serious about making the iconic pony car a significant performance machine both at the drag strip and on the race track.
That's why, between the EcoBoost High Performance Package, GT Performance Package, Bullitt, Shelby GT500 and Shelby GT350, there's never been a more capable stable full of Mustangs to choose from. But the GT350, might be the most special of the bunch.
The Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 was introduced for the 2016 model year to critical acclaim. Most of the praise went to the massive, 5.2-liter V-8 that's special to the GT350 and its more-aggressive sibling, the GT350R. Unlike the GT350R, though, the standard-issue Shelby gets some notable upgrades for 2019.
First off, Ford worked with Michelin to design a new set of high-performance tires. When you're sending 526 horsepower to the rear wheels, bad tires can limit the speed. They're crucial to the success of any performance car, especially considering that they can improve handling, acceleration and braking.
Next up, Ford re-tuned the suspension and magnetic dampers. Magnetic dampers allow the GT350 to stiffen the suspension for better performance on the track but soften up to handle potholes and bumps for street driving.
Aerodynamics were also adjusted. The updated Shelby produces less lift at high speeds thanks to a tweaked front end and a new rear spoiler. Buyers can option a "gurney flap," an extension to the rear spoiler that further increases downforce.
All of this means that the 2019 GT350 has more grip to maximize performance, especially at high speeds. Outside of performance upgrades, the GT350 now offers a B&O stereo and two new shades of blue.
The engine and transmission carry over from 2018. We're normally a fan of updates, but the GT350 powertrain may just be the best engine-transmission combination on sale.
The aforementioned 5.2-liter V-8 is a flat-plane crank motor. Unlike a traditionally rumbly American V-8, the "Voodoo" motor is laid out like a Ferrari V-8. It's a more balanced and exotic way to build a motor, allowing the GT350 to rev to a stratospheric 8,200 revolutions per minute redline. Not only does that make it pull hard long after most engines would have run out of breath, but it also makes the engine note amazing.
It screams like a Ferrari, but it also burbles like an old American V-8 because of some trickery in the exhaust design. It's an entirely unique sound that makes revving it even more enjoyable. When it does hit its redline, you shift using an old-fashioned six-speed manual transmission..
Out on the track, the magnetic dampers and updated tires make good use of the power. The motor is addictively powerful and the chassis is well-suited to handle it, with massive tires allowing you to brake later and get back on the gas sooner. Handling is fantastic, with perfectly weighted steering delivering a lot of feedback.
There's also a track mode, which opens up the full throatiness of the exhaust, increases stiffness and tells the traction and stability control systems only to intervene in dire circumstances. It's a sophisticated and capable track weapon, capable of feats far beyond the reaches of the average buyer.
It's also a Mustang, so it's usable as a car in day-to-day life. It's got four seats, a comfortable cabin, Apple CarPlay, blind spot monitoring and pretty much all of the creature comforts you'd expect.
Add to that drop-dead gorgeous looks and a starting price of only $59,140, and the Shelby GT350 makes a compelling case for itself.
The downside of wide front tires is a phenomenon known as "tramlining." It's the tendency of the car to follow grooves in the road, sometimes pulling the vehicle in a direction you don't want to go. On a drive around Detroit, the GT350 was easily thrown off course by bumps and undulations in the road.
And though it has the amenities for street driving, the adaptive dampers can't hide that this Mustang was built to go fast. It's stiff over bumps and the tramlining can make it more work to drive than your average car.
Also, we should note that Ford is coming out with a Shelby GT500 later this year. While it won't have the crazy redline or insane sound of the flat-plane-crank V-8, it will make over 700 horsepower with the help of a supercharger. The GT350 may be best if you want a pure driver's car, but the GT500 will officially be the top-dog Mustang when it hits showrooms.
We've long heard about the GT350 and its magnificent engine. After finally getting some seat time, it's clear that the Shelby lives up to the hype. Sure, it's effortlessly fast and a bargain, but the screaming motor and stellar exhaust note is what makes this one of the most special cars on sale.
We'll have to spend some more time with it before we have a verdict on what it's like to live with, but the GT350 is certainly one of the most fun cars we've tested.