The sound is the first thing that about the Ford Shelby GT350R Mustang that grabs your attention. It makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. It starts with a guttural growl and then builds from there. And keeps building. And building. And building.
An 8,250 RPM rev limit and 529 horsepower from a flat plane crank V8 will do that.
If an engine can win an award just for sound this one would be in the Hall of Fame tomorrow. It’s unlike anything I’ve heard and is probably the single best exhaust note on a new vehicle. It. Is. Awesome.
Fortunately for Ford, the rest of the car is just as impressive.
(FULL DISCLOSURE: Ford needed us to drive the GT350 and GT350R so badly they flew Michael Roselli to Monterey and put me up at a hotel. Jalopnik actually had to fly me in because I was coming from a BTCC race. It’s been a fun week.)
After years of praying at the altar of the solid rear axle, Ford has decided to risk switching over to that new fangled independent rear suspension thing that all of the kids are into these days for the Ford Mustang. The risk has paid off tremendously, as the switch has made the GT350R a serious contender in the battle for street-legal track car supremacy.
Leaving the pit lane and heading towards Turn 3 at Laguna Seca, the first thing that strikes you (other than the aforementioned exhaust note) is how solid and planted the car feels. There’s almost no noticeable body roll. Every input of the steering wheel translates directly into a direction change in the car virtually without delay.
It’s quite similar to how my racecar feels, which is unusual in a street car that also has to be used to get groceries and go to Sonic. I rarely take my racecar to Sonic.
Ramping up the pace the next thing you notice is how connected the front and rear feel. In Mustangs of days gone by there’s always been a feeling that the two ends were actually were from two different cars. That’s a solid rear axle trait and it’s always frustrated me.
Drivers who could make the most of that setup in Mustang race cars were always hard to beat, using big stabs of throttle to get the rear to break free before they pointed the car down the straightaway. In effect, they were steering the car with the throttle and leaving massive black stripes on the exit of every corner. If you could make it work, you were going to be hard to beat in a Mustang. I never could. Now with the new IRS suspension setup everything feels like it’s where it belongs and all things are working together.
One nice bit of future tech that’s been making an appearance on several performance cars in the past few years is the adaptive suspension, which Ford calls MagneRide here. You see similar systems on cars like the Camaro ZL1 and Cadillac ATS-V, to say nothing of the exotics. Now it’s on a Mustang too.
MagneRide’s benefits are immediately apparent on the track as the suspension reactions to changes in the road surface in a little as seven milliseconds. It allows the car to be both stiff and compliant as needed which is massively helpful in keeping everything planted.
Additionally, Ford engineers spent huge resources in upgrading the Mustang’s suspension with aluminum front uprights with revised geometry and lightweight rear control arms with counter-wound spring pockets. Larger front and rear sway bars help keep all four wheels connected to the asphalt.
All that suspension wizardry would be for nothing if the four black bits of rubber connection the car to the track weren’t up to the task. To that end, Ford says they worked closely with the tire gurus at Michelin to create a band of rubber especially for the 350R. When they set the design parameters for the tire they ignored other high performance street tires and instead benchmarked Michelin’s own racing slick. Yup, thats right, the same slick used to great effect in ALMS. According to the engineers, that’s a tire that equals the performance of the venerable Hoosier R6 and yet still has a 180 tread wear rating.
We live in glorious times!
On track, all this engineering comes together in what has to be the best, most complete performance car to ever come out of Ford’s stables. Yes, you read that right. Ever. EVER.
To me, Ford’s performance cars have always felt like a compromise. It was like the business case for a true performance car wasn’t strong enough, so you’d always end up with a parts bin car that made the best of what was on the shelves with more of an eye on the bottom line than the finish line. This is not the case with the 350R.
Despite having to elbow out literally dozens of journalists from every conceivable periodical on the planet to scratch out a measly dozen or so laps, I left with the enduring feeling that this car is something special.
That feeling didn’t go away when videographer Mike Roselli and I managed to co-opt a particularly lovely looking Battle Ship Gray 350R at the end of the day for some street driving. (Our order from the folks at Ford was to have the car back to the hotel by no later that 8:30 p.m. sharp. In true Jalop style we came blazing up Cannery Row in a massive cloud of tire smoke and shrieking exhaust note rolled in at 8:32 pm after realizing that the clock in the car was an hour slow.)
Mike and I managed to dodge rush hour traffic and made our way over to the legendary Pacific Coast Highway where we immediately got stuck behind a garden truck and a dozen Priuses, which seems to be the eternal curse for anyone who finds their way into the seat of an amazing car. Once clear of traffic, the 350R immediately went to work reinforcing my belief of how good it is.
As legendary as the PCH is, the fact that it’s on the California coast makes it probably one of the most elementally battered and abused roads in the world. In most street cars capable of this level of performance on the track, the ride would be absolutely punishing and the performance of the car would be compromised by the simple fact that the none of the wheels would be in contact with the tarmac at the same time.
The MagneRide suspension takes care of all of that. Mike an I spent the better part of 3 hours cruising up and down PCH (after 12 hours in the sun at the track) and neither one of us was in a particular hurry to get out of the car at the end of the day.
In part that was due the the unreal sounds that voodoo engine was making. Of the three hours we spent in the car, I think two hours were spent in second gear letting the engine run all the way to its 8,250 RPM redline.
Around Monterey the exhaust note was a bit straight-pipe-Harley-in-NYC-at-4-a.m. obnoxious (there’s a switch that cuts the volume in half), but on the PCH it was simply incredible. Even more fun was the trick that the Ford engineers taught us. If you hold wide open throttle for a couple of seconds and then abruptly lift to about 10 percent throttle and hold it, it has the effect of making the engine pop, spit, and burble for miles. It also has the effect of making grown men giggle like little school girls (Mike, not me. I don’t giggle.)
None of this is to say the 350R is without faults, but they are minor in comparison. The seating position isn’t ideal. No matter how much I fiddled with it either the steering wheel was too far away or the pedals were.
In part, that feeling was caused by a clutch pedal throw that felt like you were stopping at the radiator and not the firewall. The engagement of the clutch is very short for the length of throw, meaning that its a bit of a struggle to get away from traffic lights cleanly.
Shifting was also not perfect, as the Tremec gearbox was on the notchy side making race-quick 3-4 shifts problematic. Fortunately, with an engine that pulls hard from 3,500 RPM all the way to red line, shifting is more of an option than a requirement a fair portion of the time.
Finally, the Brembo brakes, while producing massive stopping power, were inconsistent. One corner you’d have normal pedal effort the next it would be hard briefly before dropping to normal effort. This most likely isn’t the brakes themselves but more likely the brake booster coping with the engines high RPM’s.
At the end of the day, none of these issues detract from what is a truly great car. Ford gave us a taste of what the GT350R and it’s slightly less track-focused GT350 can do and all I can think is: I want more. And while it is not cheap — the GT350 starts at $48,695 and the R at $62,195 — the level of exotic-killing potential you get here makes that price tag seem like chump change.
It’s at this point I should mention to anyone who works at Ford that I live in Germany at a little place called the Nürburgring and I think your new car would be right at home there. And the new Ford GT. And the Focus RS. And the new Raptor because... why the hell not?
Photos: Author, Ford
Robb Holland races in the British Touring Car Championship for Rotek Racing. He’s a Jalopnik contributor who basically lives at the Nürburgring most of the year. He is also the tallest man in Germany.