x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Road Test: 2012 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 is a snake with bite

Carroll Shelby's new Mustang is charming all comers, but the price tag will sting.

If iconic imagery were horsepower, Ford's Mustang Shelby GT500 would be the fastest car on the planet. Besides the obvious - that the Mustang is easily the most recognisable of American pony cars that have fuelled many a boyhood fantasy - there's the whole Shelby/snake thing.

We're talking, of course, about Carroll who is (almost) to Ford high performance what Zora Arkus-Dunstov was to Corvette and dear old Enzo was to Ferrari.

Whether it be the nuclear-powered rollerskate that was the original Cobra or the very first 1968 version of the GT500 (powered by a 428 Cobra Jet laughably rated at a measly 335hp), attaching the Shelby name to anything pretty much guarantees there will be much burning of rubber and alienation of noise-sensitive neighbours.

And one simple number tells you that this latest of madcap hot rods from Shelby is no less deviant: 550. As in horsepower. Yes, Ford, the company that's been trumpeting fuel economy and environmentalism as if the whole world was Californian, ascribes its blue oval to something that at least aspires to playing with the Corvettes and Ferraris of this world.

To put those 550 horses into perspective, Ford says that makes the 2012 GT500 the most powerful production Mustang engine ever. It also makes the (relatively) lowly Mustang as powerful as the almost-as-iconic Ford GT (née GT40) that the company resurrected about five years ago.

Such outrageous power is an elixir that can salve almost all ills. Even if the rest of the car was awful, as long as my eyes rolled back in their sockets every time I dumped the clutch, all manner of faults could be forgiven.

Thankfully, the rest of the car isn't awful at all. For one thing, the Shelby doesn't handle half badly. It may lack the delicate balance that oozes from the more recently developed Boss 302, but my tester did have the recently developed SVT (Special Vehicles Team) suspension and, like all latter-day Mustangs, handles much better than anything with an archaic old solid rear axle. On smooth - and even moderately bumpy roads - roll is well contained and Ford's latest adjustable (for boost and effort) electrical power steering is both delicate and communicative.

Even the ride isn't too bad until you hit seriously potholed roads. But again, for anything this stiffly suspended with a rear suspension system originally designed at the turn of the previous century, the GT500's competence is amazing. I would make one change, however. Indeed, I would recommend this change to prospective owners at time of purchase. If you opt for the SVT handling package, try to coerce the salesman to swap out the Goodyear F1 GS-2s for more street-orientated tyres.

While I'm sure the Goodyears provide prodigious grip when flogged hard on a racetrack, like all seriously sporty rubber, they need substantial amounts of heat to generate their limpet-like grip.

First thing in the morning they're as greasy as a Donald Trump handshake, the souped-up 'Stang's rubber and the pavement acting like they're in the middle of an acrimonious divorce.

Of course, their ability to form a relationship, if not a bond, with the tarmac is not helped by having to contain a motor that pumps out 678Nm of torque, most of which seems to be available as soon as you put the key in the ignition. Though it is substantially smaller than the 400+ cubic inch monsters of yore, the V8's 5.4L is still a hefty amount of displacement these days. Lop a supercharger on top of that, throw in double overhead camshafts and four valves in each cylinder head for good measure and you have a recipe for horsepower. And since it's supercharged (rather than turbo) all that torque is available as soon as the starter motor coaxes that big V8 to fire.

It does absolutely everything it should. It belches V8 basso profundo and tyre squeals in equal measure. It'll pin you back in the new Recaro seats with but a whiff of throttle.

And given its head, it'll scoot to 100kph in just four and a half seconds, an admirable number that still doesn't manage to do its incredible performance justice.

Ford bills this as its most potent pony car of all time and riffing on the throttle is proof that even advertising wonks occasionally tell the truth.

Unfortunately, this is also Ford's "be all you can be" Mustang and the GT500's interior is, frankly, a let-down. While there are functional upgrades to the cabin, the layout, design and switchgear are basically the same. And while that may (barely) work for the lower-spec Mustang V6, said cheapness has no place in something purporting to be top-flight.

Ford makes much of the new SVT-designed Recaro front bucket seats, complete with side bolstering and thoroughly retro leather pleating. And the stereo is a suitably powerful Shaker 500 affair with eight bass-pounding speakers, but the additions can't disguise the fact that the Mustang's basic decor looks like it was designed by geriatric pencil pushers seconded from the defunct Crown Victoria programme.

It's made all the more glaring by a price tag that can only be described as opportunistic. The base price for a 2012 GT500 is Dh260,000 and my tester would have set me back a few thousand dirhams more.

It's much too much of a stretch for the basic Mustang nameplate and design. The higher price might have been justifiable had Ford finally engineered a fully independent rear suspension specific to the GT and upgraded the interior decor, the supercharger, suspension and brakes (not to mention the previously mentioned Recaro seats) but this hasn't happened and so the GT500 simply doesn't warrant such a massive increase over a bare bones GT version.

The solution is simple. I heartily recommend this latest in the long line of "Cobras".

I'd just wait a few years until it is superseded by something even more snake-bitten and the bloom is off this rose.

Base price Dh260,000

Engine 5.4L supercharged V8

Gearbox Tremec six-speed manual

Power 550hp @ 6,200rpm

Torque 691Nm @ 4,250rpm

Fuel economy, combined 13.8L/100km