At Speed With The 2019 Mustang GT350: A
Properly Track-Tuned Pony
By Bradley Iger, Courtesy FordNXT
I nervously shifted around in my seat, anxious to get the show on the
road. The forecast called for thunderstorms throughout the day, but the
sky had yet to unleash its fury on M1 Concourse in Pontiac, Michigan.
While wet pavement is an annoyance out on the street, it can be downright
sketchy on a road course, especially when youíre behind the wheel of a
500+ horsepower, rear wheel drive pony car on track-spec rubber. But aside
from a brief bout of drizzle during our technical briefing, Mother Nature
seemed to be listening to my internal pleas for dry tarmac.
Ford invited a group of journalists out to this private track facility in
Pontiac, Michigan to get some seat time behind the wheel of the updated
Shelby GT350. The changes are difficult to discern from a cursory glance
at the new model, and they probably wonít cause a specifications sheet to
The engineers at Ford Performance instead took a surgical approach to
their revisions, applying a number of subtle yet key changes to the Shelby
that result in much more than the sum of their parts. But none of it would
mean a damn thing if we had to hobble these things around on a soaking wet
track. Drive now, talk later, I thought to myself.
By some small miracle the storm held off just long enough for me to get my
fill of M1ís 1.5-mile road course Ė a tight, technical track that
emphasizes agility over horsepower. Itís here where the GT350ís chassis
can really shine. But before I get into that, letís talk about whatís new
for 2019 in Shelbyville.
When the GT350 debuted alongside the GT350R, there was a distinct sense
that Ford had purposely engineered a substantial performance gap between
the standard-issue Shelby and the limited-production R-spec model. While
the GT350R comes with its own set of compromises, particularly in daily
driving context, the standard GT350 just felt a little bit tame for a
proper track-tuned machine, and that vibe was only bolstered by a
class-action lawsuit by Shelby owners who were frustrated with cars that
couldnít make it through a 30-minute lapping session before overheating
and limping back to the pits.
Ford addressed that particular issue by making the Track Package standard
on all GT350s in 2017, bringing additional oil, transmission, and
differential cooling into the mix, but standard Shelbyís overall setup
still seemed a bit conservative terms of suspension tuning and overall
grip. And with the introduction of Performance Pack 2 for the
garden-variety GT, which offered a more aggressive tire and suspension
package than what was available on the 2018 GT350, it was clear the Shelby
was overdue for an update.
As any road racer worth his or her salt will attest, a good track setup
starts where the wheels meet the pavement. To that end, Ford Performance
teamed up with Michelin to create an FP-spec Pilot Sport Cup 2 thatís
exclusive to the standard GT350. The new tire features a compound and
tread pattern unique to this particular tire thatís designed to enhance
its wet handling characteristics while offering a substantial upgrade in
dry grip versus the Pilot Super Sport summer tire that was outfitted to
the outgoing model.
To complement the newfound grip, Ford also increased the front spring
rates by 10%, softened the rear springs while increasing the rear sway bar
size, and retuned the MagneRide dampers for more responsive handling. The
software saw some tweaks as well, with Ford revising the stability control
and antilock braking algorithms to tailor the code around the new
The car also sees aerodynamic improvements by way of a new rear spoiler
with an optional Gurney Flap thatís designed to increase high speed
stability with additional downforce at the rear. A new set of 19-inch
forged aluminum wheels are on hand as well.
Inside itís a similar story Ė a standard machined aluminum instrument
panel appliquť, dark suede door panel inserts, and a wrapped center
console comprise the lionís share of updates to the Shelby, subtle tweaks
that all but the most die hard Shelby fanatics would be forgiven for
overlooking. But the new availability of a new Bang & Olufsen premium
audio system is a welcome addition to the options sheet, while the
now-standard 8-inch Sync 3 touchscreen system brings the GT350ís
technological prowess into closer parity with its rivals.
At The Track
After familiarizing myself with the course layout, I quickly got the
Shelby up to pace, acutely aware that our dry laps were happening on
borrowed time. The handling improvements provided by the new tires are
immediately noticeable, delivering the responsive turn-in and wealth of
grip that the Cup 2 is known for while also staying admirably resistant to
The suspension tweaks pay dividends as well. Where the outgoing GT350 felt
a bit soft at track pace with an overabundance of sway, squat, and dive
for a track-tuned machine, the updated Shelby feels taut in Track mode,
communicating just enough body motion to indicate where the weight is when
setting up for a corner, but nothing more. It translates to a feeling of
confidence behind the wheel that was formerly a bit lacking, and that
buttoned-down vibe paired with the excellent Brembo stoppers encourages
the kind of bravery thatís a hallmark of an excellent sports car. Even
after multiple back to back lapping sessions, the GT350 always felt ready
But even with the updated chassis, the 5.2-liter, 526 horsepower naturally
aspirated Voodoo V8 remains the star of the show. The flat-plane crank
monster sings its way to a lofty redline of 8250 rpm, making M1ís back
straight a true delight. The car briefly kisses 120 mph in fourth gear
here, making this the only section of M1 where the new aero has a chance
to provide any meaningful downforce. Still, the rear end of the car feels
eminently planted during the threshold braking here, so the new wing
appears to be doing its job.
On The Street
By the time I had a chance to point the nose of the Shelby toward Woodward
Avenue the storm had finally come in, soaking the pockmarked roads of a
post-winter Michigan. Track tuning is typical at odds with everyday
drivability, so this crucible of a street drive undoubtedly put the
revised Shelby to the test.
Despite the GT350ís revised spring rates and Cup 2 rubber, the Shelby was
impressively composed out on the road when set to Comfort drive mode,
delivering enough compliance to contend with the array of potholes I
encountered. A hint of tramlining did present itself here and there, but
the GT350 still feels significantly less nervous on the highway than its R
counterpart does. And although itís unchanged for 2019, the Shelbyís
six-speed Tremec gearbox is still worthy of praise as well, pairing up
short throws and track-focused gear ratios with a clutch thatís fairly
light on effort but still clearly communicates its engagement point.
Recaros are standard on the GT350, and while their beefy side and thigh
bolsters will keep drivers planted during the high speed lateral
maneuvers, some drivers may find them to be a bit much out on the road
during longer drives. Iíd consider the compromise in comfort to be well
worth the trouble, but Ford also offers a less performance-focused,
power-adjustable seat for buyers that are looking for something thatís a
geared more toward grand touring.
Itís easy to get lost in superlatives, but the upshot is that the 2019
Shelby GT350 may in fact be the best performance-tuned Mustang to ever
roll out of Fordís factories. Fifty-five years into production thatís high
praise indeed, but the Shelby earns it with its on-track thrills,
skillfully engineered performance capability, and Fordís earnest approach
to track durability.
And while that would be enough to sing the carís praises on its own, the
fact that the new GT350 is totally suitable for everyday driving, even
under less-than-ideal conditions, seals the deal for this particular
gearhead. Although it took a few years to get it, Ford Performance has
finally delivered a GT350 that lives up to its full potential.