Every so often a car really surprises me, either because of how good it is, or because of how truly awful it is. The Shelby GT350R was one such surprise — and not because it was awful. It was really, really, really, really good. So good that I walked away from my Shelby GT350R experience wondering whether I could get one, and whether one might be available for a reasonable price, and whether I should convert to the Global Religion Of The Shelby GT350R.
Here’s how this went down: I got an email from a viewer in Maryland, and he told me he had a GT350R for me to come check out. I was tremendously excited by the prospect of this, because I’ve gotten some notes from people with GT350s, but I wanted the mack daddy. The real deal. The buck stops here. The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. The rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain.
So I said yes, and I drove out to Maryland, and I checked out this GT350R.
Now, before I get into my feelings on the GT350R driving experience, let’s discuss the GT350R as a concept; as an idea; as a thought in our brains. From that perspective, it’s a bit weird. Prices have fallen some, but many people have paid $80,000 to $100,000 for a Ford Mustang — well over the sticker price, because you can’t get one at the sticker price unless you’re the dealer’s son-in-law who wrecked his EcoBoost Mustang coming out of the Target parking lot.
The crazy thing about this money is, it doesn’t even offer major upgrades over the regular GT350: You get carbon wheels, added aero, better tires, slightly different suspension and steering tuning and … that’s it. The engine is the same. The horsepower is the same. Upgrade to a GT350R and they don’t even give you a single "R" badge on the exterior of the car to distinguish it from a standard GT350. I’m dead serious. Nobody knows you have the R, except you, because you have a lot less money in your bank account than you would if you had a GT350.
So when I showed up in Maryland to drive this thing, I was a bit skeptical, in the same way the moon is a bit large.
So I did my usual thing, where I filmed the "Hi I’m Doug" stuff, and then I filmed all the weird quirks, like the fact that there are no "R" badges on the outside of this car, and the fact that the wheels are made of carbon fiber, and the fact that there’s this weird place on the exterior where rocks always collect, and then I got in the car to drive it. I was still skeptical.
And then I spent about three minutes behind the wheel.
The funny thing is, I’ve read a few reviews of this car, and they all say amazing things, as if the car is one of those child prodigies that masters the flute by age 4 and graduates from college by age 9. So I was expecting it to be good, but I was also expecting those reviews to be a little bit fluff, because come on, right? It’s a Mustang.
But no. The reviews are good because the car is simply amazing.
It’s honestly hard to describe how good this car is, except to say that few vehicles I’ve driven have made me feel more confident, more secure and more certain that I could read every single move the car was about to make, and it, too, could perfectly respond to all of my moves. The transmission and gear-selector action is absolutely incredible in the sense that they move with precision, exactly how you’d design a gear selector if you were making the perfect performance car. The steering is precise, the chassis feels like a true sports car’s, and somehow, in some way, they made this thing handle on the very best level of every high-end sports car I’ve ever driven in my life.
I truly never expected the Mustang had this car lurking somewhere inside it.
Of course, there are a few Mustangy things about this car, too: The interior is "cheap," which isn’t to say ugly, but it is to say there’s no way you can bring a car like this to market with an MSRP of under $70,000 unless you toss quite a bit of plastic in the cabin. Also, the sound. The sound is absolutely amazing, and I loved it — but even in the quietest setting, you can hear this coming from hundreds of yards away. Your neighborhood will know you as The Guy With the Mustang.
But, honestly, with the GT350R, that wouldn’t be such a bad thing. I’m certain this car won’t singlehandedly change the perception of the Ford Mustang, but it certainly changed mine: The Mustang is no longer just the all-out powerfest sold to 23-year-old guys who can’t control them, even on a dead-straight, four-lane road. Every time I look at a Mustang from now on, I’ll know that somewhere underneath its muscle-car body is the capability to dazzle me like this one did.
So is the GT350R really worth such a premium over the GT350? I don’t know, because I haven’t driven a GT350 — but by the end of my drive, I didn’t really care what this thing cost. Relative to European cars, this car is a crazy bargain — and if you can get over the fact that most people will think you’re just driving "a Mustang," this is one of the best performance cars on the market today. Needless to say, I’m no longer skeptical.
Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.
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