This year’s Detroit Auto Show featured a high-horsepower announcement from the Blue Oval: The Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 would be returning later this year with over 700 horsepower and a fast-shifting dual-clutch transmission. So whither its little (and cheaper) brother, the Mustang GT350? Don’t worry, the “entry-level” Shelby has received some key updates to make it the best-driving GT350 yet.
So what’s the secret? There’s no single answer, so The Drive hopped in a new 2019 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 with Ford Performance’s Chief Engineer Carl Widmann to talk about the top five tweaks that have made the new GT350 such a capable sports car.
1. Shared Components with the Ford Mustang Shelby GT500
We asked Widmann which components are shared between the GT350 and the upcoming 2020 GT500. Answer: The rear wing, whose Gurney flap (a downforce aid) is also found on certain versions of the Mustang Shelby GT500. Most of the photos so far of the GT500 have the big track wing, but the more subtle handling pack car will have this wing.
2. No Digital Instrument Cluster in the Shelby Mustang GT350
Widmann tells us that the GT350 is designed to be the purpose-built track car of the family, while the GT500 is the technological showcase of the ultimate Mustang. That means the 12-inch digital instrument cluster won’t be available on the cheaper GT350. The GT350 is not without tech—the car we were driving had blind spot monitoring, dual zone climate control, support for Android Auto and Apple Car Play, and the standard power seats with heating and ventilation. We also have a feeling purists will appreciate the analog gauges.
3. Shelby Mustang GT350 Wears Cup 2 Tires, But They’re Special
Widmann dropped the Pilot Super Sport tires for the 2019 GT350 and replaced them with a special design Cup 2 tire from Michelin. We asked him if that would affect wet weather performance, and he told us that while there is a bit of a tradeoff, not all Cup 2 tires are the same. Despite the fact that some cars equipped with Cup 2s can be a handful, including the Performance Pack 2 Mustang, Widmann is insistent that that the specification for the GT350 tires won’t have the same result.
4. New Tires Need a New Suspension in the GT350
Adding more grip with the custom Sport Cup 2 tires was only part of the problem that needed solving, since the new shoes introduced different handling characteristics. So the team adjusted the standard MagneRide magnetorheological ride control dampers, the antilock brakes, and traction control systems. Engineers could’ve just added the grip and let the car be, but the tires’ greater performance means they could change everything else to make a better car.
5. Ford Mustang GT350 Has Pre-Refresh HID Headlights for a Reason
For the 2018 model year, Ford redesigned the front end of the Mustang and incorporated new LED headlights. These headlights are still not available on the GT350 and GT500—and that’s for a very good reason.
“It was really for carrying over the carbon fiber bolster from the GT350,” Widmann said. The LED headlights are also a bit taller, so the old lights were also used to keep a lower hood line. On the Ford Mustang Shelby GT500, the carbon fiber bolster also allows Ford to use hood pins to keep everything secure.
So does it all work on the track? The short answer is yes. This Mustang is the most neutral handling Mustang I’ve ever driven, and on the short circuit at M1 Concourse it doesn’t exhibit any scary behavior that might have plagued previous Mustangs. If you’re looking for the closest Mustang to a pure, idealized sports car, the new GT350 might just be the ticket.