Ford has tried to turn the Mustang into a track machine by putting it on a diet and giving it a new engine. Has it worked?

What is it?

To put it politely, the Ford Mustang GT isn’t the first car you’d choose to develop into a stripped-out, no-compromise track machine.

For one thing it’s a sizeable old bus – it’s 30cm longer than the Porsche 911, a rather more obvious candidate, and some 10cm wider – and for another, it weighs the better part of 1800kg.

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There wasn’t a great deal Ford Performance could do about the Mustang’s size, but to give the Shelby GT350R a fighting chance on track, it ditched the rear seats, stereo, sat-nav and air conditioning (although the latter three items can be added back in optionally). The wheels are exotic carbon fibre items, too, saving 6kg at each corner. The total weight loss over the 5.0 GT is 60kg, which is useful if not exactly transformative

The entire chassis has been overhauled with uprated components and a much more track-focussed set-up, while a comprehensive aerodynamic package promises much more downforce than the regular car.

Most unusually, though, the warbling V8 engine that powers the conventional Mustang has been ditched for a high-revving 5.2-litre flat-plane crank V8. That’s something of a departure for an American muscle car; flat-plane cranks and high-revving V8s have been the preserve of European sports cars until now. 

The new motor revs beyond 8000rpm, whereas the outgoing cross-plane V8 doesn’t reach far beyond 6500rpm. The power and torque figures hint at a revvy V8 rather than a lazy, torque-rich bruiser, too; 526bhp at 7500rpm and 429lb ft at 4750rpm are not typical Mustang numbers. The soundtrack isn’t typical Ford Mustang either, the rumbling score replaced by highly-strung snarls and barks.

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What's it like?

As the most extreme Mustang to date, the GT350R goes to lengths not even the GT350 model would have considered in the pursuit of race track performance. In fact, Ford says it didn’t even concern itself with trying to make the GT350R work on the public road

The standard car’s plush leather chairs have been swapped out for heavily-bolstered Recaros, while the steering wheel is wrapped in Alcantara. The sports seats are actually set an inch or two lower than the standard items, and with the steering column at full extension, the seating position is just about perfect. 

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If Ford wants the GT350R to be assessed as a track car, there are few better places to do just that than Thruxton. The UK’s fastest race track is a stern test of car and driver, mixing ballsy high-speed sequences with tight and technical sections. 

The GT350R is more than up to it. Whereas the Mustang GT feels about as adept on circuit as a canal boat would, this stripped-out model feels right at home. That much more aggressive suspension set-up takes away all of the wallow and floatiness of the standard car, replacing it with agility, control and precision.

There are sections of Thruxton that demand so many different things from a car all at once; the start of the lap, for instance, combines a fast left-hand bend with a sharp crest and a heavy braking zone. Many cars would be completely flummoxed by that sequence, but the GT350R swallows it up without any trouble whatsoever. The steering is ultra-sharp and direct, the big Brembo brakes are excellent and the fat Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres generate enormous grip and traction. 

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In the high-speed sections, such as the intimidatingly fast Church corner, the car is incredibly stable, thanks in part to the aero package. There’s so little body roll or dive under braking that you quickly forget just how big and, let’s be honest, heavy the GT350R is

Chasing an 8000rpm redline in a Mustang is a novel experience. The zingy V8 is right at the heart of the driving experience and it flings the car along at a mighty rate. It’s also so much more responsive than the GT’s cross-plane V8; it takes only a quick stab of the accelerator to bring the revs up during a downshift, whereas you really have to get into the GT’s throttle pedal to awaken the engine.

Should I buy one?

Given the GT350R’s decidedly road-biased origins it’s impressive just how capable it is on circuit. Truth be told, though, it takes only a bucket load of power, a stiff chassis setup and a set of sticky tyres to make any car quick on track. What’s really difficult – and what the likes of Porsche do so well – is making a car perform on circuit while also working out on a bumpy road.

We won’t find out how the GT350R copes with the ruts and crests of a typical back road on this occasion – the sheer width of those 305mm front tyres hints at a fair amount of tramlining – but we can say for certain the GT350R is a deeply talented and entertaining track machine

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Dan Prosser

Where Thruxton, Hampshire; On sale Now (in US); Price US $65,000 (est.); Engine 5163cc, V8, petrol; Power 526bhp at 7500rpm; Torque 429lb ft at 4750rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual; Kerbweight 1660kg; Top speed 177mph; 0-60mph 3.9sec; Fuel economy 16mpg; CO2 rating n/a; Rivals Porsche Cayman GT4, BMW M4 GTS

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Spanner 6 July 2017

Good news!

It has a better NCAP rating. The new one has improved to three stars! Oh.
androo 5 July 2017

Too big

This latest Mustang looks so huge and bloated with massive overhangs. If they shrank it to the size and proportions of the 1960s original they would have a worldbeater.
bowsersheepdog 30 June 2017

No compare

That thing is an absolute minger, it's horrible. Plus the interior is so crap is can be only be the result of a malicious attitude to the undiscriminating mugs who buy one. To describe something made by Ford as a rival to a Porsche Cayman is like putting forward clostridium botulinum cultures on a turd as an alternative pudding to chocolate cake.