The best Mustang ever. When talking about the 2017 Shelby GT350R, there’s no question — it’s the new benchmark. The next discussion is about what current supercars it outshines and where it falls in the pantheon of all time greats. Ford has bestowed upon us a Mustang that essentially amounts to a 21st-century version of a street-legal Trans-Am car. Which is ridiculous, and I couldn’t be happier about it.
For too long, the Mustang was bogged down by a lengthy list of caveats that prevented it from being part of the conversation about truly great vehicles. There have been bright spots since the earliest glory years — the “Fox Body 5.0;” the “New Edge” Mach 1 and Cobra; the fifth generation Shelby GT500 and Boss 302 — but even those cars fell short of being truly special. But that’s history. In terms of desirability and outright personality, the 2017 GT350R has more in common with the Porsche Cayman GT4 than previous Mustangs.
Put down the pitchforks and hear me out. Both cars have seats you don’t want to get out of, a steering wheel you don’t want to let go of and are equipped for only two occupants. Each has an exhaust note that honors the racing heritage of the brand — I legitimately still get chills when I think about the sound the GT350R makes. At idle there’s a low-tone burble like it’s trying to clear its throat. Then in the middle of the range, it progresses to a bass-heavy yell that you can feel in your chest. Finally, when climbing to the top of the rev range (which goes all the way to 8,200 RPMs), it’s a guttural howl that completely envelops you. You can feel it in your extremities, it lives between your ears, it changes your molecular composition. It is all that you could possibly want in an exhaust note and more.
Of course, the GT350R offers more than just auditory bliss. Its long muscular body is beautiful from any angle; gear changes are delightfully crisp. Most importantly, it manages all curves with go-kart like confidence — this is the biggest difference from the top-dog Mustangs of the past. I covered a little over a thousand miles during my week with the car, but everything I really needed to know about was communicated in just 18.
There is a quiet road high in the San Bernadino mountains nicknamed “Nine Mile Canyon,” and over the past couple of years, it has become my litmus test for any vehicle that comes my way. With a variety of curve types and multiple straightaways, Nine Mile quickly reveals the strengths and weaknesses of a performance vehicle. After one full lap in the GT350R I reached the conclusion that only the Viper ACR and a hot-rodded 1969 911 came close, though those were more “scarily entertaining” than outright enjoyable.
For now, simply understand this: the 2017 Mustang Shelby GT350R is an all-time great. Even with dealer markups, it’s not prohibitively expensive, and once those markups begin to fade, it’ll be an insane bargain. And you’d be foolish to dismiss it as little more than an ostentatious modern muscle car geared towards Mustang fanboys.