Ford Shelby GT500 Cobra — Charmed by a snake

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

The menacing cobra emblem on the grille and front fender is a warning, akin to the “smoking can be hazardous to your health” admonition on the side of a cigarette pack.
Just as lighted tobacco can lead to problems, the 2010 Ford Shelby GT500 Cobra can rise up and strike creating big problems with either law enforcement or a tree looming around the next curve in the road.

The 540 horses under the hood of perhaps the hottest factory Mustang ever built, are best left idly dozing, gurgling at manageable street-legal speeds and low rpm if you are not prepared to handle great gobs of mind-blowing performance.

It’s there for the taking. The Cobra is always ready to strike. Just don’t let it bite you in the butt. Take your time. Get used to the good, old-fashioned American muscle car power in stages, building up your comfort level.

But if you do get charmed by this snake take it to the safety of deserted back roads or on private property, unless you can behave.

We drove a steel gray convertible edition with white stripes, carefully picking and choosing when and where we selected to let the big dog eat. We delighted once in arousing our deep-in-thought passenger with a slam of the right foot while in second gear. We thought it was amusing. Unfortunately our passenger wasn’t of the same mind as she massaged her neck, probably contemplating a whiplash lawsuit.

The Shelby is not practical. That’s obvious when you look at the window sticker and see that the purchase price includes a $1,000 gas guzzler tax. And it becomes even more obvious after a visit with your friendly auto insurance agent. The Shelby is built for the amusement of those who can afford to pony up (pun intended) 50 big ones for the joy of performance.

The Shelby offers the kind of muscle usually found in vehicles costing 10s of thousands more. If you are into high performance on a budget, North America is the place to be with such muscular stalwarts as the new Chevrolet Camaro SS, the Dodge Challenger SRT8, Chevrolet Corvette — and now the reworked and bulked-up Shelby GT500.

With the Shelby here’s what you get for a base price of $48,575 for the hardtop and $53,175 for the convertible including gas guzzler tax and destination: a 5.4-liter supercharged V-8 making 540 horsepower, a 40-horses more than the 2009, and 510 pound-feet of torque; huge 14-inch Brembo disc brakes that are capable of stopping the nearly two-ton car in a seatbelt-straining 106 feet; hood-mounted heat extractors and a front air splitter; tuned stainless steel exhaust with four-inch tips; a SVT sport-tuned suspension; 19-inch alloy wheels wrapped with high-performance Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar tires; leather/suede-upholstered sport bucket seats with Cobra logos.

Straight-ahead performance is measured at 4.3 seconds from 0-to-60, nearly 115 mph in 12.4 seconds for the quarter mile, and, 24 seconds from 0-to-150. These are times and speeds best left at the track, but they do point out the high-speed potential of the new Shelby GT.

The real fun in daily driving is having the ability to move quickly and safely out of trouble, to pass confidently in a short stretch of two-lane asphalt before the yellow no-passing lane rises up from the surface, to quickly find the smallest of openings while merging onto a busy highway with traffic bearing down at high speed; things simply not possible in your average sedan.

We discovered that the Cobra is easy to drive at high speeds, very composed with confidence-inspiring handling and communicative steering. The six-speed manual transmission shifts easily and clutch feel is near perfection. The seating position is excellent and the front seats are comfortable.

And noteworthy is a relatively supple ride, unusually compliant and very seldom jarring. Our usual passengers never complained about a stiff suspension.

One of our few complaints was the steady droning of the engine, even cruising in sixth gear. At first, the engine note is intoxicating. We didn’t even want to click on the standard 500-watt Shaker audio system. But over time, we tired of the drone and longed for a bit more solitude.

We didn’t have any complaints, however, about our surroundings. Ford has done a commendable job making the cabin very livable with attractive leather and Alcantara faux suede seats that include the cobra logo. We found the well-bolstered buckets, designed to hold the driver in place during high-speed cornering, amazingly comfortable, even for the wide bodied.

The interior materials and workmanship befits a 50 grand price-tag. One very neat touch is an old-school cue-ball gearshift knob.

Standard equipment includes dual-zone climate control and Ford’s Sync multimedia voice-control system, and satellite radio. Options are few and include navigation, xenon headlights and an upgraded 1,000-watt 10-speaker audio system. Our convertible edition came with a power-operated soft top.

The GT500 comes decked out in “GT500” side stripes and “LeMans” racing stripes over the nose and tail. We like the look, but for those who desire to be less conspicuous, Ford offers a stripe-delete option.

Standard safety features include antilock brakes, traction and stability control and front-seat side airbags. There is no spare tire, however, just a temporary tire inflation kit.

If you’ve driven a Mustang lately, then you know that although the coupe is rated as a four-passenger vehicle, rear-seat riders may find leg room — measured at a tight 29.8 inches — at a premium. We did ride four adults for a couple of short jaunts, but it requires a bit of compromise on front-seat positioning.

Surprising was the decent trunk space in our convertible test car, which measured 9.6 cubic feet. We discovered room for a big load of groceries — yes, grocery shopping in a Shelby GT500 is a treat, especially taking the long way home. The coupe has 13.4 cubic feet of storage.

Our test convertible, with just the headlight option, carried a bottom line price of $53,700.

If the 2010 Shelby GT500 fits your budget you’ll be treated to a great but serious toy; exciting for the weekends and as a comfortable daily driver if necessary. Just don’t let the Cobra bite.

Base price: $48,575; as driven, $53,700
Engine: 5.4-liter supercharged V-8
Horsepower: 540 @ 6,200 rpm
Torque: 510 foot-pounds @ 4,500 rpm
Drive: rear wheel
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Seating: 2/2
Wheelbase: 107.1 inches
Length: 188.2 inches
Curb weight: 4,022 pounds
Turning circle: 37 feet
Luggage capacity: 9.6 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 16 gallons (premium)
EPA rating: 22 mpg highway, 14 mpg city
0-60: 4.3 seconds: manufacturer
Also consider: Chevrolet Camaro SS, Dodge Challenger SRT8, Chevrolet Corvette

The Good:
• Thrilling performance
• Supercar handling
• Attractive price

The Bad:
• Thousands more than Camaro SS, Challenger SRT8

The Ugly:
• Antithesis of politically correct