July 4, 2012
Seligman, Arizona. Click image to enlarge
Both cars, of course, are rear-wheel drive, and feature fashionably big wheels and very powerful brakes. But the Charger platform is more sophisticated than the Shelby GT500′s. The Charger has traction control and vehicle stability control, along with a multi-link rear suspension (the platform for this car features components derived from Mercedes-Benz). Tires are huge 245/45-20 Goodyear Eagle RS-As, front and rear. Put your foot down hard in this car and it launches straight, the transmission shifting crisply at the 6,400 rpm redline, the power from the 6.1-litre Hemi V8 pushing you back hard into the seat as the car shoots forward. The steering assist is firmly weighted, and you feel like you’re always in control, despite the SRT8′s performance potential.
The Shelby GT500 also has traction control, but no stability control. There is, however, a limited slip differential to help manage its supercharged 500 hp and 480 lb-ft of torque. It features a McPherson strut front suspension and three-link rear suspension tied to a solid rear axle, and wears wide 285/40-18 Goodyear Eagle F1 tires at the rear (front tires are 255/45-18) that also help to put the power down. Floor the accelerator and release the clutch in this vehicle, and it hurtles forward like one of those rocket-powered railcars that scientists used in the 1950s to test how much acceleration human beings could actually take. There are slightly faster cars off the line (not many), but the sheer, visceral force of the GT500 as it leaps to life, its supercharger wailing, its engine almost instantly spinning up to 6,250 rpm, has to be experienced. It’s completely different than the Charger in this respect. It is sudden, physical and raucous (and that’s not to suggest the Charger SRT8 can’t get a move on when asked; it just does it differently).
Seligman, Arizona. Click image to enlarge
Add to this the fact that the manual transmission in the GT500 is more NASCAR beef than Formula1 paté, and you have a real handful off the line if you’re not careful. Ford’s 0–60 mph (0–96 km/h) times are 4.3 seconds for the GT500, and Dodge reports 5.0 seconds for the Charger SRT8 (although most reviews suggest that’s a somewhat optimistic number for the GT500).
Once underway, these driving impressions continue. While the Charger feels almost unflappable on all road surfaces, the GT500′s less advanced suspension can upset the car—especially at speed on rough or undulating roads—and create a somewhat bouncy experience for the driver. The steering is lighter than I’d prefer, which may contribute to the car’s occasional tendency to wander, and the super-wide tires can pull the unwary driver off course.
Don’t get me wrong. On a smooth road, the GT500 typically feels calm at speed. But it would be much easier to lose than the Charger SRT8 in the hands of an inexperienced driver, and conversely, it requires a good driver to get the best out of it.
The GT500 is also comparatively heavy and, surprisingly, doesn’t feel as nimble as the Charger SRT8. With a length of 4765 millimeters (187.6 inches), it weighs in at 1840 kilograms (4040 pounds). The Charger SRT8 is a considerably bigger car with a length of 5082 mm (200.1 inches), but weighs in only slightly more at 1887 kg (4160 lbs), and it feels better balanced.
Charger seat (top) and Shelby GT500. Click image to enlarge
Inside, the Charger SRT8 features tasteful leather seats with suede inserts. Red stitching contrasts nicely with the grey leather, and the seats have power lumbar support. Additionally, a button on the side of the seat adjusts the pedals. The white-faced instrument cluster adds a sporty touch, and remote controls on the tilt/telescoping steering wheel manage the audio, cruise and trip computer functions. As equipped, our car included a navigation system, upgraded audio, sunroof, heated seats, dual zone climate control, and “UConnect” hands-free communication system, among other creature comforts.
Outside, the 20-inch wheels are impressive, as are the shiny red-painted Brembo brake calipers behind them. Under the hood, the engine bay is finished with an aluminum plenum chamber and custom graphics. The hood is supported by two gas lifts, causing it to hiss seductively as it opens and closes. Overall, you get the impression that the Charger SRT8 was the focus of attentive engineers and designers adding flourishes here and there to set it apart—to make it special. That being said, the Charger SRT8 is something of a sleeper, and doesn’t much broadcast its performance potential beyond the base Charger’s already formidable and chunky appearance.
The Shelby GT500 wears smaller 18-inch wheels (if 18-inches can be considered small), but on this car, they kind of look it. The standard matte black brake callipers, although they are also Brembo, do nothing for the look of the car in profile. The interior is very plain: black leather seats, black door panels, black dashboard. It’s basic black, in other words, with some spare silver trim. The steering column tilts, but doesn’t telescope, and as far as the seats go, it’s no heat or lumbar support for you.
Charger (top) and Shelby. Click image to enlarge
The instruments are not illuminated in daylight, which makes them hard to read, and cast a garish purple glow at night (clashing with the green illumination for the controls on the centre stack). I know that a user-selectable option is available for Mustangs, so you can change the colour of the instrument illumination. But if this was fitted to our GT500, I couldn’t find it, and had to endure the purple haze.
The engine bay is also something of a disappointment. The supercharger sits on top, but it’s not specially finished. Valve covers say “Powered by SVT” but they’re hard to see (in fact, the name of this car is something of a mystery; I’ve seen it described as a Ford Shelby Cobra GT500 SVT, although “Cobra” is not an official name for this car). Wires and components seem to be located where space is available, rather than being part of an overall engine bay design. A single prop, like that of an old British sports car, supports the hood.
However, what it loses in interior and exterior embellishments, the GT500 makes up for in overall shape and presence. The front fascia is spare, dark and menacing; the heat extractors on the bulging hood look like nostrils that might belch flame in vehicles of another era; the GT500 stripe down the side is like a billboard advertising its horsepower (in case you didn’t already know), and the rear fascia kind of leans forward, giving the impression that the car is flipping the bird as it blows by. It’s an arrogant, pushy, self-important vehicle, and if you don’t like it, it seems to say, “well, too damned bad!”
There aren’t many cars next to which a red Dodge Charger SRT8 would be called subtle, but the Shelby GT500 is one of them.
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