For $177, you can stand in lines at Disney all day. You can cover a night in a decent hotel room or eat a plate of deconstructed fried pickles at a Michelin-starred restaurant. Or you can invest in 24 hours with the supercharged 600-plus-hp Mustang Shelby GT-S. Let's put that last one into perspective: You can't buy even half of a rear tire for the Shelby with $177.
This veritable bargain is the mad-genius work of Sixt, Germany's largest car-rental company and a growing player in the United States since 2011. Sixt has split 20 Shelbys among branches in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Fort Lauderdale, and Miami, with rates fluctuating based on demand. Sixt asked $177 per day during our drive and caps the rate at $250. The company also restricts renters to 175 miles per day, unless you're willing to cover each additional mile at a cost of 83 cents per. Plan accordingly and a Shelby GT-S rental is a small price for the ultimate car-enthusiast vacation. Think of it as an escape from the three-row crossover or the rusting sedan in your driveway and all the adult responsibilities that it represents. The Shelby GT-S turns every open road into a thrill ride that you pilot. And if it takes your entire vacation budget to make it happen, know that you can probably cook a steak on the car's supercharger and sleep in the passenger's seat.
We wanted to drive and test Sixt's Shelby in Los Angeles for its proximity to some of the country's best roads. Car availability instead landed us in the driving mecca that is Fort Lauderdale, a traffic-choked beach town in the nation's flattest state. But don't believe anyone who tells you there aren't decent roads in Florida. There is one. It's nine miles long and nearly 300 miles from Fort Lauderdale. Try to fit our route into a two-day rental and you're looking at an extra $291 in mileage fees. Sixt wasn't watching the odometer for our drive, though, so we chirped the tires on our way out of the lot and gunned it toward the town of Crystal River.
Sixt isn't the only rental company selling speed by the day, but it is the only one to reach the conclusion that what the 460-hp Mustang GT really needs is another 140 ponies. Built by Shelby American, the GT-S begins life as a Mustang GT Premium with Ford's Level 1 Performance Package. An Eaton TVS R2650 supercharger blows as much as 11.0 psi into Ford's Coyote 5.0-liter V-8 engine to inflate output to "more than" 600 horsepower and 500 pound-feet of torque, according to Shelby. The engine pairs to a 10-speed automatic transmission, because while Sixt may be crazy, it's not stupid. And since so many of us treat rental cars with the same respect reserved for mosquitoes, the inside of the fuel-filler door includes not one but two stickers pleading that you please put premium gas in the tank. With 700 miles of mostly highway driving, we averaged 18 mpg in the GT-S.
Shelby keeps Ford's brakes, limited-slip differential, and magnetorheological dampers and teams them with stiffer Ford Performance springs and 20-inch wheels. Cosmetic work includes a fiberglass hood, a new front fascia, orange-and-black seat covers, tinted windows, and a souvenir shop's worth of Shelby logos. With factory navigation, a proximity key, and ventilated seats to combat Florida's dishwasher climate, the GT-S would be a likable rental car even with half as much horsepower.
It takes only a few miles to discover that the GT-S doesn't have the same polish as a Shelby GT350 you can buy from your local Ford dealer. The engine idles with a constant shiver and occasionally hiccups as the transmission shifts. These quirks would be difficult to live with but are easily forgiven when you get to return the car in a matter of days.
Or you can simply outrun the GT-S's imperfections on West Ozello Trail, a snake of a road slithering through a marshy buffer along the Gulf of Mexico. Roughly 90 miles west of Orlando, the road reveals a Florida brimming with natural beauty in stark relief against the state's popular theme parks and spring-break beaches. Ozello's corners are tightly coiled with absurd recommended speeds of 30, 20, and 10 mph that the locals regard as immutable law. On an uninterrupted run, though, short sections of curves linked in a rapid-fire succession just might remind you of Tennessee's legendary Tail of the Dragon—if the road didn't have the elevation profile of a swamp.
The Shelby's megapower shrinks the straights between corners to nothingness. In first gear, the pixels of the digital tachometer struggle to keep up. In third, the engine still pulls as if it might run away from the transmission. Fifth feels like riding a stampede. We're skipping gears here, not because the transmission does but because, at full throttle, your mind simply can't process the sheer speed and intensity with which the GT-S runs through the gearbox. Left to shift for itself, the transmission will sometimes skim into the engine's rev limiter. We used the paddle shifters to hammer the GT-S through 60 mph in 3.6 seconds and the quarter-mile in 11.7 seconds at 124 mph. Those figures are improvements of 0.2 and 0.4 second, respectively, compared with the Mustang GT that the GT-S is based on. We expected a bigger margin given the power claims, but that's still plenty impressive for the cheapest car we've ever tested.
Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires—wider than the Level 1 Performance Pack Mustang GT's—hook to the asphalt with the tenacity of Velcro whether you're braking, accelerating, or turning. While we didn't have the real estate to test lateral grip, stops from 70 mph measured just 149 feet. That's shorter than the GT could manage despite the Shelby weighing 169 pounds more, likely due to the supercharger and the substantial fiberglass hood. In terms of both comfort and control, the suspension is stiffer than it needs to be, bouncing the car nervously over midcorner bumps. At least the steering, accurate and properly weighted, inspires confidence.
Nine miles is over way too quickly. West Ozello Trail comes to a dead end at the ocean, running straight into a boat ramp that disappears into the Gulf. At high tide, saltwater pools at the edge of the pavement and floods the final hundred feet of roadway, as if invisible forces want to keep Florida's one great driving treasure hidden. If we're honest, though, Florida's best would barely rank in California. A car this capable and this exciting would be even sweeter were it sampled in the canyons surrounding Los Angeles or another region where the topography tells the civil engineers how to do their jobs. For an enthusiast, few experiences are as memorable as a great car on a spectacular road. With the widespread availability of relatively cheap performance rentals and back-road beta, it's never been easier to conduct your own road test.
From the August 2019 issue.
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