Looking to spend under $100,000 and get the best all-round sports car? Some may say that a Porsche 718 is the best, others may persuade you into thinking the Civic Type-R is worthy of your dough (for much, much less), and the Supra fanboys will plead with you to go with the latest front-engined, Japanese (kinda, actually German) rocket. I’m here to tell you—they are all wrong.
The best driving experience money can buy for under $100,000 is the Shelby GT350R. Here’s a list of reasons why:
- The “Voodoo” Flat-Plane Crank V8
This engine is a complete and utter masterpiece. It has it all: large displacement (5.2 liters), incredible sound, smooth acceleration, performance to brag to your friends about, and that harmonious sound (more on that later). This engine has been dubbed by Car and Driver as “The Most Interesting Engine of the Year”. For those of you who don’t know what ‘flat-plane crank’ means…well, join the club. What I do know (put ever so simply) is that it is the same engine architecture as Ferrari’s V8s which allows them to rev extremely high and maintain a strong horsepower and torque curve. People who try to pry more power out of these end up stripping the engine because they simply are tuned to ten tenths out the showroom.
- The Looks
Subjective I know, but the GT350R is a truly menacing car to watch roll down the street. With its massive wing, bold stripes, aggressive facia, and fat rubber, anyone staring in their rear-view mirror at it will be rendered a potato. Personally, I think the rear wing completes the package. GT350’s are not half as cool in my eyes as the R’s are simply because of that black carbon wing.
- Manual Transmission
One of the biggest prerequisites for a driver’s car in my book is a good ‘ole fashioned three pedal setup. The GT350R seems to be one of the last sports cars of our time to offer a manual box—and a damn snappy one if I do say so myself. It’s big brother, the GT500, gets Ford’s newest 10-speed auto (*sigh*) and the competition is following suit. I will argue until I’m blue in the face that we should celebrate the manual while we can. Lots of people adore them but don’t actually buy them. Put your money where your mouth is and buy a car with a manual. You won’t regret it for a second.
- The Hellish Noise
The exhaust note is one of the main hallmarks of the GT350R. It has been solidified into the automotive hall of fame (aka an allegiance made up in my head) as one of the best sounding cars ever to cruise this Earth. Other contemporary cars that come to mind are the Lamborghini Aventador, Lexus LFA, Porsche GT3, and Ferrari 812 Superfast. But those all go for twice, if not quadruple the price of the humble Shelby. The first time I drove a Shelby, I couldn’t resist the urge to stomp on the gas at every single opportunity I got. HOT DIGGITY did I laugh. I actually giggled like a chump for minutes on end. I felt like a 5 year-old on Christmas morning. The sound at 8,500 RPM is a thing of beauty and is reason enough alone to buy this car.
- The Useable Speed
Compared to other V8s of our time, the Shelby’s 5.2L doesn’t produce groundbreaking numbers. What it does produce are 526 horsepowers and 429 torques. That is plenty of grunt for a daily driver or track weapon. That torque figure makes clutch engagement easy which means traffic lugging an ease. And on the other side of the spectrum, the high RPM pull is accessible in any gear. Not saying I know from experience, but roasting the rear tires is fully welcomed in the GT350R.
Now I will preface this blurb saying that the GT350R’s suspension is not exactly the most sophisticated. It lurches and jumps during acceleration and at some points, it feels like its going to stab you in the back and preform an Instagram-worthy 360 spin for everyone on the 405; but that’s exactly why I love it. Too many cars are too easy to drive nowadays. Get in a modern-day Porsche, it practically drives itself with its fancy PDK and rear-wheel steering. Ferraris have a traction control system that’ll make you corner like Chris Harris. The Shelby is only as good as the jabroni piloting the thing. You make the car. You are the one who nails the turn. You are the one rowing through all six, glorious gears. You’re the one modulating the throttle on corner entry—screw up and you’re in the trees. It’s just you. That has to be celebrated.
May seem like a paid promotion at this point but don’t fret, the Shelby has it’s fair amount of downsides. For one, the clutch pedal is trash. The spring is double-actuated (which is to say that there are two springs pushing it forward, not one) so its heavy at the bottom but super light right at the catch point. So there’s no linearity and really tough to judge. Fortunately, it’s an easy upgrade to fix.
Next are the seats. Despite being Recaros and having oodles of support, they’re cloth—and no one likes cloth. It gets stinky and sweaty. (Just like me, but there’s only room for one gross object in the car, not two.) They also don’t go far enough down so you always feel a bit too high for that perfect driving position.
Other downsides include interior quality. It’s immediately apparent that this was not made in Germany. Scratchy plastic on the doors and footwells, hollow indicator stalks, and a general sense of cheapness are all present inside the Shelby’s cabin. At certain points of the day, the glare is so horrendous that the driver can’t see a thing going on in the gauge cluster. Ford had to cut some corners but can you blame them?
Lastly, the GT350R is comically low in the front. Like seriously, it’s two inches off the ground. I have never driven a single car (supercars and all) that are as low as this. Every speed bump or driveway has to be taken with extreme caution or else you’re at risk of scraping up your plastic splitter and looking like a massive dingus. The sound of the underbody scraping is enough to make the Hulk cringe. Thank heavens its plastic!
For all the shortcomings I stated above, the GT350R still remains one of my favorite cars I’ve driven in a while. To anyone who has a favorite ride, you know what I mean when I say you completely overlook a car’s negatives because the positives are overwhelmingly fantastic. This wonderous muscle car with its astonishing engine, slick looks, and back-to-basics driving style has me smitten. Find me in two years with one of these in white with blue stripes rolling up to a cars and coffee and I guarantee you, I’ll still be giggling like a chum.
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