Speed:Sport:Life Imaginary Internet Millionaire Track Test: Ferrari F430 v Lotus Elise v Dodge Caliber SRT-4 v Ford Mustang GT500


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Story by Jack Baruth – In-car video by Jack Baruth and Carl Modesette – Photography by Zerin Dube and Matt Chow

Admit it: you’ve told the Internet a fib or two in the past few years. It’s okay, really; there’s nobody around but you and me. The past decade has seen the ol’ triple-W take center stage in the automotive enthusiast community, and whether you’re a fan of a all-purpose auto site like the one run by our friends at Jalopnik, a perennial bargain-hunter logging hundreds of hours on the Edmunds car-purchase forums, or even one of those miserable mouth-breathers over at Rennlist trying like hell to turn a perfectly decent and lovely ’85 Porsche 944 into a dub-wheeled, nitrous-fed, maintenance-deferred scrapheap, chances are that you’re spending a nontrivial amount of time out there on the IntarWeb’s car spots. Chances are, too, that at some point you’ve maybe stretched the truth a bit when arguing a point with some clueless noob who desperately deserves a hammer to the forehead, right? Maybe you’ve temporarily forgotten that “your” Porsche 997 GT3 actually belongs to your wife’s uncle, or perhaps you’ve retold a rather boring HPDE 1 session somewhere as a daring battle at the very limits of adhesion, slip angle, and late braking. Don’t sweat it. We’ve all done it. Even your humble author once told a USENET group many years ago that he found the E46 M3 “really, really boring.” Well, I did find it boring, primarily because my test drive was limited to a thirty-five-mile-per-hour tour of the dealership’s parking lot. It’s just that I may have let that rather relevant fact slip my mind in my eagerness to prove a point to whatever sorry doofus I was totally e-dominating at the time. When I finally got around to driving the car harder, I actually rather liked it, but do you really think that I was going to go back and admit it? Oh, hell no. I had my imaginary electronic reputation to protect!

Those imaginary electronic reputations, or IERs for short, can lead people to tell some pretty crazy lies, with one of the most common being the “Sure, I Drive A ’93 Corolla, But I Could Totally Pay Cash For Any Car I Wanted” story. Totally believable, right? The next time you’re on the road and you see some hapless sucker clutching the shaking steering wheel of some tired old Stanza XE, why not at least briefly consider the possibility that he’s an Internet millionaire, just like all the guys over at FerrariChat, and that he just drives that crapwagon because he’s heavily invested in short-term complex financial derivatives? He’s just waiting for the right moment to stroke that check for a brand-new Gallardo Superleggera, and then he’ll be the one laughing at you! On the World Wide Web, we’re all rich, we all pay cash, and we can all drive anything we want.

Imagine, for a moment, that the above scenario was really true, and not just the fevered imagination of a bitter loser who still iives with his parents. Imagine that you really could buy anything you wanted, and that because of your awesome cash-holding and mega-investing powers, you weren’t totally convinced that you needed to spend all the money you had available to you. In other words, imagine that you’re completely unlike everybody in the real world. What would you buy? Would you do the obvious Internet zillionaire thing and buy a Ferrari? Maybe you’re a so-called purist and you’d prefer the simplicity of a Lotus Elise. It could be that you want to strut down the boulevard in the baddest Mustang to ever escape the factory – or you might be more interested in an affordable yet high-power commuter like the weapons-grade Dodge Caliber SRT-4. Who knows? You’re rich and crazy! It’s a ridiculous scenario – one completely unrelated to the real world – but here at S:S:L, we’re not big fans of the real world, so we’ve created a track test just for you, Mr. Imaginary Internet Baller. We’ve got a Ferrari F430 Spyder, a Lotus Elise, a Shelby GT500, and a Caliber SRT-4. We’re going to run ‘em head to head around MSR Houston’s road course, gather full data from our Traqmate timing system, and show you on-track video complete with a Best Motoring-style view of the driver’s pedal box. Last but not least, because this is Speed:Sport:Life and not some timid advertising-supported blog, we’re going to declare a clear winner. You may find it harder to believe that a nineteen-year-old’s claim to be street-racing his own brand-new Murcielago, but there really is one car that stands out from the pack here, and I can’t wait to tell you about it.


Aerial View of the MSR Houston Track

Before we get to the rankings, however, it’s worth taking a moment to tell you a bit about the test and how it was set up. On Saturday, May 4, 2008, we returned to MSR Houston, featured recently in our Supercar Saturday Viper vs. R8 test, with the intention of testing the Shelby GT500 and Caliber SRT-4 head-to-head. We had an open track, a full day to run our timing equipment, and a new two-camera system from Edge Cameras. Our liaison from MSR, track director Michael Mills, met us in the paddock with some interesting news. To begin with, we would be running the track in the “normal” counterclockwise direction, which would mean that our times and data would not be directly comparable with those from the clockwise-run Viper/R8 test. He must have sensed our disappointment, because he offered us a couple of benefits. To begin with, I would have the chance to run a Spec Miata around the course – and we’ll be sharing the results of that run with you in the near future. Even better, though, we would have a brand-new Ferrari F430 and a nearly-new Lotus Elise to add to the mix, courtesy of their owners, MSR Platinum member Mickey Mills and prospective member Paul Finnett. Best of all, everybody had agreed to let Michael run the cars under identical circumstances to gain truly comparable times. So in this case, the data you will see is not from our unloved cyborg tester, Mr. Roboto, but from Michael Mills himself, driving the cars back-to-back. Mr. Roboto’s taking a well-deserved rest, and by “rest”, we mean that we locked him back in his crate and dumped him into the Marianas Trench, down where they dumped Megatron in the Transformers movie. Fair enough? And if any of you are cynical enough to claim that I was Mr. Roboto, and that the data from our last test came from me driving – well, if you are, I bet you ‘re the same kind of cynical jerk who shows children the track underneath the boat on the “It’s a Small World” ride, and I’ll thank you to keep your opinions to yourself.

How’d we rank the cars? Well, I’d love to tell you that we came up with a big, official-looking chart, ranking the cars in Ride, Handling, Engine, and BlahBlah categories, with a “Gotta Have It” ranking thrown in for good measure, but we didn’t, because we actually respect the intelligence of our readers and there’s no way anybody believes those things anyway. Instead, we started out by doing just what the other guys really do, which is to say that we counted up all the advertising money to determine the winner. The good (for you, and bad for us) news is that we don’t have any advertising, so we didn’t have to worry about how many full-color back-cover ads we sold to each manufacturer. Instead, we were free to just drive the cars, enjoy them, and rank them according to our own personal desires. Hey, at least we’re honest, right? Note that we did not rank them according to lap time. Going fast is important, but it’s not the whole story, no matter what your pals on the Internet say. So without further ado, here are the results. All of these cars are winners in their own right, but one of them is more of a winner than the rest.

Fourth Place: Dodge Caliber SRT-4 – Lap Time 2:00.499


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We could take the easy way out here and say that the Caliber took fourth place because it was running heads-up against a Ferrari, a Lotus, and a Shelby Mustang, but the truth is more uncomfortable, and more complicated, than that. Prior to the test, I bet Senior Editor Zerin Dube that the Caliber would be within two seconds of the Shelby Mustang around MSR, despite the two-hundred-horsepower gap and what the know-it-alls out there call “wrong wheel drive”. My confidence was based on my experiences as an owner of a Stage 3 Dodge SRT-4 Neon and my current situation as the owner and racer of a first-gen Neon ACR. Sure, the Neon certainly had its share of issues over its production life, and in any of the past ten years it probably would have won the competition for “Used Car Most Likely To Be Driven By A Daytime Stripper”, but it had heart, it had soul, and out there on the racetrack its virtues shone like polished platinum, whether we’re talking about the first-gen’s tenacious grip on corner entry or the SRT-4’s ability to absolutely humiliate everything from three-liter BMWs to the occasional indifferently-driven C5 Corvette. I’m a very, very big fan of the little Mopar that could…


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…but the Caliber SRT-4 comes across to some degree as the Bigger Mopar That Can’t. More than any other “pocket rocket” in our experience, the Dodge is utterly crippled by wheelspin and front-end bias. It doesn’t stop well, particularly not after a few hard laps, it absolutely murders its outside front tire in every turn, and it completely defies most attempts to adjust midcorner attitude with throttle or brake. At MSR’s “Bus Stop”, where a fast transition is required for proper corner exit, the SRT-4 offers its driver what was once known as a “Hobson’s Choice”: do you want heavy, abusive understeer and a one-wheel-smoking exit, or do you want to stab the unhappy brakes down to the rather low speed with which the chassis is comfortable, only to find a complete lack of boost on the exit?


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Ah yes, boost. In the opening laps of any session, when the motor is cool and the big, sexy-looking front-mounted intercooler behind the crosshair grille can find all the air it needs, the Caliber has some real legs. At the apex of the Carousel turn, it’s a full eleven and a half miles an hour slower than the Elise, but eleven hundred feet later, near the entrance to “Diamond’s Edge”, it’s traveling at exactly the same speed. If we could hold an identical braking point in both cars, the Dodge would actually enter Diamond’s Edge a full two miles per hour faster than the twice-as-expensive Lotus – but the mid-engined British car finds itself braking a full hundred and ten feet later thanks to its classical balance, lighter weight, and higher-quality stoppers.


Chasing a Spec Miata in the Caliber. I’m still learning the track… sometimes my feet aren’t quite sure what to do!

Closer examination of the data reveals a few more impressive aspects: steady-state grip is close to that of the Shelby, maxing out at approximately 1.11G at 49.56mph in the middle of the back carousel. By contrast, the Lotus musters 1.14G max in that particular turn, with a speed of 52.75mph at the same point. It’s important to keep the results in perspective. We’re not talking “Matrix XRS” here; this is really a serious performance car in its own right… and yet there’s so much frustration involved in driving it on-track. Of the time gap between this and the next-slowest car, a full two seconds are probably due to the tepid brakes, and another two seconds to the Caliber’s inability to avoid heat soak on our eighty-degree test day. By the third lap of every session, the little AutoMeter boost gauge can’t break the ten-psi mark, a real shock to those of us who remember the old “Stage” Neons cheerfully pegging it at 22 or higher, even under race conditions. Part of this is probably the fault of the new “World Engine”. The Mopar 2.4 was one of history’s biggest butt-kicking four-cylinders; why swap it for a motor that won’t rev, won’t boost, and sounds like it belongs in a Mitsubishi Lancer? It’s a shame, really. The SRT engineers have worked hard to get the maximum from what must surely be a difficult platform to improve, and our time in a Jeep Compass (which is a platform sister to the Caliber) shortly after the test makes the extent of the magic very clear. If our imaginary Internet zillionaire needed a mini-crossover, this would surely be the fastest and most competent of his available choices. The SRT-4 also impresses on the street, as we’ll discuss some time in a separate road test – but if the SRT team can accomplish this much with a crossover, what could they do with a proper small sedan as a starting point? Perhaps it would be a car to make us forget that sparkling old SRT-4 Neon ever existed. In the meantime, the mini-crossover Caliber crosses over to fourth out of four.

Third Place: Ferrari F430 Spyder – Lap Time 1:48.167


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Disclaimer time: we have every reason to believe that MSR Houston is slightly slower running counterclockwise than it is running clockwise. Mickey and Michael Mills, both race veterans with more MSR experience than pretty much anybody else out there, agree on this, and I found the track to be more enjoyable, and more confidence-inspiring, when run in the “wrong” direction. With that said, however, I invite you to take a quick peek backwards at our Viper vs. R8 test to see what the times were. Don’t feel like opening up another browser window? Allow me, then, to give you the long and short of it: the Audi R8’s pretty much as quick as the F430, and the Viper is measurably quicker than both. My review of the data leads me to believe that the SRT-10 Viper will hand the Ferrari its tanned leather behind on this track with room to spare.

Now, the question is: does it matter? After all, we said this was about more than raw lap times, and we meant it. There’s no question that the F430 is a fabulously sexy and desirable car, and our three-hundred-mile-on-the-clock test example was so pristine that duct-taping our Traqmate data unit to the floormats felt like tagging the Sistine Chapel with a paint marker. The Spyder is everything you expect and more, from the stitched perfection of the interior to the physically thrilling growl behind the driver’s ear. I was on-track with the Shelby serving as “camera car” while Michael Mills was running his timed laps, and although I’m a fairly jaded fellow when it comes to exotics, I couldn’t help but feel a tangible little thrill when I saw the F430’s nose dip behind me under braking. It has such presence, enough to make the mere sight of one a bit of an event.


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Still, the report from the driver’s seat isn’t perfectly complimentary. On-track, the multiple settings on the steering wheel’s “manettino” control are more annoying than useful, and Michael’s still fastest with all the helpers turned off. With the Ferrari electronic nannies active, the data suggests that it wouldn’t be able to show a clean pair of heels to the Audi R8 – which is considerably less expensive and offers a similarly dashing portion of curb appeal. Our tifosi readers will no doubt point out that Ferrari offers the hardtop and Scuderia versions for the truly track-obsessed – and I’ll be just as quick to respond that the Viper in our last MSR test was a droptop as well. It sounds crazy, but the F430 is like the Calber SRT-4, after a fashion. On the street, it’s a stunner; on the track, there are other, perhaps more exciting choices. If our imaginary zillionaire has the bucks, it’s hard to argue against it, but speaking personally I’d visit my local R8 and Viper dealers, to say nothing of the friendly local Lambo store, before I cashed in my oil futures for this one. In the real world, it’s very easy to consign the Prancing Horse to the bottom step of the podium.

Second Place: Lotus Elise – Lap Time 1:52.652


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It’s David versus Goliath as the Shelby GT500 and Lotus Elise square off for the winner’s prize today. The conventional wisdom out on the automotive web forum scene makes this one a no-brainer, right? According to every twelve-year-old out there who can read a spec sheet and download an episode of Top Gear, the Shelby’s a fat, two-ton pig with an underperforming engine, no steering feel, acres of crummy interior plastic, and a suspension design dating all the way back to the Roman Empire, while the Lotus is a light, lithe engineering marvel with an unburstable, utterly perfect Toyota motor mounted in the proper place and a completely no-frills approach from the bottom of its feathery wheels to the top of its bonded windshield frame. Everybody loves the Lotus, while the Shelby has met with what could best be characterized as a “mixed response” from The Press As A Whole. So what’s going on? Did Ford bribe us… or did they threaten us? How can we look at you with a metaphorical straight face and tell you that a hopped-up, live-axle Saturday night cruiser beats the most perfect sports car to ever touch down on this side of the Atlantic?

Well, our imaginary zillionaire friends won’t understand, but anybody who drives the two just might, despite the Elise’s obvious virtues. Naturally, you’ve heard them all before. It’s light, it really handles, it rewards the driver in an utterly pure manner, and in this case, the fact that the above-stated talking points are repeated ad nauseam by every kid with a keyboard doesn’t make them any less true. Let’s start by comparing the three critical data graphs – Lateral G, Accel/Brake G, and Velocity – between the Ferrari and the Elise. Notice anything? I’ll give you a moment to check them out below:


The F430 trace is blue, Elise is red.


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I bet you saw it, didn’t you? The F430 and the Elise are very, very closely matched, with the exception of acceleration. Around MSR’s tight back section, the two mid-engined Europeans are matched neck-and-neck, posting near-identical lateral grip figures and exhibiting remarkably similar transition behavior. In the Carousel, the Lotus actually smacks the F430 around a bit, holding four mph more corner speed at the twelve-hundred-foot mark and maintaining that advantage on corner exit until the Italian can put its three-hundred-horse advantage to work. And while the Lotus can’t brake as hard as the Ferrari – that’s the advantage of cost-no-object stoppers versus a set of calipers that would look suspiciously familiar to anyone who has ever owned a 1976 Honda CB550– it’s still able to handily outdo the Mustang and Caliber at pretty much every corner entry. It really does deliver most of the supercar experience, sans the acceleration, on a budget. It even delivers a bit of that famed mid-engined trickiness – as you’ll see in the video below, it can bite the driver when it’s on the edge of the tires’ abilities. Many thanks, by the way, to the Elise’s owner, Paul, for allowing us to post the video of his spin. How many people would have the confidence to do that – and how many more would immediately put their Lotus back up on the ragged edge, as he did on the next lap? Paul’s young son, who accompanied him on our trackday, can rest secure in the knowledge that he has a pretty cool dad.


Paul’s spin, followed by a little dice between Paul in the Elise and me in the Shelby. We both have passengers, so this is a 9/10th run which ends up with lap times in the 1:56 range. Still, it shows the relative capabilities of the cars.

If the Lotus is a great car – and it really is – why didn’t it win? There are a few reasons. It’s not really a full-bore supercar, nor is it a classic sports car in the mold of an MG, so it falls between two stools, so to speak, failing to deliver either a heart-stopping track experience or simple open-air pleasure. And while the engine may be unburstable (although rumor says it isn’t, at least not in this application) it isn’t anything special. The Caliber has a more characterful motivator, and it sells for half the money. Which reminds us – the one-ton Brit isn’t a particularly good value on these shores. In the United Kingdom, the Elise is priced against Volkswagen’s Passat; in the land of the Whataburger, it’s closer to the dearly departed Phaeton. Forget what the up-spec Elises cost; the $43,990 MSRP of the absolute base model would put you into any number of very desirable cars, including the winner of our little test, as you are about to see.

First Place: Ford Mustang GT500 – Lap Time 1:52.402


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Yes, you just read the lap time correctly. The Mustang beat the Elise around MSR, albeit by the slimmest of margins. Not since the era of Catherine the Great has a horse been lowered onto a small target with such devastating effect. In the space of under two minutes, the big Ford stampeded its way into our hearts with a virtuoso on-track performance. Sure, it’s heavy. Yeah, it’s a little unbalanced. You could certainly argue that a five-hundred-horsepower iron-block V8 and a live rear axle have no legitimate place in the modern performance scene – but you would be wrong. The Mustang kicks ass, and more importantly, it defies our stereotypes of what a car like this can accomplish.


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Our Traqmate allows us to create a virtual race between the ‘Stang and the Lotus, so let’s try it out. As we cross the start/finish line for our hot lap, the GT500 is running more than ninety-four mph compared to the Elise at slightly below eighty-six. The Lotus claws back the advantage under braking and the two enter the Carousel neck-and-neck. Through the midcorner, the Elise pulls ahead, running about four mph faster, and it holds the advantage until the middle of the front straight when the Shelby swings by. Max speed for the Ford here is 114.83 mph, at which point the Lotus is barely clearing 106. Going into “Diamond’s Edge”, the Mustang has gapped the Lotus by a couple of car lengths… only to have the Elise outbrake it into Turn 5 and pull even. Through Turn 6, the Elise is still ahead, but on the exit we see exactly what five hundred horsepower can accomplish. By the end of the back straight, the Elise driver is seeing a fairly decent 105 miles per hour; he’s also staring at the back of the Mustang, which has pulled out nearly an eighty-foot advantage and is steaming away with an eleven mph advantage. This time braking later doesn’t help. The Stang’s still ahead as the pair runs all the way back to the “Bus Stop” chicane. Surely the lightweight Brit will pull ahead here – but the Shelby has a secret weapon in its arsenal. The massive torque of the supercharged V8 allows the Bus Stop to be taken in tire-smoking sideways fashion, and as a result the big blue pony is still ahead on the exit.


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We’re now in the “Keyhole”, but the Elise still can’t catch up. It’s running 2-3mph faster all the way through, but on the
exit, the Mustang just plain rockets out up to “The Launch”. Through “Gut Check”, the Elise manages to stay on the throttle just a little longer. The Lotus driver can smell blood. Entering the final turns, “Sugar and Spice”, he’s just a couple of car lengths back. Can he outbrake his way even to the Mustang? He can! At the slowest point of the two-turn complex, right at the clipping point, the two cars are even to within inches. They’re neck and neck on the exit, and NOW IT’S A DRAG RACE! Since it’s a drag race, is it any surprise what happens next? The GT500 simply rears back and slaps the taste out of the Elise’s mouth.


The Mustang trace is blue, Elise is red. Note the transitions in the slow sections – the GT500 can really hold its own despite weighing twice as much as the Elise.


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It’s possible to argue the similarity of the Mustang’s and Elise’s results two ways. Lotus fans can argue that the Lotus does more with less, and they would certainly be right. There’s also quite a bit of joy to be had from the subtle steering and classic mid-engined balance. While it doesn’t have “go-kart handling” – that moronic phrase is typically applied by people who simply don’t understand how a racing kart operates – perhaps it could be said to have “Spec Miata handling”. It feels more like a true race car than any of the other cars in our test, and if that’s important to you, perhaps the Elise is your winner.

For us, however, the GT500’s combination of massive charm and respectable road-course prowess carries the day. The big engine occasionally feels a little flat and heat-soaked on-track, but it’s all relative, as the Traqmate shows. The brakes are adequate to the task, as is the steering. It recorded slightly over 1.11 lateral G during its fastest lap, compared to the Elise’s peak of 1.21G and the Ferrari’s best of 1.16, and in most of the turns was within two or three miles per hour of the mid-engined cars. This current generation of Mustang has taken a lot of stick in the press and on the Web about being a lousy-handling, live-axle, “prehistoric” chassis, but in the harsh glare of competitive timing data, the falsehood of those statements is plain to see. The big Ford handles just fine, and if the nose occasionally slides out on the entrance to a tight turn, there’s an easy remedy for that under your right foot.


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If we could change anything about the GT500, it would probably be the badge. No disrespect intended to Carroll Shelby, but the core excellence of this car is really due to the folks at SVT, a fact of which the driver is subtly reminded every time the programmable shift light on the dashboard flicks on – it’s in the shape of the SVT logo. While there’s pleasure to be had in the traditional racing stripes and the big snake badges, this car doesn’t need the soft filter of Sixties nostalgia to make an impression. It should have been called the SVT Mustang, plain and simple – and if it needed to be a “500”, it could have been an FR500, which is a name with roots in the modern Grand-Am and Miller Cup Mustangs. Forget the past for once; the old cars were great, but this one’s in a league of its own. Smoothly powerful, confidence-inspiring, and gifted with smashing curb appeal, the Ford Mustang Shelby Cobra GT500 is more than a boulevard cruiser or retirement present to one’s self. It’s a solid track car in its own right, an utter joy to drive. For the imaginary millionaires of the Internet, it may not be the best choice, but for anyone who can save up the scratch necessary to take one home, it’s a solid winner.


It’s late in the evening… time to run the Ferrari and Shelby for our own amusement. The car rushing by in the beginning is an ex-PTG BMW M3 racer belonging to Mickey Mills.

                                    

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Jack Baruth

50 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Hunh. Who woulda guessed. Would you consider this to be a fast track that strongly favors high powered cars? Or would the GT500 be enjoyable on tighter tracks as well?

  • Well, like the article says in the beginning… it’s less about track times and more about *personal preference*, so it’s very subjective.
    Basically the whole reason the “others” use concrete times and measures, is to show the engineering put in to the car to achieve these numbers. Basically that (and the fine leather and prestigeous name), is where your money went into the car.
    So yeah… maybe the driver doesn’t like Ferrari’s for whatever reason, or likes Fords cause he owns a few… whatever the reason, just take the article as one or two person’s opinion on the tested vehicles.
    I wouldn’t exactly start saying, “Wow… the Ford Mustang is a better car than the Ferrari F430, cuz this website says so! tee-hee”

  • The GT500 did not beat the Ferrari. It lost by 4 seconds. They just rated it #1. Also, to note, they tested the 430 Spider, not the coupe and not the Scuderia. Sure, 430 is way more expensive but about $75k of the cost of this car is in performance limiting top removal. And it still put 4 seconds on the 500 bhp Ford. The conclusion that the GT500 belongs on the track b/c it has a great laptime is ridiculous. By the author’s own admission (through tracmate data), it just connects the dots. It’s all about the race from one corner to another. Having the ponies for such a drive doesn’t make it a good track partner.

  • I see several comments asking how and why in the hell we picked these cars to test together. Truth be told, we didn’t originally pick these as our cars to test. Jack touches on it a bit, but we already had track time booked at MSR Houston for the weekend this test was done. The original plan was to put a Honda S2000 CR head to head against a Nismo 350Z.

    As fate would have it, some of Texas’ finest journalists destroyed both the S2000 and 350Z the previous weekend at a track day held in Dallas. To salvage the track time we had already booked, we made a few phone calls and asked if anyone had any ‘performance’ vehicles left in the fleet that survived the track day carnage. Most of the cars we normally have access to were in for repairs due to the destruction the prior weekend. Chrysler was able to provide us with the Caliber, and Ford provided the Shelby on a day’s notice. Beggars can’t be choosers, so we did what we could with the cars we had, and actually really enjoyed ourselves while we were doing it.

    The bottom line is we decided to have some fun with the situation we were put into, and the result is what you see. We expected everyone to think we were crazy, but at the end of the day we’re enthusiasts and we like anything performance oriented. That includes the Shelby and the Caliber. Just be glad we didn’t put the Tahoe Hybrid on the track :)

    Carry on :)

  • Zerin you know I wanted to put the tahoe onto the track. I can’t believe you wouldn’t let us we could have given the whole crew a ride!!!!!

  • great article! im still having a hard time understanding how the ferrari was 3rd(the explanation was a little vague, could we get an elaboration maybe?), but, being the ford and SVT fan that i am, its nice to see the GT500 get an honest review, based on facts! although, like i said, im a big ford fan, im not blind. i totally expected the GT500 to get beat pretty handily by the elise, and what a surprise it is to see the GT500 edging it out!

    any chance you guys will be getting your hands on a GT500KR? the KR is the real track version of the GT500, and i would love to see its times on this track against the elise and the F430! maybe even an exige!

  • “Not since the era of Catherine the Great has a horse been lowered onto a small target with such devastating effect.”

    Jack is the greatest literary hero of our age.

  • “The GT500 did not beat the Ferrari. It lost by 4 seconds. They just rated it #1. Also, to note, they tested the 430 Spider, not the coupe and not the Scuderia. Sure, 430 is way more expensive but about $75k of the cost of this car is in performance limiting top removal. And it still put 4 seconds on the 500 bhp Ford. The conclusion that the GT500 belongs on the track b/c it has a great laptime is ridiculous. By the author’s own admission (through tracmate data), it just connects the dots. It’s all about the race from one corner to another. Having the ponies for such a drive doesn’t make it a good track partner.”

    That’s just a gold mine of potential responses. First I’ll address your comments about the spider with a few figures:

    Ferrari F430 Spider – 490 hp, 343 lb. ft., 3351 lbs.
    Ford Shelby Mustang GT500 – 500 hp, 490 lb. ft., 3920 lbs.

    The Mustang has 4 seats and a huge trunk, unlike the F430. This is a car that should, by any stretch of the imagination, wipe the track with the GT500. The idea that it’s a spider and the lack of stability this causes would unfairly disadvantage a FERRARI against a FORD MUSTANG is ridiculous, and I’m not going to even touch the idea of a normal F430 and Scuderia versus what is still a mass-production 2+2 sports car with a live rear-axle. Moreover, I’m not sure where you got the $75k figure since the price difference between an F430 coupe and a spider is a little less than $25k. So I guess what you’re telling us, Scott, is that a Ferrari roadster that’s 569 lbs. lighter than the GT500, which more than offsets its 10 hp disadvantage, and carries the badge of a little prancing horsey is actually a better car despite being ranked third behind two actually great cars. And about your dot to dot comment, ask any real racer and they’ll tell you races are won on the straights, apexing is just making the corners as straight as possible. Just because its got a high-end badge doesn’t mean it’s a great car.

  • No suprise you liked the Ford, hehe. Now I wonder how my GT would stack up against the GT500 given the suspension upgrades I’ve done. Ford did a very good job designing the S197 and it doesn’t take much to make it a good track car, shoot you can even buy Ford Racing parts to make the car a track star or a complete turnkey racer even. I am a bit suprised the GT500 was picked over the Elise given that that particular track is like a big autocross coarse compared to higher speed tracks like TWS.

  • My apologies to everyone on the “thrum” in the videos, by the way. This was our first time out with the RallyCam and we struggled to find an appropriate mic placement. I bandpassed as much of the 120mph wind noise as possible, hoping that you would all STILL rather have the horrible ambient noise instead of, say, my choice in music! :)

  • “Only” 4 seconds were put by the least performing Ferrari on that Ford “Tin Bucket on wheels”, which is as fast as that little Lotus Elise that barely has 200bhp. A series of little details that should not ruin the reputation of that GT500 .. sure.

  • Toss the keys to all 4 on a table and I don’t think you’d have a fight over the Mustang.
    For the money, it’s a great car, but this comparison is otherwise idiotic.

  • I agree with your choice of the winner, especially when taking into account having to live with said winner. If the GT500 is anything like the other Mustangs, it’s a complete pussy-cat on the track. The videos show it in how it’s keeping up with much lighter machinery with confidence. Great car, but shame it’s so porky and subject to heat soak. I can’t imagine being an SVT engineer and finally getting the car do dance like a hippo in a tutu. Must’ve been exhilarating.

  • “For the money, it’s a great car, but this comparison is otherwise idiotic.”

    I’m sure you’ve heard the expression, “Grinning like an idiot.” It doesn’t have to make sense to be entertaining. Hell, there’s nothing sensible about any of the cars in this comparison, except maybe the SRT-4′s cargo room.

  • Great article guys and certainly enjoyable reading. I also enjoyed the fortune of being there in person and playing cat and mouse with the Mustang (spin and all!). I was a passenger with Michael on his timed laps so humbly feel he would have pipped the Mustang by a several tenths of a second if he was by himself without my weight and distraction!!

    Keep up the great work…

  • Chasing a Spec Miata in the Caliber. I’m still learning the track… sometimes my feet aren’t quite sure what to do!

    Driving with Wingtips????? Those went out of style years ago. It might help to getter feel of the pedals using some driving shoes!

  • “According to every twelve-year-old out there who can read a spec sheet and download an episode of Top Gear…” a LOTUS EXIGE S can easily beat a Ford Mustang GT 500. There, fixed that for you.

  • I think my point was missed, Top Gear used an Exige S. This test used a base model Elise. In terms of product scale, the two could not be farther apart in performance differences. No matter how many 12 year olds watch Top Gear, the fact remains that an Exige S won the race on the show and would easily win this race as well.

  • You guys must be joking. A 500 HP track day special Mustang can’t beat a base Elise? The designers of that joke on wheels should go back to their cave an play with their fellow monkeys.

  • Interesting outcome….I’ve had the pleasure of driving the Ferrari F430 and Lotus Elise back to back, and I’ve also driven an 03′ Cobra and plenty of other mustangs and here is what I found:

    If you were blind to the track times, it would still be obvious how much more entertaining the Ferrari is, everything just comes together so perfectly. The pedal feel and placement along with the seating position are perfect, the steering is full of feeling and feedback, giving great confidence, and the engine is forceful yet quick-revving and simply a blast to drive and listen to. I’m no Ferrari Fanboy, but its the obvious choice and probably would be for most. Its also beautiful inside and out, and is even plenty comfortable for daily driving, more so than the ungainly mustang for sure. I also don’t quite get why you keep comparing it to the Audi R8 and the Viper even though neither are in this comparison. You seem to think that because the Viper can beat it around this track it deserves less of a place in this comparison.

    Even so, you seem as if your placing high merit to the mustang by being able to hang, so to speak, with the Ferrari on the track (although 4 seconds on a 90 second track barely qualifies as the same league), in spite of having a live-axle and “prehistoric chassis.” You also state at the end of the article that the engine “feels a little flat” and that the brakes and steering are merely “adequate.” You even state on the last line of the second-to-last paragraph that it understeers and requires the boot to get it going in the right direction. That doesn’t sound like a very fun track-car to me. Personally it sounds like it has no soul.

    Sorry for dissecting your otherwise very well-written article, but I just can’t for the life of me see why you would choose the Mustang.

  • Peter,

    We *welcome* dissection of the article. I’m not perfect and nobody else here at SSL is perfect, except for Carl, I think.

    This goes for everyone else. It doesn’t make us angry or agitated to read your comments – it only helps us understand what you want to see in future articles. Criticize the testing, the writing, the choice of car, the choice of track. It’s all useful.

    Something we’ve learned by reading the criticism, here and elsewhere, is that we need to be more concise and forthright about our “ranking reasoning” in future articles. If you read it carefully enough, I think it’s reasonably plain why the Mustang won – but we’re trying to produce amusing content, not a sequel to the DaVinci Code, so in the future, we’ll be more explicit.

    The only thing which is not open for criticism is my choice in shoes. That’ll get you a stern talking to from me, unless you’re bigger than I am, in which case I’ll say something about you after you leave. For the record, I actually do my racing in Nomex Fila Schumacher reps, but life’s too short to wear rubber shoes every day!

  • On the whole it is an entertaining read and a good way to soak up an already booked track day. I don’t think you need to over-engineer the rating system a la TTAC as long as you focus on what you’re looking for in the ‘feel’ of the day.

  • perfect?!?!

    i don’t know if that’s a compliment or a shot in the junk.

    nevertheless, i think it’s clear why the “Rustang” wins here. of course, you EXPECT the Ferrari to win. and in a manner of speaking, of course it does. but at the same time, it doe$n’t. that help?

  • Well….he’s either being “endorsed” by some Ford related interest or trying to piss off the Ferrari enthusiasts (who are easy to piss off and quite an intense bunch), or both. The arbitrariness with which the Ford was chosen is both utterly stupid and smacks of de facto irrevrence, ‘just to be different,’ as most anyone with a brain would know that the the Ford GT40 is the proper counter point for the F430 and would compare much more favorably to the type of car each is intended to be. And the GT40 would without a doubt be cheaper to maintain. The very idea of a Mustang being chosen over an Italian exotic ‘overall’ just doesn’t fly.

    You disqualify the legitimacy of your conclusion by tacitly admitting you’re subjectivity…..that and a nickel won’t even get you a cup of coffee. Consider this journalist “marked” by the Ferrari community.

  • THANK YOU DUANE for saying what all true ferarri enthusaists know which is that the f430 would of been faster if the driving had been better how a shelby beats a ferarri the word is PAYOLA and basically the so-called “jouranilst” gets a check in the mail and all of a sudden the f430 is not fast yeah bs.

    this is most likely payback for what happened to mclaren it is a deliebarte arbitrariness as you said.

    this guy should definately be marked and when i say marked i mean “MARKED FOR DEATH”

  • lol, just lol.

    if the ferrari community is so comfortable and secure in their purchases, then why should one journalist’s words incite such ire? insecure much?

    the whole point is that you can have arguably as much fun for (hundreds of) thousands less.

  • Carl I think you’re creating your own ‘target’ and attacking that. Nobody said a word about
    Ferrari enthusiasts ‘being so comfortable and secure in their purchases,’ could you remind me
    where that was mentioned?

    Likewise…..no one argued about the fun factor either.

    The argument seems to be schmuck journalist not ‘getting it’ when it comes to comparing
    a car with tons of race breeding and technology with a mass produced Detroit muscle car.
    The Ferrari is infinitely more competent as a sports car, though the Ford is doubtless lot’s of
    fun when you mash the gas. But to claim the Ford superior……that’s just plain stupid, and the
    only way he could even say that was to just blatantly admit that his decision was entirely subjective. Besides…..there are plenty of ‘not so imaginary’ millionaires who appreciate both.

    That’s not to take anything away from the Ford, it’s a fun, modern, muscle car that is a great
    bargain. It is NOT a sophisticated race-bred exotic sports car that reflects a direct
    application of Formula 1 racing technology, and it never will be. The GT40 comes closer
    to that, which is why it would be a better comparison to the F430, or better still, the Enzo.

    There are also people who are not millionaires that own and maintain Ferraris. It’s a stereotype
    to think that only millionaires have Ferraris.

  • Carl I think you’re creating your own ‘target’ and attacking that. Nobody said a word about
    Ferrari enthusiasts ‘being so comfortable and secure in their purchases,’ could you remind me
    where that was mentioned?

    Likewise…..no one argued about the fun factor either.

    The argument seems to be schmuck journalist not ‘getting it’ when it comes to comparing
    a car with tons of race breeding and technology with a mass produced Detroit muscle car.
    The Ferrari is infinitely more competent as a sports car, though the Ford is doubtless lot’s of
    fun when you mash the gas. But to claim the Ford superior……that’s just plain stupid, and the
    only way he could even say that was to just blatantly admit that his decision was entirely subjective. Besides…..there are plenty of ‘not so imaginary’ millionaires who appreciate both.

    That’s not to take anything away from the Ford, it’s a fun, modern, muscle car that is a great
    bargain. It is NOT a sophisticated race-bred exotic sports car that reflects a direct
    application of Formula 1 racing technology, and it never will be. The GT40 comes closer
    to that, which is why it would be a better comparison to the F430, or better still, the Enzo.

    Oh….and since when are Lamborghini’s friendlier or cheaper than Ferraris???

    There are also people who are not millionaires that own and maintain Ferraris. It’s a stereotype
    to think that only millionaires have Ferraris.

  • your words:
    “But to claim the Ford superior……that’s just plain stupid, and the
    only way he could even say that was to just blatantly admit that his decision was entirely subjective.”

    is Jack really saying the Mustang is absolutely superior? i really don’t think he does! read closerer.

    my “target” is clear: people who get their panties bunched by someone NOT picking the ferrari as the winner. the things you say above about the Ferrari are true – race bred, technology, track competence, etc. i assure you, it’s not about the author’s lack of “getting it.”

    i think it’s about the reader not “getting it.”

    of course this grouping of cars makes no sense. but how often do people actually DO this? how often do we get to see the relative gaps between drastically differing classes of cars?

    now i really WISH we’d put the Tahoe Hybrid on the track along with the other 4. that would underscore the point that much more.

  • Nice. Some people are either subtly trolling here or need to unbunch their undergarments. No one will be cross-shopping any but the elise/f430, but the comparison was still an interesting read. I personally would have preferred less defensiveness over the comparison methodology in the article – but that’s personal preference. C&D could certainly stand to take some pointers before they do another “Vision Quest”.

    Duane: what makes a 40 year-old racecar the proper counterpoint for an entry-level soft-top penis-mobile? *arch*

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  • all the comments about the neon compared to the caliber…..of course a staged neon will boost 22 psi….and so can a caliber….so whats your point?

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