From EcoBoost to GT500, the Mustang is both thrilling and soothing

This week’s big Ford Mustang news is, of course, the Mach-E—but it’s also the conversation about whether or not an all-electric crossover even counts as a “real” Mustang. Ford deftly avoided addressing that issue directly when it invited a group of autowriters to drive an assortment of traditional Mustangs on Angeles Crest Highway in the mountains around Los Angeles. The morning was intended, I think, to remind us all what a Mustang is all about by driving a variety of cars from the pony car lineup, from an EcoBoost four-cylinder to the GT500.

A bit of background, and embarrassing background, at that: I’m deathly afraid of heights. I can’t watch other people climb a ladder, much less climb one myself; I’ve been known to shake and shudder from catching a glimpse of that old, famous photo of construction workers eating sandwiches on a beam of a skyscraper under construction. I’ve gone skydiving twice, in desperate attempts to get over this affliction; it sort of worked, in that I can now attempt certain experiences and talk myself through them, instead of declining outright. So there’s that going on while driving along the cliffside.

The morning of the drive, I was the odd one out and ended up without a partner, meaning I’d get the car to myself. Then, I ended up assigned to a Shelby GT500 in mouth-watering Grabber Lime. Sweet. I navigated out of downtown LA with only minor directional mishaps (easily solved by Apple CarPlay) and headed up into the canyons to face my fears.

During my drive on Angeles Crest, the outrageous capabilities of the Shelby GT500 didn’t really come into play. That’s because I was in no position in this precise situation to push the car as hard as I could; at first, I pulled into most of the turnoffs along the route to let motorcyclists and faster cars pass. The last thing I needed was someone right on my tail, giving me the sense that I was ruining their beautiful day.

2020 Shelby Mustang GT500
Cherise Threewitt

You might be thinking that this rare and enviable experience was wasted on me. It wasn’t. The Shelby met my needs perfectly, and along the way, we gained each other’s trust. I started to enjoy myself. I gradually pushed a little more as the elevation climbed, training my gaze on the road ahead rather than the horizon. The high-bolstered seats provided a constant hug, the car was calm through every narrow curve, and strength and stability were apparent through every moment. I didn’t come close to exploring the Shelby’s limits, but the car was both entertaining and approachable at all times. I arrived at my destination, 40 or so miles later, more proud of myself than a grown-ass woman really should have been.

For the return trip back down through the canyons, I swapped out the top-dog GT500 for a Mustang EcoBoost in Twister Orange. The surprise here? The entry-level Mustang had a lot of the same approachability, despite being far away from the GT500’s performance strengths.

The EcoBoost ‘Stang wasn’t quite as comfortable inside, of course; the design lacked the super-exclusive finesse and the sporty support of the Shelby. But it felt familiar, like a more playful and less serious partner.

I found myself pushing the EcoBoost a little harder down the Angeles Crest Highway than I had on the way up, now emboldened by the confidence infused from the Shelby, and by the fact that I was now several feet farther from most of the switchbacks’ edges, driving along the face of the mountain instead of across from it. That simple change, to the other side of the road, can make all the difference when you need to keep your eyes away from the horizon to avoid panic-induced paralysis. I was free to enjoy, and I did.

2020 ecoboost mustang in twister orange
Cherise Threewitt

While the GT500 felt like a reflection of my grit and determination, the EcoBoost echoed my giddy relief. The lesson of chasing a top-end Shelby with a base model? The Mustang doesn’t need to be exclusive to be good.

As this was my first time driving in Los Angeles, as well as my first time behind the wheel of a Shelby GT500, I can hardly resist a quote from Timothy Olyphant’s Drycoff in the legendary final chase scene of “Gone in 60 Seconds.”

“Man, that guy can drive… it’s probably mostly the car.” The car in question of course, a GT500.

In this case, it was definitely mostly the car.

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