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2017 Ford GT First Review: Thrilling and exclusive street legal supercar

By Tony Swan, Contributing Editor on May 11, 2017 9:05 PM
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Vital stats: the twin-turbo 2.5-liter V-6 residing amidships in the Ford GT is rated for 647 horsepower at 6250 rpm and 550 pound-feet of torque at 5900 rpm. It feeds thrust to the rear wheels via a 7-speed Getrag dual clutch automatic transaxle and limited slip differential. Fat (325/30) Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires on 20 x 11-inch forged alloy wheels transfer the power to the pavement, to the tune of 0-to-60 mph in 3 seconds flat, according to Ford.

Having driven the car, we have no reason to doubt the claim. The transaxle, diff, and grippy tires conspire to get the GT launched with very little time wasted in wheelspin. Throttle response is instantaneous—among its many techno touches the GT has an anti-lag feature—and power delivery is linear, very easy to manage.

Ford also claims a heady top speed capability of 216 mph, very pertinent for a race car. The most we saw in a too short day was one blast from 0 to 150 mph on a straight stretch, a speed that came up very quickly. So while we’d love to find a venue that would allow verification of the top speed claim, based on the engine’s robust power we’re willing to take it on faith.

Does fuel economy matter in a car whose entire focus is max performance? The EPA ratings—11 mpg city, 18 highway—are undoubtedly a matter of total indifference to private owners. But on a 13.6-mile race circuit (clue: Le Mans), fuel consumption is very important. Running out of gas somewhere on the circuit is basically game over.

Aero Power

Power is obviously important in a race car, and the GT’s EcoBoost 3.5 V-6 (adapted from the version that propels the F-150 Raptor hot rod pickup) delivers plenty of it. But just as important, if not more so, is the car’s aerodynamic properties. And in this respect the GT is a major achievement.

Few Ford vehicles, if any, have spent more time in the wind tunnel than the GT (although the development data gleaned from the 2005 GT undoubtedly contributed to the race car). Every surface has been shaped and refined to reduce drag and/or increase downforce. Straightaway speed is obviously important, but so is cornering speed, especially fast, hold-your-breath corners that aren’t quite flat out but very close.

Every crease and every vent serves some air management function, either channeling the air over (and under) the car efficiently, or feeding air to key systems—the intercoolers of the twin turbo V-6 for example, or the formidable Brembo brake system.

(As an aside, the brake system is noteworthy in that it features standard carbon ceramic rotors. Street versions of race cars normally represent compromises, but in this case the consumer edition upstages the competition GT. Le Mans rules prohibit carbon ceramic brakes; the cars are restricted to cast iron rotors.)

While the sensuous profile is still reminiscent of the GT40s that scored four straight overall victories at Le Mans (1966-’69), it’s been defined and refined by aerodynamic priorities, including active aero features fore and aft. An example: a big rear wing multiplies grip at the rear of the car. It pops up at 70 mph in street modes, and deploys automatically when the driver selects track mode, including a small Gurney lip on its trailing edge. Another example: active shutters manage airflow over the front splitter, to balance the wing. Still another: in track mode, static ride height drops from 4.7 inches to just over 2.7, enhancing dynamics.

Also: Class of 2018 – New Cars Ready to Roll

Carbon Intensive

The word carbon occurs frequently in this vehicle’s resume. The central passenger tub is composed of carbon fiber, and includes integrated rollover protection—not as extensive as the race car’s roll cage, but good enough to merit FIA certification for track day runs. All the body panels, an extensive quilt of multiple pieces, are carbon fiber, the seats are lightly padded carbon fiber, and the brief option list includes carbon fiber wheels.

With all this carbon fiber and aluminum suspension elements, you’d expect the GT to be a real lightweight, but it’s not. Ford cites a dry weight of 3,054 pounds. That means no fluids—no oil in the dry sump oil system, no fuel, etc. So the curb weight is probably about 3,200 pounds.The race car is much lighter, although Ford had to add ballast—about 350 pounds—to get it to the minimum weight specified by the Le Mans sanctioning body.

“The only good thing about that,” said GT program manager Derek Bier, “was that we were able to put the ballast as low as possible.”

Road and Track

Shall we get behind the wheel? Thought you’d never ask.

Staged in Utah, not far from Salt Lake City, the GT press preview included driving on some serpentine mountain roads followed by a track session at the Utah Motorsports Campus, formerly Miller Motorsports Park, owned since 2015 by Ford.

The mountain motoring entailed a smorgasbord of turns, some fast, some slow, some decreasing radii that could spell trouble if approached with too much zeal, at least in a lesser car. This portion of the program gave the driver huge appreciation for the GT’s steering, which is race car quick—just 1.7 turns lock to lock—and laser precise. And also for the level of grip in the Michelin tires.

The sizes, for the record, are staggered, with 245/35 rubber on the 8.5 x 20-inch front wheels but wider 325/30s out back, also on 20-inch rims. Staggered sizes can sometimes be a recipe for understeer, but if it’s present in the GT we didn’t reach its threshold. Balance was superb, power roll-on was smooth, the steering was telepathic, and the driver emerged with a sense of connection that’s rare in a street legal automobile.

At the track, a flat layout with slow to medium-fast turns having some unusual lines that aren’t easy to see, the GT proved to be a forgiving companion. Appreciation for the level of grip was magnified in an environment where falling off a cliff wasn’t a consequence, and the brakes were beyond reproach. No issues with lockup despite some hard applications, which occurred when the driver became bolder as the session progressed.

The responses of the Getrag automatic were brisk but never harsh, throttle response was smooth even when the driver made some abrupt stabs, and on the few occasions that over-enthusiasm provoked a twitch or two, easing off the throttle and/or brushing the brakes restored stability. At the end of the track portion, you find yourself wishing for more laps. Many more laps. This is the environment where the GT really shines.

Comfort Quotient

It doesn’t shine quite so much as a touring car. The interior is tight—very little elbow room, limited head room, particularly with a helmet—and the base of the seat is bolted to the floor. However, the grippy steering wheel (flat on top and bottom) adjusts for rake and reach, the seatback has a little reclinability, and the foot pedals are adjustable.

The seats, though well bolstered and very supportive in hard cornering, are a little confining and not conducive to long distance comfort. There’s almost no place to put anything—just one tiny luggage well under the hood (.4 cubic foot)—and then there’s the 3.5 V-6 just behind the cockpit. It’s not particularly noisy at cruising speed, but can’t be tuned out when the driver starts getting after the throttle.

Amenities are minimal: HVAC, radio, and Ford’s Sync 3 infotainment/connectivity system. This is not the right environment for audiophiles.

Pricing isn’t a particularly enticing element, either. The MSRP for a standard GT is $452,500. There are two additional trims—the ’66 Heritage Edition, and the Competition Series, which eliminates non-essentials like HVAC, audio, and infotainment, and adds titanium exhaust, carbon fiber wheels, plus exposed carbon fiber lower body panels. Ford has not yet released pricing for the two additional trims, nor for the few stand-alone options, mostly cosmetic.

Also: Kelley Blue Book Best Buy Awards of 2017

Exclusive audience

If the price isn’t a deterrent, availability is discouraging. According to Henry Ford III, marketing manager for Ford motorsports, the company received some 6,500 applications for the 750 cars to be produced over the first three years. The applications came from at least 11 different countries in four major regions—North America, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. Among the criteria for sifting applicants, Ford wants owners to actually drive their cars, and, recognizing that the GT is an instant collectible, also wants them to promise they won’t sell them for at least two years.

The bottom line: the Ford GT is a genuine supercar, with a daunting pricetag. The MSRP is about $200,000 north of Ferrari’s 488 GTB, the GT’s rival last summer at Le Mans (the cars were 1-2 in the LMGT Pro class, 18th and 19th overall).

On the other hand, if the GT is essentially a track day weapon, it represents an impressive achievement by Ford in terms of aerodynamics and performance technology, wrapped in a sensuous package. It’s almost guaranteed to make its owner a track day object of envy, and it’s all but certain to increase in value as a collectable.

It will be interesting to see how many owners will honor their two-year pledge.


 

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