Finding the ultimate do-it-all sports car
Editor’s Note: This comparison test was originally published in October 2019. Enjoy!
For as long as there’s been a Ford Mustang, there’s been a Porsche 911. From nearly the moment the two sports cars were introduced—both in 1964—enterprising car enthusiasts have been turning the Mustang and 911 into road racers and rally cars. Perhaps none was more famous than Carroll Shelby’s Mustangs or Porsche’s early rally-winning 911s.
Fifty-five years later, the successors to the first-generation Mustang and 911 are flying their performance flags strong. As of this summer, no versions better represent the iconic originals than the 2019 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 and the 2020 Porsche 911 Carrera S.
The Shelby GT350 and 911 Carrera S might seem like they appeal to wildly different buyers, but for those who truly love to drive, both have lots to offer.
The Mustang Shelby is the car we’re more familiar with of the two. The latest iteration of the S550 Mustang, the updated-for-2019 Shelby GT350 sports grippier performance tires, stiffer springs and shocks to take advantage of the newfound grip, revised Brembo brakes, and improved aerodynamics employing lessons learned from the coming 760-hp 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500. The Shelby’s tailor-made flat-plane-crank (read: high-revving) 5.2-liter V-8 is unchanged, thankfully; it still makes a healthy 526 hp and 429 lb-ft of torque and comes paired to a six-speed manual transmission.
The 992 2020 Porsche 911 Carrera S looks like its predecessors from the outside, but under its aluminum skin sit a slightly larger platform than before, a rear-mounted engine that’s creeping ever forward, and too many tweaked, changed, or new parts to count. The biggest news sits under the chromed strakes on our yellow 911’s rear deck—a revamped 3.0-liter twin-turbo flat-six making 443 hp and 390 lb-ft of torque mated to Porsche’s mind-reading PDK dual-clutch transmission, which for 2020 now has eight speeds, up from seven.
With the keys to the revised Shelby and completely revamped 911 in hand, our first stop was our local test track. The Mustang has both the power and power-to-weight advantage, but the Porsche has a feather-light curb weight and the PDK. It’s all a bit unfair; aided by launch control, simply engage Sport Plus, put your left foot on the brake, and mash the gas with your right foot, and the Porsche zips from 0 to 60 mph in 3.0 seconds and through the quarter mile in 11.2 seconds at 123.8 mph.
The old-school Shelby requires far more work; a combination of grippy Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires, a manual, and a torque peak that begins at nearly 5,000 rpm works against it. It has a rudimentary launch control, but more experienced drivers, such as road test editor Chris Walton, would be far faster launching the Shelby the old-fashioned way. “There’s so much grip that it’s easy to bog,” he said after posting a 4.0-second 0-60 run and a 12.3-second quarter mile at 117.0 mph. “I had to go as high as 5,000 rpm to get some tire slip, and even then, it’s a little tricky to modulate with the throttle.”
In the battle of the brakes, the 911 comes out ahead again—just. Its optional carbon-ceramic stoppers help it ace the 60-0 test in just 94 feet. The Ford needed a foot more to do the deed. That 12-inch difference likely accounts for the Porsche’s superior performance on the figure eight, too, where its 23.2-second time at 0.89 g average bested the Mustang’s 23.6 at 0.83. “I literally had to intervene with myself to stop lapping,” testing director Kim Reynolds said of the Porsche after the figure eight. “It’s so balanced while cornering that you can position it just where you want it, and the brakes are strong and predictable, so I could insert it into the corners maybe within a foot, every lap.”
On the road, the two sports cars feel shockingly similar despite taking different approaches.
The inherent design of the Porsche dates back to a 1930s economy car intended to get fascist Germany on wheels, but its weirdly the more modern of the two. The 911 is loaded with technology designed to make you faster in a straight line and quicker around a corner. On the latter front, the 911 combines its lighter, leaner platform with four-wheel steering and those carbon-ceramic stompers to help the Porsche flow from corner to corner like only a 911 can. “There’s nothing this car won’t do with me or for me,” Walton said. “The way it throws you out of a corner with that 911-light, talkative steering remains their hallmark alone, but now it’s been exploited to its greatest effect.” The 911 offers supercar turn-in and chassis dynamics, even on the base model.
The 911’s twin-turbo flat-six is equally thrilling. It has more than enough power on tap to keep you entertained and engaged—its 400 hard-working ponies are enough to get you into trouble, but more important, it’s not enough to scare you into avoiding it. And then there’s the 911’s PDK.
If I can paraphrase Yngwie Malmsteen for a moment, Porsche’s latest PDK helps make more of more. It shifts up and down so fast and so accurately that it’s practically telepathic. More than the shifting, the ratio spread between first and eighth gear is optimized to ensure the boxer engine is always in its sweet spot. Who needs a manual?
Those who prefer the Shelby GT350, that’s who. Whereas the 911 experience is a pure digital bath in 21st century technology, the Mustang is old-school cool—front-engine, rear-drive, six-speed manual connected to one of the best V-8s ever made.
The glue holding the GT350 together is really its engine. The flat-plane-crank V-8 has a character that few other modern engines can match, revving so high and so fast that it almost feels jetlike. Paired with its bolt-action-precise six-speed, the Mustang’s powertrain is always in sync with its driver, always hitting the exact rev you want when heel-toeing, and always working hard, pushing for more when wrung out on a long straight. The GT350’s V-8 is the extra organ I never knew I needed.
Like the Porsche, the Ford can handle, too. Although more high-strung than the 911 and prone to tramlining, the Shelby is nevertheless well balanced, helping shake lesser Mustangs’ whole oversteer-into-a-crowd-at-cars-and-coffee vibe. “It’s buttoned down and sporty in a way that no muscle car has the right to be,” Walton said. “It’s so engaging, remarkably precise, and full of emotion.” Executive editor Mark Rechtin agreed: “Put the Shelby on a winding road, and holy hand grenades. This thing is like no Mustang I’ve ever driven. It feels glued to the road and absolutely predictable.”
Truthfully, the biggest differentiator between the two cars is their price. Neither is cheap, but the Ford is certainly the more affordable of the two. The 2019 Shelby GT350 starts at $61,535 and is an absolute bargain at our as-tested price of $64,880. Its sole options were the handling package, which includes the rear Gurney flap, and the Premium package, which adds an upgraded stereo and CarPlay, among other things. The 2020 911 Carrera S starts at $114,650, and when optioned with all of the available performance hardware like our car was, it stickers for $143,350.
So which car is the better all-around sports car? Both cars are within inches of each other in the drive experience department, but if cost is no object, we’re taking the 911 Carrera S. The Shelby GT350 is a phenomenal car and easily one of the best Fords ever made (high praise for a 116-year-old company), but the Porsche’s approachability and its singular focus on the driving experience won out with our editors. Simply put, no other car on the road offers supercar levels of performance in such a driver-friendly package. It’s a car that pushes you to be at your limits, and just when you reach that crest, it reveals a new layer for you to conquer. Although the Porsche wins this battle, we doubt it’ll be the last one as both cars edge closer to the century marks.