Ford GT review – a genuine racer on the road, for better and worse
New GT is epic to drive on a track, but comes with some compromises on road
It would be all-too easy to introduce Ford’s £450,000 supercar with endless references to yesteryear – because we all know where the story for the Ford GT began. Henry Ford tries to buy Ferrari to win at Le Mans in the 1960s, Enzo says get stuffed, Henry builds his own version of a Ferrari to do the job instead – called the GT40 – and puts one right up Enzo, the end. Or, in fact, just the very beginning for the Ford GT as things would turn out.
Except there’s an intriguing new story doing the rounds about the birth of the latest Ford GT, and it only came to light at the car’s launch in the US. Because initially Ford wasn't going to build a new GT at all, it seems. Instead it wanted to return to Le Mans with a Mustang, and to then create a road car on the back of the racing project to market the Mustang globally.
For one whole year, in fact, Ford tried and failed to come up with an uber racing Mustang to take on the 911s, Corvettes, Ferraris and Astons that compete at Le Mans each year. At the same time they tried to craft a road-going version to coincide with the Le Mans project to celebrate the company’s 50th anniversary of its victory at the famous 24 hour race.
And then something called Project Silver happened. After a year Ford reached the painful realisation that the car they’d been attempting to engineer for the last year had begun to bear no resemblance whatsoever to a road going Mustang. Which meant the marketing would never work. And at that point the idea to go back to Le Mans with a Mustang was canned, and replaced with a top secret skunkworks project to build an all-new GT to do the job instead, plus a corresponding road car to go with it. And thus, at the end of 2013, the idea for an all new Ford GT was born.
The road car we’re driving here was a while coming then, true, to a point where some cynics have accused it of being mildly off the pace beside cars like the McLaren 720S, especially with a price tag over two times that of the McLaren. So perhaps the best way to tee-up the left hand-drive only GT is to remind you of some key facts about it, just in case you think it’s already old news.
At the core of the new GT lies a bespoke carbonfibre tub with pushrod suspension front and rear, plus a seven speed dual-clutch gearbox that’s integrated within the rear suspension. All the body panels are made from carbonfibre, the vast majority of its metal components are made from aluminium. All up it weighs just 1385kg dry, so call it around 1450kg with fluids. This makes the GT lighter than any of its more obvious rivals from Ferrari, McLaren et al, says Ford.
The brakes are carbon ceramic all round, and the wheels are 20 x 8.5-inch forged alloys at the front with 20 x 11.5-inch units at the rear (full carbon fibre wheels of the same size can be specified for quite a few pounds extra, though Ford won't disclose how many other than to potential customers). Tyres are Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s, 325/30s at the rear rear, 245/35s up front.
The car has five different drive modes (see more detail below) plus a computer controlled aerodynamic package that helps it develop more downforce but less drag than any rival. There’s also an airbrake at the back and winglets at the front that move to alter the centre of pressure as the downforce increases at speed. Without these the GT would develop too much downforce at the front, relative to the rear.
In track mode the car instantly lowers by 50mm at the flick of a switch, and the springs effectively become 100 per cent stiffer than in sport mode.
Engine, transmission, 0-60mph time
The GT is powered by a 3.5-litre twin turbo V6 that’s been tried and tested, and which has won several times, in sports car racing. It develops 638bhp at 6250rpm and a peak of 550lb ft at 5900rpm, with the vast majority of that peak figure available flat between just over 3000rpm and just under 6000rpm.
Yes this is the same Ecoboost unit as found in many Ford trucks, and no it doesn’t have the exotic voice of the engines found in European rivals, but when has a utilitarian powertrain ever stopped an American supercar in the past?
It features five different drive modes; Wet, Comfort, Sport, Track and V-max. In Sport and Track there is an anti-lag system that all-but eliminates turbo lag by keeping the turbines spinning irrelevant of the throttle position.
The gearbox is a seven-speed dual clutch that’s physically integrated into the rear suspension and makes up part of the rear subframe’s physical structure. This is a layout that doesn’t only feature on some of the greatest supercars of all time like GMA T.50 and Ferrari F50, but is also a key design element of the fastest racers in the world, be that Le Mans or Formula One.
Zero to 60mph takes 2.8sec, the top speed is 216mph and, just guessing, we’d say 0-100mph in somewhere between five and six seconds.
What’s it like to drive?
From the first few feet of travel, the GT feels alive beneath your backside in a way that only proper racing cars do. The seat base is fixed so you move the pedals and wheel towards you, a la LaFerrari. And to begin with the suspension is compliant but very stiff in its feel, and supremely controlled in its response; the braking power also immense.
The noise from the twin-turbo V6 engine and the acceleration it can so readily generate is also deeply racing car in its feel and delivery. At low revs it sounds grainy, angry, industrial, and not especially pleasant to be honest. But as the revs rise past 2500rpm the tone changes and its acceleration gets much stronger as the V6 hones in on its torque peak – which is basically flat between 3200-5800rpm. The cumulative effect is utterly dramatic, no mistake whatsoever about that.
And then there’s the way the gearbox operates, slicing up or down through the ratios with a speed and precision that you couldn't hope to replicate with a third pedal and conventional gear lever. After five laps driven at a reasonable lick, all but the most skilful drivers would probably want to calm down a bit and have a rest, so much grip does it generate through the corners, down the straights, in the traction zones, everywhere. And after another five laps you would definitely need a lie down to have a good think about what this car is doing, how it is doing it, and how you can get even more out of it. Which is where the Track mode setting comes in.
To engage this you need to come to a complete stop, flick a switch on the steering wheel and then, thump, the thing drops instantly by 50mm, reducing the overall ride height above the ground to just 70mm. So you go out in it again and that’s when the real monster that lies within reveals its true being. It doesn't feel any faster in Track mode (because it isn’t) nor do the gear changes feel any more aggressive. But the turn-in response, the body control, the perception of grip and, most of all, the subjective power of the brakes (weirdly) all go to another level again.
In Track mode the way the GT stops for, and turns into corners becomes a little bit ridiculous, frankly. You also notice the absence of weight that it carries, and the pure precision this lends it, everywhere. In Track mode it is fair to say that the GT is utterly spectacular to drive. In fact, the GT feels quite a lot like a full blown racing car, a fact that even its creators admit is not at all far from the truth.
So what’s the problem? And what are the aforementioned not-so-incredible aspects of the way it drives? OK here goes – and sorry about this Ford but I suspect that in your heart of hearts you know what’s coming here anyway – on the road the GT feels and sounds and just is a little bit rough around the edges, a touch uncouth and just not as refined mechanically as you might expect.
On the track, at maximum attack, all the fizzes, vibrations and noises that accompany your every move, most of which are down to the carbon fibre tub, simply aren’t an issue because everything is focused on going faster. But on the road they start to irritate you after a while. And after a long time behind the wheel I suspect they’d drive you round the twist.
Conversation is only just about possible at 50mph, and at 70 - 80mph it’s so loud inside the cabin you need to shout to be heard by a passenger. It also feels very wide out on the public road, intimidatingly so on occasions. And the fuel range is borderline hopeless with a 16mpg/57.5-litre tank combo.
Twenty years ago all of this would have been fine, and the GT’s brawny rawness would have been deemed perfectly acceptable. Appealing, even, in a macho kind of way. But things have come a long way in terms of supercar usability during that time, and in 2017 the GT is nowhere its more obvious rivals in this respect. It also has a boot that is smaller than tiny, with no usable luggage space whatsoever inside it.
The ride is actually not bad on the road, so long as you select the comfort setting on the electronic dampers. But then there are other issues surrounding the brakes, which under light loads become difficult to modulate smoothly; the steering, which suffers from kickback on rougher surfaces, and even the engine noise, which is always very loud indeed, can't be dialled back in any way, and has a lack of refinement to it in the mid-range that, again, you simply never notice on the track.
Bottom line: the Ford GT is an epic car to drive – on a track – because fundamentally it’s a racing car. No question about that. But on the road it’s only so-so. Whether this will matter one iota to the owners that have taken delivery of this most spectacular car, however? The answer is almost certainly not.
Price and rivals
In truth it’s not really a P1 rival, so the price does look somewhat high beside those lesser rivals, the latter of which is miles quicker than the GT in the real world, and makes better road cars.
As a key car of Ford’s competition history, not to mention the direct and unabated connection to the racer that did in fact winning its class at Le Mans in 2016, the Ford GT is in a class of its own.