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2016 Ford Mustang Shelby GT-H (USA)

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It was in 1966 that the first collaboration between rental car company, Hertz, and Carrol Shelby was manifest, with a program that was quickly known – unofficially – as “Rent a Racer”. Hertz had figured out that there was market for something a bit special and a deal was struck which would put 1,000 Mustang GT350s into Hertz’ US rental fleet. Most of these Hertz cars were black with gold LeMans stripes and rocker panel stripes, although a few were white with blue stripes. The first 85 Hertz cars were available with four-speed manual transmissions and Hertz advertised them as “Rent-a-Racer” cars, and during their rentals, many were used as production class cars at SCCA events, and indeed some were rumoured to have been returned to Hertz with evidence of roll bars being welded in. After the initial batch of cars, Ford produced another 800 models, all with black paint, gold stripes and black interior, as well as automatic transmissions. When the cars finished their rental car duty, they were returned to Ford, the cars were refurbished and some of the performance parts were removed, before the cars were sold to the public as the Mustang GT350H. Surprisingly, the idea was not repeated for another 40 years, and then in 2006, Hertz struck another deal with Shelby, and 500 examples of the then relatively new Mustang entered the US fleet, at selected US airports. These were followed by a series of 500 Convertible models. Both were exclusively painted in black, with the gold race stripe down the middle of the car. A number of performance parts were fitted, so these were not just a standard V8 Mustang with a unique to Hertz paint job. I was able to drive a Coupe model in 2007, and apart from the worryingly low front splitter which made every tight turn something of a worry, I loved the experience, and rather hoped that Hertz would come up with some other special programs. They did. Next up was a special Corvette and then in 2011 they launched their Adrenaline Collection, which comprises mechanically standard V8 versions of the Mustang, Camaro and Challenger, available at more affordable rental rates than the Shelby cars had been. A further special Mustang would follow in 2013, badged as a Hertz Penske Mustang, and again, this proved an absolute blast to drive. To bring the story up-to-date, to mark the 50th anniversary of the Hertz/Shelby partnership, a new car was announced for 2016. It was presented at the New York Show around Easter time, with availability of 140 cars at a dozen airports promised for Memorial Day (the end of May). Sure enough, when I arrived at Los Angeles airport in September, there were a number of these cars on site, and there were more of them at the Phoenix Sky Harbor. Unsure how long they would stay on fleet, I vowed that one of these cars would need to feature in the list of those to sample on this trip. A deal was duly struck, and I secured one for a day around the Los Angeles area.

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The cars are easy to spot, as they all have distinctive paint work, with the Shadow Black metallic paint set off by the twin broad gold stripes, which perfectly evoke the appearance of the previous Shelby cars. There are stickers down the lower sides, as well as plenty of Shelby and GT-H badging, featured on the grille, rear faux fuel filler and on the boot lid. Shelby replaced the standard front splitter and rear spoiler with elements made with carbon-fibre. The bonnet is specially crafted with vents and a big bulge at the centre, just as it is on the Shelby GT. Final exterior upgrades are a set of 19-inch aluminium wheels which are wrapped in high-performance Michelin tyres, 19″ 255/40s at the front and 275/40s at the rear. The interior is based on the standard Mustang GT. Only a few features set the two models’ interior styling apart. They include “GT-H” logos on the headrests, customised sill plates featuring “Hertz Shelby GT-H” lettering and a numbered plaque on the dash. The floor mats also feature “GT-H’ logos. The engine features a cat-back exhaust system from Ford Performance. This specifically gives the model a throatier sound. A “Shelby-GT-H” engine plaque is also added as well as an engine cap kit. The chassis has also been updated via the Ford Racing Handling Pack which helps deliver what we are told is a race-like driving experience. The package adds lowered springs, special-tuned dampers and revised anti-roll bars. There is no doubting that the GT-H certainly looks the part. But, of course, I also wanted to know what it was like from behind the wheel. Read on.

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There’s a large “Engine Start” button in the lower left part of the central dash area, which you press to fire the engine. I did so, full of expectation. I was not disappointed. There is a throaty sound with a deep rumble when you fire it up from cold. As the engine warms through, the noise does reduce. A bit. Underway, the noise level is well-judged, as you are always aware of the 5 litres of V8 and the sport exhaust, but you are not so aware as to be irritated or enervated by them.  Indeed, if you drive gently, or at a steady cruising speed, your over-riding impression is that this car is decently civilised. Blip the throttle, though, and you will get that wonderful burble and a throaty roar as you put your foot down. I don’t think I would ever tire of it. The engine in the GT-H is the same as you get in a regular 5 litre Mustang. That means 435 bhp, 400 lb/ft of torque and a 6 speed automatic gearbox, a manual being available on standard cars, but not for this GT-H version. It is a good combination. The Mustang is eager to lunge forward from any speed, and in any gear, with a 0 – 60 time quoted that is sub 5 seconds. It revs willingly, and the engine remains smooth even as you near the red line. You won’t be doing that very much on public roads, of course, as that would see you travelling at speeds that the local law enforcers would object to more than somewhat. The gearbox is very smooth indeed, and the car always seemed to be in the optimum ratio for what you needed, but if you want to change the gears yourself, there are wheel mounted paddles. You don’t drive a car like this and expect to get good fuel economy, and I certainly did not. I covered 136 miles during my day’s test, and needed to put 7.41 (US) gallons of premium fuel in to refill it. That computes to 18.3 mpg US, or 21.95 mpg Imperial, and some of those miles were driven on the freeway when economy would have been as decent as it gets.

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The trade-off for the fuel money you spend is a car that is genuinely good and fun to drive. Whilst the leather wrap on the steering wheel is not the nicest of quality, the steering itself is good. It is an electrically assisted set up. There is extra weighting as you turn the wheel, and it is well-judged, with plenty of feel. The Mustang grips well, and there is minimal body roll, so you can tackle twisty roads with plenty of confidence, knowing that the car probably has more to give, although canyon roads, where I tested the car, are not the place to get it wrong. The ride quality varies. On smooth surfaces, it seemed to be perfectly acceptable, but on others, it proved quite unsettled, with the car transmitting plenty of evidence of the surface into the cabin. There were no such issues with the brakes, which did their job well, with just a light pressure needed on the pedal to bring the car to a halt. There is a central pull-up handbrake between the seats. There is quite a low front splitter, but there were no issues that I found, unlike that of the first Shelby Mustang I drove ten years ago. That said, the Mustang is not as easy to manoeuvre as some cars. You sit quite low in the car, but forward visibility is good, even though you do get a rather view of the bonnet bulge as part of what you can see. The door mirrors are rather small, although thankfully they do feature Ford’s anti-blind spot system with a smaller pane in the upper outer corner with a different field of vision. There is a rear-view camera, and you will need it, as the rear window is at quite an oblique angle, so you cannot judge where the back of the car is other than by using the camera, and the thick C pillars also mean that care is needed at oblique junctions, as there is quite a blind spot.

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With the exception of the badging, the interior of the GT-H is standard Mustang. Every version I sample is an improvement on what has gone before. You certainly won’t mistake this for a premium-badged (and priced!) German product, but the quality of the materials used and the overall design approach are much better than they used to be, and I would say are perfectly acceptable. The plastics that constitute the main dash moulding are softer to the touch than you might think from looking at them, and there is a nice steel-colour inlay, as well as some very shiny chrome inlays such as on the gearlever and steering wheel spokes. As with the previous generation Mustang, the dual cowl dash design is intended to evoke that of the original 1964 car, but with all the modern touches and features that buyers expect. There are two circular instruments, deeply recessed, with rev counter and smaller water temperature gauge in the lower portion, and the one on the right has the speedometer  – or “Ground Speed”. as it is marked –  and fuel gauge. Both are clearly marked and easy to read. Between them is a central digital display area, with a number of different data points that can be shown. As with most other US Ford models, you cycle around the menus and options by pressing the buttons on the left hand steering wheel. There are a lot of buttons on the steering wheel spokes, as also to be found here are audio repeaters and the cruise control. There are two column stalks, for indicators and the wipers. The lights operate from a rotary dial on the dash to the left of the wheel. The centre of the dash is topped by a trio of circular air vents and then beneath this it contains a large display screen for the infotainment system. The GT-H features Ford’s latest SYNC3 system, which replaces the Ford MyTouch unit of previous years. It has a prominent colour and touch-sensitive screen, which also has voice recognition capabilities and it operates the audio system, navigation, climate control and some other car settings and data points and it proved rather more responsive than the old system had been. Although the screen is set as high as it can be in the dash, with a moulding which goes higher than the rest of the dash moulding, it is still relatively low down, and did not prove that easy to read.  Under this are banks of switches, the upper row for the audio system which include two large knobs, and then below this are those for the climate control, with the two zones of the temperature set by moving a rotating and slightly circular wheel clock-or anti-clockwise. The bottom row contains the engine Stop/Start button and a series of retro-look toggle switches for things like the hazard warning lights. The audio system is a 12-speaker Shaker one, and although much of the time, all well, it proved a bit disappointing with the car repeatedly losing the XM Satellite radio signal when I was in traffic. Up in the mountains, though, the signal held well. The system proved easy enough to use, though I did not test the gesture-controlled functions which are now offered, nor the voice activation features.

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There is a technique for getting in and out of the Mustang, as it is quite low set, but once you’ve worked it out a couple of times, it is no hard, and most people should have few problems. Seat adjustment is a mix of electric and manual. Motors power the seat back and forth, but to alter the backrest angle, you need to use the lever on the side of the seat, as well as the one for seat height. The steering column telescopes in and out as well as up and down. That all meant that it was easy to get comfortable. You do sit low. but that’s part of the appeal for many people of a Coupe, and the seat proved comfortable. There is plenty of lateral support, with grip from the seat bolsters which will help to hold you in place should you. or your driver, be cornering with some enthusiasm.  The seats are leather trimmed.

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It’s not such a good story for those who are going to ride in the back. This is a four seater, but not really for four adults. First, you have to get in, and that is not that easy, with not a lot of clearance between the folded forward seat backrest and the door pillar. Once in, this definitely a place for two, as there are two deeply moulded bucket seats, with the centre console mounted on the transmission tunnel coming all the way back to the seat. Legroom is not particularly generous unless the front seats are set well forward, and there’s not a huge amount of headroom, either. It would be fine for children, but adults would not be comfortable in here for very long.

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The boot is equally modest, and, as has been the case for a while, there is a more significant issue around the small size of the opening, as opposed to the actual capacity. The space itself is wide, but not particularly deep or all that long from front to back. There is no space to speak of under the boot floor, where you will find a compressor for a tyre inflation system. You can create more space by folding the rear seat backrests forward. Inside the cabin, there is a modestly sized glove box, some very small door pockets, and a lidded cubby situated well back in the centre console, behind a couple of cup holders. Overall, it is not particularly well-endowed with places for odds and ends.

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As the GT-H is based on a Mustang GT, you get all the same standard equipment as features in that car. In fact, there are two GT trim levels, the standard car and the GT Premium. The latter adds heated mirrors, an upgraded sound system including XM Satellite radio, dual zone automated climate control. heated and cooled front seats which are leather trimmed, and indicators integrated in the door mirrors.
Navigation, as fitted to the test car is an option even on the Premium model. Standard on both versions are 19″ alloy wheels, front fog lights, electrically adjustable front seats with lumbar support for the driver, an alarm, a rear-view camera, cruise control, auto-on HID headlights, keyless starting, wheel mounted audio controls, a leather wrapped steering wheel, telescoping steering wheel, pass-through rear seats.

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Needless to say, I really enjoyed my day with this Mustang GT-H. The engine note alone made sure of that, but what impressed was that the rest of the car asks for no compromises, with the possible exception of the somewhat unsettled ride. I would certainly recommend that anyone who gets the chance to try one of these special limited edition cars should do so. Although they are only available from larger Hertz airport locations, there seem to be fewer of the limitations and hassles that applied to the Shelby cars they had 10 years ago, so you can rent one without having flown in from elsewhere, and there are no time-consuming checks to make sure you have not removed the Shelby parts on return. This was actually the first 5 litre version of the Mustang that I’ve tested, and Hertz now have these on fleet as well, too. It will be interesting to try to get hold of one of those, and see how close to the fun I had from this Shelby version you can get from the car which is likely to be on fleet for longer than the matter of months of availability of the GT-H.

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