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2024 Dark Horse Mustang vs. Shelby GT350

Posted By: Evan J. Smith
2024 Dark Horse Mustang vs. Shelby GT350
By Evan J. Smith
Photography by the author and courtesy of Ford
For the first time in 21 years, Ford created a new nameplate within the Mustang lineup—it’s called Dark Horse—and everyone wants to know if it will live up to the hype. Rather than go with Boss, Mach 1 or Shelby, Ford decided to create a new name for a new pony, which alone is controversial in the Mustang community.
Dark Horse, like all the 2024 models, has a redesigned outer skin and a new interior with large screens replacing analog-looking gauges of past Mustangs. The heart of the Dark Horse is the Gen 4 5.0L Coyote that makes 100 hp per its 5.0 liters for a total of 500 ponies. That’s impressive stuff.
We had the chance to drive the Dark Horse, both on track and on the street. We experienced the base model, the Handling Pack version and we tried both the 10-speed automatic and the 6-speed Tremec manual.
And since this is a performance model, many want to know how it stacks up against the Mach 1 and the Shelby GT350. Well, I’m your guy to answer that, since I own a 2016 Shelby GT350 and I’ve been on track with all three models. For sake of comparison, I’ll mainly compare the Dark Horse to the GT350, since that’s what I own. Now, let’s look at the key areas before declaring one the winner.
Styling Department
The first thing we’ll look at is body design. Ford engineers are keen in this area, they know Mustang enthusiasts are critical and want certain cues that remain true to Mustang. Rarely do the styling folks at Ford miss the mark. Of course, styling is subjective, so you’ll likely you’re your own opinion. It’s my belief that the Shelby GT350 is a sleek Mustang wrapped around the S550 chassis. It has a proud stance, great flow from the body lines, a low hood line at the front, a nicely sculped front fascia and an attractive side view. The wheels are nice, of course carbon fiber on the “R.” The rear features four exhaust tips and a classic ducktail spoiler (wing on the R). Ford offered a range of colors from 2015-2020 and of course those signature Shelby stripes.
Dark Horse is way more modern and chiseled if you will. The changes made to the S650 Mustang look nice on the DH. The is a lot of triangulation at the leading edge of the hood and big grill openings for the array of coolers. The front is more flat or abrupt, yet functional. Handling Package Dark Horse Mustangs get a bigger splitter, like the 350R, that adds plenty of downforce, and a bigger wing. I’m not sold on the black below the DH head lights, but I’m not offended by it either. Aside from the front-facing DH badge on the fender, the side is similar to the GT—and I give the side view to the 350. The rear of the DH is pretty neat, though, with the newly styled fascia and big wing with Gurney flap. I’m a huge fan of the wheels, BTW—give that one to DH. Overall, I think the Shelby is a sleeker Mustang and I like that look.
Powertrain & Performance
Here’s where it gets interesting. As you know the GT350 has the glorious-sounding, flat-plane-crankshaft 5.2L V8 producing 526 horsepower (429 lb-ft. of torque) and it revs to 8,250 rpm. The engine is the star of the show and it gained it lots of press. It’s a one-off from Ford and a big reason to own a GT350. “Voodoo” as the GT350 engine is called, is backed by a Tremec 6-speed manual. It’s so good, engineers used it in the Dark Horse. The advantage to the DH is that you can flat-foot the throttle on upshifts and it has rev matching for smooth downshifting. Of course, a skilled driver can do that, adding to the fun of driving. What the GT350 can do is provide an automatic, in which case the 10-speed is used in the DH. The advantage is that the 10-speed is far superior on the drag strip and equally stout on the road course. According to Ford, lap times were equal between the stick and auto in the DH. Personally, I enjoyed the auto, but give me a stick for road course driving.
Under the 2024 DH’s hood is a 5.0 Coyote with direct injection, a new dual-throttle-body intake and new exhaust that bumps power to an even 500 ponies and 418 lb-ft. of torque. “We’ve taken the all-new Mustang, the best of our new 5.0-liter V8 performance, and added power, improved the aero, tires, steering and provided an interactive cockpit to create a Mustang that goes beyond any 5.0-liter Mustang before it,” said Ed Krenz, Ford Mustang chief nameplate engineer.
Its Ford’s most powerful 5.0L naturally aspirated V8 yet. These upgrades include a uniquely balanced crankshaft and forged piston connecting rods – the latter first introduced in the Ford Mustang® Shelby® GT500® – to handle higher cylinder pressures and piston speeds. Mustang Dark Horse™ model also sports strengthened camshafts for track-durability needs, including extended operation closer to its 7,500-rpm redline.
Yes, the Shelby has more power, but it’s not noticeable on the street or track. Audibly, the Shelby just is meaner and it climbs the rev range quicker, but the Dark Horse has plenty of go when you nail the throttle. A decision on which is better comes down to personal preference. If you want an automatic your choice is easy, for manual gear movers it would come down to exhaust note. Shelby wins here on sound and that extra grunt.
Handling & Braking
To be perfectly clear, driving both cars at the limit is fun. They are designed to reward smooth driving, and Ford has provided the tools for serious track days or spirited drives on public roads. Early GT350 owners note there’s rut wander that causes the front to hunt on some roads. This can be fixed with alignment and is not an issue in the GT500, Mach 1 or the Dark Horse.
The GT350 is a blast on track, it’s balanced and feels like a racer. The exhaust is nice, the Recaro seating is perfect and the shifter can be glided with ease. Non-R 350s don’t get a “R”-type tire so they give up a little in overall grip compared to the Dark Horse with Handling Pack. That comes with newly designed Pirelli P Zero Trofeo tires that are basically a semi-slick and are just amazing. Grip is insane and they didn’t make a lot of road noise, either. Performance is optimized with large tread blocks and a multi-compound tread to optimize dry, wet and wear performance. I’m not sure if they are better than the 350’s Michelin Pilot Super Sport rubber, but they are certainly suited to the Dark Horse in perfect fashion. Comparing Dark Horse to a GT350R may be more apples-to-apples when talking tires because based on rubber, I feel a DH with Handling Pack will turn and grip better than a standard GT350. Advantage DH.
Additional powertrain enhancements were made for performance at the track. Mustang Dark Horse includes brake cooling NACA ducts, an auxiliary engine oil cooler, a rear axle cooler and a unique and lighter-weight radiator with improved cooling capability and more powerful cooling fans to improve endurance and recovery. Additionally, and with a full suite of next-gen technology, Ford has combined the latest wind tunnel technology with the equivalent of a vehicle-sized treadmill to help create its next-generation of production vehicles, including the all-new Mustang Dark Horse.
Ford Mustang® Dark Horse™ provides unique chassis tuning, larger rear sway bars and heavy-duty front shocks. Stopping is courtesy of 19-inch Brembo front 6 piston brakes with 13.9-inch rotors. Steering response and grip is further enhanced with a new lightweight Ford Performance-designed strut tower brace and K-brace for even better handling and feedback from Mustang Dark Horse. Again, the GT350 is awesome, but the DH is a tad more evolved.
Mustang Dark Horse puts the torque down without losing traction through a Torsen® rear differential and standard Pirelli P ZERO™ (PZ4) tires with staggered fitting wheels (19-inch-by-9.5-inch front and 19-inch-by-10-inch rear wheels). It also offers standard MagneRide® shocks capable of monitoring wheel and tire movement 1,000 times per second, optimizing performance based on driving surface or driving mode.
For ultimate street-legal and track performance, the available Handling Package improves aerodynamics even further with the most downforce of any all-new Mustang thanks to a unique rear wing that includes an integrated Gurney Flap, similar to that of the Ford GT. The Handling Package also adds stiffer springs, larger front and rear sway bars and wider Pirelli Trofeo tires and 19-inch-by-10.5-inch front and 19-inch-by-11-inch rear wheels.
During our lapping session at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the Dark Horse was incredible, pulling over 1.5 g’s and tackling laps with balance and poise. The brakes were also as good as the GT350, with that typical firm, accurate feel.
If there was one area that the GT350 was better, I’d say it was steering weight/feel. While the Dark Horse had precise characteristics from turn-in to corner exit, the steering feel was a bit too light. I like the heavier weighted feel of the GT350 better. And not having driven them back-to-back, it’s hard to green light one as a winner.
Which Would I Buy?
The hardest part of this discussion would be picking one, but here goes. Considering I already own a GT350, I’d chose to keep it. There’s something special about that car, which I ordered, and it suits my taste of color, sound and driving fun. However, if I my choice was between a used 350 and a new DH, I’d likely go with the 2024 model. You get the benefit of the most modern technology, I like the user-capability of the new 12.4-inch screens and I don’t mind the looks, although I do think the Shelby is a cleaner design.

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