In an era of 650 horsepower Camaros, 755hp Corvettes, and 800+ horsepower Challengers, Ford is undeniably late to the game. Although we love the Shelby GT350R and its high-winding, naturally aspirated 5.2-liter flat-plane crank V8, that model’s intent and purpose – along with 526 horsepower under the hood – put it in a different peer group of performance vehicles than the aforementioned heavyweights.
And while we learned back in January that the S550 GT500 is indeed on the way, gearheads still have some more waiting to do before they can get their hands on one, and there are a few significant caveats that would-be buyers must also take into consideration.
Take, for instance, the drivetrain. Even when the GT500 lands in showrooms, 700+ horsepower channeled through a row-your-own six-speed manual gearbox will remain an unattainable combination from the factory, as the blown 5.2-liter mill is said to be paired exclusively with a dual-clutch automatic.
But Mustang fanatics need not fret, as the folks at Roush Performance are happy to fill that niche of the market and then some. Founded in 1995, Roush Performance is the brainchild of Jack Roush, an automotive industry luminary and NASCAR team owner. Over the past two and half decades, Roush has applied its engineering expertise to various Ford machines, amassing more than 1,500 performance parts in the company’s catalog for FoMoCo machines like the Mustang, Focus, and F-150.
Their Stage 3 Mustang package is ready for the taking right now, boasting 710 horsepower and 610 pound-feet of torque with your choice of a 10-speed automatic transmission or a six-speed manual gearbox.
But can this tuned pony out-do the best hardware to come out of FoMoCo’s Flat Rock assembly plant thus far? We grabbed the keys to this three-pedal example and headed for the hills to find out.
Inside And Out
Our tester started life as a Ruby Red 2019 Mustang GT Premium that was outfitted with Performance Pack 1 – not to be confused with the Mustang GT PP2 – and that includes a Torsen differential, big Brembo brakes, an uprated steering rack, and some other go-fast goodies that rang up a total of $48,335. The Stage 3 package sits at the top of Roush’s performance totem pole and commands an additional $22,925 on top of the original purchase price of the car, bringing the as-tested price to $78,123. That’s a lot of coin, but keep in mind that nearly seven grand of the total includes optional extras from Roush’s catalog, like their active performance exhaust, graphics package, stitched seats, and forged 20-inch wheels.
While the Stage 3 kit includes chassis upgrades as well as visual tweaks to the pony car, the undisputed star of the package is found under the hood. Ford’s recently-revised 5.0-liter Coyote generates a healthy 460 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque in GT guise, making it a great foundation for the 2.65-liter TVS blower that Roush installs on top of it. It’s ostensibly the same Roots-style positive displacement supercharger that Ford sells through the Ford Performance catalog, delivering 12 psi of boost while remaining 50-state emissions legal. The cold air intake and engine calibration that complement the supercharger to achieve the car’s 710 horsepower rating are also emissions legal..
To help the Mustang manage its newfound pace, Roush has also included single-way adjustable coilovers as part of the package, which can be upgraded to three-way units like those found on our test car for an additional $1,900. While those coilovers don’t have the on-the-fly adaptive technology found in Ford’s MagneRide dampers, the three-way units offer manual adjustment of not only ride height, but compression and rebound as well. This allows owners to fine-tune those attributes as needed for track days or road trips. Drivetrain durability is enhanced by way of heavy-duty half shafts. And to provide some peace of mind, the Roush Powertrain Warranty covers the axle shafts and other components for five years or 60,000 miles.
It wouldn’t be a tuner car without some aesthetic modification, and the Roush Stage 3 Mustang is certainly no exception to the rule. Roush’s handiwork is evidenced from stem to stern here, from the Roush chin splitter to the Roush badging on the rear blackout panel. While some of upgrades have a legitimate reason for being here, like Roush’s chin splitter and high-flow grille, many bits and pieces found here are for the sake of eye candy, like the side scoops and optional quarter-window scoops.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as they say, and while the various bits and pieces Roush applies to the car do help it out against garden-variety Mustangs, those non-functional components aren’t really doing this pony car’s street cred any favors.
The visual upgrades continue inside, where a serialized dash plague, embroidered floor mats, and illuminated sill plates celebrate the Roush upgrades found elsewhere in the car. Silver-stitched leather seats, billet pedals, and the Roush shift knob are among the optional extras outfitted to our tester, the latter adding a welcome bit of color to the Mustang’s rather muted interior color palette.
Behind The Wheel
While the heavy-duty half shafts add a dose of strength to the drivetrain, the GT’s clutch and MT82 gearbox are left unchanged. Although that does raise some concerns for long-term durability, the upshot is that with the stock gearbox as well as the factory-spec brakes and steering, the Stage 3 Mustang is as easy to drive as the standard GT. The three-way coilovers outfitted to this car were dialed in for corner carving, and equates to a bit more harshness on the pockmarked streets of Los Angeles, but it was well within the realm of manageability.
Despite the big supercharger under the hood, it’s the exhaust that really gives this car its distinctive sound – blower whine was essentially non-existent whether we were plodding along in traffic or opening up the taps out in the hills. Roush’s quad-tipped setup is a $1,045 optional extra, and includes not only a knob on the center console to adjust the volume, but also an app which allows owners to adjust the character of the exhaust’s Custom mode. Being the hooligans that we are, we left the exhaust in Track mode to get the full effect of that dual overhead cam V8 whenever possible.
Venturing out to our usual stomping grounds in the Angeles Forest gave us a chance to better acclimate with the drivetrain and chassis upgrades. Roush ditches the staggered Michelin Pilot Sport 4S factory setup (255mm up front, 275mm) for 275mm Continental Extreme Sport rubber at all four corners. The larger footprint increases mechanical grip, in theory, though the switch from the Michelins to the Continentals is a lateral move at best. Either way, it’s still a far cry from the 305mm Pilot Sport Cup2 square setup that’s part of the Performance Pack 2 kit, but the Roush also doesn’t suffer from the tramlining issues that are inherent to both the PP2 and GT350R as a result.
The Coyote’s linear power delivery remains intact here, with the output that builds rapidly alongside the revs. Low-end torque has never been the forte of Ford’s modular motors – and that remains true here – but once things climb into the mid-range, it’s abundantly clear that there’s a whole lot of extra grunt on tap. While the Roush might not have the punchiness of a Hellcat, up in the Angeles Crest it proved to be the more sure-footed of the two despite the lack of push-button suspension adjustability, which can cause the Mustang’s suspension to feel too stiff in some situations and not stiff enough in others. The factory Brembo brakes proved up to the task, showing no signs of fade despite the abuse we put them through, and there wasn’t a mechanical hiccup to be noted throughout our stint with the car.
So, is the Roush Stage 3 Mustang a viable alternative to the upcoming GT500? We’ll have to wait to make a definitive call on that until we get some seat time in the latest Shelby, but there are a few truths we can glean from our seat time here.
Like the Hellcat, the Roush feels more like a fast GT car than an outright track machine, and that notion is reinforced by the cushy seats, lack of additional drivetrain cooling, and relatively tame tire selection. And it is indeed a fast machine that will turn heads, due to both its look and its sound.
If it were our money, though, we can’t help but wonder if buying a Mustang GT Performance Pack 2 or a Bullitt and throwing some parts at it from the Roush catalog – including this blower – might be the smarter move. Still, if exclusivity paired with hair-raising performance is your thing, the 2019 Roush Stage 3 Mustang certainly delivers on both fronts.