Driven: 2009 Roush Stage 3 BlackJack
By Steven J. Ewing
October 23, 2008
Since the dawn of the Shelby GT500 in 2007, the exclusive, supercharged Mustang experience is no longer just for the dedicated enthusiasts willing to shell out some extra cash to aftermarket performance manufacturers. Ford now offers 500 horsepower right from the factory, and with the Shelby’s starting price of around $43,000, some enthusiasts might find it hard to justify shelling out $56,000 for a Roush BlackJack—a special edition of the company’s Stage 3 treatment limited to just 100 cars for 2009. But for those who aren’t battling in a horsepower war, we think the Roush offers a bolder appearance and a bit more driving pleasure. Conveniently, it just so happened that we had a GT500 in our test fleet during the same week that we tested the BlackJack, and after driving them back-to-back, some of us would rather have the Roush, regardless of price.
On the visuals front, the BlackJack has us won over thanks to its mean, stealth bomber appearance. The nine-bar high-flow grille, smoked chrome wheels, and the revised rear skirt that nicely integrates the dual exhaust pipes really make this car stand out visually. The only bits of color found on the exterior are the red calipers on the upgraded brake kit—fourteen-inch slotted rotors with four piston calipers. When we first took delivery of the BlackJack, it was an all but unanimous decision that this is the best-looking Roush product we’ve ever tested.
Inside, sport leather seats with suede inserts meet piano black trim to reinforce the BlackJack’s sinister theme. If there’s a major complaint, it’s that we wish the sport seats provided additional side bolstering, as we found ourselves slipping around during hard turns.
Our favorite part of the whole package, though, has to be Roush’s short-shift kit for the five-speed manual transmission. The long-necked shift lever and its direct throws are an absolute joy. We much prefer it to the heavier-effort shifter in the GT500. Similarly, the clutch in the GT500 proved to be too heavy for everyday usage, a fact made all the more obvious by the Roush’s far friendlier setup. We think that the five-speed tranny works really well in the BlackJack, even with all of the added power and torque. Having a sixth gear would likely offer improved fuel economy, but conservation isn’t exactly what these cars are about anyway. Fifth gear registers around 2500 rpm at highway speeds, and with a quick “clack-clack” of the shifter, fourth gear gives you more than enough power for startlingly quick passing. The supercharger kicks in around 3500 rpm and holds steady up until the redline, and having a heavy foot in second gear really helps make the most of the available thrust. Roush claims that the BlackJack will run from zero to 60 miles per hour in around 4.4 seconds—which is actually one tenth of a second faster than the Shelby.
The Stage 3 suspension kit kept the BlackJack more connected to the ground and gave us a bit more confidence when traveling down curvy roads at higher speeds. Still, with a live rear axle, it’s no secret that rough stretches of pavement are not where this car was meant to make friends.
Overall, noise inside the cabin was a bit stifled compared to other Roush products that have passed through our hands, but still be sure to have a light foot when cruising at 75 mph on the highway, as digging into the accelerator produces a low growl that can easily drown out any conversations between driver and passenger. It’s a lovely, throaty sound, and surprisingly, it’s much heartier than the noise produced by the GT500.
If high horsepower numbers are your thing, the Shelby GT500 remains one hell of a bargain, but the Roush feels every bit as quick on the road. Further, because the revised clutch, shifter, and suspension simply work better, the whole package is gratifyingly easier to drive. The price difference between Ford’s factory hot rod and this Roush might seem like a hefty premium, but it’s money well spent.
2009 ROUSH STAGE 3 BLACKJACK
Engine: Supercharged V-8, 4.6 liters, 24v
Output: 430 hp/400 lb-ft
Transmission: Five-speed manual
0-60 MPH: 4.4 seconds (est.)
Top Speed: 142 mph (electronically limited)
Price as Tested: $56,180