Resurrecting automotive icons is tricky business. Launching a Mustang bearing the name of arguably the most legendary ‘Stang ever to turn a wheel is downright treacherous.
But Ford wasn’t messing around when it developed the Mustang Boss 302, version two. It was intended to be a thinly disguised track car. And its mission was to beat the benchmark BMW M3 around the famed Laguna Seca race track. Done and done.
With a high-revving naturally-aspirated 444 hp 5.0L Coyote V8, this snout-to-tailpipe re-engineered The 2012 Boss 302 does all those things.
But is it a car you can live with on a day-to-day basis? And at $48,199 is it worth nearly 10-grand more than the 412 hp Mustang 5.0 GT?
After some time behind the wheel of a Boss equipped with the optional Recaro seats ($1600) and Torsen helical differential ($500), I’d have to say "hell, yeah," on both counts.
Civilized, but not too
On first impression, I'm looking at this Mustang with its lowered ride height (11 mm in front, 1 mm in back), staggered 19-inch Pirelli P-Zero rubber, traditional live rear axle and thinking, "This bad boy is going to turn my innards into muesli."
Not so much, as it turns out.
I settle into the fabric Recaro seat and immediately appreciate its comfort and support. The interior looks little changed (read:cheap) save for the billiard ball shift knob and Alcantara trimmed steering wheel. Yup. It’s a Mustang.
Then I turn the key.The V-8 barks to life and sends feral shivers through the cabin.
This DOHC V-8 has had a thorough going-over, benefitting from forged aluminum pistons, lightened valve gear, new intake plenum, aggressive camshafts and ported and polished heads.
Its 380 lb-ft of torque rating is actually down 10 lb-ft from the standard car, but the redline jumps from 7000 to 7500 rpm. And, of course, there's the power.
The sound says it all
During development, a dedicated engineering team worked on tuning the Boss 302’s aural characteristics. I hope they were knighted.
Underhood, a retuned induction sound tube transmits some of that action to the cabin, while an additional set of side pipes coming from the exhaust crossover directs some flow through a set of metal discs that act as tuning elements, before exiting just ahead of the rear wheel openings. (For track duty, these discs are easily removed.)
This all combines to add a menacing, metallic sonic edge to the V-8 that escalates to one of the more scintillating expressions of Detroit muscle as pedal meets metal.
While blipping the throttle in my driveway, I could see curtains parting down the street and squirrels heading back into hibernation.
This is a car you’ll be driving with the windows down. In January.
Suitable for daily duty
Job one for me was taking three13 year-old girls to school.
They were quite taken with the occasional eye-widening burst of acceleration and accompanying soundtrack while I marveled at the Boss’s relatively civilized ride.
After negotiating an on ramp with some, er, vigour, it was obvious just from this brief push that the Boss’s balance and body control are in another league from the standard GT.
The fact that you’re giving up little, if any in ride comfort is impressive. There is more to this setup, however.
The standard adjustable shock absorbers and struts have five settings, quickly adjustable at the top of each shock tower with a flat-head screwdriver. We were riding on Number 2.
The speed-sensitive electronic steering is very good – tuned here for additional feedback and offering three settings: comfort, normal and sport. This generation Mustang has always exhibited better steering than the Camaro and Challenger, and here the gap widens further.
The goods to get it done
The clutch and close-ratio six-speed Getrag transmission make a nice pair, both operating with firm precision. The short-throw, narrow-gate shifter is clearly built for speed, with a slight resistance to the 5-6 gate that lessens the chance of a 2nd to 5th oops on the track.
The brakes, too, are up to the task. With Brembo four-piston front calipers acting on 14-inch vented discs, high-performance pad compound and unique low-compressibility brake lines, they are "the best brakes ever installed on a Mustang" says Brent Clark, supervisor of the Mustang vehicle dynamics team.
When rumbling into the schoolyard, I dipped the clutch and gave the school kids a couple of healthy eight-gun salutes. Heads turned and boys gathered.
It’s bad enough for a 13 year-old to be seen with her Dad, let alone while he’s embracing his inner greaseball. Nonetheless, her cries of protestation went unheeded as the other girls in the car squealed with delight and asked for more.
Visually, the Boss 302 doesn't broadcast its formidable capabilities as dramatically as one might expect. Save for the graphics and super low front splitter, it’s almost, dare I say, subtle – at least compared to the scooped and squat 550 hp $58,999 Shelby GT500.
Yes, the Boss is a whole different animal. While the Shelby is a hairy, brutish beast, the 302 suggests a cohesive fluidity that’s lost on its supercharged brethren.
But let’s not kid ourselves. This resurrected icon may beat the BMW M3 around Laguna Seca, but it’s still a live-axle pony car that gets upset on less than smooth surfaces. Hit a bump mid-corner and the back end will do a little jig on its own. But, hey, that’s all part of the charm.
So is the Boss-man worth 25 percent more than our garden-variety 5.0 GT? For some, it will be a no-brainer. It’s a better car in almost every way, yet shows little trade off in civility. And if track days are your idea of a good time, this ‘Stang’s focus, exclusivity and nod to the legendary 1969-70 Boss 302 will make it seem an irresistible bargain.
The 2012 Boss 302 is arguably the best Mustang yet. And it’s bloody addictive!