Jim Farley, Ford’s group V-P of global marketing, sales, and service, didn’t have to fly to California for the debut of the Mustang Boss 302. No one told him to. “It’s just that I’ve been driving my own Mustang right through the last two Michigan winters thinking about this project,” he said. “From a business standpoint, the Boss 302 shouldn’t have happened. But it happened. My dream for the car was that it would make a lot of money for a guy street racing. It should be a car that winds up on YouTube doing something illegal. I’ve been waiting 20-plus years to launch a car like this.”
The decision to resurrect the Boss 302 was made in the darkest days of the recession. Is Ford brave or what? Especially since it’s so rare that offspring are able to match the feats of legendary forebears, as Charlie Sheen can attest.
To eke out of the Mustang GT’s 5.0-liter V-8 a bonus 32 horses, Ford created a new intake manifold with runners resembling velocity stacks. Different cylinder heads were deployed—stronger alloy and altered ports—with each head undergoing 2.5 hours of CNC massaging. The bearings are race-spec, and the baffled pan holds 8.5 quarts of synthetic oil.
The result is 444 hp at 7500 rpm, a happy medium between the Mustang GT’s 412 hp and the Shelby GT500’s 550 hp. The Boss’s V-8—unlike the brutish Shelby’s—doesn’t so often overwhelm its chassis. In fact, what you first notice—and this is very BMW-ish—is that the Boss’s engine, driveline, and suspension draw virtually no attention to each other’s eccentricities. It lends the package a gratifying sense of unity that inspires confidence.
This V-8 is so vigorous and charismatic that it ought to be carved on Mount Rushmore. The engine revs nearly as quickly as you can flex your right foot, feeling as if it were displacing maybe three liters. What’s more, despite all that cam, it idles as smoothly as a Camry.
Sans traction control, launching the Boss takes some practice, although never has practice been so fun. Side-step the clutch with too many revs and you’ll trigger axle tramp followed by a cumulus cloud of Pirelli particulates that will only swell in size all the way through second gear. The trick is to slip the clutch from around 3500 rpm and then mat the throttle when the axle says, “Yeah, I’m feelin’ settled and relaxed back here.” The result is 60 mph in what we estimate to be the mid-fours, which would put the Boss right on the heels of the jackhammer GT500. And once that live axle is placated…well, the Boss doesn’t feel as if it would lose an inch to its Shelby sibling. The accelerative kick flings sunglasses and coins and pens in the center bin backward against a plastic wall, sounding as if they’d just hit the bottom of a ventilator shaft.
This is accompanied by a mellifluous resonance-free exhaust note that is an unlikely aural congruence of, say, Lexus IS F and Roush/Yates Sprint Cup engine. It’s a four-way exhaust—two sewer pipes astern and one per side, exiting just in front of the rear wheels. A restrictor plate in each side pipe lends the Boss federal pass-by legality, but the baffles can be unbolted in less time than it takes to read this review. It’s lucky that the rumble is so rich, because the engine is seriously loud at idle.
The Boss’s suspension has likewise benefited from a lavish labor of love. Compared with the GT, it boasts higher-rate springs, a fatter rear bar, new bushings, and 19-inch Pirelli P Zeros that, at the rear, are mounted on 9.5-inch-wide wheels. What’s more, each shock offers five settings that are adjustable via screwdriver, creating the possibility of very strange chassis behavior at the hands of very strange owners. Again, is Ford brave or what? And experimenting with dampers is educational and fun and will make you feel like Parnelli Jones’s crew chief.
The steering rack is electrically power-assisted and can be toggled to comfort, standard, and sport modes. We preferred standard, even at the track. The other settings felt as if they did nothing more than alter effort. No matter. The steering was ever accurate, progressive, and informative, with peerless interstate tracking.
At the front, four-pot Brembos clamp onto 14.0-inch vented rotors. The pads are near-race-spec compounds, although they don’t squeal, and the brake lines have been hardened to prevent expansion. On the road, pedal feel proved sublime—fairly hard but bang-on linear—and it was a cinch to modulate braking right on the threshold of ABS. Fade? None that we encountered during nine-tenths lapping around Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
As a dance partner in the hills, the Boss eagerly goes all bossa nova, laying down its prodigious power with surprising smoothness. The chassis felt remarkably balanced, usually neutral, leaning toward power oversteer only in the tightest turns. Despite its super-quick transient responses, it never felt nervous. This Mustang is so agile, so responsive to delicate inputs, that it makes the GT500 feel like a FedEx truck. The Boss’s grip almost always exceeds the driver’s courage. What’s more, the ultra-short-throw shifter was an ally, although its gates are so close that a clumsy upshift from second will sometimes collect fifth.
Ford has forever treated its Mustangs as blue-collar contrivances of unprepossessing heritage. The cockpit thus remains dour and rudimentary, despite the Alcantara-wrapped steering wheel and faux machine-turned aluminum trim. The acres of coarse pebbled-plastic surfaces, in particular, would be (and have been) rejected in far less expensive machines, notably in Ford’s own Focus. The gaping void between the top of the rear tires and the rolled fender lips is an eyesore. The steering column doesn’t telescope. And the brake and accelerator pedals should be closer.
The base Boss fetches $40,995; major options include a Torsen differential and Recaro seats (together costing $1995), plus the so-called TracKey software. If you’re headed for the track—and why wouldn’t you be?—then all are mandatory. In total, 4000 examples will be assembled, which isn’t even half of the original Boss 302’s two-year production. That sum includes 3250 base Bosses and 750 Laguna editions.
We expected the Boss 302 to be little more than a marketing exercise in nostalgia, a somewhat more brutal, slightly faster GT, with alluring graphics but primitive predilections. It isn’t. Nose to tail, this feels like a whole new equine, thoroughly sorted, conscientiously massaged, the object of considerable forethought and ambition. As automotive resurrections go, this is a knockout that venerates the original Boss while embarrassing it objectively and subjectively in every meaningful measure. What this is, is the best Mustang ever.