Another transmission bit that I had to be deliberate about was the clutch pedal, which was almost ridiculously heavy. (Don't be surprised if, after a week with the Boss 302, your left leg is noticeably more muscular than your right.) Fortunately, it features good travel with great feel that makes the Boss as easy to drive in a traffic jam as it is to drive full bore. I did have a hair-raising time inching the Boss up some of San Francisco's almost vertical climbs in stop-and-go traffic, but with plenty of torque on tap, stalling was never an issue.
Tackles corners like a Boss
The Boss may haul ass like a muscle car (and guzzle gas like one), but it handles corners like a vehicle much lighter than its 3,631-pound curb weight. Tossing the Boss into a fast bend, I was surprised by how neutral the car felt as it simply went where I pointed it. Hitting the apex and opening the throttle to accelerate out of the bend, I found the Boss was also surprisingly planted. There was no fishtailing or snap oversteer. The Boss simply dug in and powered out of the turn sans dramatics. I'm left with the impression that you'd have to be a significantly better or worse driver than I am to get the Boss out of sorts on public roads and, for the vast majority of drivers, the Mustang's performance will provide ample thrills without ever threatening to kill you.
However, unlike tightly sprung track specials like the, the Boss 302's ride is also surprisingly comfortable and supple. This is the kind of car that you can drive home from the track without getting your kidneys bruised over potholes and expansion joints. All of our editors spoke of how the 302's suspension soaked up the bumps without feeling numb and disconnected--such praise is normally reserved for premium German sport sedans.
If there is an Achilles' heel in the Boss 302's handling prowess, it's the stoppers. Despite featuring upgraded Brembo brakes at all four corners, the Boss didn't bleed off speed as quickly as I'd have liked and also had rather poor pedal feel. It's easy enough to compensate for this by simply braking earlier, and the system didn't exhibit significant fade over the course of my testing, so at the very least the brakes don't get worse as you go. However, I expected a bit more from a car that goes and bends like the Boss.
As good as the Mustang Boss 302 is on the street, there is a way to make it better at the track. Ford has made available a feature called TracKey, which is an actual second key for the car that unlocks a second set of engine and performance tuning to optimize timing, fuel delivery, and throttle response, and tweak over 600 other parameters to increase low-end torque and on-track performance. I understand that even the engine's idle is gets tweaked for a more lopey, muscley sound. Unfortunately, because the TracKey is optimized for the track, it makes certain compromises where emissions are concerned, which has gotten the attention of the California Air Research Board (CARB). At the time of our testing, the TracKey was yet unavailable in the great state of California pending CARB's approval.
In the cabin, the Mustang Boss 302 was upgraded with Recaro sport seats that offered bolstering that did a fantastic job of holding the driver in place while cornering without feeling uncomfortable for long stretches behind the wheel. At least one of our editors complained about the seating position, the Alcantara-wrapped steering wheel's positioning, and the lower dashboard repeatedly hitting his knees. I didn't run into any of those issues, although I did find squeezing between the seat's lower side bolster and the steering wheel upon entering and exiting the vehicle to be a bit uncomfortable. (The simple solution: just never get out of the Boss.) Your mileage, as always, will vary depending on your height and build.
The market is full of cars that make compromises, whether to keep the price down, to decrease emissions, or to increase luxury. The 2012 Ford Mustang Boss 302 also makes plenty of compromises in the pursuit of performance. As I stated earlier, the lack of cabin comfort options and advanced power train technologies results in a lowish score from us for the Boss. But the score is only part of the story. More important than the numbers is the fact that the Boss 302 is a car with singular purpose: driving. It offers no distractions from that purpose, but it also places very few electronic nannies between you and the 444-ponies under your right foot. The Boss demands your attention (and the attention of everyone within the audible range of its V-8 bark) and if you give it that undivided, this modern muscle car will reward you with one of the great rides of your life.
The 2012 Ford Mustang Boss 302 bases at $40,310. The only option available is a $1,995 Recaro seats package that adds a helical limited-slip differential and, of course, the Recaro seats for the driver and front passenger. That's it. There are no tech options, but if you've gotten this far into the review, I'm sure that you won't care. Add a $795 destination charge to reach an as-tested price of $43,100 for our Kona Blue Metallic tester.
If you want more on-track performance, the TracKey will be available for an additional $302 charge (estimated) when CARB decides that it's street-legal. The truly serious can also step up to the Ford Mustang Boss 302 Laguna Seca package, which includes the Recaro seats and limited-slip differential plus a track-tuned suspension, stiffer sway bars, a chassis-stiffening cross-member where the rear seats would normally go, more aggressive aerodynamics, stickier race tires, and an even gaudier color scheme for the paint and graphics for a flat $48,100 (destination fees included). That price is dangerously close to the more powerful (and more comfortable for commuting), so perhaps the Laguna Seca package isn't such a great deal for the less-than-hard-core set.
|Model||2012 Ford Mustang Boss 302|
|Power train||5.0-liter V-8 engine, 6-speed manual transmission, RWD, optional limited-slip differential|
|EPA fuel economy||17 city, 26 highway mpg|
|Observed fuel economy||12.2 mpg|
|Bluetooth phone support||n/a|
|Disc player||single-slot CD|
|MP3 player support||analog 3.5mm auxiliary input|
|Other digital audio||optional satellite radio|
|Audio system||4-speaker basic|
|Price as tested||$43,100|