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2019 Saleen S302 Black Label quick drive review: Too much of a good thing

Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Orange you glad this Mustang has 800 horsepower?

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

Eight hundred horsepower sounds awesome in theory. But in the case of Saleen's latest supercharged Ford Mustang, the S302 Black Label, it proves to be both a blessing and a curse.

You've seen this formula before: Take a stock Mustang GT, tweak the bodywork, upgrade the suspension, bolt a supercharger onto the engine and give it an exhaust that'll wake the neighbors. Saleen has been building hot 'Stangs since the 1980s, and it certainly knows how to make a statement.

The Black Label starts as a Mustang GT Premium optioned with the imaginatively named Equipment Group 400A, meaning you get things like heated and cooled seats and the full-fledged Sync 3 infotainment system with navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The most noticeable interior update is a new set of seats, which are comfortable but seriously lack lateral support. White gauges take the place of the Mustang's standard readouts, and a boost gauge is fitted atop the dash. Otherwise, the Black Label's cabin is like any other Mustang, festooned with Saleen logos in the appropriate places.

Instead, it's outside where the Saleenification is almost painfully obvious. Saleen fits its own hood, front and rear fascias (which actually shorten the car's length by about 5 inches), quarter window trim and myriad vents and scoops. The overall look is definitely about flash as much as it is about function, with Saleen saying its bodywork has been optimized for improved aerodynamics. However, the keen-eyed among you will notice that several of the vents aren't actually functional, so take that with a grain of salt.

The taller hood is necessary to accommodate Saleen's big honkin' supercharger, which delivers up to 12 psi of boost. Matched with Ford's 5.0-liter Coyote V8, Saleen says the Black Label puts out a monstrous 800 horsepower and 687 pound-feet of torque. A new engine oil cooler and high-performance exhaust system are on hand to help this swole powerplant perform at its peak. Unfortunately, this is where things start to fall apart.

Power delivery is consistently inconsistent. Rolling onto the throttle in first gear is easy-peasy, with a heavier-side-of-perfectly weighted clutch and solid action from the six-speed manual shifter. But the minute you start running at higher revs in higher gears, you'll encounter weird peaks of sudden thrust. The throttle is like a light switch; you're either full-on or full-off, and this makes the Saleen incredibly difficult to drive smoothly. The engine hiccups at higher revs, which unsettles the car, reducing your willingness to push harder.

Aside from some Saleen badges and some comfy-but-unsupportive seats, the Black Label's interior is standard Mustang GT fare.

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

On the other hand, when everything does go just right, this car is a thrill to launch. My official seat-of-the-pants acceleration readout is "f*cking quick," and there's enough power to get you up past go-directly-to-jail speeds before you reach the end of second gear. Still, what good is having 800 horsepower if a car doesn't compel you to drive it fast?

Saleen fits the Black Label with Racecraft springs, struts, shocks and sway bars at the front and rear, and upsized brakes sit behind large, 20-inch wheels. This car doesn't ride half as poorly as you'd expect it to on a public road. Yes, you'll feel every bump, but the Black Label is shockingly amicable around town -- not something I can say of most tuner cars.

Sadly, the General G-Max summer tires fitted to this test car leave a lot to be desired. They don't provide the sort of traction you'd want from a car with this much power. In fact, the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires that come on the stock Ford Mustang GT with Performance Pack 2 are a far superior choice, both in daily driving comfort and outright cornering grip. Add in the fact that the Black Label uses the Mustang GT's factory traction control system, which simply isn't programmed to allow 800 horsepower to get to the wheels, and you have a car that rarely actually lets you exploit its capability.

Perhaps the most compelling part of the Saleen S302 Black Label package is its price: $78,495. That's no small sum, but it puts this car in reach of many buyers -- folks who might otherwise purchase something like a 797-horsepower Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Redeye Widebody, which starts at $76,245.

The lowered stance is courtesy of the Racecraft suspension hardware.

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

Plus, you can't put a price on exclusivity; how many times have you seen one of these at your Saturday morning cars-and-coffee meet? And unlike some tuned machines, every Saleen vehicle comes with its own three-year, 36,000-mile warranty for added peace of mind.

But as far as fast Mustangs go, you're better off with something like Ford's Shelby GT350, with its razor-sharp handling that rivals the world's best sports cars. Don't forget, Ford's also got the Shelby GT500 up its sleeve -- a fully baked supercar-killer with 760 horsepower on tap.

The Saleen S302 Black Label is best purchased as a collector's item or showpiece, which is a shame, since this car is brimming with performance potential. More than anything else, it's a reminder that power -- even 800 horsepower -- isn't everything.