Everything about the 2012 Ford Mustang Boss 302 feels stiff, like a strong, tightly wound spring: steering, suspension, shift linkage, throttle, clutch, brakes and even the optional racing seats.
This is serious iron, as American as pizza and the president. No other nation builds a car like this, with its grumbling V8 engine, solid rear axle, close-ratio shifter and a suspension system snubbed to within inches of farm-wagon ride quality.
The Boss 302 is both a reincarnation and an insert. In the Mustang lineup, it slots between the 412-horsepower GT and the 550-horsepower Shelby model. It also is a tribute to its forbear, the 1969-’70 Mustang Boss 302, which had a 290-horsepower V8 engine and a four-speed manual gearbox.
Nowadays, engine size is expressed in liters, so the 302 cubic inches works out to five liters. Moreover, the new engine is partly aluminum, with four valves per cylinder, double overhead camshafts, and variable intake and exhaust timing. It all combines to kick out a lusty 444 horsepower with 380 foot-pounds of torque, or twisting force.
Some of that extra horsepower happens because the Boss breathes so well. It exhales through four exhaust pipelines—two jutting out from under the rear bumper and the other two exiting on each side forward of the rear wheels but directed downward to avoid cooking the tires.
The bonus is there is no way to miss the melodic V8 rumble, whether at idle or barking through the gears. Pulse-quickening sounds permeate the cabin and surround the driver and passengers.
Driving the Boss 302 is something like riding a competition bobsled. Basically, you grab it and hold on, but it also takes skill to get the most out of it.
Launch the Boss clumsily and you’ll peel rubber like a muscle-car kid in a 1970s movie and, despite the Ford engineers’ delicate suspension tuning around an old-fashioned solid axle, you’ll get tramp as the rear wheels jump sideways seeking traction. It’s exciting but wastes time and tires.
It’s best to let the clutch out easy, get the Boss moving and then hammer the gas pedal. Using that method, Car and Driver magazine writer John Phillips clocked a zero-to-60 time of 4.3 seconds and a quarter mile of 12.8 seconds at 113 miles an hour.
Like everything else, the six-speed shift linkage is stiff. But the throws are so short and the gates are so close that it’s almost a flick-flick motion to get through the gears. Moreover, the stiff clutch nevertheless has a progressive engagement—meaning it’s not grabby—so the Boss is easy to drive in stop-and go traffic.
The electric power steering also felt almost too stiff until the tester discovered that it could be adjusted for effort. Three settings are available: comfort, standard and sport. All three work fine, though the comfort setting is a bit too easy. The steering wheel tilts but does not telescope, which makes it more of a challenge to find a comfortable driving position.
Buyers of the Boss 302 will have to face the fact that this car is neither a boulevardier nor a long-distance touring car. On anything but the smoothest roads, currently in short supply, the ride is a series of undulating jounces. Combine that with the rhythmic thrumming of the engine in sixth gear and a long trip could be tiring.
Of course, that’s not what the Boss 302 is all about. It is all about having a car that is great to look at, be seen in and, if you should so choose, could easily spend a day at the race track. For that, you can even adjust each shock absorber individually with a screw driver.
Some of the stuff already is installed. The front brakes are from Brembo, an ultra-performance company, and you can pay an extra $1,995 for a limited-slip differential and Recaro racing-style seats. They practically surround the torso and make you feel as safe and comfortable as an infant strapped into his mom’s chest carrier. They’re covered in grasping cloth so you’re really stuck. But the bolsters are so big it’s not easy to climb in and out. The steering wheel is covered in a tacky suede-like material that likely will get shiny and bleach out.
In a car like this, probably few people care about the back seat. But the surprise is that this one has enough space to accommodate two modest-sized adults, as long as the driver and front passenger are willing to slide a bit forward. But the noggins of the back-benchers are right under the rear window, which will inflict lumps as the Boss bounces over bumps in the road.
Except for the performance enhancements, the Boss 302 is a minimalist machine. The interior, except for attractive inserts that mimic engine-turned metal, is mostly smooth and pebbled plastic. There’s no automatic climate control but the gauges are simple, daytime lighted and easy to read quickly.
The base Boss 302 starts at $40,995 and, with the options noted, had a sticker of $42,990. Should you want to play at the track, there’s an even stiffer Laguna Seca version at $47,990.
- Model: 2012 Ford Mustang Boss 302.
- Engine: 5-liter V8, 444 horsepower.
- Transmission: Six-speed manual.
- Overall length: 15 feet 8 inches.
- EPA passenger/trunk volume: 83/13 cubic feet.
- Weight: 3,665 pounds.
- EPA city/highway fuel consumption: 17/26 miles to the gallon.
- Base price, including destination charge: $40,995.
- Price as tested: $42,990.