Thursday, July 14, 2011

2012 Ford Mustang Boss 302 test drive review

Sometimes I wonder if I'm getting old.

Take this week, for example. Some of the nice folks from Ford invited one of my co-workers and me to spend some quality time behind the wheel of the 2012 Boss 302 Mustang in the Detroit, Mich., area.

We were lucky enough to have dinner with some of the engineers and marketing people behind the Boss 302, along with some of my colleagues from other guidebooks and publications. These latter folks are actually pretty influential, as they publish automotive reviews that are seen by huge numbers of people, and they play a key part in setting used and residual values on virtually every vehicle sold. I'm not going to get into specifics, but you've heard of the publications they work for.

Many of these editors are 20-somethings. They wear tight designer shirts. They spike their highly-styled hair. Some of them live in California, and act like they're truly amazed that people actually buy and drive American cars in Detroit. They like to talk about new Volkswagens and Audis and Subarus and other cars that I have no interest in. One of them is a vegetarian because his girlfriend somehow got him to renounce meat. Right or wrong, I am nothing like them.

Most of these guys would not own a car like the 2012 Mustang Boss 302. And that is exactly why l like it. This is a car that makes no apologies for its heritage. It embraces the past. It pumps big power out of a big, naturally-aspirated V8. It smokes the rear tires. It doesn't have a touch screen. You row your own gears.

As opposed to a regular Mustang GT, the Boss 302 is intended to handle better on a road course, with stiffer springs and suspension bushings, fatter stabilizer bars, and adjustable shocks and struts. And we’re not talking about adjustable with a handy knob on the dashboard, either. If you want to dial this baby into race mode, you need to get out and crank on the shocks with a screwdriver. If you really want to get into the spirit, you can wear a T-shirt that says “Pit Crew” on the back while you’re doing that, just like a real racing crew member.

Naturally, brakes and tires are also upgraded. Brembo four-piston calipers clamp down on 14-inch vented rotors up front, while standard Mustang GT brakes are upgraded with a Boss-specific high-performance pad compound out back. Bologna is served up in the form of 255/40ZR-19 our front, with a thick cut of 285/35ZR-19 tires on black alloy wheels on the business end.

Under the hood, the standard Mustang GT 5.0-liter V8 is upgraded with a new intake and camshafts, boosting the numbers from 412-hp up to a healthy 440. There is also a Boss-specific quad-exhaust setup that lends itself to an aftermarket electric exhaust dump, should the owner be so inclined to rattle his neighbor’s windows. Or drive on a racetrack. Whichever.

If you really want to go all out, you can order a Boss 302 Laguna Seca edition, which deletes the back seat and gives you a few more aerodynamic tweaks.

One thing you have to give the Mustang credit for is that it lends itself to these special edition models in the looks department. This one is inspired by the original Boss 302 from 1969, so it predictably has a scallop-like side stripe with the “BOSS 302” designation designed into it, a stripe on the hood, and a roof panel that matches either the black or white stripes. The wheels are a special black painted ten-spoke design. It also features a unique front splitter that Ford claims is functional.

The Boss 302 was meant to be a corner-carver, because that’s really the history of this model. Originally, the Boss 302 came out in 1969 as a competitor in the SCCA Trans Am racing series. Although it didn’t win the championship in ’69, the Boss 302 car driven by George Follmer and fielded by Bud Moore was able to edge out the Roger Penske-owned AMC Javelin cars driven by Mark Donohue in 1970.

I had the opportunity to drive a Competition Orange Boss 302 about 45-miles, from Brooklyn, near the Michigan International Raceway, back to our hotel in Ypsilanti.

Obviously, I wasn't on a racetrack, and I wasn't exactly exploring the car's limits, but there are a few things that stuck with me. For one, I read an early Ford press release that described the Boss 302 as a "race car with a license plate," so I was expecting a loud, horrible-riding buckboard. What I found was a very livable, decent-riding car with much less road noise and harshness than I imagined. The clutch and short-throw six-speed shifter were very civil and easy to use. The interior was very stylish, with sharp looking machine-turned dash inserts and some kind of nice, fuzzy suede stuff covering the steering wheel.

My favorite part of this car, and probably the thing that scares the younger guys in the group the most, is the sound. V8 Mustangs have had distinctive, robust exhaust notes for years, and the Boss 302 is one of the best ever. So melodious was this sound that I was reluctant to shift into sixth gear for most of our journey. Of course, I wasn't paying the gas bill either.

The car pulls hard, too. And it does it in almost any gear you want. I believe it is possible to casually eclipse 100-mph in fifth gear and not even realize it. Not that I would know anything about that. That would be wrong.

No, the 2012 Ford Mustang Boss 302 will never appeal to a guy who pines for a turbo-diesel Volkswagen Golf four-door hatchback. It's a car designed for carnivores. It's designed for Neanderthals. It's designed for guys who are old enough to know what's good. It's designed for guys like me.


  1. It's all the things this piece says and more. It can run with a R8 or a M3. And for the kind of money BMW and Audi could only dream about.

  2. You live the life Craig. Nice article.

  3. Great write-up Craig! Even though I'm more of a Camaro guy, I still appreciate the rich Ford Mustang heritage. I want the Mustang to succeed because it's such a HUGE part of American automotive history.

    And, by the way, screw the young tree-huggers from Cali. They won't appreciate the Boss 302 for what it really is and represents! Let them have their non-American cars....