2012 Ford Mustang Boss 302 First Impressions

2012 Ford Mustang Boss 302 First Impressions

Photo: Lesley Wimbush/Auto123.com Photo: Lesley Wimbush/Auto123.com Photo: Lesley Wimbush/Auto123.com Photo: Lesley Wimbush/Auto123.com Photo: Lesley Wimbush/Auto123.com Photo: Lesley Wimbush/Auto123.com Photo: Lesley Wimbush/Auto123.com Photo: Lesley Wimbush/Auto123.com Photo: Lesley Wimbush/Auto123.com Photo: Lesley Wimbush/Auto123.com Photo: Lesley Wimbush/Auto123.com Photo: Lesley Wimbush/Auto123.com Photo: Lesley Wimbush/Auto123.com Photo: Lesley Wimbush/Auto123.com Photo: Lesley Wimbush/Auto123.com Photo: Lesley Wimbush/Auto123.com Photo: Lesley Wimbush/Auto123.com Photo: Lesley Wimbush/Auto123.com
MONTEREY, California - As the bright orange Mustang rocketed down through the deadly two-part turn know as “The Corkscrew”, it should have punched a hole in the time/space continuum, rolling the clock back four decades ago to 1970. For this was the setting, the hot tarmac of the historic Laguna Seca Raceway where this very same car and driver combination established themselves as the dominant force in Trans-Am racing by winning the 1970 series opener.

According to Mustang Chief Engineer Dave Pericak, the Boss 302 has been several years in development, and he's quick to point out that it is “not in any way a nostalgia project”. (Photo: Lesley Wimbush/Auto123.com)

It’s rather fitting then, that when Ford decided to bring back the legendary Boss 302 Mustang, that Parnelli Jones would be the one to pilot it here at Laguna Seca for its debut.

It seems like only yesterday that we were climbing behind the wheel of a brand-new five litre Mustang.

But according to Mustang Chief Engineer Dave Pericak, the Boss 302 has been several years in development, and he's quick to point out that it is “not in any way a nostalgia project”. Nor is it a re-worked GT– the Boss was “built as a prototype without going into the Ford parts bin”. The Mustang’s development team is made up of self-proclaimed keeners, geeks and enthusiasts who were given free rein to create a road-legal race car that was not only worthy of its iconic nameplate, but that could equal or better BMW’s benchmark M3 coupe.

Lofty goal? During testing, with 2010 Daytona winning hotshoe driver Jonathan Bomarito behind the wheel, the Boss bested the M3 coupe’s best time by more than a second. The Special Edition Laguna Seca Boss 302 beat that time by another second.

“This is not a re-made GT”, said Pericak, “it’s a complete, 1-G lateral race car with one goal: to beat the M3 at Laguna Seca”.

You can’t build a Boss 302 by adding bolt-ons to a GT. Although it’s also powered by a 5.0 litre engine, it’s been re-worked, re-tuned and re-calibrated to produce 444 horsepower over the GT’s 412. But more importantly, there’s a huge torque range that’s available throughout the powerband, so that it pulls like a freight train all the way up to the 7500 rpm redline. Yet it’s such a smooth delivery of power that the 302 is tractable while cruising through town. High end horsepower is achieved through helping the engine breathe - with a Daytona prototype-inspired composite intake manifold, ported heads and more aggressively ground cams featuring variable camshaft timing. A heavy-duty clutch is sandwiched between the engine and close-ratio six speed transmission.

Although it’s also powered by a 5.0 litre engine, it’s been re-worked, re-tuned and re-calibrated to produce 444 horsepower over the GT’s 412. (Photo: Ford)


Much has been made of the Mustang’s much-lauded sonic tuning. And the Boss 302 has been blessed with a great set of pipes– four of them in fact. The quad exhaust features the regular dual outlets that exit at rear, and two additional side pipes that exit either side of the exhaust crossover, just before the rear wheels.

Snagging a traditional, bright orange model, with signature black striping and side “c” stripes, we head out along the glorious Monterey coastline, the jagged cliffs overlooking the crashing surf far below.

The Alcantara-wrapped steering wheel is grippy, the steering direct and provides plenty of feedback. (Photo: Lesley Wimbush/Auto123.com)

The Mustang sticks to the tight turns like glue, and regardless of what gear I’m in there’s plenty of power for passing slow moving Prius or powering out of upward climbing turns. Deeply bolstered Recaro buckets keep my butt firmly planted through hairpins and switchbacks.

It sounds just bloody fantastic – the quad pipe’s lusty song fills the cabin. Yet both my driving partner and I are surprised by just how well-behaved the car is when we move into busy traffic – it’s quite tractable in low gear, the clutch -- perfect for spirited heel n’ toeing is neither heavy nor grabby in daily driving. The Alcantara-wrapped steering wheel is grippy, the steering direct and provides plenty of feedback. Although it tilts, there’s no telescoping option however.

Ramping our fun up a notch, we exchange our Boss for the potent Laguna Seca Special Edition. Jet black with red trim and red enamel wheels, it looks menacing. A huge flat front splitter juts way out in front just inches from the pavement, the decklid sports a race car spoiler. There’s a cross brace where the rear seats should be, and don’t even think about a nav system or Sirius radio with this car – they aren’t available. Four-piston Brembo calipers clamp onto 14” drilled rotors, non-expanding brake lines help ensure immediate pedal response, while cooling ducts help prevent fade.

It rides on a heavily tuned suspension with revised spring and damper rates. It’s shod with Pirelli R-Comps and in between the 10” wide rear wheels is a torsion limited slip differential.

Ramping our fun up a notch, we exchange our Boss for the potent Laguna Seca Special Edition. Jet black with red trim and red enamel wheels, it looks menacing. (Photo: Lesley Wimbush/Auto123.com)


We can’t help ourselves. Once we’re up in the hills and away from traffic, we punch it, the rear end squats, wags a little then catapults us momentarily into nasty ticket zone. We’re giggling like school kids with potty-mouth. It begs to be driven faster as the road curves and undulates tighter, downforce pushing it to an almost hovercraft-like suction bond with the road. The handling is rock-solid, yet not jarring. Although it too could be described as a beast, the Boss 302 is a completely different animal from its GT500 sibling. Where the Shelby is a crude, blunt-force straight-line bludgeon, the Boss 302, particularly the Laguna Seca, displays agile, sophisticated handling that rivals that of the autobahn-bred Germans.

Transforming the Boss into a full-on race car is as simple as turning a key. Available on both models, TracKey software can be installed on the vehicle’s power control module (PCM) and accessed by a specially programmed red key. Use the black key for regular daily driving, and the red key to access TracKey – which alters over 300 engine parameters. The cam develops a thumping lope, and acceleration and deceleration go from polite to abrupt – removing all the mid-range comfort.

Three hundred Boss 302 are designated to arrive in Canada late this spring, and only 35 lucky Canadians will score a Laguna Seca. (Photo: Lesley Wimbush/Auto123.com)

We spend most of the afternoon lapping the legendary raceway, but later we’re able to ride shotgun with 2010 Daytona winner, Johnathan Bomarito, where we experience what the car is really capable of. It's pretty hard to shake the 302's composure, it's simply a superb racetrack athlete.

To negotiate the hairpin turn, Bomarito says that invariably, most other race cars would have to drop to 2nd gear, and yet, the Boss 302 easily and smoothly takes it in 3rd. The torque delivery seems endless. Remember, during testing sessions, Bomarito was able to beat the BMW M3’s best time; this thing is FAST!

But it won't be wearing a German price tag - the Boss 302 can be had for $44,649, while the Laguna Seca stickers at $58,149.

Three hundred Boss 302 are designated to arrive in Canada late this spring, and only 35 lucky Canadians will score a Laguna Seca.
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