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Road Test: 2012 Ford Mustang Boss 302

By - March 2, 2011 – 7:06 amOne Comment | 14,844 views

2012 Ford Mustang Boss 302

There hasn’t been this much excitement about a new Mustang for a long time. The instant the 2012 Mustang Boss 302 was unveiled in Monterey last August, it was obvious that there was something special about the car. Some of that is due to the car’s heritage – the original Boss 302 is perhaps the most legendary pony car ever to come from Ford thanks to Parnelli Jones capturing the 1970 Trans-Am championship – but with the momentum that Ford has created in the past couple years by introducing new and exciting products, there seemed to be a general consensus that Ford wasn’t going to mess up the reintroduction of the Boss nameplate. In fact, Ford even promised that they wouldn’t just put the Boss 302 name on any Mustang. “We were either going to do it right or not do it at all – no one on the team was going to let Boss become a sticker-and-wheel package,” said David Pericak, Mustang chief engineer at the time of the car’s launch.

Almost exactly six months later we’re back at Laguna Seca with the Ford crew for the media launch of the 2012 Boss 302. There was plenty of excitement and anticipate in the briefing room, where Jim Farley, Ford’s vice president of global marketing, was prepping journalists about the car before handing over the keys. Despite holding one of the highest positions at Ford, Farley is perhaps one of the most down to earth executives you’ll ever meet and a Mustang enthusiast at heart. He’s driven his personal Mustang through the last two Detroit winters, and it’s obvious that the Boss 302 project was close to his heart. “I’ve been waiting 20 plus years in my career to get to launch a product like this,” he told us. “This is a very special car. It’s not special because the company spent a lot of money or that it’s very exclusive. It’s a special project because of the people involved.

2012 Ford Mustang Boss 302

Of course, all car companies will tell you that there are special people behind the cars they build, but Farley’s words ring true more than most. Take for instance, the TracKey. It’s a project that wouldn’t have happened if the engineers involved weren’t deeply passionate about what they were building. Those in charge of the Boss 302’s engine programming developed the dual path calibration system in their spare time, despite hearing from the higher-ups that the project wasn’t officially approved.

More evidence of Ford’s devotion to the Boss is under the hood. Mike Harrisson, the Boss’ engine program manager, told us that the goal for the engine was 440 horsepower. As we’ve seen from the various performance shops around the country, this is a fairly easy achievement. Ford could have put on a cold air intake, added a calibration for 91 octane and called it a day. But they didn’t. The original Boss 302 was known for its high-revving V8, and Ford set about creating a true modern version of the legendary 5.0-liter engine. Nearly every component inside the engine has been replaced – cylinder heads, valves, valve springs, camshafts, pistons, connecting rods, bearings, crankshaft –  with more stout parts that could handle the high RPMs. Most notably is the new intake manifold design that features shorter runners for improved air flow at high RPMs. The redline for the engine is set at 7500 rpm, but Harrisson told us it’s good up to 8400 rpm.

2012 Ford Mustang Boss 302 Engine

From the appearance standpoint, the 2012 Boss 302 is…well…what you’d expect. Ford took direct styling elements from the 1969 Boss 302 including the C-stripe graphics on the side of the car and the graphic on the hood. Five colors are available – Race Red, Competition Orange, Kona Blue, Yellow-Blaze and Performance White, with white graphics mandatory on the blue and optional on the red. We don’t really know why Ford even offers the white graphics, since they look awkward paired with the black wheel and flat black trim around the car, and the white and orange look best in person. Ford hasn’t yet announced anything regarding the 2013 model, but we fully expect them to offer a new look that takes after the 1970 model year plus some new colors.

So how does it drive? Out on the street the first thing we noticed is how the Boss’ suspension is incredibly compliant. Despite being tuned for the track with higher-rate springs and stiffer bushings at all four corners, the suspension is more than livable on even fairly rough roads. Those worried that the Boss might not be suitable for daily driving duties shouldn’t be concerned. The key is the 5-way adjustable shocks that can be tuned by turning a knob on top of the strut towers in the front and in the trunk at the rear. Ford sent us out with the suspension set to two, with one being the softest and five being the stiffest, which is the way the Boss 302 will be delivered to customers.

2012 Ford Mustang Boss 3022012 Ford Mustang Boss 3022012 Ford Mustang Boss 3022012 Ford Mustang Boss 302

The exhaust system is also more civil than we expected it to be, although it produced a wonderful sound both at idle and while driving. Many aftermarket systems provide a much more aggressive tone, although we are doubtful that many owners would replace the unique quad pipe setup that Ford specially developed for the car.

One thing that pleasantly surprised us is the 5.0L V8. We expected a loss in low down torque in exchange for the horsepower gained higher up, but this wasn’t the case. The work and engineering that Ford put into the engine paid tremendous dividends, as it’s by far the best naturally aspirated motor we’ve ever experienced in a Mustang. It’s not necessarily the most powerful engine, but as we learned more and more about the Boss 302 throughout the day, it’s not just about the numbers and more how everything is executed. The way the V8 delivers the power is addictive, with torque coming on early and not relenting all the way up to the 7500 RPM redline. The 3.73 gears perfectly match the engine, and the Boss felt significantly faster than a stock 2011 Mustang GT.

2012 Ford Mustang Boss 3022012 Ford Mustang Boss 302

After a couple hours on the street we headed back to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for a few laps with the Boss 302, this time with the suspensions dialed in for a stiffer setup. The first thing we noticed, though, is how remarkably louder the cars were. Ford had inserted the TracKey and removed the restrictor plate for the side exhaust system for our time at the track, and it absolutely changed the character of the car. While we thought the Boss 302 seemed a little docile on the street, the TracKey and open exhaust turn it into a monster. Yes, current Mustang GT owners can probably achieve something similar with aftermarket parts, but the fact that Ford is doing this from the factory is impressive. Plus, if you want a more comfortable car on the way home from the track, all you need to do is swap keys and insert the exhaust plates, which Ford tells us takes no more than five or ten minutes. Try that with a set of cams and a cat-back exhaust system.

The more aggressive nature of the Boss 302 could be felt on the track, where it was even more responsive than when we drove it on the street. The only “production” Mustang we can compare it to is the Roush 427R Trak Pak, which was more of a dedicated track car with much more expensive components and not nearly as compliant on the street. The Boss 302 simply just goes where you point it. The steering is incredibly precise, especially with the new variable EPAS system set to Sport, which adds noticeable weight and sharpness to the Alcantara-covered steering wheel.

2012 Ford Mustang Boss 3022012 Ford Mustang Boss 302

After a few laps we were also thankful for the Recaro seats, which were quite comfortable on the street and very functional on the track. We could feel the side bolsters holding us in place while going through turns, and Boss 302 owners would be wise to add them to the options list. They come in a package with the Torsen differential, and while we can’t comment on the Boss 302 with the stock differential since Ford didn’t have one on hand, they told us the handling differences are notable. We’ll have to take their word for it.

While the engine impressed us on the street, it was absolutely incredible on track. The V8 roars up to redline, and feels like it could easily surpass 7500 rpm. We were once again amazed at how much torque is delivered in the lower RPM range. The Ford engineer directing us on our first few laps told us to leave it in third gear for most of the course, with fourth gear required for the three main straights and second gear only needed for turn 11. We took his advice, and weren’t disappointed with how well the Boss 302 could pull out of corners. At speed we could also appreciate the louder sound from the open exhaust, and we could feel the adjusted parameters from the TracKey at work, especially under throttle tip in and braking.

2012 Ford Mustang Boss 302 Laguna Seca2012 Ford Mustang Boss 302 Laguna Seca2012 Ford Mustang Boss 302 Laguna Seca2012 Ford Mustang Boss 302 Laguna Seca

We were also able to grab a Boss 302 with the Laguna Seca for a couple of laps, and while we came away impressed, we were left with a feeling that more could have been done to the car. Ford says the Laguna Seca will do a lap at its namesake track a full second faster than the standard Boss 302, but we have a hunch that most of this comes from the sticker tires. Keeping the price in check was undoubtedly a priority for Ford, but there’s plenty more they could have upgraded on the suspension, and we would have liked to see some more hardcore track options like 6-piston front brakes, a roll cage and a radio and A/C delete. That said, we took the Laguna Seca for a quick spin on the street, and it’s definitely still capable of being a daily driver, although somewhat less so than the standard Boss 302. If it was Ford’s goal to offer as much of a track car as possible while still maintaining the comforts of a street car, then they certainly achieved it.

At the end of the day, it’s a shame that Ford will only be building a limited number of Boss 302s. It’s easily the most exciting, well balanced Mustang to ever come from the factory. The adjustable suspension , TracKey and quad exhaust system allow the Boss 302 to have the unparalleled dual nature of both a street and track car. However, the one good thing about Ford is that the technology and knowledge learned from producing limited edition Mustangs usually finds its way into the rest of the lineup. If the Boss 302 is any hint of what to expect in coming years, then the Mustang has a bright future ahead of it.

Photos ©2011 MustangsDaily.com

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