Ford Mustang 302 — The Boss is back

By Jim Meachen

With the approaching high-mileage regulations we may eventually see the end of affordable muscle cars, those rumbling V-8 ground pounders that get the blood pumping and the adrenaline flowing. 

But that’s in the future. For the time being we are very happy to say the true unadulterated muscle lives on at the Detroit Big Three.

The latest example is the very politically incorrect 2012 Ford Mustang Boss 302. “Meet the new Boss, same as the old boss” — to steal a line from The Who’s hit song of the muscle car era when the original Boss 302 roamed the streets.

The new Boss may be the best Mustang ever — a tall statement, we know — and it gets a leg up on the new Chevrolet Camaro with 444 horsepower and 380 pound-feet of torque from a tuned 5.0-liter V-8 that’s also found in the Mustang GT making 412 ponies. The increased horsepower, as well as numerous other hardware upgrades, gives the Mustang true smack-down performance.

Locked in a titanic struggle for sales supremacy with the Mustang, Chevrolet is slamming a supercharged V-8 making 550 horsepower into a new ZL1 edition of the Camaro. But the ZL1, which will reach showrooms later this year, is more about taking on the Mustang Shelby GT 500 that is available now with an equally potent 550-horsepower engine.

The Shelby and the ZL1 will both come in above 50 grand leaving the Boss — priced at about $41,000 including destination charge — in excellent shape to tackle the 426-horsepower Camaro SS, starting at about 35 grand.

During a morning of flogging at the Texas Motor Speedway and later on our home turf we discovered that the Boss is not only spectacular in tackling straight-line performance, but is surprisingly well balanced on the track and through the challenging twists and turns of our favorite back-road “test track.”

We had to sneak up on our favorite winding road making two or three passes before we cranked up the courage to go good-grief fast. No need for high-priced German engineering. Ford has got the Europeans covered with the Boss.

To help things out in daily driving as well as weekend entertainment, the Boss comes with a few aids including a speed-sensitive electric steering system that has three settings — comfort, normal and sport — and three settings for traction and stability control — on, off and intermediate sport.

While the Boss can be your daily driver it could make a stop and go heavy traffic commute turn a bit tedious with gobs of torque under hood and only a six-speed manual available.

But the manual shifter gives the Boss the straight-ahead performance, the tire-smoking off-the-line kick-in-the-pants that if nothing else it provides bragging rights for the proud owner.

According to Car and Driver magazine that uses all the modern testing equipment, the Boss is capable of putting up such numbers as 4.3 seconds from 0-to-60, 12.8 seconds at 113 mph in the quarter mile and 100 mph in 10 seconds flat.

This massive performance comes without the help of supercharger as found on the Shelby GT 500. Ford says the Mustang team developing the new Boss elected not to pursue forced induction to stay true to the original Boss 302 engine.

“The core group of engineers on the Boss 302 engine understands and respects the heritage of the name and the history behind the original engine,” explained Mike Harrison, Ford V8 engine program manager. “The first Boss 302 was a specially built, free-breathing, high-revving small V-8 that gave it certain desirable characteristics on a race course — and we capture that essence in the new engine.

“In keeping with the spirit of the original, the new Boss 302 engine achieves its maximum power output at speeds at or above 7,500 rpm,” Harrison said. “Unlike the original engine, however, low-speed torque and drivability are uncompromised thanks to twin independent variable camshaft timing (Ti-VCT) technology and computer-aided engineering design tools.”

With the power you want the sound — a good old American muscle car rumble. And here again the new Boss delivers in spades. Every Boss features a unique quad exhaust system. Two outlets exit in the rear similar to a standard Mustang GT. The other two outlets exit to either side of the exhaust crossover. The pipes send the exhaust through a set of metal discs that act as tuning elements before terminating just ahead of the rear wheel opening. Visually subtle, the side pipes flow very little exhaust but a lot of exhaust sound, providing a sonic experience unlike any other Mustang.

The Boss is the upper end of a range of Mustang models wearing distinctive Mustang attire. Design elements were tweaked and redesigned inside and out for the 2010 model year. It’s as handsome now as it was when first introduced in the mid-60s.

But there is some good news and bad news here. The good news is that the Mustang look does not grow old, and today looks fresh and alive. The bad news is that there are hundreds of thousands on the road and there’s nothing unique about the Mustang styling like there is about the new Camaro or the retro-looking Dodge Challenger.

We like the Mustang for several reasons including the ageless design. Topping the list is its excellent sightlines from behind the wheel, definitely a better view out and behind than offered in the turret-like confines of the Camaro.

We also like the retro-looking dashboard with its dual-cowl appearance. The gauge package is attractive and easy to read. The audio and climate controls are also simple and straight forward. 

We found the Boss comfortable, outfitted with optional Recaro cloth sport seats. And the Mustang is big enough to accommodate two rear-seat riders if they are ambulatory enough to squeeze into and out of the seats.

The question Mustang shoppers must ask, is the base Boss worth $7,000 more than the GT with its 412-horsepower V-8? 

For those committed to the Boss and all its allures, there is even more, an elevated Laguna Seca racing edition that adds numerous go-fast goodies. It also adds $6,995 to the $40,995 base price. Our test car with the Recaro seat package came to $42,995.

Either way, the Boss personifies true driving excitement. And there’s that wonderful sound!

Base price: $40,995; as driven, $42,995
Engine: 5.0-liter V-8
Horsepower: 444 @ 7,500 rpm
Torque: 380 pound-feet @ 4,500 rpm
Drive: rear wheel
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Seating: 2/2
Wheelbase: 107.1 inches
Length: 188.1 inches
Curb weight: 3,666 pounds
Turning circle: 39.4 feet
Luggage capacity: 13.4 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 16 gallons (premium)
EPA rating: 26 mpg  highway, 17mpg city
0-60: 4.3 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Chevrolet Camaro SS, Dodge Challenger SRT8

The Good:
• Powerful V-8 engine
• Handles like a BMW M3
• Iconic Mustang look

The Bad:
• High purchase price

The Ugly:
• Not unique — there's hundreds of thousands of Mustangs on the road