2012 Ford Mustang Boss 302
Base price: $41,105
As tested: $43,100
MPG: 17 city/26 highway
- Tire-smoking power
- Wonderful exhaust notes
- Seriously fun to drive
- Fussy manual transmission
- Underwhelming interior
- Would love to own one, but not at this price
By Jim Prueter
The original 1969 Boss 302 Mustang made a big splash when it debuted as a street-legal Trans-Am race car meant to compete with Chevy’s Z/28 Camaro, Plymouth AAR ’Cuda, Pontiac Firebird, Mercury Cougar, Dodge Challenger, and AMC Javelin SST on the greatest North American racetrack circuits such as Laguna Seca, Road America, and Lime Rock.
The Trans-Am series of the late ’60s and early ’70s was fantastic, with auto manufacturers sponsoring cars and competing using the best drivers in the country. At this time, manufacturers believed in racing modified commercially produced cars on Sunday and selling them on Monday.
Now, some 40 years later, Ford reintroduces the Boss Mustang. And the name is the only similarity between the current and original versions. While the ’69 Boss 302 is more legend than actual performance by today’s standards, it remains coveted and highly collectible, with values that can easily reach $100,000 or more — a long way from its original list price of just $3,720.
The ’69 Boss was powered by a 302 cubic-inch V-8 that delivered 290 horsepower, less than today’s basic Mustang. The new Boss 302 is powered by a 5.0-liter V-8 that delivers 444 horsepower, 32 more than the standard V-8 Mustang GT. But with a base price of $41,105 (including shipping), you pay a whopping $10,000 more for the Boss Mustang. While hardcore purists might still opt for the Boss model, we think most drivers will be just as impressed and satisfied with the standard GT — and happy to pocket the difference.
The additional horsepower comes via revised intakes and camshaft. Giving the Boss it’s unique burbling, high-performance sound, there’s also the quad exhaust system with massive dual pipes beneath the rear bumper (similar to the GT) and two smaller, incognito pipes angling off the exhaust cover on the lower body sides.
A six-speed manual shifter is the only transmission choice and the weakest overall link in an otherwise magnificent piece of performance machinery. Topped with a cue-ball-like knob, Ford calls it a short-throw shifter. We found it sloppy and imprecise, especially for a track performance vehicle.
The suspension has been tuned with stiffer springs and bushings, a heavier rear anti-roll bar, and manually adjustable shock absorbers with five different settings. The shock adjustment is on the top of the shock tower and easily accessible from under the hood or inside the trunk. Even with the system adjusted up to the firmest number setting (best for the track), we thought the ride was generally civil — no pounding, jarring quality — and we could easily use the Boss as a daily driver.
The electric steering system has also been reworked, allowing for a choice of three feedback settings: Comfort, Normal, and Sport. Given the intent of the Boss, I recommend you set it and forget it in Sport mode. Traction and stability-control systems are programmed to offer a choice of full engagement, no engagement at all, or an intermediate sport mode.
If all that performance isn’t enough, the Boss is also offered in a Laguna Seca Edition for an additional $6,995. This option firms up the suspension even more with TORSENÒ helical differential with a 3.73:1 rear axle ratio. It also offers a Gauge Package, unique rear springs, anti sway bar, race compound tires, and a large X-brace to replace the rear seat for reducing weight and stiffening the body — essential if you’re serious about using it on the track, overkill if not.
According to the folks at Ford, the 2012 Mustang Boss 302 is the “quickest, best-handling straight-production Mustang ever offered by Ford.” Top speed is stated at 155 mph. While Ford didn’t supply performance numbers, launching the Boss from a dead stop is instantaneous. We hit 0-60 routinely in the low four-second range and a quarter mile in 13 seconds.
The wickedly fast Boss comes to a halt via the “best brakes we’ve ever installed on a Mustang,” according to Brent Clark, supervisor of the Mustang vehicle dynamics team. Ford uses Brembo four-piston front calipers on 14-inch vented rotors.
The new Boss pays homage to its track-racing star heritage, right down to the vintage exterior color choices that include performance white, race red, competition orange, and Kona blue. To further distinguish the Boss, each car will have either a black or white roof panel, coordinated to the color of a side C-stripe.
Exterior changes to the Mustang Boss are subtle yet unmistakable. The unique fascia and grille are highlighted by blocked-off fog lamp openings and an aggressive lower splitter. The front splitter is designed to function at high speeds by efficiently managing the air under and around the car. It helps reduce underbody drag and front-end lift while more effectively forcing air through the Boss-specific cooling system. The rear spoiler complements the front aero treatment and minimizes overall drag.
Inside, the Boss is relatively “bare bones,” with a noticeably Spartan black interior. There’s no audio system upgrade, no Sync multimedia system, no Bluetooth, and no navigation. The steering wheel is covered in Alcantara (synthetic) suede, and our test car came equipped with optional Recaro seats, which deserve mentioning for being supremely comfortable, functionally supportive, and worth the extra $1,995. Overall, it’s not bad, but not great either. Yet, it’s still better than the Chevrolet Camaro’s interior.
In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash tests, the 2011 and 2012 Mustang rated Good in frontal crashes and Acceptable in side crashes. It did not undergo rear tests or roof-strength tests. The Boss 302 features the same safety equipment as other Mustangs, including antilock brakes, stability control, seat-mounted side airbags, and curtain airbags.
Overall the Boss 302 is nothing short of a blast to drive on the street and thrilling when on the track. While it isn’t exactly inexpensive, it’s a lot of horsepower and performance for the dollar and targeted specifically to those who love to drive performance cars.