Published August 18, 2011
Recently, an erroneous report circulated through the esteemed halls of our nation’s local news stations that Ford was killing the CD player in its cars and would begin the process next year.
As it turns out, those who actually read the press release know that the automaker is only removing the “multi-disc player” from its youth-oriented Focus compact, as it finds that more and more drivers carry their music around on iPods, iPhones and other devices with names that shouldn’t begin with the letter i, but do. A slot for a single CD remains and all other cars in the lineup are spared the change…for now.
Nevertheless, the move does presage the beginning of the end for the CD, which surely will one day join the cassette, 8-track and even the LP record as a historic form of in-car audio. Next up: the exhaust pipe.
Electric cars don’t have them. Hybrids only use theirs part of the time. Soon they will be replaced en masse by speakers that fill the void with artificially-created sounds to warn pedestrians that they are about to get run over by a zero-emissions blob in the process of saving the rest of the planet.
All well and good, but for those of us who prefer listening to the sweet song of internal combustion while we’re driving cars, rather than Weezer covering The Cars, there is also good news from Ford. And it’s as analog as AM radio.
The 2012 Mustang Boss 302 is and -- given the state of environmental politics today -- may always be the most powerful naturally-aspirated production ‘Stang ever built by Ford. To achieve this, the 5.0-liter V8 from the standard issue Mustang GT has been given a thorough makeover with a new racing-style short-runner intake system, CNC-machined ports, forged aluminum pistons and connecting rods, lightweight valvetrain components and a host of other changes that act as a giant Breathe Right strip to increase the flow of air into and out of the motor, providing a boost in power from 412 hp to 444 hp. But its engineers didn’t leave it at that.
You can’t see it in most pictures, but to take full advantage of its newfound lung capacity the Boss has been fitted with a quad exhaust system. Along with the pair of 4-inch pipes out back, there are two additional oblong outlets tucked under the sides in front of the rear wheels -- directly below your ears. I would describe the result as the automotive equivalent of Quadraphonic sound, except that there’s more. As is the case with the GT, a sound induction tube pumps engine noise directly into the cabin, so what we’re really talking about here is the mechanical engineering equivalent of Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound.
Step on the loud pedal and you are bathed in a mechanical harmony so crisp and clear that you’ll swear you can count the individual strikes of the sodium-filled valves. It’s like listening in color. I’m sorry if I’m gushing on and on, but, as with Nirvana’s Munich 1994 concert, for all I know this’ll be the au natural 5.0’s last performance before it gets a couple of fuel economizing, sound-sapping turbos strapped to it and heck if I’m not going to enjoy this high performance hi-fi while it lasts.
Thankfully, the rest of the car makes that easy to do. The Boss is named after a 1969 model that was a road racing Mustang for the street, and the new version lives up to its legacy in the fullest. According to the book “Mustang Boss 302: From Racing Legend to Modern Muscle Car,” Ford introduced the new model in the guise of a race car called the Boss 302R in a race at the Daytona International Speedway in January 2010 and developed it on the track over the course of the next year before putting the finishing touches on the street-legal version.
Along with the engine modifications, the new Boss also gets an updated suspension that’s been lowered, stiffened and fitted with shocks and struts that can be adjusted individually through five levels of damping with a screwdriver. And, yes, doing it makes you feel totally awesome – especially if you’re from the righty-tighty, lefty-loosey school of mechanics like me.
A close-ratio six-speed gearbox and 14 inch Brembo front brakes have also been fitted, and both the anti-lock braking and stability control systems have been recalibrated to match this Mustang’s newfound prowess.
Inside, changes include aluminum pedals, a black pool ball shifter, Alcantara steering wheel and grippy, suede-like cloth upholstery. I recommend the no-cost option Recaro bucket seats if you plan on playing Parnelli Jones in your Boss.
And then there’s the exterior, with its cheese-slicer front splitter, contrast roof panel and trunk lid spoiler. Nothing too over the top, but combined with the signature Boss 302 C-stripe paint job and a color pallet that includes Competition Orange and Yellow Blaze Tri-Coat Metallic, prepare to become the center of attention.
All told, you’ll pay $41,105 for the privilege. The only options are a $1,995 helical Torsen differential for serious track work -- a must -- and a set of 20-inch aluminum wheels priced at $2,175, but the standard painted 19’s wrapped in Pirelli PZeros are just fine. The final tally is a pretty penny more than the $29,605 a base GT costs, but have fun making the same kind of modifications on your own for less without spending more and violating a warranty clause or two.
On the street, this is a seriously impressive cruiser with a more substantial feel all around than the base GT. No surprise, that. The revelation is how much of the daily driver in it remains. The new ride is not punishing, at all, and despite their huge bolsters, the Recaros are comfortable even when you’re not in the middle of a high-G sweeper.
When you are, they’re even better and fully match the cornering abilities of the Boss. This car loves to carve. Much lighter than the 106 hp more potent Shelby GT500, it makes up any power deficit in the curves, where it’s eager steering always coaxes you to crank it a little further. As soon as you exit one turn you start looking for the next, it likes the twisties that much.
Not quite as obscenely quick as the Shelby, she’s still fast enough for you, young man. I hit 145 mph on the ¾-mile straight at the Monticello Motor Club and am sure that I left at least another 10 mph on the table for a much braver driver to have. And to think, it still gets 26 mpg highway.
Of all the changes, the brakes are the biggest letdown. Not bad, but over the course of a morning of lapping I never felt like my eyes were in danger of leaving their sockets. Then again, fade was never an issue and the threshold of the anti-lock was noticeably further away than it is in the GT.
The only other hiccup are third and fourth gears that like to hide and often take a firm hand to engage. It seems to get better as the transmission warms up, and isn’t much different than any other Mustangs with short-throw gearboxes I’ve driven lately, but there’s nothing worse than missing a shift in front of the corner workers because, unlike the guys in the other cars, they can hear it happen.
Perhaps I just need to further hone my skills. I could do that if I bought one of these because every Boss 302 comes with a free day of driving school from Ford Racing. Free, that is, if you can get yourself to Miller Motorsports Park outside of Salt Lake City, Utah.
At least you don’t have to bring your own car with you on the plane.
If you don’t, there’s a little Easter egg on the way to make up for it. Soon, once the EPA gets around to approving it, you’ll be able to bring your Boss to a Ford dealer and pick up something called a TracKey. Insert it, and the engine management system enables launch control and what’s described as “full race calibration” for the engine, making it more responsive and giving it a lopey idle.
You might want to have them take the CD player out while you’re there. I don’t think you’ll be needing it anymore.
2012 Ford Mustang Boss 302
Base Price: $41,105
As Tested: $43,100
Type: 2-door, 4-passenger coupe
Engine: 5.0L V8
Power: 444 hp, 380 lb-ft torque
Transmission: 6-speed manual
MPG: 17 city, 26 hwy