Ford shows the other guys how to do retro right.
By Bill Heald
It sounds simple: Take a potent V-8 engine, bolt it to a rear-wheel-drive power train, adorn it with some neo-retro bodywork, and—huzzah!—instant ponycar goodness. But there’s clearly more effort necessary if you want to deliver a machine that gets hearts pounding and reaches the motorhead soul deep within us. The new Chevy Camaro, Dodge Challenger, and Ford Mustang have all been decent efforts to this end, and have proved to be very entertaining neo-retro muscle cars that combine the style of the past with the technology of our high-tech present. But in my view, nobody nailed it yet, even though they came close—until the new Boss waltzed in, that is.
Ford has resurrected a revered name from the past, and, unlike many times when this strategy has just been a marketing exercise, this time it actually means that something special is under the decals. The Mustang Boss 302 is not just a fitting tribute to the original; it may just be the hottest, tightest, best all-around Mustang ever to roll out of Flat Rock, and a benchmark for the other guys to aspire to.
Why so much adoration for this new pony, you ask? More than anything else, it’s how all the pieces work together to turn a foal into a stallion. From the moment you slide into the superb (optional, albeit must-have) Recaro sport seats and strap in, you feel like a part of the car instead of just a human sitting inside it. The Alcantara suede covered steering wheel feels solid and purposeful, like it’s aching to get worked hard, lock to lock, as you know you’ll do when performing a nasty burnout the second you fire the beast up. The “302” is for 302 cubic inches, of course, which is the displacement of Ford’s venerable five-liter V-8. Unlike the Mustang GT’s version of this mill, though, it’s been massaged and polished with performance enhancements to generate a numerically harmonious 444 horsepower, along with 380 footpounds of Pirelli-melting torque.
The engine’s auditory attributes include both a satisfying intake growl and a low, powerful exhaust rumble that is vocal, yet somehow understated to the point of perfection. The engine is matched to a short-throw, six-speed manual transmission, with a light clutch and lithe shifter that makes quick, smooth shifting easy, as long as you don’t park your Big Gulp in the cup holder right behind the shifter (it gets messy).
The ergonomics of the driver’s perch let you exploit the muscle to the fullest with a spot-on driving position, and the adjustable suspen sion is both stiffened and lowered to aid handling, yet still delivers a smooth, compliant ride. The icing on this cake starts with the electrically boosted steering, which is amazingly communicative, perfectly weighted, and (wonder of wonders) adjustable. The final garnish comes from massive Brembo brakes that stay strong and fade-free, even when you flog your pony mercilessly. There’s a build qual ity here that will make you confident that this coupe can take what you dish out, and you’d have to be one sloppy jockey to get into trouble, for this Boss is very forgiving, even right up to the limit.
The solid feel of the chassis is complemented by the strong, quietman styling, which extends under the hood, where the engine is naked and nasty-nice to gaze at, thanks to some sharp detail work (and the absence of cheap plastic shrouds). The paintwork is similarly classy and well-executed, so it attracts attention subtly, without a lot of pretense. What isn’t at all subtle is the way the Boss 302 can explode out of the starting gate and rocket around tight bends, especially on track days. A limited edition Laguna Seca version tightens the knot even more, as it’s designed to make an easy transition to a full-on race car. Imagine that: a Boss that gets your blood boiling, but in the best way imaginable.
|Body style||Two-door coupe|
|Front tires||255/40 R-19 Pirelli PZero Max|
|Rear tires||255/35 R-19 Pirelli PZero Max|
|Curb weight||3,632 pounds|
|Top speed||155 mph|
|Fuel capacity||16 gallons|
|EPA mpg||17 city/26 highway|