2012 Ford Mustang Expert Review:Autoblog
The Pony Car's Best Ambassador
Despite extolling their many carnal virtues for years, we know that there's still a sizable group of enthusiasts who have never managed to wrap their heads around the idea of owning a pony car. We've heard all the excuses before, from complaints about refinement, Jurassic underpinnings and muscle-straining inputs to shopworn stereotypes about the people who drive them. Thing is, if we're being honest, many of these same notions have troubled us as well – even those of us who have triumphed over our prejudices and actually bought one of the things.
Well, boys and girls, Ford finally has a four-wheeled answer for the naysayers and skeptics: The Mustang Boss 302. Just as bacon is the gateway meat for wayward vegetarians, the orange crush seen here is the four-wheeled, applewood-smoked come-on for pony car doubters. Better still, unlike that tasty bit of swine dining, it's nearly guilt-free.
The 2012 Boss 302 may carry the namesake of Ford's legendary 1969 competition car, and it might work a treat on racetracks, but Ford has made sure it's an honest-to-Detroit everyday proposition, not just a weekend warrior for waxing overconfident BMW M and Mercedes-Benz AMG preeners.
There was never going to be a problem with power. The 412-horsepower 5.0-liter engine in the Mustang GT is a corker on its own, but Ford has gone to a lot of trouble to extract 444 horsepower and 380 pound-feet of torque for this car. They could've simply bolted on a blower and called it a day, but in order to maximize reliability and stay true to the legacy of the original Boss, natural aspiration was called for. To that end, the 5.0-liter has been treated to CNC-machined aluminum heads, special pistons and sinter-forged con rods, sodium-filled exhaust valves and an uprated crankshaft. Other key changes include a 3.73 final drive ratio, reworked 1.0g-approved oil pan, a composite short-run intake and a unique quad-outlet exhaust system.
It's those last two bits that will have you seriously considering sending fawning holiday cards to Dearborn before you even leave the driveway. Without them, you wouldn't have the glorious aural feedback that accompanies the Boss' sky-high 7,500-rpm redline runs. Most pony cars make their power in the low and lumpy realm of the revband. That's long been part of their charm, but it's also been something of a turnoff for highbrow European buyers who like their V8s to be quick-revving screamers. The Boss 302 satisfies both sets of tough customers.
The Boss offers one of the best soundtracks we've ever heard on a mass-production car.
There's plenty of torque down low, but it's the aforementioned trick exhaust setup that adds the wow factor. By employing two conventional rear outlets and a smaller pair of all-but-hidden pipes that exit from the crossover and dump in front of the rear wheels, sidepipe-style through a pair of disc-shaped resonators, the Boss offers one of the best soundtracks we've ever heard on a mass-production car. The system delivers both racecar yowls and workable everyday refinement depending on whether the driver is wearing his Jeckyl or Hyde cap. We've seen dual-mode systems like this before, on the Chevrolet Corvette, for example, but the General Motors system transitions poorly, going from muted to cacophonous in a non-linear, on-off manner. The Boss system is far more organic – you never get the sense that a computer is moderating your car's soundtrack... because it isn't.
Speaking of organic, the Boss' suspension system isn't a rat's nest of gee-whizzery, either. You won't find any iron-filing-filled magnetic dampers or active anything. Heck, you won't even find an independent rear suspension. What you will find are manually adjustable shocks and struts, along with a lower ride height (11 mm up front and 1 mm out back compared to the GT) and a fatter rear sway bar. The shocks offer five settings, and if you want to tweak them, there's no knob on the dashboard, you'll need a screwdriver. Don't worry – any excuse to open your toolbox is good for your newfound muscle car credibility.
The Boss arrives on level two of five from the factory, and it's an excellent setup for the street, one that's compliant enough to deal with potholes without turning into a lugubrious mess in the twisties. It's amazingly well tuned – you still know there's a live axle out back when you encounter a mid-corner bump, but the experience isn't unnerving or seemingly even unanticipated – it's just dispatched with a minimum of drama, to the point where the sensation is almost part of the fun, not behavior you need to make excuses for.
You won't find any iron-filing-filled magnetic dampers or active anything.
When it comes time to slow down this 3,632-pound party, the Boss' 14-inch four-piston Brembo front brakes are happy to soak up the abuse, so much so that all that's called for out back are a set of high-performance pads. More rigid brake lines ensure that modulation is easy and direct, and we noticed no untoward noises when the brakes were cold.
If there's an area where the Boss offers a concessionary handshake to those looking for more electronic intervention, it's the steering. Connected to the meaty Alcantara-covered three-spoker is a speed-sensitive electric power assisted setup with a trio of settings to alter weighting: Comfort, Normal and Sport, selectable through a switch near the headlight controls on the dash. We selected Sport most of the time. It's not a Nautilus-level workout and the added heft is in keeping with the rest of the experience. Normal is just fine, too, and even Comfort isn't off-puttingly fingertip light. Even if the multiple-setting thing is a shade gimmicky, it works well because the staggered 19-inch Pirelli P-Zeros proffer a surprising amount of feedback for an EPAS arrangement.
Like the less powerful GT, the Boss' clutch is a model of progression, and you don't need Vin Diesel calves to actuate its carbon fiber plates. For a muscle car with so much racetrack potential, the Boss is surprisingly easy to drive – the short-throw six-speed manual gearbox finds cogs faithfully and doesn't mind being rushed, and the limited-slip 3.73 rear axle puts the V8's power to the ground with a minimum of drama. It's far easier to drive than the more powerful yet cruder Shelby GT500, particularly with our tester's optional Torsen limited-slip differential (part of a $1,995 options pack that includes Recaro seats). Of course, if it's drama you want, you can have it, from smoky burnouts to predictable, laugh out loud tail-wagging antics in any corner, thanks to the healthy leash provided by the Boss-specific stability and traction control systems.
If there's a single area that will give European buyers real pause, it's the cabin. While the aforementioned Recaros are grippy yet surprisingly cushy and the main controls (wheel, pedals and shifter) offer no cause for complaint, the rest of the interior is standard-issue Mustang, which is to say that it's the best of an uninspiring class of vehicles. The rumormill suggests that Ford will grace the Boss with SYNC connectivity for 2013 – a welcome upgrade – but this is clearly a humdrum interior that's not really even up to the levels of Ford's newer subcompact and compact offerings, let alone its more continental rivals.
Even without our car's Competition Orange paint, the Boss 302 aesthetic is clearly not for shrinking violets. The standard Mustang GT is aggressive enough, but the Boss brings with it an all-business front splitter and a pair of blocked-off fog lamp openings. There's even a Boss-specific rear spoiler out back to manage drag. The blacked-out roof and hood bulge adds a touch of menace, tying in with the coupe's look-at-me boomerang striping along the bodysides. We could do with a different pattern than the polished-lip wagon wheel alloys, but that's what the aftermarket is for.
Speaking of the aftermarket, it's a time-honored tradition to seek out high-performance tidbits from non-OEM parts bins to better one's chances at the racetrack, but Ford is clearly keen on keeping some of that action for itself. The standard Boss 302 is a fine piece for weekend circuit work, but if it's still not enough, Dearborn will be happy to outfit you with a Laguna Seca edition instead. For a few more shekels, Ford will fit your Boss with R-compound tires, a different front splitter, brake ducts and a larger rear spoiler. More substantive changes take place inside, where Ford rips out the rear seat and installs an x-brace stiffener, along with substituting firmer springs, shock absorbers and a larger rear anti-roll bar. Officials say these changes should be good for a second or two a lap compared to the base Boss, but we're guessing that if you plan on using your car a lot on the street, it's the standard model you want.
Whether you select the regular Boss or plump for the Laguna Seca, the Blue Oval still has your on-track performance in mind. Ford's optional TracKey is a novel way to set up your car for circuit use. Basically, it's a red key that optimizes the drivetrain for racing ("TracMode"). Something like the secondary key on a Bugatti Veyron that liberates the supercar's top speed mode (albeit without the seven-figure price tag), TracKey alters over 200 engine computer functions, including things like spark mapping, variable cam timing, engine braking and fuel delivery. The result? Improved low-end torque and a suitably lumpy idle. Ford has also thrown in a launch control system derived from the one on the Cobra Jet drag car, a nice addition.
Ford has also thrown in a launch control system derived from the one on the Cobra Jet drag car.
While this feature was announced at launch, Boss owners were been unable to secure their TracKeys until recently, as the technology was caught out by the hand-wringers at the California Air Resources Board who dragged their heels on the now-completed certification process. Not surprisingly, then, the magic red key was not provided for our week-long over-the-road testing. As it is, Ford will not allow Boss 302 drivers to purchase a TracKey until their vehicle is paid and the title is in hand.
The Boss' rarity should appeal to image-driven consumers as well – just 4,000 models will be built this year – 3,250 standard models and 750 Laguna Seca editions. Pricing is a fair shake for this sort of exclusivity, as well. A standard Boss starts at $40,310 (plus $795 destination), while the Laguna Seca commands an extra $6,995. For the base car, that's more than eight grand cheaper than the GT500 for a more tractable and well-rounded car. The capper? With city/highway EPA fuel economy figures of 17/26, the miles per gallon figures are the same as normal GT.
Of course, the hard truth is that even if the Boss 302's visuals were tempered, Ford dealers still probably wouldn't see a lot of cross-shopping from buyers of premium European and Japanese performance iron – the decades-old perception gap just runs too deep. Still, open-minded enthusiasts who give the Boss a chance will like what they find – it's more than good enough to stand fender-to-fender with the globe's finest big-engined coupes. We reckon the best chance that Ford has of winning uppercrust converts is a good old-fashioned game of put-up-or-shut-up. After all, getting shown up at their local track day by a box-stock pony car is bound to make a few believers.
The Trans-Am series of the late 1960s and early 1970s could be considered the golden era of American motorsports. Not only did it showcase the most desirable American cars of the time, but it featured some of the world's greatest racing drivers engaging in this country's own brand of fender-banging racing.
It's why Ford is so proud of the Boss 302, winner of the 1970 Trans-Am season with legendary driver Parnelli Jones behind the wheel, and why the street car has become a legend. But ask Jim Farley, Ford's head honcho of marketing, about the 2012 Mustang Boss 302, and he'll tell you that it's not just about building a remake of the original. "This is not a nostalgia project," he told us. "This is not in any way trying to bring back the Boss. This project is so much more than that. If we wanted to do that we could take a 5.0-liter, put some stripes and spoilers and other upgrades on it and that would be it. It was not a means to an end. The Boss 302 was originally a means to an end. It was a production car to go racing. This is a completely different project. We were not going to do this project unless we could beat an M3 at this track." This track being the famed Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
With Bavaria's best sportscar in it sights, did Ford achieve its goal of building a modern day legend, or is the 2012 Boss 302 simply another one of the infinite variations of the Ford Mustang? Ford invited us out to Monterey for a full day with the car, including some track time at Laguna Seca, and we have the answer.
Continue reading First Drive: 2012 Ford Mustang Boss 302...
Photos copyright ©2011 Drew Phillips / AOL
While Mr. Farley might not call the new Boss 302 nostalgic, it certainly looks the part. The exterior design takes distinct styling elements from the 1969 Boss 302, including the signature C-stripe graphics on the side of the car, black hood, a more aggressively designed front fascia, a grille with blocked off fog light openings and a subtle spoiler at the rear.
Five colors are being offered for 2012: Performance White, Kona Blue, Yellow Blaze, Race Red and the Competition Orange you see here. White graphics are standard on the Kona Blue and optional for Race Red, but the pairing doesn't seem to work as well visually as the other combinations because of the black wheels. Surprisingly, we thought the car looked its best in the most subtle of the colors, Performance White.
Head inside to the cockpit and you'll see what mostly appears to be a base Mustang with a few track-themed items thrown in for good measure. Those hoping for a navigation system or SYNC need not apply, as they aren't even available as options. What you will get, however, are an Alcantara-covered steering wheel, "Powered by Ford" sill plates, black gauges with a 180-mph speedo and 9,000 rpm tachometer, and a retro cue ball shifter.
Our Boss 302 was also equipped with the optional Recaro seats. The package costs an additional $1,995, and while that sounds like a lot, it also includes the Torsen differential. Truthfully, you'd have to be insane to order the car without them. Not only do the seats look fantastic, but they are both incredibly comfortable and supportive. The only reason you shouldn't part with the extra two grand is if your girth limits your ability to squeeze in between the side bolsters. We easily fit inside, but we didn't hear any complaints from the larger members of the media in attendance.
If you really want to see the Blue Oval's dedication to creating a good product, then open up the hood. Ford's engineers probably could have done some minor tweaking to the 5.0-liter V8 to reach their target goal of 440 horsepower (they ended up with 444), but they went all out to ensure that the engine was worthy of the Boss 302 moniker. If you go by the numbers, a 32-horsepower gain doesn't seem like all that much compared with the standard Mustang GT, but there's a lot more to this engine than peak horsepower.
According to Mike Harrisson, the Boss' engine program manager, the focus was to "make it breathe, make it rev and make it durable." The first was achieved with an all new intake manifold inspired by Daytona prototypes that features shorter runners for improved air flow at higher RPMs. Also improving the engine's breathing is a new set of high-strength cylinder heads that have been CNC ported on both the intake and exhaust side, a process that takes two and a half hours per head. Finally, the lift and diameter has been increased for the exhaust valves. And to make it rev? Ford engineer's swapped out the Mustang's entire valvetrain and bottom end to handle their target goal of a 7,500 rpm redline. The list of fortified parts – forged aluminum pistons, sinter-forged connecting rods, race-spec crankshaft and rod bearings, heavy duty valve springs and more aggressive camshafts – leaves little else to be upgraded and shows just how different this engine is from the standard Mustang GT's. The result is that the motor is stable up to 8,400 rpm. That leads us into durability, where Ford took the approach of testing out the engine in the motorsports arena. The first 10 engines assembled went straight to Multimatic Motorsports, who used them in their Boss 302R race cars. The team ran with the engines all of last season without a single hardware failure.
We'd be remiss if we didn't mention the Boss 302's exhaust system. Like with the rest of the car, Ford didn't settle for the ordinary, instead opting to design a unique quad exhaust that utilizes two main pipes that exit out the back as well as two additional pipes that exit just ahead of the rear wheels. Each of the cars leaves Ford's Flat Rock Assembly Plant with a 5/8-inch restrictor for the auxiliary pipes, but it can be easily removed by the owner. More on that in a moment.
While Ford knew that the Boss 302 would benefit from extra horsepower, they also knew that it was how the car handled that would determine whether or not it could best the M3 at Laguna Seca. The engineers started off with adjustable shocks and struts with the option of five different settings, then added higher rate coil springs, stiffer bushings and larger sway bars both front and rear. The brakes are the same that come with the Brembo package for the standard Mustang GT with 14-inch discs and four-piston calipers up front, but Ford has also added unique brake pads and low expansion brake lines for improved pedal feel. Staggered 19-inch wheels, nine-inches wide up front and 9.5-inches at the rear, are wrapped with Pirelli P Zero tires.
As if all that weren't enough, Ford also came up with what's called the TracKey. A secondary key that comes with the car, the TracKey can be activated by an authorized Ford Racing dealer (for a fee, of course) and changes more than 400 parameters of the Boss 302 through a dual-path PCM. Some of the most notable features include a lopey idle, a two-stage launch system, improved low-end torque, enhanced deceleration on track, and the deletion of the automatic skipshift.
You can see exactly how the launch control system works in the Short Cut video below.
For those customers who want an even more hardcore Boss 302, Ford will also be offering a limited number of Laguna Seca models. Available in two color combinations – black with red trim and silver with red trim – the Laguna Seca package comes with an aggressive aerodynamics package and more hardware for use at the racetrack. Most noticeable is the massive front splitter, which has to be installed post-title due to crash regulations, but the package also includes lightweight wheels, Pirelli R-compound tires, an air scoop on the transmission for additional cooling, an air duct kit for the front brakes, a dash-mounted gauge pack and a nifty looking cross brace that replaces the rear seats. The Recaro seats and Torsen differential also come standard.
So how does the 2012 Mustang Boss 302 drive? In a word: fantastic. With the high revving motor we weren't sure whether the Boss 302 could offer the same oomph as the standard GT at lower RPMs, but we needn't have worried. The torque curve feels as flat as Kansas, and the 5.0-liter V8 pulls hard from down low all the way up to its 7,500 rpm redline. In fact, it felt like the motor wanted to blast past the electronic barrier, with the power never falling off. Matched with 3.73 gears, the Boss 302 feels incredibly fast, closer to the GT500 than the Mustang GT in a straight line.
We weren't about to test the handling limits of the car on public roads, especially with track time later in the day, but the Boss 302 performed admirably on the street against everything we threw at it. The live axle only makes itself known on the bumpiest of corners, and the electronic steering provides excellent feedback. Ford had sent us out with the suspension set at 2 (with 1 being the softest and 5 being the stiffest), and we were surprised at how civil the car felt even over rough pavement. In fact, the entire car felt more docile than we expected. The exhaust note, while it sounded great, was even a little quieter than we expected. Ford has definitely designed the Boss 302 to be a car you could genuinely drive every day. The only issue we ran into was with the shifter, which occasionally refused to find the proper gear during softer gear changes. Whenever we were pushing the car hard, though, the shifter made its way with ease. Like many cars designed for the track, the Boss 302 simply functions better when driven hard.
We didn't waste too much time on the street, though, with the promise of 2.24 miles of enclosed pavement waiting for us. Back at Laguna Seca, we hopped into another Boss 302 that had the TracKey in the ignition and the plate removed from the exhaust system. The difference was immediately noticeable from outside the coupe, with a much more aggressive, rumbling tone emminenting from all four pipes. The difference was even more obvious while behind the wheel. In fact, the TracKey and the wide open exhaust completely change the Stang's character. With TracMode engaged, the Boss 302 becomes a snarling beast that's nothing like the relatively tame pony car we were in just a few minutes earlier. The 5.0-liter engine produces an ungodly sound at full throttle that sounds right at home at the racetrack and delightfully inappropriate for the street. If we had a Boss 302 in our garage, we'd run the exhaust wide open all the time and leave the standard key in the junk drawer. The sound and character of the car with the TracKey and the open exhaust is simply addicting.
Once out on track, we found the Boss 302 to have incredibly neutral handling. The front end simply goes where you point it with the rear following closely behind, making pinpointing apexes a breeze. This was most evident in the double apex of the Andretti Hairpin, where the Boss 302 never encountered even a hint of understeer. The Recaro seats work brilliantly at keeping occupants in place, and after just a few laps we were further convinced that they are a must-have option.
The availability of torque at any RPM was even more evident on track than on the street. We could drive nearly the entire course in third gear, with fourth gear required on the three main straights, and second gear only needed for the very slow turn 11. Ford says that the standard Boss 302 will lap Laguna Seca a second faster than the BMW M3 (the Laguna Seca package is one second faster still), and we're inclined to believe them. Ford actually brought an M3 for us to compare the two, but the Bimmer had some problems earlier in the day and we never got the chance.
The only weakness of the Boss 302 we encountered was with the brakes, mainly at the rear. The front Brembos were fine, but the 11.8-inch discs with single-piston calipers out back weren't up to the task of consistent hot-lapping. A few times the cars came in with smoke coming from the rear, and we couldn't do more than three or four really hard laps before they needed a cool down. Track addicts take note: new pads and maybe an aftermarket set of rear brakes should be on your shopping list.
We managed a few laps in a Laguna Seca model as well, and while we weren't disappointed, we were hoping for a more noticeable difference between the two cars. We'll be the first to admit that we didn't push the cars as hard as some, and the differences are probably more noticeable for more seasoned weekend racers. Even so, the standard Boss is good enough that we would only recommend the Laguna Seca for the most hardcore racer.
Pricing has yet to be officially announced for both cars, but expect the standard Boss 302 to come in at just under $41,000 with the Laguna Seca package retailing for an additional $6,995. Both cars are a screaming good deal, but the regular Boss is such a phenomenal vehicle that we see it as the better value. Plus, you can always buy the front splitter and air ducts for the brakes from the Ford Racing catalog. The only thing we'd really miss from the Laguna Seca is that ultra-cool rear seat delete.
At the end of the day we had concluded one thing: The 2012 Ford Mustang Boss 302 is easily the coolest, most technologically advanced, highest performing Mustang ever produced by Ford. It's more than a fitting tribute to the original Boss 302, and will easily become one of the most desirable Mustangs of all time.
And here's where we make our plea for the customers who have already put down deposits and to those who will be lucky enough to own this car. Drive it. More than any other car we can think of, the Boss 302 deserves to be used and not stored away as an investment item to be sold at auction to overzealous bidders 40 years from now. Jim Farley stated it perfectly: "The Boss 302 is not a car that should be in someone's collection sitting there with seven miles on it. This car should be on YouTube doing something maybe even against the law because that's the spirit and the soul of this project. Every part of this car is about driving – the pure pleasure of driving at speed on the very limit of the driver's capability."
Photos copyright ©2011 Drew Phillips / AOL
New Car Test Drive
The Boss is back.
For a singular nameplate with a long history, the 2012 Ford Mustang line-up delivers a lot of choices. Any of the current Mustangs is quieter, better built, better equipped and more refined than ever, but still visually engaging and good fun to drive.
Improvements for 2012 include more standard features and a selectable power steering system that changes steering effort and feedback from comfort to normal to sport at the driver's selection.
The big news, however, is the return of the Mustang Boss 302. It's a modern take on one the great cars in American road-racing lore.
The Mustang is available as a coupe, a convertible or a unique glass-roof coupe. The top-selling Mustang V6 and GT models are offered in all three body styles, in standard trim or a more feature-laden Premium level, with either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. Even the extra-powerful Boss and Shelby GT500 Mustangs deliver reasonable fuel-economy, given the performance potential. The level of fun varies primarily with the potency of the engine selected.
The standard Mustang V6 makes the basic stylistic statement and comes well equipped for about $23,000 with destination charge ($28,000 for the convertible). Its four-cam 3.7-liter V6 delivers 305 horsepower, and it will accelerate faster than the majority of vehicles you'll encounter at a stop light. It also delivers 31 mpg highway with the automatic, according to the EPA, and it makes quiet, comfortable daily transportation. The V6 is offered with just about every feature available on the Mustang, so buyers don't have to move up to the higher-powered models to get the stuff many want.
The V8-powered GT delivers 412 horsepower for about $30,000, and it basically cranks everything up a notch, starting with acceleration. It gets 26 mpg highway, and is just as easy to live with as the V6, with the same 13.2 feet of trunk space and folding rear seat.
The new Boss 302 is geared toward enthusiast drivers who look forward to track days. Its 5.0-liter V8 is massaged to rev higher and deliver a more high-strung 444 horsepower, and everything else in the Boss is tuned to sharpen its reflexes. While hard-core enthusiasts will appreciate its improvements, most drivers will be just as impressed with the standard GT, for about $10,000 less. The optional Laguna Seca package makes the Boss even more fun at the race track, but its not very friendly (or comfortable) for the road.
The ultimate Mustang is the Shelby GT500, combining a supercharged V8 with in-your-face graphics and lots of features. Expensive as Mustangs go, the GT500 nonetheless costs less than any 550-horsepower machine in the new-car marketplace.
Standard safety features include six airbags, all the stability and skid-management electronics and Ford's MyKey system, which allows parents to limit speed and audio volume when they hand the key to teens. The Mustang's appeal include a variety of appearance and wheel packages, allowing buyers to subtly or very obviously tailor the car's appearance to personal taste.
The Mustang as been in continuous production for nearly five decades, making it the longest running model in Ford history. Whether you call it a pony car, muscle car or American Iron, it remains the class benchmark 47 years after it was introduced.
The 2012 Ford Mustang is available as a coupe or convertible, with either a V6 engine or one of three increasingly powerful V8s. All models come standard with a six-speed manual transmission, though an automatic ($1,195) is optional on most.
The Mustang V6 coupe ($22,310) is powered by a 3.7-liter V6 generating a substantial 305 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. It comes with standard cloth upholstery, manual air conditioning, cruise control, split folding rear seat, power mirrors, power windows, power door locks, remote keyless entry, AM-FM stereo with a single CD player and auxiliary jack, a compass, outside-temperature indicator, theft-deterrent system, limited-slip differential and P215/60R-17 tires on alloy wheels.
The Mustang V6 convertible ($27,310) features a power-operated convertible fabric top. It deletes the standard split-folding rear seat, but is otherwise equipped identically to the base coupe.
The Mustang GT coupe ($29,310) and GT convertible ($34,310) are powered by a 5.0-liter V8 delivering 412 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque. The GTs also add features, including aluminum interior trim, automatic headlights, rear spoiler, fog lights, and wider tires on 18-inch wheels.
All V6 and GT models are available with a Premium trim-level upgrade ($4,000). This package adds leather upholstery, a six-way power driver seat, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, the 500-watt Shaker 500 audio upgrade with CD changer and satellite radio, Ford Sync entertainment and communications system, iPod adapter, wireless cell phone link, MyColor adjustable gauges, ambient lighting and an automatic day/night rearview mirror.
Further options are plentiful and at least a bit confusing. They start with performance upgrades like the V6 Performance Package ($1,995) which includes a 3.31 rear axle ratio, brake components and firmer suspension tuning from the GT coupe, 18-inch wheels and Pirelli performance tires. The Brembo Brake Package for the GTs ($1,695) adds Brembo brake calipers, reprogrammed electronic stability control that allows more leeway for performance driving, and a 19-inch tire/wheel package.
There's a Sport Appearance package ($295) that adds a rear spoiler and racy body stripes. Other appearance packages include the Mustang Club of America Special Edition ($995) for V6 models, with unique 18-inch wheels, a dark stainless billet grille with tri-bar pony badge, side and deck-lid stripes, a rear spoiler and pony-logo floor mats. The California Special ($1,995) edition for the GT adds 19-inch painted alloy wheels, a chrome billet grille with tri-bar pony badge, unique lower front fascia with fog lamps and a host of other appearance tweaks
Functional interior upgrades start with the Electronics Group ($2,340), which includes a navigation system and dual-zone automatic climate control. The Comfort Group ($595) adds heated front seats and a six-way power-adjustable front passenger seat. Stand-alone options include remote engine starting ($345), a convertible top boot ($160), Ford's Shaker 1000 audio upgrade ($1,295) and a range of tire-wheel packages.
New for 2012, the Mustang Boss 302 coupe ($40.310) is geared toward hard-core enthusiast drivers and offered only with the manual transmission. Output from its 5.0-liter V8 increases to 444 horsepower, thanks largely to a higher RPM redline. It's fairly sparsely equipped inside, but virtually every component, from its manually adjustable suspension to its brakes, is upgraded of better race-track performance. The Boss 302 comes with the Boss Track Attack program, which includes complimentary driving instruction and track time. It's also offered with the Laguna Seca option ($6,995), which rejects road comfort (and the back seat) completely in favor of optimal race-track performance. The Shelby GT500 coupe ($48,810) and convertible ($53,810) are the alpha males of the Mustang line, powered by a 5.4-liter supercharged V8 deliver 550 horsepower and 510 pound-feet of torque. In addition to performance upgrades, the GT500s are also loaded with features, including premium audio and leather/Alcantara upholstery. The Recaro package ($1,995) adds sport seats and a Torsen helical differential, while the SVT Performance Package ($3,495) includes a 3.73 rear axle ratio, unique shift knob, special exterior stripes, rear spoiler with Gurney flap and firmer suspension settings.
Standard crash-protection features include front-impact airbags, front passenger side-impact airbags and full cabin head-protection curtains, as well as Ford's SOS post-crash alert system, which unlocks the doors, turns on the four-way flashers and sounds the horn if an air bag is deployed. All Mustangs come with anti-lock brakes, stability control and Ford's MyKey feature, which allows parents to limit speed and audio volume, among other things, when teens drive the car.
Two new options for 2012 are basically safety related. The Reverse Sensing System and Security Package ($595) adds back-up distance warning, while HID Headlamps ($920) improve forward illumination.
The Mustang Boss 302 model, new for 2012, is a true attention grabber. To set this Mustang apart, Ford builds each with either a black or white roof panel, color-coordinated to the C-shaped graphics on its flanks. A low, aggressive splitter on the Boss's front air dam is also functional, improving engine cooling and adding downforce to the front tires. The Boss 302 is a good looking car, striking for sure, and nearly impossible not to notice. We found that our test car garnered more looks than some high-performance machines that cost three times as much.
Ford offers the Mustang with a range of appearance and wheel packages that subtly (or not so subtly) change its look and allow buyers to tailor the car to taste. All variants start with a welded steel unibody (as opposed to a separate body and chassis), and half the body weight is high-strength, low-alloy steel. Mustang is by far the lightest of the new breed of pony cars, beating the Chevy Camaro by 300 pounds and the Dodge Challenger by as much as 500 pounds. The weight savings provide a definite advantage, in both performance and fuel economy.
Ford took several steps to improve noise, vibration and harshness control when it reworked the Mustang for 2010. Additional sound-deadening material on the instrument panel and a rear wheel arch liners help drivers hear the sounds they want (namely the engine) and avoid the sounds that can be a distraction (such as dash creaks and tire noise).
The 2005-09 Mustang featured a modern retro design with a front end that recalled the 1964-68 Mustang. The current car sports a headlight arrangement and wider grille reminiscent 1969-70 models. Other design elements are also tributes to Mustangs of yore. The coupe's roofline, unchanged from the last generation, recalls the original Mustang fastback. The hockey-stick shape of the lower character line pays homage to the side coves found on Mustangs from 1964 to '68. The current car's chamfered three-element taillights, which house sequential turn signals that blink from the inside lamp to the outside, were first found on the 1964 Thunderbird, then the 1967-68 Shelby Mustangs and late '60s Mercury Cougars. These taillights are interesting, but we'd say they are the weak link in an otherwise excellent design.
Despite its homage to Mustangs past, the current car remains fresh and modern in appearance, with substantially better aerodynamic properties than its predecessors. Features like the low air dam, front splitter and underbody covering substantially reduces aerodynamic lift and drag, and more evenly distribute aerodynamic forces on the front and rear ends. Such techniques improve high-speed stability, reduce interior noise and contribute to better fuel economy.
The Ford Mustang's interior mixes excellent build quality with improved materials and a straightforward dashboard layout. The decorative trim and soft plastic on the dash are fairly appealing, though some hard, hollow plastic panels remain. Overall all, the Mustang delivers a solid middle-class package, and we'd call it excellent in the functional sense.
The Mustang has never been and still isn't particularly space efficient, but if space efficiency were a priority, Mustang buyers would be looking at sedans. A range of noise, vibration and harshness countermeasures have made what was once a rather loud car pleasingly smooth and quiet, though the Mustang's all-American pony car rumble is still audible to drivers and onlookers alike. Better still, the base Mustang's list of standard features continues to expand, with dual illuminated vanity mirrors, a universal garage door opener and sun-visor storage clips added for 2012.
The look and feel inside the Mustang is even better with the Premium model package offered on both V6 models and V8 GTs. It adds leather-upholstered sport bucket seats with cashmere accents running down the middle, as well as a dark aluminum instrument panel and unique door inserts. There's Interior ambient lighting in the door pockets, cupholders and footwells, and the lighting can be changed through a range of 125 colors with a button.
The leather-clad steering wheel is big, with six metallic spokes in three groups of two, incorporating cruise-control switches and controls for the sound system. The wheel on ultra-performance Mustangs is wrapped with suede-like Alcantara, but in all cases the metallic spokes can get hot enough to burn hands when the car is parked in the sun.
Most drivers should find a comfortable seating position, though we would like a telescoping feature for the tilt-only steering column. There is plenty of head and leg room up front for large drivers, and the view out of the Mustang is excellent for an emotion-inspired coupe. The side mirrors add blind-spot panels with a different view angle in their upper, outer corners. We found that this simple, cheap solution works quite well, and the mirrors are wide enough to provide a good rearward view otherwise. The coupe's rear pillars don't intrude much in over-the-shoulder visibility, but it's hard to see out the back in the convertible with the top up. The optional back-up camera and reverse sensing system help.
Coupe or convertible, the Mustang does not have the high beltline of its main competitor, the Chevrolet Camaro, and this is an advantage for the Mustang. The lower beltline makes for better visibility to the sides. The advantage became especially apparent in an autocross. We could easily see the cones from inside the Mustang, but not from inside the Camaro.
The standard front bucket seats are significantly more comfortable and better looking than the slabs used prior to 2010, though they could still use more lateral support. The optional Recaro seats for the Boss 302 and GT500 definitely solve the bolstering problem, and while they offer minimal adjustment, they're surprisingly soft for race-type seats. We like them better for the street than the sport-seat option in a lot of cars.
The dash layout and switch panels are uncomplicated, aesthetically balanced and very effective. Most controls are large pushbuttons, though temperature, fan speed, volume and tuning are extra-big radial knobs. Even the base model has a very readable video display (the message center, as Ford calls it) for audio and other information.
The Mustang's two-passenger rear seat is no place for adults. Headroom is limited by the rake of the coupe roof, and leg room is minimal, even with the front seats moved forward. A person up to 5'9' or so can cram themselves back there, but he/she won't want to stay long.
The Mustang convertible comes standard with a power fabric top and glass rear window. The top has two latches that the driver must release before pressing the button, but both are within arm's reach of the driver's seat and easy to lock or unlock. The top and frame drop behind the rear seats. The vinyl tonneau cover must be installed manually, and costs an additional $160. The top's storage space also reduces trunk volume nearly four cubic feet, shrinking the convertible's trunk to 9.6 cubic feet of volume.
The Mustang coupe's trunk has 13.4 cubic feet of cargo space, which is comparable to that in a compact-to-mid-size sedan. The opening isn't particularly big and the lift-over is rather high, but the coupe's fold-down rear seats expand cargo volume substantially.
If it sounds a bit gushy, it's objective fact nonetheless: The 2012 Ford Mustang is the best it's ever been. The Mustang remains the model for pony car sport and power, yet it's also enormously livable. It's smoother, quieter and more solidly built then ever, with few obvious drawbacks as daily transportation. It's comfortable for two, surprisingly economical to operate and, in most climates, suitable year-round.
The new-for-2012 Mustang Boss 302 is a modern take on the late-1960s original, which happens to be one the great road-racing cars ever to come from Detroit. All 2012 Mustangs have a new programmable steering feature, which changes the amount of effort required (and feedback) from comfort to normal to sport with a button. And all Mustangs merit those best-ever superlatives, whether we're talking about the base V6 model or any of the three racier V8s.
Once a glorified rental car, the standard Mustang V6 is nearly as much fun to drive as the upgrade Mustang GT. It's powered by a lightweight, dual-overhead cam 3.7-liter V6 that makes 305 horsepower at 6500 rpm and 280 pound-feet of torque at 4250 rpm (almost as much as the previous-generation V8). Yet with all six-speed transmissions and efficiencies throughout, the Mustang V6 delivers up to 31 mpg highway, according to the EPA. Indeed, it was the first 300-hp production car to crack the 30 mpg barrier. A V6 Performance Package option adds the GT's sportier suspension tuning and stickier tires.
We peg the V6 Mustang's 0-60 mph time around 6.0 seconds, which makes it pretty fast. The new engine sounds great, too, emitting a muscular American growl. Both the standard six-speed manual and optional six-speed automatic work well with this car. The automatic's gears are spaced a little tighter than those in Mustang's primary competitor, the Chevy Camaro, and the result is more willing response in lower gears at low speeds. Basically, the Mustang V6 delivers power when you want it.
The manual shifts easily, too, but the gear-change doesn't have quite the satisfyingly positive action that enthusiast drivers might like (for that you need to upgrade to the short-throw Boss 302). We also found the V6 clutch a bit hard to modulate in first and second gears, making for some jerky starts. We might actually recommend the automatic.
Over the past two years, the Mustang chassis has been upgraded, tightened and stiffened, delivering a tauter ride, crisper response and less pitch, dive and body roll than any previous base Mustang. And the V6 comes standard with all the driving aids and skid control electronics, including anti-lock brakes, traction control and AdvanceTrac stability control. For track work, both the traction control and the stability control can be turned off (but not the ABS), and there is a Sport mode which allows higher handling limits before traction and yaw control step in to save the day.
The only potential drawback for contemporary daily driving remains the Mustang's solid rear axle, which can create a busy ride on bumpy roads because jolts to the rear axle are transmitted from side to side. An independent rear suspension would deal with bumps better by isolating road imperfections. Ford claims it sticks with the solid rear axle because it's the set-up old-time Mustang aficionados and amateur racers prefer (and there are a lot of them). Either way, the solid axle is not a huge liability, given the Mustangs combination of muscular feel and general easy living.
The upgrade Mustang GT feels even more muscular than the V6, without a measurable decline in the easy living. Its 412-horspower, 5.0-liter V8 transforms the Mustang into a pony car with power to spare. It delivers a big kick in the pants when floored from a stop, easily smoking the tires with the manual or automatic transmission, and makes passing a matter of a twitching your throttle foot. The whole experience is backed by a glorious rumbling soundtrack that is distinctly American.
With this new V8, introduced for 2011, Ford has caught and possibly surpassed the usable power of the Chevrolet Camaro SS. While previous Mustangs just couldn't keep up with GM's 427-horsepower 6.2-liter V8, the 5.0 makes the Mustang just as quick or quicker from 0 to 60 mph and in a quarter mile. And thanks to those efficiencies, the GT still delivers 26 mpg highway.
It's an absolute blast to drive. The car has a fairly light, tossable feel and it responds quickly to driver inputs. It is very willing to attack turns, with the electrically boosted power steering providing a fairly natural feel. The car is extremely quick to transition from left to right and back again with a minimum of body roll, dive or pitch in the suspension. The Brembo Brake Package adds larger brakes. It should be the choice for anyone who wants to take their car to the track or drive regularly on twisty mountain roads.
Yet if track time is the objective, the Boss 302 is probably the ultimate Mustang. While it doesn't accelerate as quickly as the supercharged Shelby GT500, the Boss is still plenty fast, and it handles more lithely during truly aggressive driving. Thanks to some subtle tweaks and an impressive 7500-rpm redline, the 5.0-liter V8 in the Boss ups horsepower to 444. This engine loves to be wound-up and bounced off its rev-limiter, as track cars should, but it delivers impressive torque not matter how fast it's spinning, and that makes it as suitable for the road. It's not too loud inside, either, though you'll definitely hear the roar.
Nor is the Boss 302 excessively stiff in the ride-quality department. That may be the most surprising thing in a car tuned for track days. With its manually adjustable suspension set to the softest level, the Boss is acceptably comfortable on bumpy roads, and the electronic systems manage things nicely if the driver gets a bit too zealous with the gas pedal. Steering might be the weak link in the excellently tuned Boss package. It's weighted properly, toward the heavy side as we like it, but there is a slight numb spot on center, and it's not as precise or communicative as the best. The steering might be the only thing that separates the Boss from a pure sports car.
Bottom line? The Boss 302 is nothing short of a hoot to drive on the street, or a true thrill on the track. Probably 90 percent of potential buyers will be just as happy with Mustang GT, at $10,000 less, but those 10 percent who appreciate the Boss's upgrades are in for a treat. No one should consider the Boss's Laguna Seca option, which makes the car even stiffer and strips more weight, starting with the back seat, unless track driving is the predominant purpose.
A step up from the Boss, the Mustang Shelby GT500 might be called the alpha male in the Mustang lineup. With a 550-hp, 5.4-liter supercharged V8, it's the fastest Mustang of all in straight line, and unlike the Boss 302 it's available as a convertible (though still not with an automatic). Yet the GT500 is as much about show or status as fast driving. Where the 302 is sparsely appointed, the GT500 comes with most of the upgrade features, like premium audio, Ford's Sync communications system and optional navigation.
The Mustang convertible benefits from a list of structural enhancements. These include a tower-to-tower front strut brace, heavier crossmembers, various braces and foam-filling in the windshield pillars. These changes make the soft top more solid than previous Mustang convertibles, and at least on par with some more-expensive competitors. That translates to competent handling and generally shake-free driving. Nonetheless, the stiffer Mustang coupe remains the choice for the ultimate in handling and chassis rigidity.
The 2012 Mustang line delivers more features and more refinement than any so-called pony car line-up before, not to mention a whole lot of performance per dollar. The Mustang V6 makes comfortable transportation with an emotionally appealing look, a muscular feel and excellent fuel economy for under $25,000. For about $30,000, the V8-powered GT is faster, quieter and more comfortable than any of its celebrated predecessors. The new Boss 302 will appeal to enthusiast drivers who love track days. The Shelby GT500 is expensive as Mustang's go, but it's the least expensive 550-hp high-performance machine on the market.
J.P. Vettraino reported from Detroit, with Jim McCraw and Kirk Bell reporting from Los Angeles.
Ford Mustang coupe ($22,310), convertible ($27,310); Mustang GT coupe ($29,310), GT convertible ($34,310); Boss 302 ($40,310); Shelby GT500 coupe ($48,810), GT500 convertible ($53,810).
Flat Rock, Michigan.
Options As Tested
Recaro Sport seats with Torsen helical differential ($1,995).
Ford Mustang Boss 302 ($40,310).
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