Review: Ford Mustang Boss 302S

By Tom Martin

March 20, 2013

(photo credit: Amanda Costello)
 
The Idea
 
The Boss 302S is built by Ford Racing, together with Watson Engineering, as a ready-to-run road racing car. The basic specs are aimed at Pirelli World Challenge GTS class racing, but the car is also suitable for SCCA and NASA club events. In the world of factory racecars, the Boss 302S is relatively affordable at around $89,000. Ford builds 50 cars per year, so while they are ordered through Ford dealers (as a part), orders must be placed in time to get an allocation slot and before the annual winter batch build.
 
The Specs
 
Engine: 5.0L V-8 (Boss 302 version of Ford Coyote) modified for racing use (cooling, ECU)
 
Power: about 450 crank horsepower, depending on fuel (comes with ProCal tool and ECU programs for 91 and 98 octane fuel)
 
Weight: about 3350 pounds without driver
 
Transmission: Tremec T-6060 six-speed manual
 
Drivetrain: FR, with 3.73 read end, solid axle and Torsen differential
 
Suspension: front and rear Multimatic coilovers with remote reservoirs, three-way adjustable dampers (base are Sachs two-way dampers); caster/camber plates; Ford Racing sway bars (front adjustable)
 
Brakes: Brembo four-piston, with 14-inch front and 12-inch rear rotors; PFC pads; Ford Racing brake ducts; stainless lines; Ford Racing ABS
 
Wheels/Tires: tested on Ford Racing BBS Boss 302S 18 x 9.5 wheels with Hoosier R6 275/35-18 tires
 
Cage: FIA Spec 6
 
Seat: Recaro HANS ProRacer, adjustable fore/aft on sliders; window net; Sabelt six-point harness
 
Fire: system with multiple nozzles
 
Data: AIM MXL Pista dash with GPS
 
Aero: Ford Racing front splitter and rear adjustable carbon fiber wing
 
Street legal: No (no VIN)
 
Classification
 
SCCA Pro Racing: Pirelli World Challenge GTS. In 2012, this class included the Boss 302S, Acura TSX (series champion), Chevrolet Camaro, Porsche Cayman, Kia Optima, BMW M3 and others.
 
SCCA Club Racing: STO
 
NASA: ST3 or AI (American Iron) with ballast to required power:weight
 
Driving Experience
 
The Boss 302S is a hoot to drive. Naturally, your view of the car will depend somewhat on other cars you have driven, so your mileage may vary. You also may have specific preferences or needs. With that in mind, we’ll enumerate some of the many qualities in the Boss 302S to like and a few you may not like.
 
One of the most important qualities in an enjoyable car comes down to how progressive it is. As you approach and cross the limit of adhesion, you want the car to behave in a predictable and linear way. If it does something at 97/100ths, ideally what it does at 99/100ths or 102/100ths is pretty similar. At Circuit Of The Americas (which you should note has a very smooth surface) we thought the Boss was impressively predictable. It just doesn’t feel like it wants to bite you by doing something surprising.
 
Two examples may help drive this home. First, when you are learning a technical track, it is pretty easy to find yourself somewhat off line in complex turns like CoTA’s esses (4-9). With the Boss, as with many front-engine/rear-drive cars, the basic tendency is toward understeer--something which helps keep real trouble at bay. But we were impressed with the balance of the Boss and its ability to neatly tighten up its line even after we had overcooked it a bit. Just scrubbing speed is no fun.
 
The other progressive behavior we liked was the way the car puts the power down. In simple terms, the Boss doesn’t want to suddenly break the rear end loose when you lay into the throttle. At CoTA, we took the rather tight turn 13 in second gear and could really get into it coming through 14. 
 
You also want a car to provide good feedback. If it is benign, as we’ve outlined above, but you don’t know what is happening down at the track surface, the car is still either scary or hard to control. The saving grace of the way Ford Racing has designed the Boss is that it is on the soft side. That means you get some body roll which acts as a prime indicator of where you are vis-a-vis the limit.
 
And you need it because the EPAS (electrically power assisted steering) doesn’t offer that much feedback. Of course you have an idea because you can mentally connect steering angle and yaw rates, but certainly this steering isn’t going to the hall of fame.
 
The Boss brakes seem more than adequate, though we were testing during a track day, so really long sessions were not part on the menu. The ABS is a nice feature, and we suspect with more time to adapt it could be used to great advantage (you will notice that NASA adds a power:weight penalty for ABS which further suggests it is a lap time reducer). We would add, having flat spotted more than a tire or two in our day, that ABS should reduce tire destruction.
 
The shifter is, we would say, a piece of art. Not because it looks good, though we rather like the retro stick and ball, but because the shifts are so positive. We didn’t miss a shift in three days, although “test” and “race” are two different emotional scenarios. Heel-and-toe was also easy to do, even though the pedals look a bit small and far apart. In any event, pedals are easily changed to suit your feet and style.
 
Talk of pedals naturally brings us to the Boss 302S engine. There is a lot to like here, that’s for sure. No doubt the big feature is that the motor feels strong from 4000 rpm to the 7500-rpm redline. In addition, if you find yourself in the wrong gear (Never? Really?), it is nice to note that this Mustang pulls pretty well from 2500 revs. Of course, with roughly eight pounds per horsepower to move around, this will not be the fastest accelerating car on track most weekends. But for flexible power, there is much to like.
 
Call us names if you wish for caring about the way the car sounds, but we did notice that the Boss 302S soundtrack was delicious if not symphonic. In the power band, Ford Racing has combined a superb balance of V-8 rumble and hard-edged metallic snarl. In addition, we appreciated that the car sounded potent but it wasn’t really that loud. Loud eventually wears on the brain, not to mention risking black flags at decibel measurement points.
 
Overall, the Boss 302S is quite predictable with good power and pretty workable controls. It feels somewhat larger than many other racecars and it responds like it is heavier and bigger. A side benefit is that this isn’t a twitchy car, but it also isn’t one that feels like it is wired to your brain. You drive the Boss 302S to a carving plan and style. It doesn’t punish you much if you aren’t smooth, but basically it wants a flowing approach. The car doesn’t fight you and it feels like it is downright happy arcing through a corner or late-apexing and then laying into the throttle on exit.
 
We loved it.
 
Competitiveness
 
This is a tough area to evaluate, so we’ll add to this section as we collect data.
 
The most complete record we know of is the performance of the Boss 302 in Pirelli World Challenge GTS.  In 2011, Mustangs won 10 of 12 rounds, with the Boss 302S winning 6 rounds and the older FR500S winning 4 rounds. In 2012, the World Challenge authorities worked to equalize competition (as is the case in most series), which contained the Boss 302S dominance. The Boss won 2 of 12 rounds, and came in sixth in the championship (this may have been impacted by Paul Brown, 2011 champion, being stricken with cancer during the season). Another indicator of competitiveness is the number of teams running the Boss. Of 41 teams scoring points, 13 ran Mustangs in GTS in 2012, the next highest number being five teams running Camaros, five running BMW M3s, and five running 370Zs.