Few vehicle nameplates are capable of leaving a 40-year legacy. But one has: the Mustang Boss 302, a name synonymous with American muscle. Simply uttering the name conjures visions of Saturday night Main Street light-to-light drag races where reputations were made and broken.

The Boss 302 helped put the pony car on the map and changed the way Americans looked at sports cars. Surprisingly, the infamous Boss was only produced for three short years: from 1969 to 1971.

But for 2012, the Boss 302 has been reborn. Under the hood is a specially tuned 5-liter V8 making 444 horsepower. Ford says it's the best factory Mustang ever built and redefines Mustang capability.

 

Built to Race

The Boss 302 shares the body of the standard Mustang with a few unmistakable differences. In keeping with its racing heritage, everything on the Boss that could be tweaked to aid in aerodynamics and engine and brake performance was examined.

The Boss features a distinct front fascia with blocked out fog light openings and an extended front splitter that works to lower air resistance under the car, limit front-end lift, and force air into the cooling system and engine air intake. This simple addition makes the Boss faster, more efficient, and importantly, more aggressive looking. The rear spoiler compliments the front exterior changes and also lowers overall wind resistance. These small changes allow the Boss 302 to hug the road at high speeds and cut through the air more smoothly.

The exterior differences between the Boss 302 and the standard Mustang don't end there. Each Boss will have either a white or black roof, which is coordinated with the color of the side stripe. The Boss is available in several historically inspired colors: Competition Orange, Performance White, Kona Blue Metallic, Yellow Blaze Tri-Coat Metallic and Race Red.

 

Intentionally Spartan

The interior of the Boss 302, unlike other modern performance vehicles, isn't filled with tech gadgets. In fact, it's quite the opposite. The Boss shares the basic interior of a stripped-down base model. Inside the driver has a stereo, a steering wheel, switch to operate the headlights, and a shifter. That's about it. Ford wanted to focus the driver's attention on driving and not on luxury gadgets.

Added specifically for the Boss is an Alcantara suede-covered steering wheel, which matches the standard Boss seats. But for those who wish to have full racing experience, Ford offers optional Recaro bucket seats designed by Ford SVT (special vehicle team). This upgrade is a must-have. Not only do the Recaros hold the body in the corner with confidence, they're one of the most comfortable seats ever put into a production vehicle of any kind, let alone a Mustang.

One other quasi-interior bit that sets the Boss 302 apart from other sports cars on the market is what Ford is calling the "Trackey" or red key. This $302 (no coincidence) optional upgrade, when used to start the vehicle, will initiate the special Trackey powertrain control module software, which you can have installed at your Ford dealer. The new software modifies engine valve timing, spark timing, fuel control, and over 400 other engine parameters. In short, the red key turns your Boss 302 into a track monster, even the idle behavior changes. The once smooth but throaty idle is transformed into a "lopey," sporty, rougher idle-like that on souped up pony cars of the past. You'll know it when you hear it.

Amazingly, once the vehicle is shut off and the red key removed from the ignition, then restarted with the standard silver key, the engine and vehicle performance is back to normal. Now customers can have a cold-blooded driving machine when they want, and a calmer daily driver when they don't.

 

Bucking Bronco

The new Ford 5-liter (302 cubic-inch) V8 code named the Coyote has quickly become something of legend. In the Boss 302, it's even better. For the Boss, the air intake has been redesigned, as has the exhaust. The standard 5-liter in the Mustang GT makes 412 horsepower. The Boss 302 produces a staggering 444 horsepower.

Amazingly, the Boss has been given an EPA rating of 17 in the city and 26 on the highway. The Boss is hugely powerful but also miserly on the fuel.

The Boss has a unique quad exhaust system, which gives it its signature sound. The Boss has two standard rear exit exhaust pipes but also two that exit just before the rear wheels. The Boss sounds better than virtually any other vehicle on the planet, especially below the $100,000 mark.

 

On the Road

Powerful Mustangs of the past have been scary to say the least: amazing in a straight line but frightening in the corners. The Boss 302 changes all that. Ford has given the Boss firmer coil springs and suspension bushings and manually adjustable shocks and struts. This means your Mustang handling and ride quality is completely tunable. Driving on the track? Make the suspension harder for better cornering. Driving on along road trip? Soften the shocks and struts for a more comfortable ride. Even the electric power steering has three adjustments that effect steering stiffness: comfort, normal, and sport. Ford also installed a race-inspired clutch and short-throw six-speed manual transmission for improved performance.

But have all these painstaking changes, tweaks, and adjustments made the 2012 Boss 302 worthy of its nameplate? Yes. It looks good, it handles superbly, and its exhaust notes are the epitome of American muscle.

The 2012 Boss 302 starts around $40,145. As tested, it was $42,990. Compare the price and performance to anything on the market, and the Boss 302 easily leads the pack.

Off the line, the Boss 302 is astonishingly quick hitting 60 MPH from a dead stop in about four seconds. In the corners, it's just as impressive. Point it where you want it to go, and it follows without any fuss. All the while, the V8 pouring out a growl that reminds us that there is a heaven on earth after all, it's behind the wheel of the 2012 Boss 302.

author photo

Nick Jaynes developed a passion for writing about cars working his way through Journalism School as a Volvo mechanic. When he's not writing, Nick can be seen hosting the popular automotive web-show DownForce Motoring. In his free-time, Nick collects vintage cars, trucks, and motorcycles.

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