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2012 Ford Mustang Boss 302 First Drive: Sounds Like Success

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author photo by Autotrader March 2011

Remember the Sirens? They were the half-bird, half-woman characters in Greek mythology who lured sailors with their irresistible singing, confirming the Greeks' understanding of the overwhelming hold that sound can have on people.

Ford engineers understand this too, which is why the most remarkable feature of the Boss 302 is its sound. Not the power delivery of its 444-hp 5.0-liter (302 cubic inches in non-metric-speak) V8. Not the shocking racetrack poise of its perfectly sorted chassis – Conestoga-spec solid rear axle and all.

No the single most compelling aspect of the Boss 302 is its sound. That's because the engineers pulled off a feat that is almost beyond comprehension in the over-regulated modern age: they installed unmuffled side pipes that blast the exhaust note directly to the driver's ears.

Of course modern trickery is involved, as the side pipes are hidden and bleed off only a portion of the sound, while the rest goes out the back through the regular mufflers. But it is enough to give the Boss a boss sound. Even more interestingly, Ford uses removable restrictor plates to limit the flow through the side pipes, but on the track we had the chance to try the car without the restrictors and found the closest thing to automotive auditory nirvana this side of Maranello.

And this 'Stang's signature sound isn't limited to full-throttle blasts echoing off the concrete pit wall during the media launch at Laguna Seca raceway. It can even be appreciated by gearheads at the local cruise night at idle.

That's courtesy of a technology called "TracKey," a special red key that unlocks a different engine management computer specification already coded in the computer. No aftermarket chip swap is required. TracKey is the evil twin of the company's MyKey teen babysitter technology, evidently created in one of those pesky Star Trek transporter accidents.

While MyKey limits the power of other Ford models, TracKey pumps up the Boss's power curve at the low end, with re-profiled fuel injection, cam and ignition timing. Max power is unchanged, but throttle response is quicker and the remapped engine management contributes to more low-end thrust.

Then the engineers threw in their siren trick: At idle TracKey shifts the timing of the cams for enough overlap between the intake and exhaust valves opening that the Boss's 302 assumes the lumpy idle characteristic of a '60s muscle car with a racing cam.

But while engines so equipped didn't make much power until they approached their redline, the Boss 302's computer instantly adjusts the cam timing to make maximum power at every engine speed. TracKey also enables a two-stage launch control system that ensures flawless drag strip launches every time.

For die-hards, a step up from the regular $40,145 Boss 302 is the track-ready Laguna Seca edition, which for another $7,000 features a functional front splitter and rear spoiler to produce effective downforce at speed. It also ditches the back seat in favor of additional cross-bracing and adds stiffer springs, fatter rear sway bar, wider wheels with stickier R-compound rubber, adjustable shocks, Torsen limited-slip differential, and Recaro bucket seats to keep the occupants in place while lapping the track.

Skeptics may question how much lipstick Ford has been able to put onto this solid axle pig, but the company insists that the Boss 302 laps road course circuits considerably quicker than a BMW M3, and our experience in the car confirms that likelihood. But here's an enthusiast maxim that should help confirm the Boss's bonafides: there is no automatic transmission available.

That means it is easier to hold the gear you want when conducting the sirens' symphony issuing from the sidepipes. Just keep an eye on the speedometer so you don't end up spoiling the concern with a much different kind of siren.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2012 Ford Mustang Boss 302 First Drive: Sounds Like Success - Autotrader