Let's get one thing out of the way before I get into the review of the 2012 Ford Mustang Boss 302: this is no tech car.
The Boss is one of the only vehicles in Ford's lineup that isn't available with the automaker's Sync voice command infotainment system. The stereo is Ford's basic rig with AM/FM/CD playback and the best thing that I can say about it is that sound does, in fact, come out of its four speakers. Satellite radio is optional and you can connect your MP3 player via the auxiliary input, but don't bother looking for the USB port--there isn't one. You can also forget about making a hands-free call, because Bluetooth isn't available. Navigation? Yeah, right.
On paper, the 302's power train also seems decidedly low-tech. There is no forced induction. Fuel is added via old-fashioned port injection rather than new-fangled direct injection. Power meets the road at the rear wheels via the Mustang's old-school live rear axle. And in true muscle car fashion, at no point during our week of testing did the trip computer report higher than 12.2 mpg (well below the EPA's guess of 17 city and 26 highway mpg).
So when you see the low score at the top of this review, know that the reasons are the absolute lack of cabin gadgetry and the unimpressive fuel efficiency of the low-tech drivetrain. Sorry, but those are the rules that we've set up.
But every now and then, a low-tech car comes along and transcends a simple star rating, causing even us Car Tech guys to drop our gadgets and just enjoy the ride. The Boss 302 is one of those cars. (The Mazda MX-5 Miata also comes to mind, but that's a different sort of driving enjoyment.)
V-8-powered car audio
I didn't even realize that the Boss 302 didn't have Sync, premium audio, or hands-free calling until the second day of testing, because I didn't even touch the radio for entire first day. The best bit of the 302's sound system isn't in the cabin, it's underneath it. The 444-horsepower, 5.0-liter V-8 growls and burbles through a unique quad-exhaust that features a pair of conventional tailpipes out back that handle most of the waste gas output and a second pair of smaller exhausts that exit through hidden tips just ahead of the rear wheels. This secondary side exhaust system is designed to enhance the Boss' particular brand of engine-note music. To be fair, my enjoyment of this gasoline-powered audio system probably contributed greatly to our low observed fuel economy, but anyone who's interested in being the guy in the Boss would likely drive in a similar manner.
The 5.0-liter engine block (borrowed from the Mustang GT) is enhanced with upgraded intake components that add to its 32-horsepower bump over the standard GT model. Looking at the numbers, the Boss is actually down on maximum torque (380 pound-feet versus the GT's 390) but you wouldn't know it from behind the wheel. The 302 pulled and pulled hard every time I burrowed my right foot into the accelerator, regardless of what gear the single-option six-speed manual transmission happened to be in.
The shifter itself featured a moderately short throw and a mechanical-feeling engagement (you can almost feel the teeth of the gears notching together), but there's not much lateral movement to the shift lever. I observed that there seemed to only be a fraction of an inch between the first and third gear gates, and more often than not I wouldd end up in fourth gear when pulling back from first, rather than second gear. Perhaps this is by design, but it did mean that I had to be significantly more deliberate about my shifts.
Another transmission bit that I had to be deliberate about was the clutch pedal, which was almost ridiculously heavy. (Don't be surprised if, after a week with the Boss 302, your left leg is noticeably more muscular than your right.) Fortunately, it features good travel with great feel that makes the Boss as easy to drive in a traffic jam as it is to drive full bore. I did have a hair-raising time inching the Boss up some of San Francisco's almost vertical climbs in stop-and-go traffic, but with plenty of torque on tap, stalling was never an issue.