Forget about "the corkscrew." You might know Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for the infamous left/right combo, but despite its fame the corkscrew hardly distinguishes the circuit. Sure, its entry is blind and there's a big drop in the middle of the turn, but it only takes a few laps before it becomes second nature. In the 2012 Ford Mustang Boss 302, it can be dispatched in 3rd gear at about 50 mph.
Get the corkscrew right a few times, however, and one quickly realizes that the defining turn at Laguna, the one which truly characterizes this track, is the next turn, the off-camber, downhill Turn 9, known as the Rainey Curve. Although it's not the most critical bend on the circuit, it is the one most likely to ruin your day.
It's also the turn that most dramatically demonstrates the performance differences between the standard Boss 302 and the track-dedicated Boss 302 Laguna Seca. It's here that the Laguna Seca's aero package, stickier R-compound rubber and more aggressive tuning yield more confidence and more speed and send us charging — fully committed — into Turn 10.
Thanks to downhill runs like the one into Turn 10, Laguna Seca destroys brakes. Its 300 feet of elevation change per lap make up for its lack of ultra high-speed straights. What's more, its technical nature exposes tires that aren't up to the task in only a few laps. We've driven many street cars here that simply can't manage repeated lapping. To that notion, the 2012 Ford Mustang Boss 302 raises a large, American middle finger before it disappears into Rainey Curve at 7,500 rpm.
There is clearly something special going on here. We've driven faster cars, but there's a certain reward that comes from the Boss' sound, the solidity of its shifter and the consistency of its brakes (four-piston Brembos clamping 14-inch rotors up front). Steering feedback is good, despite being electrically assisted, and every input is met with deliberate response from the chassis and engine. On a smooth track like Laguna, you'd never know there's a straight axle holding up the back of the car. Nothing was overlooked. And as a result, this thing simply flies.
"Every time we reached a limiter which kept the car from being able to make repeated laps, we reengineered whatever part was causing the problem," said Dave Pericak, Boss 302 chief engineer. It's an attitude we can appreciate. And it's believable. We watched four Boss 302s lap all afternoon, only stopping for fuel and driver changes.
We saw a consistent 120 mph on Laguna's front straight in both the standard Boss 302 and the Laguna Seca package car. The aero bits on the Laguna Seca package are good for 80 pounds of downforce at that speed. The base cars we drove on the track, however, had the optional Torsen differential, Recaro buckets and brake cooling ducts from Ford Racing, so discerning a difference between the two on a slow track like Laguna meant driving them both very, very hard. Do so and the differences are subtle, but they matter.
On Laguna, the standard Boss is about 1 second quicker per lap than a BMW M3 Coupe. Add the Laguna Seca package and there's another second to be had.
On the Street
Here's the amazing part about the 2012 Ford Mustang Boss 302: It's completely realistic to drive it on the street. Even the radical Laguna Seca package with its splitter and spoiler rides just fine if you're an enthusiast. In fact, in order to achieve proper balance, its front spring rates are lower than the base car. And the base car is downright livable. Dial back the dampers and you've got a well-controlled coupe that doesn't mind doing date night on Friday and track duty on Saturday.
Sure, get aggressive on an uneven back road and the chassis will still let you know there's an axle out back — but not before you've gone faster than just about everything else. We drove the car hard on one of California's rougher back roads and we're duly impressed with the control available. The Boss won't charge through uneven B-roads like an STI, but it will destroy the Subaru on a racetrack.
At the end of the day, the small compromise in street duty is more than made up in the overall experience. And you're not going to go this quickly in anything else for this kind of money.
Origins of the Boss 302
In case you don't know the original Boss 302's story, here are the CliffsNotes: It was introduced in 1969 as a road racing car for the street. It was developed to win the SCCA Trans Am Series championship, which it did in 1970 at the hands of Parnelli Jones, partially due to a key victory at Laguna Seca Raceway. A total of 8,641 cars were sold over its two-year run.
For 2012, while there's racing involved, it's not the driving force behind the car. This time, it's simply the immodest goal of kicking a lot of ass, according to Ford's Group Vice President Jim Farley. Well, OK, those weren't his exact words, but that's a close translation. It's clear Farley wants the Boss 302 to be a flagship of sorts — a car that tells the world what Ford's engineers and resources can produce. And a car that is unrivaled in the way it accomplishes that task.
The 2012 Ford Mustang Boss 302 arrives with significant upgrades to nearly every system over the standard Mustang. It is more powerful, better handling, louder and quicker. And you can choose two levels of equipment: the standard Boss 302 and the limited-edition Boss 302 Laguna Seca package.
A Real Track Car
The Laguna Seca package is easily identified with Black or Ingot Silver paint, a red C stripe and a red roof. Up front there's a unique splitter developed on the Boss 302R Grand Am racecar and out back there's a larger spoiler than on the standard Boss. Inside there are Recaro front seats and no rear seats — a chassis brace good for 10 percent more torsional rigidity resides in their place.
But the parts that matter are underneath. The Laguna Seca package gets unique damper and spring tuning, a larger rear antiroll bar and a Torsen limited-slip differential (a clutch type is standard). There are also wider rear wheels (by 0.5 inch) and — probably the most critical component in quicker lap times — R-compound Pirelli P Zero Corsa rubber sized 255/40ZR19 front and 285/35ZR19 rear. Standard Boss 302s utilize the same size Pirelli P Zero Nero rubber.
All Boss Mustangs come with dampers capable of adjusting compression and rebound over five different settings — a task that is accomplished old-school-style with a screwdriver. Laguna Seca Package-equipped cars offer a streetable base damping setting that's higher than the standard Boss.
Both cars utilize the same tweaked 5.0-liter power plant that spins to a satisfying 7,500 rpm and twists out 444 horsepower and 380 pound-feet of torque (10 fewer lb-ft than a GT). The horsepower increase over the 412-hp 5.0-liter GT engine is a result of a short-runner intake manifold, CNC-ported cylinder heads, new cams and lightened valvetrain components. Forged pistons and connecting rods are also part of the package, which is completed with an oil cooler and a baffled oil pan.
The only transmission option — a six-speed manual — comes with a heavy-duty clutch and a shorter 3.73:1 final drive rather than the 3.31:1 or 3.55:1 ratios also available in the Mustang GT.
Drive a few laps in the 2012 Ford Mustang Boss 302 and it's not the outright speed — although that is impressive — that is its most defining attribute. Rather, it's a combination of its sound and absolute indifference to track abuse that's most arresting. All Boss 302 Mustangs are fitted with quad exhaust outlets, two of which exit in front of the rear wheels and two of which exit under the rear valence. And even with the side pipes largely corked up from the factory (there's a 0.625-inch pass-through inside), the 5.0-liter makes a sound at redline like God's own piston-powered orchestra.
New on the Boss is three-way adjustable steering effort that can be controlled through the instrument cluster menu on the dashboard. Switching among Comfort, Normal and Sport modes increases the effort accordingly. Two-mode stability control (Normal or Sport) is carried over from the GT, and as with the GT it takes a good 10 seconds of pushing the button before it can be fully disabled.
Every Boss 302 comes with two keys — a standard key and a "TracKey" which, once the right software is installed at the dealer, turns on the awesome. Fire the car using the TracKey and Sport mode is enabled in both the steering and stability control systems, the idle gets a classic big-cam lumpiness and the throttle calibration takes on an honesty that replicates an actual connection between the pedal and the throttle body. There's also a programmable two-step launch control.
Inside, things are largely the same. There's an Alcantara suede-wrapped steering wheel and we're told the standard seats offer suede inserts, although we never sat in them (the Recaros are optional and come packaged with the Torsen differential for $1,995). Laguna Seca package cars come with a three-gauge cluster that includes coolant temperature, oil pressure and a dynamic performance gauge. Eleven pounds of sound deadening have also been removed from the interior.
What You Get
Standard 2012 Ford Mustang Boss 302 models will cost $40,995 when they hit dealers this spring. Step up to the Laguna Seca package and you're looking at $47,990. The TracKey software is a clever $302 hit at your local dealer.
For this fee you get a car that's an honest all-day track machine that you can drive home without cooked brakes. And you can rightly drive it every day without hating yourself. Although Ford would prefer to avoid performance estimates, we would not. We'll wager that it will run to 60 mph in the low 4-second range (without rollout) and find itself buried deep in the 12-second range in the quarter-mile — probably at 115 mph.
Ford expects to build 4,000 Boss 302 Mustangs for the 2012 model year, 750 of which will be equipped with the Laguna Seca package. If those 750 buyers are smart, they'll find a way to get their cars on the track of the same name. A couple trips around Rainey Curve and they'll be glad they did.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored press event to facilitate this report.
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