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Boss 302, 444-hp Mustang: Instant lust
The high-performance 2012 Mustang Boss 302 features a unique exterior treatment, race-inspired wheels and aerodynamics and a high-revving 444-hp version of the 5.0-liter V-8. - photo by Photo Contributed

Body style: four-seat, rear-drive coupe with aluminum hood

Engine: aluminum, high-performance 5.0-liter, DOHC 4-valve V-8 with variable intake and variable camshaft timing; 7,500 rpm redline; stainless steel tubular headers and quad exhaust

Horsepower: 444 at 7,400 rpm

Torque: 380 ft.-lb. at 4,500 rpm

Transmission: close-ratio 6-speed manual

Fuel economy: 17 mpg city, 26 hwy; premium fuel recommended

Length/wheelbase: 188.1/107.1 in.

Curb weight: 3,362 lbs.

Suspension: front independent MacPherson strut with reverse-L lower control arm, 34.6-mm tubular stabilizer bar, strut tower brace and manual adjustable strut damping; rear 3-link solid axle with limited-slip differential, performance coil springs, Panhard bar, 25-mm stabilizer bar and manual adjustable shock damping

Brakes: front 14-inch, vented discs with 4-piston Brembo 40/44-mm fixed aluminum calipers; rear 11.8-inch vented discs with single-piston 43-mm floating iron calipers and Performance Friction Compound pads

Tires and wheels: 19-inch Pirelli PZero max performance, 255/40 front and 285/35 rear; wide-spoke, painted aluminum wheels

Steering: Rack-and-pinion with electric power-assisted steering; 39.4-foot turning circle

Base price: $40,995

Options include: Recaro cloth seat and Torsen helical differential for $1,995.

Where assembled: Flat Rock, Mich.

I knew it was wrong from the start. But I couldn’t help myself. It was just one of those things that happened. I wasn’t looking for it, but there it was ... undeniable. Nobody was supposed to get hurt. I felt alive; my heart was pounding fresh, red inspiration.

And now I can’t stop thinking about her: the Mustang Boss 302.

I had this car for four days over the Coronado Speed Festival in late September. I barely had to time to drive it, but it was instant lust.

And then I had three laps in heaven, at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., on a road course during the annual Motor Press Guild Track Day in mid-October.

People often ask me, “What car would you buy?” Today, it’d be this car, the Boss 302, I would say, grinning through the red mist of car obsession. I want this car! In Kona Blue, without the white Ricky Racer stripes.

As tested, the car was $43,000 — and there’s just nothing new up to $60,000 that can compare with its daily driving ease, its track finesse, a short turning circle, good sightlines and a usable trunk. It never seemed too much of a handful to head down to my favorite restaurant with its crowded parking lot.

Several elements resonate with the Boss.

It’s the power — a 444-hp 5.0-liter V-8 with stainless-steel tubular headers and quad exhaust. A black cue-ball shifter sits atop the short-throw, close-ratio, six-speed manual gearbox. The clutch isn’t much, if any, stiffer than that in the stock Mustang 5.0, from which this engine originated.

And it’s the sound. It can’t be legal! These pipes hack, pop, grumble and bellow, almost like an old Trans Am race car. Give a big, hearty push on the throttle in a heel-toe shift, and the engine calls back to pour on the power. It’s trouble looking for a partner, and I gave in.

Mustang and Ford Racing engineers pored over every component of a Mustang GT and strengthened, lightened and refined as necessary to unshackle the shaggy stallion within. It may have less horsepower than the Shelby GT500 (550 hp), but the Boss has more mid- and upper-end response. It’s set up for finesse, to be responsive on a race course, where the Shelby is more a straight-line machine.

This is a third- and fourth-gear all day long on the track. There’s too much kick in second to keep the rear tiers hooked up coming out of a corner. But it’s so forgiving when the rear end does break loose. The 14-inch front Brembos and 11.8-inch rear brake discs, all with Performance Friction Compound pads, got hot on the track but wouldn’t fade.

And all this without unlocking the race mode.

Ford’s TracKey system adds a second set of powertrain-control-module software to the Boss 302, which is unlocked by a specially programmed ignition key. There’s a black key for standard operating mode and a red key to go racing. The new TracMode software alters a couple hundred engine-management parameters, including variable cam timing, spark maps, engine braking, fuel control, and right down to a lopey idle. TracKey PCM software will be installed by an authorized Ford racing dealer.

Remove TracKey and start Boss with the standard key, and all factory engine settings are restored for a comfortable drive home from the course.

The Boss 302 is a special car. It fits in the hand like a roll of dimes and makes the driver feel like a hero. It shouldn’t be so easy to manipulate so much power, but it is.