Guest blog author and follower Eric Lorraine writes a fantastic comparison of the GT350 and Boss 302.
2012 Boss 302 vs 2016 GT350 by Eric Lorraine
Important disclaimer: I wasn’t always a car guy. In youth, I had friends with Lamborghini and Ferrari posters on their walls, but that wasn’t me. I did at one point have a Ferrari Testarossa on a folder in my Trapper Keeper (thanks Mom), but that was just a fluke.
It wasn’t until about 2010 that I discovered emotion could be elicited from a car. I’d witnessed a 1969 Iso Grifo in a deep burgundy start up, which forced me to finally “get it.” At the time I had just relegated a handy commuter - a 2000 “Laser Red” Mustang V6 5-speed - to an early grave due to an unfortunate hydrolocking incident and was subsequently driving a 2005 Ford F150 which could withstand similar such torrents with absolute impunity. I never forgot the exhaust note on that Grifo though.
In 2012 I was on the night shift as a resident at the local hospital, and would go right down the YouTube automotive rabbit hole between answering calls. And somewhere in the mix, I landed on a clip that just made me think “I need this sound in my life.”
Come to find out, it was the exhaust note of a 2012 Boss 302 Mustang, which happened to fit a predilection I apparently had for Mustangs.
I made some phone calls; and found my future car - which I bought sight unseen but notably in “Race Red” with black stripes and black roof - and had a 2 year love affair with it. That carried on until April 2015, when the initial teasers of the new GT350 started. Calling back to an earlier thought, pattern established, my brain decided “I need THIS sound in my life.” (Oddly enough, the same phrase is shared by Matt Farah, so it’s not just me). As such I had to let the Boss go for faster and newer things. A 2016 Mustang GT350, in “Race Red,” with, you guessed it, black stripes and a black roof now lives in my garage.
So that’s a lot of windup for an introduction.
Apples to Crab-apples:
As it stands, I’ve got 1600 miles on the Shelby and I sold the Boss with about 25k. I daily these cars, because I’ll be damned if I’ll ever finance a car to sit in my garage. With both cars having track intent, each shoots for a high redline, but the Boss’s relatively nuts 7500 RPM is dwarfed by the Shelby’s unreal 8250 RPM. The “Voodoo” motor is insane – there’s a reason the old Stig made the “loco gesture” after crossing the finish at the Goodwood Festival of Speed.
You’re used to basing shifts on two typical inputs from a car, one of which is the noise, and the other, the buttdyno. The “problem,” in the GT350 is that the exhaust gets to shift-loud around 4000RPM and your buttdyno screams to shift around 6500RPM because you’re waiting for the horsepower plateau, but it’s not coming (and I don’t mean it’s coming late, I mean it’s not coming at all). All the while the car continues to throttle you forward like you’re ripping a hole in space-time. At 7500 RPM, I’m pretty sure you’re having a conversation with God, and around 8250 RPM you’re not sure what’s real anymore and if you even want to come back. You’d better hope you brought your totem. While the Boss motor was raw, and sounded fantastic, and side exhaust is the automotive equivalent of hot fudge on a sundae (technically completely unnecessary, absolutely calorically preposterous, but positively deliciously makes a good thing better), the Voodoo+exhaust is like an ice cream sundae with hot fudge served inside a chocolate dipped waffle cone and served inside a somehow larger sundae. This car has me so close to mixing metaphors.
The Boss was adequate on the street in the braking department but I’ve said before they were more likely to set themselves on fire than set the world on fire. A decent set of Brembos were scavenged from the parts bin; but I always felt like the Boss cars deserved something a little more bespoke. Apparently the FordPerformance Team kept a little something in the tank for the future. The brakes on the GT350 are sublime. For starters, they look the part with a two piece rotor, and in practice they’ll test your seatbelt tensioner when you invariably get brake happy. It’s the absolute best tool for truly scaring your passenger, they’ll think their terror is over when you finally hit the brake but nope! Rumors of brake fade are few and far between. And my inner boy-racer is still infatuated with waiting outside the car after stopping and listening to the rotors contract/expand with glorious TING sounds. I will say I’ve had a harder time heel-toeing on the street in the GT350 because the damn brakes are so good it’s harder to time the throttle blip. The Boss pedal had great feel for street heel-toeing because the brakes were a little less dialed in.
When it comes to digging at the Boss 302, the lowest hanging of fruit was the shifter. Most drivers of MT-82-equipped Mustangs were not fans of the sloppy 1-2 and worse 2-3 shift, with the occasional ill-timed 3rd gear lockout. As such, the forums pretty much exploded with solutions from the MGW shifter to the Blowfish bracket and depending on application they either worked well, not well, or not at all. It was a real letdown for that particular “Roadrunner” engine, because it was begging for more, but the transmission and shifter had all the commitment potential of me back in high school. The Tremec gearbox in the GT350 is a little longer in the throw but more effective on the whole. It’s much easier to navigate, and makes the GT350 feel a lot more eager to be thrown around. You can expect you’ll slot it in the gear you want and the car will co-operate. It’s confidence inspiring.
In the domain of handling, it’s a really unfair comparison. The Boss sat on the finest tuned Solid Rear Axle, and I think that statement will hold water until the world stops because no one is going back to the SRA. The GT350 is the benefactor of a few years of development of an S550 platform geared for Independent Rear Suspension. Throw in the Magnaride option, and you’ve basically turned the Boss’s fullback “straight ahead but can turn” attitude into an agile running back. It’s a more graceful car, a more sporting car; like the GT350 got its bachelor's degree. When you get the GT350 loose, it feels calm and predictable in doing so. The car will hold your line for you, like a butler holding your champagne while you go shotgun a beer. And when you’re done hooning, it’ll welcome you back to “proper” driving and will reward you for more “appropriate” and “civilized” applications of throttle, braking and turning via speed and stability. The Boss was a lot wilder in that regard; the line between sliding and spinning was a hell of a lot narrower, with a propensity for full blown NASCAR infield theatrics. The Boss wears a fake tuxedo shirt and shotguns beers in trucker hats. I never thought it made a heck of a lot of sense to compare the Boss 302 to the BMW M3, except to point and laugh at Germany in a way to say “hey this can do what that can do but with a sense of humor.” That combined potential was something Ford captured so well with the Boss and really is where the GT350 loses out a little bit. It’s an American thought to consider the muscle car charming but hell, this is America and goddamnit it is charming.
That said, “dailying” a car is something else and requires certain amenities. “Because racecar” is an adorable slogan but it’s a steamy pile of hot garbage in practice if you daily a car. The Boss 302 was missing anything resembling a modern automobile: It had a crummy stereo, un-deleted buttons for features it lacked (NO SAT RADIO was my favorite mis-click), no bluetooth. I know this takes heat but “work happens” and occasionally you have a take a phone call in your car. If you lack Bluetooth and have a manual gearbox, you’re gonna have a bad time. So the GT350 has options for Sync3, heated and cooled seats, and a backup camera and you know what? I took them. Tough. Sometimes I want to answer my phone with a swamp-ass-less backside. Come at me. Plus, the Shelby just feels special when you walk up to it, key in pocket, and just touch behind the handle to get it to unlock. I know that’s a standard feature on the s550 but it makes you feel like the car chooses you.
This is the part in the comparison where the Shelby really defines itself for the track and maybe not as the better road car. Its potential is so high you can’t reach it in a reasonably safe way on the road. In second gear, you top out around 80mph, and in 3rd it’s north of 100 (I believe 120). That’s not safe for any non-track environment, and sliding it around corners is generally hard to do because the tire grip and chassis balance are so good. It’s composed, seasoned, and lets you know its capable. I believe that with the stock setup, the Boss was the better car for fun on regular roads because you can get it closer to its limit without blatantly violating the law. It’s like when Clarkson drove the Toyota GT86/FR-S on Top Gear. Driving with untapped potential is good for confidence during trips but will always leave you wondering what the car can actually do.
Is one car better than the other? Absolutely. The GT350 isn’t the Boss turned up to 11, it’s the Boss turned up to 12. But can you really take away from the King of the S197s? Not without admitting you have no soul (read: work for BMW). The Boss has charisma in spades, its own legacy and I feel it will hold up as THE S197 to own (sorry GT500’s 662HP). I can’t say the same of the GT350, only because Ford has only slowly started teasing out the rest of their s550 models. Rumors of a GT500 and a Mach 1 sit around the corner, with yet-to-be-determined characteristics. However, I suspect the GT350 will sit in a special place in Mustang lore, with the last great naturally aspirated American V-8. All I can say is that I think FordPerformance has their cards in order, and I'm grateful that 1969 Iso Grifo showed up just at the right time in my life.
Special thanks to Grant for offering me the option to write this and have it posted up somewhere.
Please check Eric's Instagram for more on his GT350!