GT350R vs. Boss 302
ho said rich guys have all the fun? From the moment the Mustang Boss 302 debuted four years ago, the reviewers sang the praises, the dealers added a huge markup and the resale values stayed steady in a manner more commonly associated with cars that bear the prancing horse instead of a galloping pony. Even today, prices for a mint-condition Boss 302 often look suspiciously like the original window sticker.
In the near future, however, quite a few of those 444-horsepower ponycars are going to be appearing on your local Craiglist. The reason: there's a new Boss in town. Only this time, it's called the Shelby GT350. Given the strong performance of the standard five-liter Mustang GT in last year's PCOTY, we expected great things from our Race Yellow GT350R tester this year. At the same time, we knew that for many Shelby intenders, the only comparison that really matters is with the Boss 302 they already have in their garages.
Enter R&T's occasional contributor, Bark M., and his School Bus Yellow 2013 Boss 302. Bark's Boss has a lot of "patina," which is another way of saying that he's driven it around the country and used it for everything from trackdays to dropping his kids off at school. It doesn't get washed very often and it still had the remnants of the original brake pads when it arrived at NCM Motorsports Park. After a quick flush and pad swap, we took it and the new GT350R out for some back-to-back driving.
First impressions: these are both Mustangs, and they both have bespoke high-performance overhead-cam V8s, but they have very different hearts. The "Roadrunner" in the Boss growls like a classic muscle car, all syncopated beat and deep-chested malice. It's the soundtrack you remember from a thousand drive-ins and Sixties movies. On track, it's strong from idle all the way to the 7500-rpm redline, breathing free but clearly spinning a heavy flywheel. From experience, I know that the Boss often performs best on track when you short-shift it a bit.
The Shelby, on the other hand... Most of the increase in displacement to 5.2 liters comes from the bore, not the stroke. The flat crank, a signature of the modern Ferrari getting its ponycar debut in the GT350, allows the engine to break the 100hp/liter mark on its way to 526 horsepower at 7500 rpm. It also gives it an extra 750 revs above that to play with. Trust me, you want every one of them.
At full throttle, the Shelby emits a banshee wail that has nothing to do with the Boss 302's conventional V-8 noise. The flywheel feels insubstantial, made of aluminum or perhaps papier-mache. It hammers on the ears, reaches through your skull and twists your amygdala until your mind erupts in a sort of sympathetic inflammation. The Boss is a world-class V-8. This is something else entirely; exotic, emotional.
The brakes on the Boss are strong but they're only just adequate to the task of slowing this big, heavy sedan from speed. The GT350R, on the other hand, has proper fixed calipers front and rear, and they are as tireless on the track as they are on a fast two-lane. Pedal feel is brilliant. The ABS engagement is minute, subtle, and utterly effective.
The same is true for the chassis. The live-axle Boss, even in Laguna Seca form, is always competent on track but you never forget that you're driving a Mustang, with all that implies in terms of inertia and footprint on the road. The Shelby is in another league. It has an astounding amount of camber and it has grip to match a Corvette or a supercar. It's as if half a ton has been shed from the curb weight; this Mustang attacks transitions like a two-seater, not a sedan with a seat height about what you'd get in a Camry.
I've been a fan of the Boss 302 since driving the Laguna Seca at the track of the same name in March of 2011, but this GT350R effortlessly replaces it in my affections. This is more than simply the best Mustang possible; it's more like the best M6 BMW never built, a high-revving love letter to purity of purpose and execution. I'm a bit worried by oil temperatures that hover in the 280-300 degree range during our testing, but I've also seen a Boss 302 spike its oil gauge on a racetrack. You just have to trust that the engine is as stout as it is stout-hearted. If you can live with that, the rest is gravy.
After a quick spin around NCM, I ask Bark what he thinks of the GT350. "It's utterly brilliant, but I like my seating position more, and I like the way mine looks better. That doesn't mean," he hastens to clarify, "that I'm not going to buy one." If he decides to put his money where his mouth is, he might have a problem doing it. Most of the "R" models in this year's production run are already pre-sold and even the standard cars are likely to have serious dealer markup. Just like the Ferrari in our test, the fiery and thrilling 488GTB. See? Who said rich guys have all the fun?