Muscle Mustangs & Fast Fords
Saleen S-302 Extreme Mustang - Number-One Contender
Saleen's S-302 Extreme Packs Knockout Power. Can It Take The Belt?
Carrying over from the S281 Extreme is the close-ratio six-speed manual transmission and high-performance clutch assembly. While the S281E utilized a 4.10 ring-and-pinion ratio, that steep of a gear was just not needed with the power output of the S302, so a set of 3.73 cogs reside in the 8.8 axlehousing.
Balancing the performance in a car like the S302 requires upgrading all areas, and the braking system was not left untouched. Up front, you'll find pizza pan-sized 15-inch, slotted and vented brake rotors and six-piston Saleen calipers to clamp down on them when you hit the center pedal. The rearend braking duties are handled using slotted and vented 11.8-inch rotors with the stock calipers.
Obviously, putting 620 hp to the ground without removing a significant amount of rubber from the tires is a tall task, but one that Saleen accomplishes with relative ease through a combination of suspension and Pirelli PZero Rosso tires. Departing from other Saleen offerings, the S302 sports a quartet of unique, five-spoke forged wheels measuring 20x9 inches up front and 20x10 inches in the rear. The Mustang's tire-pressure-monitoring system remains intact, and Saleen's cast-aluminum, seven-spoke chrome-plated wheels are available as a no-cost option.
Our day at El Toro provided us with three autocross runs in both the H302 and S302 vehicles. With the number of journalists in attendance, we didn't get much time to poke around beneath the hood or in the interior-the extensive sea of cones garnered the majority of our attention. The interior does come appointed with Saleen leather performance driving seats, a six-gauge instrument cluster with 200-mph speedometer, twin gauge pod with boost and air temperature instruments, a short-throw shifter, performance pedal covers, various Saleen badging, and a Rockford Fosgate sound system that we never turned on. To be honest, the exhaust note was all the music we needed.
Externally, the S302 is mildly updated from the S281E, and for 2008 you can now get a glass roof-or ditch the roof altogether and go for the speedster drop-top model. It's also available in all of the current Mustang colors.
On the autocross course, the S302 was immensely powerful, as the internal G-meter told us the twin-screw supercharger provided plenty of low-end torque. Amazingly, the S302 stuck like glue under acceleration, through the turns, and under braking. Oftentimes performance like this comes with a sacrifice in ride quality, but the S302 rode softly until we leaned the car into the turn, where it planted itself firmly. We did notice a bit more understeer in the S302 versus the H302, but we imagine the added weight of the S302's supercharger assembly may have set the weight balance a little farther forward. The minimal amount of understeer, however, was easily corrected with the throttle.
The S302 Extreme was definitely a blast to drive, which really is the goal behind a company's halo car, and the '08 Saleen S302 should be on dealer lots by the time you read this. Saleen is planning on building only 100 of these bad boys per year, and when combined with the $79,995 price tag, this should keep all 620 hp in the hands of a few.
We left the Saleen vehicle launch impressed by the S302 Extreme and the company in general. Saleen now offers a well-balanced lineup of high-performance vehicles, with something for everyone, whether it's a car or a truck. Knowing that Steve Saleen has left the Saleen stable, one may wonder where the company is now headed, but we can tell you there's an enthusiastic group of talented individuals at the helm who are directing the reawakening of the Saleen brand. Vehicle production will be moving to Saleen's Troy, Michigan, plant, and the company is expanding its Speedlab performance parts division along with its aftermarket installer network and dealer accounts. If the S302 is a sign of things to come, Saleen is headed in the right direction.