5.0 Mustang & Super Fords
2008 Saleen S302 Extreme - Extremely Civilized
Saleen backs up the body kits and flashy paints with a Mustang of true performance substance
Pushed harder, the Extreme exhibits surprisingly good balance before signing off with modest to moderate understeer almost at the limit. The limit is high, and the understeer remains in the background until nearly the end. Thus, the Extreme doesn't have that unfocused, musclecar apathy when spurred. Likewise, body roll, while there isn't an issue and in general, roll, pitch, and overall traction balance are nicely harmonized. The frontend doesn't feel so heavy. If anything, the Extreme pitches up and down with the throttle, but 600 lb-ft of torque will raise the nose, won't it? Movement no doubt aids corner-exit traction, and again, with this much umph, a bit of telegraphing from the chassis aids driver confidence.
Designed strictly as a street car, the Extreme's precision and grip are just short of today's best pure two-seat sports cars, but miles ahead of the GT 500 musclecar paradigm. Sure, it could use more spring and shock should you venture out on open-track day (we didn't and probably wouldn't). On the street we found the grip and handling confidence-inspiring relative to the massive power. We'll admit we quickly adopted a point-and-squeeze driving style; it's perfectly natural in this car, as there's always so much power that trying for that last bit of cornering power doesn't seem worth the risk. You can just go faster down the next straight if you're really that late to the airport.
Braking was nearly stellar. Our demo car stopped nicely in casual use, but had just a hint of pedal softness when pushed harder. Asked to perform across a huge speed range, we'll bet close attention to pad maintenance would pay off for the Extreme owner. A few truly hard stops on occasion ought to keep the glazing rubbed off. He'll definitely need all the braking power when inevitably exploring the time-bending upper speed ranges this car is so easily capable of.
Given the willing chassis and killer power, it's easy to understand how we found it difficult to sit at the computer while the Extreme was in our driveway.
Of course, it's never all sweetness and light, and there are Extreme nits to pick, or opinions to express. We'll cite the rear quarter-window covers; Saleen diligently pointed out how our test car was fitted with such styling aids, and how they were strictly for evaluation at this time (they were the only non-stock items on the entire car). After a few thousand blind lane changes our opinion on these window covers remains the same: They stink. Visibility is notably reduced, and we're not excited by that entering-the-cave darkness in the back-half of the cabin. Besides, this car doesn't need such a styling add-on. The Extreme already has a subdued forcefulness to its exterior design, especially in silver. It doesn't need window covers.
To tilt at windmills, with the $84,000 Extreme it's long past time to remove the boy racer Saleen graphic atop the windshield. Not that we really expect it to go away, as we made the same comment 21 years ago when we drove our first Saleen, and you can see how much good that has done.
As good as the Extreme's fit and finish is--Saleen's best--there are a few vestiges of its cottage-industry roots. The gauge pod's white instrument lighting doesn't fit in with the MyColor Ford lighting, for example. And some things never seem to change, such as the Saleen-specific HID headlights that were maladjusted to shine about a yard in front of the hood, or the check engine light that lit for no apparent reason. We won't count the tire-pressure-monitoring fault code, as those seem to illuminate with every new car we test.
In the end, those concerns faded to the rear, just as the scenery does when the Extreme throttle opens wide. What does stay with you is that Second gear rush. Believe us: You never get tired of it.