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
Saleen's chassis-tuning sophistication has been improving for years, and the Extreme arrived at a spring-shock-swaybar tune that not only gives a pleasing ride, but does a commendable job of hanging on to the pavement. The Extreme further benefits from Saleen's stout Watt's link rear-axle locating device, and superb 20-inch Pirelli ultra-high-performance P-Zero tires.
Saleen engineers confirmed the P-Zero rubber was a particularly happy marriage with their chassis, but also emphasized the Watt's link as a significant upgrade. The previous Panhard bar arrangement limited the workable spring-shock-swaybar tune, and when they brought the Watt's link online, they were able to stiffen the rear swaybar. This tightened the rearend, reducing understeer at the frontend, which is one of the Saleen chassis' notable accomplishments.
Given the huge power, Saleen's choice of 15-inch front and 11.8-inch rear brakes doesn't seem outlandish. The front binders sport equally macho six-piston calipers while the rear calipers, ABS, and vacuum power assist systems are stock Mustang GT.
Inside, the Extreme displays the increasing competence Saleen has gained in fit and finish. We noticed the seats first. They're upholstered in black leather with white stitching, and the workmanship was excellent--absolutely worthy of a mainstream OEM. While the Extreme is all about performance, Saleen chose large but not obtrusive bolsters to maintain daily driver access.
Across the dash is the usual array of Saleen-faced instruments, including its traditional 200-mph speedometer that doesn't look quite so silly anymore. Atop the dash is a twin-gauge pod housing boost pressure and charge-cooler temperature information. A tastefully subdued serial number plaque is glued to the far right of the dash. We enjoyed its semigloss black finish, but in this price league we'll bet a more sophisticated material than molded plastic would be appreciated by customers attracted by the Saleen's exclusive, serial-numbered nature.
With 200 Extremes slated for '08 production--an optimistic number given the economy these days--our tester carried a S302E 2008 010/200 serial number. Descriptive, but a mouthful.
Looking down the stock center stack of familiar Shaker 500 sound and HVAC controls brings us to the shifter, which Saleen has fitted with a nicely turned-out leather boot to match the seat upholstery, along with a smallish, tapered cylinder of a shift handle, also done in hide-like trim. Acknowledge the Saleen script door thresholds, floor mats, and aluminum pedal pads and that's about it for interior modifications. The affect is quietly upscale, with a masculine purposefulness. Clearly Saleen recognized the S197 Mustang interior is already a nice place to be, and they did a good job of moving it up a notch while avoiding the dreaded tacky or boy racer pitfalls.
Impressively, turning the key and setting the moving parts in motion doesn't dispel this tony mood. There's a touch of firmness in the clutch effort, but nothing serious. Likewise, the exhaust has a purposeful growl, not enough to render the stereo totally useless but absolutely part of the environment. The Extreme continues Saleen's habit of providing the exhaust with two outlets. The first is under the car, a set of dump tubes mounted right at the end of the mufflers, which are in the standard S197 location. These dump tubes are not visible to casual observers. At high engine outputs, a valve opens an additional set of tailpipes terminating at the visible center-outlet exhaust tips. This dual exit design reduces backpressure when it counts, aiding power when the supercharger is doing its thing.
Another noise maker is the supercharger itself. It lightly grinds and gear whines at idle such that non-enthusiasts will think things are mechanically noisy underhood, but true believers will just grin in anticipation. This is precisely the noise an OEM such as Ford would fall on their sword over, but it's the joy of specialty manufacturers.
Slipping the shifter into gear is different than standard Mustang practice. Mounted completely on the transmission, the shifter has a short, precise throw, but with an unexpectedly light effort. It's a snick-snick sort of shifter, the kind of thing sports car fans and road racers enjoy, and not the long-levered slam-it-home device seemingly in favor with drag and circle track fans. Clutch take up is normal, engaging in mid-travel with perfectly standard street-car action.
So is simply driving around, which is a major part of the Extreme accomplishment. This really is a daily driver Mustang with easy ingress/egress, normal sight lines (save for the quarter-window covers--more on which later), a plushly elegant cabin, relatively low noise, no racy rattles or vibrations, normal control efforts--in short, all the comforts of home.