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
But mat the gas in any gear and it's anything but normal. First thing that happens is the supercharger wails a scream that's applause to the enthusiast's ear. At the same time, the exhaust ramps up the volume and all the traffic on the freeway begins rolling backward. This is a fast car.
Much of the excitement is the way the Extreme makes rivers of torque from above idle to redline. This is the vaunted "torque on demand" marketing types love to kick around in press conferences, except this time there really is meaningful thrust underfoot. Helping considerably are the 3.73 rear axle gears. The Extreme, like all current hot-rod Mustangs, is no lightweight at 3,645 pounds, but the steep gearing ensures it jumps out of the hole like a teenager. The rest, of course, is due to the 600 lb-ft of torque at 4,400 rpm, a most assuredly satisfying figure.
As expected, even with the weight and sticky tires, the massive power is more than adequate in First gear. Even walked carefully off the line, squeezing the throttle gently to the floor results in wheelspin at the top of First. Best acceleration comes with an abbreviated launch, then quickly jumping into Second where full throttle requires no further driver management unless the surface is slippery. You're home free in Third, except by this point you're already felony-fast. Sixty miles-per-hour comes up in around four seconds from a dead stop and in about half that given a roll. With such willing energy, the acceleration rush lasts far into the triple digits.
In other words, the car is so fast, the fun is over about as quickly as it starts. As with other mega-powered cars, the Extreme thrust is so intoxicating that it takes willpower to lift off the loud pedal, even when scattering third graders in a school zone. This is definitely a car for the mature enthusiast.
So much of this accelerative pleasure comes from the instant torque. The power is always there and needs no winding up to get rolling. This would be dangerously explosive, in the old Shelby Cobra roadster sort of way, except the power is wonderfully linear and childishly easy to dial in or out as needed. The driver is in full control, backed up by the traction control, which understands that power-induced wheelspin is necessary for the expert driver, but is ultimately not going to let things get out of hand.
So reassured, we found the Extreme a great partner even when it came time to jump into busy traffic flows from side streets or merge onto flying freeway traffic from long uphill ramps. It makes fabulously usable power.
This is in contrast to Saleen's earlier big-bore Mustang, the storied S351SC from the mid '90s. Those SN-95-based war-wagons relied on hulking, centrifugally supercharged 351 Windsors, which were a real rush but required some driving technique. They casually blew the tires off in First, which was a nearly useless gear, and spun madly in Second before pulling like a warp drive in Third and beyond. They were real cage-rattling animals, and not half as civilized, daily driver tolerant, or easy to drive as the Extreme. But brother, did they rage.
In contrast, the Extreme passed finishing school with honors, and it's absolutely ready for daily duty. As a cruiser it does relax, but never slumbers. The transmission gearing is not stratospheric in the upper cogs. Therefore, unlike a six-speed Corvette, which falls to nearly 1,500 rpm at freeway speeds, the Extreme keeps about 2,000 rpm on the clock in Sixth while rolling with traffic. Delicate, off-boost lane changes and such occur as eagerly as they would in a stock Mustang GT; alternately, kept in Fifth, the Extreme strains to run hard. Of course, boosted power is only a tickle of the right foot away.
Just as Saleen has been upping its power game, its Mustang chassis engineering has been improving as well. The Extreme carried itself confidently, with more than expected responsiveness.
As a performance street car, the Saleen is almost plush, but with noticeably more control and precision than, say, Ford's GT 500. In daily driver mode, there's some feel to hard-edge obstacles, but nothing objectionable or out of the daily driver category. The steering is light and precise, with slightly improved feel over a civilian GT, and the turn-in and mid-corner grip is confidence inspiring. Encouraged to a fast touring clip on secondary roads, the Extreme is a rewarding companion.