AS something to paint on the side of a car, you'd need to be fairly confident to pick out the word "Boss."
Certainly, the current Mustang GT is no shrinking violet, what with a snorting V-8 providing some pretty outstanding performance. And then there's the Shelby editions of the 'Stang, with supercharged engines putting out Ferrari-ish horsepower levels.
So what makes this brightly painted pony-car so brash as to announce itself as the Boss, the King, el Jefe Grande? It's not the top of the Mustang food chain, it's not the king of the muscle-car hill - and at less than 50 grand for the base-model, it's not even that expensive, relatively speaking.
As with so many Mustangs, the answer can be found in the heritage of the breed. The original 1969 and '70 Boss 302 cars were so-dubbed when designer Larry Shinoda referred to his project as "the Boss's car," either an evasive answer to keep the specialty 'Stang under wraps, or as an homage to Ford's new president Bunkie Knudsen (or both).
Anyway, back when guys with names like "Bunkie" were running the show, the boss's car wasn't just lots of power. It was a no-nonsense, no-chrome, take-no-prisoners setup that mirrored the award-winning Trans-Am racecars of the day. In particular, two Boss Mustangs won the 1970 Trans-Am championships, making sure that hockey-stick-stripe insignia became a legendary livery.
Here now is the modern version of that car, and with such boots to fill, we gotta ask: who's the Boss?
As mentioned, the current Mustang GT isn't shy - neither, for that matter, are the V-6 models if you check off a few options boxes. Building on iconic long-nose, short-deck looks, the Boss adds its signature reflective hockey-stick stripe and fender badging, as well as a unique lower front splitter.
Available in wild colours like Grabber Blue or, in the case of my tester, School Bus Yellow, the Boss looks mean just sitting there. Part of the menace is due to the track-tuned suspension, which has a deliberate rake added in, lowering the front 11 millimetres but the back just 1 mm. The machine has a pouncing look, as though it's resting on its haunches, poised to leap.
With a blacked-out grille and polished-lip black-painted 19-inch alloys completing the look, it's little wonder that the Boss draws eyeballs like it was leading a Powerpoint presentation on the subject of paying attention. Of course, some of that's down to what happens when you fire the thing up - more on that later. Environment
An innovative touch-screen interface, panoramic sunroof and cushy leather seats are nice features to have. However, they'd be as out of place here as a foie gras flavour from Gatorade - you'll be happy to note that you don't get any of that nonsense in the Boss.
What you do get? An alcantara-wrapped steering wheel that provides great grip, even if your palms are sweaty (and they will be). A brace of cloth-wrapped Recaro seats with snugly fitting side-bolstering. A four-gauge instrument cluster that's blissfully free of clutter.
You also get all the usefulness of the regular Mustang, and that means a workable back seat that'll fit the kids, and a reasonably sized trunk; it's not a family sedan, but it's quite practical as a sports car.
The inside of the Boss is all-business, and in an age where manufacturers seem to be locked in a competition to see who can distract drivers the most, it's a breath of fresh air that clears the head. I suppose I should mention something about the stereo, but the truth is, I never turned it on once.
Squeeze yourself into the cockpit, adjusting the seat forward. Two clicks on the ignition to power everything up - drop both of the windows. Press in the clutch and make sure she's in neutral.
The Boss has a unique quad exhaust set-up: there's the usual twin-pipes out back, but also a set of smaller exhausts that exit just in front of the rear wheels. To say that the sound they produce is impressive is like saying that Pavarotti bloke can carry a tune pretty OK.
It's the sort of brief bark and burble that takes you back in time, every time. If you have a single allele of gearhead in your DNA, this machine prods it roughly with a big oily finger. Instantly, I'm 10 years old again.
Everything's heavy and mechanical, but not ponderously so. Slot the pool-ball shifter into first and the Boss growls its way up through the revs. Of everything I've driven this year, this machine is the most fun to drive slowly: it coughs and grumbles, and when you ease it down from third to second when pulling up at a stop sign, it mutters a soft throaty burble that's like the growl of a big jungle cat.
The Boss 302 pulls off what many much more expensive cars try to achieve and fail. It's an event, a gala performance - it's the sort of thing you might have imagined driving was going to be like when you were smashing Hot Wheels together in your parents' basement.
And then there's what happens when you actually put your foot into it a little. Good grief!
With shorter gearing taking advantage of the slightly beefed-up 444 horsepower high-output V-8, I hardly need mention that the Boss accelerates like a Saturn IV moon rocket. With much the same soundtrack.
Stiffer springs, uprated bushings and a bigger rear stabilizer bar all make the Boss much nimbler-feeling than the standard Mustang. Track day enthusiasts will also appreciate the adjustable-damping shock absorbers.
Now, at this point, somebody's bound to start complaining about how much better a proper independent rear suspension would be over the old-school live-axle that's part of the current Mustang's underpinnings. Should they do so, feel free to smack them upside the head with a non-stick frying pan. Not only does the Boss shunt through the corners with aplomb, it does so in a manner that makes you feel like '70s-racer Parnelli Jones blasting past the competition to take the win.
Selecting the Boss 302 limits your all-on options fairly severely - if you're looking for a strictly street boulevard cruiser, better to option-up a regular Mustang GT instead.
However, there are a few boxes that might be checked on top of that $48,799 base price. Most notably (and you pretty much have to add this one on) is a Recaro and Torsen package that gives you those fantastic bucket seats and a very necessary limited-slip rear with improved gearing.
Observed fuel economy was . . . um . . . have I mentioned how yellow it is? And what a great noise it makes? I see.
Well, it's a muscle-car, so expect muscle-car fuel consumption. Official figures are 13.6 litres/100 kilometres city and 7.8 l/100 km highway. The last time I heard numbers that optimistic, somebody was pitching a budget proposal in the legislature.
Outstanding handling and acceleration; phenomenal V-8 soundtrack; a sense of fun.
Extended track use would reportedly require brake upgrades to deal with fade; that's pretty much it.
The checkered flag
The best Mustang Ford's built in years. Might just be the best car I drive all year.
Competitors Chevy Camaro 1LE
While the world focuses on the supercharged battle between the Shelby GT500 and the ZL1 Camaro, Chevy hasn't forgotten to take the fight to the Boss with their own track-special. The 1LE designation includes aerodynamic enhancements, upgraded swaybars and a shortened rear drive ratio.
While the 1LE package is mostly a handling upgrade without power increases, the increase in grip will mean track-time difference will be down to the drivers.
Now hear me out, because this one's a bit of a stretch. After all, when it comes to V-8 performance coupes, the M3 is the king of the ring, the track-rat's choice.
True, except that the Boss Mustang puts out stats that are surprisingly close to the figures from Munich's finest. While the new, turbo-charged M3 is bound to shift the goalposts somewhat, the current edition might find that big yellow bus a bit of a handful to keep in the rearview mirror.