SAN GABRIEL MOUNTAINS, California – Steve Saleen has been building his tweaked and tuned high-performance Mustangs since the 1980s. Thirty-five years later, his early Fox body machines have become bona fide collectors' items, and his SN95 efforts are not far behind. With the blessing of the Ford Motor Company, Saleen (pronounced as Sah loan, not Say loan) has also produced hot rod versions of the F-150 pickup, Explorer and Focus hatchback, and for some time even the medium engine S7 supercar. And this 2019 Saleen Mustang S302 Black Label, in all its bright orange glory.
This Mustang is the product of a proven operation. Saleen buys a series of 5.0-liter Mustang GT & # 39; s from Ford and builds it up at its facility in Corona, California, after which the cars are sold through Ford-certified Ford and exotic car dealerships throughout the country . It offers three versions of the Saleen S302: the naturally driven 475-horsepower White Label ($ 47,000), the supercharged 740-horsepower Yellow Label and the also supercharged Black Label ($ 78,495, essentially the same price as the supercharged Roush Stage 3 Mustang we reviewed earlier this year) with a claimed 800 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 687 pound-foot torque at 5,200 rpm. More importantly, Ford & # 39; s own supercharged Shelby GT500 will pack 760 horsepower for $ 73,995.
Let's start with the pursuit and tackle the numbers of the Black Label. Saleen installs its own 2.6-liter screw type supercharger and intercooler system with a 103 mm throttle body. It makes 12 psi boost. The engine also gets 47-lb fuel injectors for better flow, an induction system for cold air, a readjusted ECU and a "Saleen-tuned exhaust system with powerful exhaust". According to the company, the double overhead ridge is 5.0-liter otherwise stock, and these changes increase the V8's capacity with 340 hp and 267 lb-ft of torque without the full Ford warranty.
Acceptable? Sure. But if the Saleen really packs the power of a Dodge Challenger Hellcat Redeye and almost as much torque, it should be a serious handful. It should be the type of car you are afraid of. If you just look at his accelerator pedal, the 275 mm wide rear tires should become fluid and a hard turn on a winding mountain road such as Angeles Crest should be a deadly operation of tire-changing upset while you fight to keep the 3785 pound car between the lines. Simply put, the Saleen should have & # 39; the world's worst traction problem.
But it doesn't.
The 302 Black Label just doesn't get so inactive or for the first third of its tachometer – there's just not much growling below 4,000 rpm, just like its Roush counterpart. Drop a launch by dropping the link from the Saleen without enough speed and the 5.0-liter falls on his face while you wait for it to turn and get a boost. It is not nearly as fierce as a Challenger Hellcat, nor does it have the traction problems of that car (even with the huge 305 mm tires from the Widebody). Note that Saleen uses the MT-82, factory clutch of the Mustang GT and the limited-slip differential with an optional 3.73 rear axle ratio. A ratio of 3.55 is standard.
Don't get it wrong, the Saleen S302 Black Label is seriously fast and it will destroy a set of tires if that's your thing. The DOHC V8 of the Mustang is simply not known for its under-torque and the changes made by Saleen do not change the power delivery characteristics. We would like to trade in some of its highest speed performance for a bit more thrust.
In addition to the problem, traction control intervenes with a heavy hand. Turn it off and the Saleen spins its rear tires through the upper half of the tach and it will keep them lit by all second gears. The company says that 0-60 km / h takes 3.7 seconds.
And it sounds great. The 5.0-liter thunders to life and there is a pleasant thump to his inactivity. They will hear you during the ride through. In the city the soundtrack is partly exhaust sound, partly blowing whine, but the supercharger is not as heavy in the mix as in a Hellcat. Lift the accelerator pedal and there is satisfactory cracking, popping and popping of the Black Label's carbon exhaust tips. It is louder than the Roush.
Unfortunately, the gas response can be inconsistent. Sometimes it is more boring than a dictionary, other times it is so sharp that it is difficult to steer the Saleen smoothly. We asked a representative from Saleen about the problem, but he offered no explanation. After a while you learn how to work around the problem, but the Saleen cards should be better. Another problem with the quality of life is the fuel consumption of the Saleen. With an average speed of just 11.7 mpg, the S302 has a practical fuel range of just 200 km. To be honest, the fuel range is also a problem in Ford's own Shelby GT350.
Angeles Crest is the third gear in the Saleen and here forward bite is no problem. With its revs high, the Mustang explodes from corner to corner, puts its power down nicely and pulls with considerable power to its 7,400 red line where it hits the mother of all fuel cuts.
It is easy to keep a seriously fast pace. The Saleen has a sharp turn and takes a nice set in fast turns, with very little body roll, but it does not have the lateral grip or athletics of a Shelby GT350 with the optional handling package. The Saleen's 20-inch General G-Max RS tires, wrapped around a sexy set of optional Carbonite Monaco five-spoke alloys, are not nearly as sticky as the Shelby & # 39; s wider 19-inch Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 rubber . The stiffer suspension of the Shelby also gives a more locked feeling than the Saleen. On the plus side, the Saleen drives better than the Shelby and the sturdier Roush. Saleen installs various shocks and springs, but refused our request for the spring and damping percentages.
The optional brakes of our test car, supplied by Wilwood, consisted of drilled and slotted 15-inch front rotors with 6-piston calipers. They offered a sturdy pedal and they were easy to modulate in the city and in the hills. Heat was never a problem, not even running down the mountain on that afternoon of 95 degrees.
Saleen also dresses up the interior a little by adding his own upholstery, Alcantara at the wheel, a bat / leather shift knob and white faces to the speedo and tach. An auxiliary meter pod adds instruments for the boost and load temperature, but we think Saleen should also add oil pressure and oil temperature controls as you get in the Shelby. It just seems to be important information.
The fiberglass hood is heavy and does not fit as well as it could. The scoop is a counterfeit, but the ventilation openings are open. When you sit by a red light, you can see the waves of engine heat escaping under the engine. The splitter, the rocker cover and the diffuser on the back are made of high-quality carbon fiber. Those big fender openings are also for the show, but Saleen calls that appendix glued to the trunk a "high downforce" rear wing. Maybe it's true, but the car would look better without it.
Nevertheless, the visual impact of this Black Label is undeniable. Saleen always looked cool and turned heads and stared at motorists and pedestrians all over Los Angeles. One Mustang driver even pulled out his phone and registered the car in traffic, while several spectators complimented their paint job on Orange Fury. It is a Ford factory color, although Saleen also offers the Black Label in 13 of its own exclusive colors with cool names, including Burnout Black Pearl, Tire Smoke White Pearl and Lizstick Red Metallic.
During our photo shoot on the famous Angeles Crest Highway of the city, a few millennials stopped in an E46 M3 on oversized rubber. Just like us, they seemed to spend their sunny Thursday afternoon with passes up and down the mountain. They stopped, turned the passenger's side window down, and shouted: & # 39; American muscle! Yes darling. & # 39; Then the man behind the wheel opened wide and accelerated up the hill before we could respond. Thank you guys, whoever you are.