But in the years since my last experience with the Roush formula, Ford's own development team has churned out some pretty potent 'Stangs. We currently live in a world where the Blue Oval will sell you a Mustang with 662 horsepower from the factory, and the recently departed Boss 302 remains one of the best Mustangs – and best sports coupes – the Autoblog crew has ever driven.
So with great-driving and hugely powerful Mustangs coming straight off the line at Ford's Flat Rock Assembly Plant, does the Roush package still offer that extra special something to make it stand out? I spent a week with a Stage 3 coupe to find out.
- Within the Stage 3 model range, there are three different "phases" of engine tune that can be had. Our test car, in Phase 1 spec, adds a supercharger to the Mustang GT's 5.0-liter V8, the end result being 575 horsepower and 505 pound-feet of torque. Plenty powerful, for sure, but if that's not enough to get your motor running (pun totally intended), the Phase 2 kit will net you 625 horsepower and the Phase 3 option packs 675 horsepower. Take that, GT500.
- One of the most notable characteristics of any Roush package is the exhaust treatment, and as you'd expect, it's loud. Sorry – loud. Like, tough-to-hold-a-conversation-with-your-copilot loud. There's a huge roar on startup, and the harder you mash the throttle in every gear, the more robust the noise. We love a tough-sounding Mustang, and in terms of getting noticed and letting folks know that this isn't your ordinary factory Ford, the Roush treatment is a hilarious thrill. The sound does have a tendency to drone at highway speeds, but it's a sweet note. Besides, the Mustang's stock Shaker stereo is pretty horrible at higher volumes, anyway.
- The big disappointment with the Roush package is the interior, where it feels like a few steps were missed in the customization process. The optional leather Roush-specific seats are nice and decently comfortable, but seriously lack lateral bolstering. Considering you can now get Recaro chairs on every engine configuration of the stock Mustang, these are a must-have for the more hardcore Roush tune. Our car featured the optional rear seat delete, replaced by a functional cross-brace, but that aside, it's base Mustang GT spec in here. No upgraded stereo and no fussy MyFord Touch, though both can be had for an additional cost. We just miss any big feeling of exclusivity from the cabin.
- Outside, it's a different story. The Roush looks fantastic. We dig the visual enhancements like the hood scoop and vents, as well as the revised lower front fascia with pronounced foglamp housings. The added trim along the rocker panels is a nice touch, and while the side window louvers wreck visibility, they look nifty. The upgraded 20-inch wheels look good, too, wrapped in sticky Cooper RS3 275/35R20 tires.
- With 575 hp and 505 lb-ft of twist on hand, there's no denying that this Stage 3 Mustang is quick. Roush estimates that hitting 60 miles per hour will take just four seconds, and from behind the wheel, it feels every bit of that. However, even with supercharged thrust, power delivery is very linear, and the Roush is pretty easy to drive at slower speeds around town.
- Roush has given the Stage 3 a full suite of suspension tuning, and the end result is something that's far better able to put down all that power than, say, a GT500. But here, too, the car feels many steps away from being an all-out monster. The steering is still sort of vague, and the action of the six-speed manual shifter is rough when trying to quickly row between the gears. The cue ball shifter is cool, yes, but having a proper short-shift kit here would help things tremendously.
- Larger StopTech brakes with red-painted calipers provide plenty of stopping power, and again, the upgraded suspension is welcome with the added thrust from the 5.0-liter V8, but in a sort of old-school fast-Mustang way – the on-road action still has all the precision of trying to cut tissue paper with a chainsaw. It's vicious and fun, but it's not even close to matching what the Boss can throw down.
- And really, that's how the Stage 3 Mustang left me feeling after my week behind the wheel: not as good as the Boss 302. The latter remains one of Ford's best performance creations, and it will indeed be missed. But that's not all bad for the Roush. Fact is, it's better to drive than a GT500, even with a reduction of nearly 100 horsepower. (When do you actually need 662 hp, let alone 575, anyway?)
- As-tested, however, the Stage 3 sits just above the $65,000 mark, which is over $10,000 more than the aforementioned GT500. (That's $17,000 for the Roush package, over $10,000 in optional extras, and the $38,000 Mustang GT Premium donor car.) If you aren't just power-hungry, the added cost can be justified by the added exclusivity of the Roush treatment, with a more ferocious exhaust note and unique styling, and the better suspension geometry that results in a more composed on-road demeanor, as well. Of course, there's the added value of Roush being a full-on OEM, not just an aftermarket tuner bolting accessories onto Mustangs – everything found on this car was specifically designed for it. Really, the Stage 3 kit is just as awesome as it ever was. But these days, it's just tough to beat what's coming out of Ford's own factory.