In the Autoblog Garage: 2008 Saleen S302 Extreme

Click above for high-res images of the 2008 Saleen S302 Extreme

My first experience with the Saleen S302E Mustang was an absolute blast. I was handed the keys and told to let loose on abandoned airstrip. Mash the throttle from a standing start and the 620 horsepower underhood would quickly turn the rear tires into a cloud of smoke. Use the throttle carefully and the rear tires would maintain traction, catapulting the car forward at an incredible rate. Brake to the absolute threshold, take a corner at high speeds, and then kick the tail sideways while exiting the turn - I was able to experience the full potential of the S302E, unrestricted by traffic and speed limits, with plenty of forgiving pavement in case of a spin.

Read on after the jump to hear about living with the S302E as a daily driver and check out our fab pics in the gallery below. Believe it or not, we took them ourselves.

All photos Copyright ©2008 Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc.

A few weeks later it was a whole different story. No, the car hadn't changed. It was still just as powerful and just as fast. The only problem was that I was now driving on public roads. Within the first few feet of driving the car I ran into my first challenge: exiting the parking lot. The carbon fiber front spoiler that looks so great on the car is also extremely low, and I take it slow with a sideways angle to clear the dip in the road. A few stoplights later and I realize the clutch that was so great for fast launches is not as great at slow, smooth starts. A few minutes later and I'm on the freeway. Remember those massive rear tires responsible for putting 620 horsepower to the ground? They're pretty darn loud at 70 mph. At least the exhaust is relatively quiet, due to the gearing from the 6-speed transmission.

So what am I supposed to do with this thing? If I mash the throttle, I'll be exceeding the speed limit by a fair amount in about two seconds. How am I supposed to put the 15-inch brakes to use? Experiencing the handling limits of the car would put me at twice the speed limit around corners. It seems that all of the great qualities of the car that I loved on the track have turned out to be much less useful for driving on the street. The S302E's capabilities are so far above anything that can be used on the public roads that you only get to experience a very small portion of the car. It is a strangely unrewarding experience, knowing the full power that can be unleashed underneath your right foot and not being able to do anything about it. On the contrary, my previous experience with a Saleen, the Parnelli Jones Edition, was one of the most fulfilling driving experiences I have ever had. The silky-smooth, 400-bhp V8 and well balanced suspension made it a true pleasure to drive, and it has been unmatched by any other Mustang I've ever driven on the street.

That said, there is no doubt that the S302E is an incredible machine. It's one of the most brutal cars I've ever driven, and it is sure to give plenty of thrills to anyone who puts down just under $80,000 to buy one.

What does that 80k get you? One heck of a motor, to start. Saleen has taken the 24-valve V8 to the... well ...extreme. A forged rotating assembly punches displacement out to 5.0-liters like in the Parnelli Jones Mustang, but Saleen takes it a step further and bolts on its Series VI twin-screw supercharger with integrated water-to-air intercooler to force the maximum amount of air into the engine. Saleen then adds ported aluminum cylinder heads, a more aggressive camshaft, duel fuel pump, 39 lb/hr fuel injectors, and a high-flow cold-air induction system. Handling all that power is a beefy 6-speed transmission and high performance clutch.

The rest of the S302E is standard Saleen Mustang with the exception of a few upgrades. A carbon fiber front splitter and rear diffuser spice up the exterior along with lighter 5-spoke wheels. The differential comes with limited slip and 3.73:1 gears, and the front brakes are a massive 15-inches compared to the standard 14-inchers.

So is the S302E worth it? As far as bank-for-buck goes, it's right up there with other sub-$100k sports cars. Compared to a Corvette Z06, it's slightly more expensive but has 115 more horsepower (a new Z06 is $72,125). It's about $5k cheaper than a Viper ($84,895) and has 15 more horsepower. The S302 also has rear seats and a pretty decent sized trunk. Yes, it's still a Mustang underneath, but probably the most capable one ever built. It's not something you'd want to drive consistently on the street, but it would be a fantastic car to use as a weekend racer for the local road course or drag strip.

All photos Copyright ©2008 Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc.

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