EngineSC 5.0L V8
Power540 HP / 465 LB-FT
The last time we drove a Roush Mustang – a 2010 427R – we declared that the company had set the bar for Mustang tuners around the country. But that was nearly two years ago. Since then, the pony car landscape has evolved immensely. Ford itself revamped the entire Mustang lineup, introducing the new 412-horsepower 5.0-liter V8 Mustang GT, dropped weight off the Shelby GT500 with a new aluminum block 5.4-liter V8 and successfully launched the track-ready, BMW M3-fighting Boss 302. Every Mustang that comes from the factory now offers more performance than ever, and a $50,000 aftermarket Mustang from a couple of years ago with a paltry 435 horsepower simply can't compete with an OEM-developed 'Stang.
But Roush hasn't been sitting idly by. Its answer to hottest factory options from Ford comes in the form of the 2012 Stage 3 Mustang. Offering up 540 supercharged horsepower, a fresh look and Roush's legendary suspension tuning, the RS3 is perhaps the company's most appealing Mustang yet. But does it still have the magic of Roush's previous pony cars?
The first thing you will notice about the RS3 is that it pretty much looks like every other Roush Mustang the company has offered in the few years. A subtle styling package that debuted in 2010 is still mostly in place for 2012, and it includes a new front fascia with driving lights, black billet grille, side splitters, rear spoiler and rear fascia. We used to think that the Roush's styling wasn't enough of a departure from the factory look, but after a few years, we've grown to appreciate the design's more mature and OEM-like appearance. The Roush Mustangs of 2005-2009 come off as far too "Boy Racer" today for our tastes.
There are some small but thoughtful exterior changes with the RS3, including blacked-out graphics on the front bumper and rear decklid, and a new two-tone decals package on the front fenders and hood. Roush offers six different accent colors for both the stripe and accent colors, and with eight base vehicle colors to choose from, customers can pick from 288 color combinations. Three brake caliper colors and two wheel finishes are also available, so it's unlikely customers will find an identical Roush Mustang on the road. We especially liked the optional 20-inch "Hyper Black" wheels on our tester opposed to the standard chrome rollers.
Inside, the Roush benefits from the Mustang's upgraded interior first seen in 2010. The soft-touch plastics on the dash and quality feel of most of the common touchpoints means the interior is still as pleasing as stock, although still not great for what is now a $50,000+ car. Even so, we wish that Roush would have done more with the cockpit. Most of the upgrades, like the Alcantara-trimmed seats and white-faced gauges, are merely different and not necessarily better than a stock Mustang rolling out of the Ford plant. We actually prefer the interior in the Shelby GT500, with Alcantara on the steering wheel and shifter boot, as well as a new option for Recaro leather seats for 2012.
The high point of the RS3's interior continues to be the iconic cue ball shifter that has made its way into every Roush-tuned Mustang we've driven. The mechanical bits of the six-speed manual transmission are still the same components from the factory, for which we have no complaints, but the white ball makes grabbing a new gear even more of a pleasure.
While the exterior and interior may be fairly similar to Roush Mustangs of the past, everything under the hood is new. Our 2010 Roush 427R tester produced just 435 horsepower from its supercharged 4.6-liter V8 – 23 more horsepower than the standard Mustang GT currently produces. Obviously, a boost in ponies was assured. That increase comes in the form of Roush's new TVS R2300 supercharger system that sits prominently atop the aluminum 5.0's block. Previous Roush Mustangs have featured a smaller 1.9-liter supercharger system, and this larger blower allows for the same increase in horsepower using less boost. The result? The Roush RS3 puts out 540 horsepower and 465 lb-ft torque.
Thanks to extra air and low-down torque, the RS3 pulls towards the horizon with authority as boost from the supercharger comes on instantaneously. And it has the aural excitement to match thanks to the Roush exhaust system and its hollow-chamber mufflers. The tailpipes emit a perfect muscle car rumble at idle, a baritone roar under full throttle, and a wonderful mix of crackling and popping under deceleration.
While the RS3 definitely benefits from the newly added power, that doesn't mean Roush forgot about handling. Nobody can set up the Mustang's suspension like Roush, and the RS3 is yet another example of how they've perfected the solid rear axle. The changes are as simple as a new set of shocks, springs and sway bars, but the difference is palpable.
We took the RS3 out on some of our favorite driving roads in Southern California, and it impressed on both tight turns and long sweepers. The car exhibits neutral handling, neither understeering nor oversteering (assuming you don't get into the throttle too much coming out of a turn), and simply goes where you point it whether using the steering wheel or the throttle. Roush will also be offering an adjustable Trak Pak suspension, but we wouldn't recommend ponying up the extra cash unless you plan on using the car primarily on the circuit.
The 2012 Roush RS3 has the handling of a Boss 302 (although we think the factory-built weekend racer might have a slight edge on the skid pad) and the power of a Shelby GT500. So why not plunk down the cash for one? Well, it comes down to price.
The base RS3 is actually priced between the two Ford factory options at $46,905 when you add up the cost of a Premium Mustang GT base car and the core components of the RS3 package, destination included, but you'd be hard-pressed to find an example with no options. If you add many of the extra features found on our tester, including the custom leather seating ($1,725), 20-inch wheels with Cooper RS3 tires ($1,115), performance brake package ($2,877) you're already well over $50,000. This example was also fitted with a vent gauge pod ($435), illuminated door sill plates ($220), billet pedals ($200), trunk-mounted tool kit ($395), lower billet grille ($250) and quarter window louvers ($370) for a total of $54,587. That's nearly $5,000 above a Shelby GT500 coupe. We'd still put up the extra cash for the Roush, and it's more likely you'd find a dealer willing to negotiate down on an RS3 than a Shelby.
Another pricing argument against the RS3 is that you can buy all of the individual performance parts separately from Roush, warranty included. If you just stick to the essentials – supercharger, suspension and brakes – the total comes to less than $10,000 in parts. If you don't care about fender badges, engine plaques and graphics packages, then this is the way to go, assuming you don't mind taking the time to do the work yourself or paying a certified wrencher.
Roush finds itself in almost the exact same place it has been for the past few years, struggling to provide enough bang for the buck in an incredibly competitive pony car market. The only difference is that its main competition now comes from Ford and not from other tuners. To their credit, Roush has yet again proven that it can and does build a vehicle among the best Mustangs out there, aftermarket or not. The RS3 has everything anyone could want in a Mustang – tire-shredding horsepower, world-class handling, an aggressive look and the perfect soundtrack. If you want the best of the Shelby GT500 and Boss 302 and are willing to shell out over $50,000, then the Roush RS3 could be the Mustang for you.