This is the best affordable Mustang around.
The Ford Mustang. It is one of the best budget performance cars money can buy - with aggressive looks, a big V8 engine under the hood, and performance to match European cars costing twice as much. But even Ford's affordable pony car has been susceptible to price creep and even a base GT model will set you back $35,630. Remember, that's before you get the nicer interior of the Premium trim or the increased performance of the Performance Package.
Even if you are willing to forgo luxury features, the cheapest Performance Package Mustang with a V8 will cost over $40,000. That's a large chunk of money for a young buyer looking for their first performance car. So if you'd like a Mustang with all of the performance goodies but you are on a budget, you should look at the Boss 302.
The Boss 302 name was first used in 1969 as a performance option to rival the new Chevrolet Camaro. It took several decades but Ford finally brought back the Boss 302 designation in the 2012 model year as the most performance-oriented Mustang below the Shelby GT500. This was around the same time the Mustang started to be taken seriously as a world-class sports car, rather than a simplistic American muscle car. But unlike the GT500, which was power-obsessed, the Boss 302 was built to be a Mustang you could take on the race track- there was even a special version called the Laguna Seca edition. Only 2,000 total cars were built between 2012 and 2013 with just 764 of them being Laguna Seca editions.
When it was new, the Boss 302 was a reasonable performance bargain with a starting price of $40,145. And even though this is a special edition model, it has not been impervious to depreciation. You can now find used examples starting around $20,000 and if you want one with extremely low mileage, they can be found for around the original MSRP. We'd say budget anywhere from $25,000 to $30,000 for a very nice one.
The Boss 302 isn't as potent as a brand-new Mustang but is still powered by a 5.0-liter (that's 302 cubic inches) Coyote V8 producing 444 horsepower (32 hp more than a base Mustang GT) and 380 lb-ft of torque (10 lb-ft less than the standard car) going out through a six-speed manual transmission. Automatic lovers look elsewhere. This generation Mustang did have a live rear axle rather than an independent rear suspension but the Boss 302 came with a limited-slip differential or an optional Torsen differential to help improve the handling through corners.
Ford also made changes to the suspension with higher-rate coil springs, stiffer bushings, and a larger diameter rear stabilizer, and the shock absorbers can be adjusted using a screwdriver. The Boss 302 was also offered with an aero package, which was inspired by the Boss 302R race car. 0-60 mph takes just 4.2 seconds and the quarter-mile 11.72 seconds.
Mustang interiors aren't exactly awe-inspiring but the Boss 302 does have a few interesting touches to make it feel unique compared to a normal GT. Ford offered optional Recaro racing buckets, which drastically improve the car's track-readiness and make the interior look much more aggressive. The Laguna Seca edition takes the aggression even further with a half cage replacing the rear seats. And if you look in the dashboard, Ford chose to include a base radio rather than a navigation head unit, proving this is a track-focused car rather than a daily driver.
So long as you don't get the Laguna Seca, the Boss 302 doesn't compromise much on the practicality of a standard Mustang. The rear seats aren't massive and nor is the trunk, but these are probably not why you are looking to buy a Mustang. Fuel economy isn't woeful for a V8 sports car with EPA ratings of 17 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway.
If you like Mustangs and want a car with a bit more pedigree than a run-of-the-mill GT model, a Boss 302 is an excellent way to stand out while also getting one of the best track-focused models Ford ever built. Not only is the Boss 302 one of the coolest looking Mustangs, it has the heritage to go along with it and the rarity to become a future collectible. Combine these factors with the current prices - which are nearly half of what you'll pay for an equivalent new Mustang - and the Boss 302 represents phenomenal value.