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Supercharged Saleen S281: Mustang of a car lover's dreams

Nauman Farooq | Interrobang | Sports | October 10th, 2005

This is it then, the meanest, baddest, loudest, maddest, most insane and scariest new Mustang you can buy in Canada today. It's called the Saleen S281, and the one I tested was the supercharged model.

Instead of a normal Mustang GT's 300 hp V8, this one produces 400 hp, and 420 lb/ft of torque. That makes this car fast.

Saleen S281

Actually, that makes this car really, really fast. We are talking about a car that will go from zero-100 km/h in 4.7 seconds, and as for top speed, well I don't have the exact figures for that just yet, and the test car had a speedometer of only 240 km/h, but I bet this car can go quite a bit faster than that.

The massive punch you get from the Saleen patented twin-screw supercharger is just face distorting. Have you ever been punched in the face? Well that's what this feels like. But unlike a punch, you'll be smiling all the way home after this assault on your senses.

Not to take the words “all the way home” too literally, because almost certainly you'll be going to a gas station on your way. This car drinks gas like a Llama at a desert oasis. In more exact terms, I struggled to keep it at 20 litres/100 km.

So, the horrid fuel economy doesn't allow it to be a good daily driver. At the current fuel prices, especially for premium gas (this car won‘t drink anything else), if you drive this car 20,000 km/year, you'll be spending about $4,000 on gas.

But anyone who would be in the market for a car like this would most certainly have a second car, leaving this one to be a weekend and special occasions fun thing. On that front, this car is sensational.

Go for a drive in this, and you'll scratch your head and ask why anyone would want anything more. Sports cars that cost a lot more than this are often not as much fun to drive at the Saleen. This is just a blast, something to make you smile, to make you feel good every time to get behind the wheel. It makes you feel good every time you park it, walk away and look back at it. It's just a stunning car to behold.

The 2005 Mustang is a good car to begin with. It looks good, it sounds good, it handles well, and it makes you feel good about life.

The Saleen takes those qualities to a whole new level. To begin with, the styling has been tweaked to make it more aggressive. Therefore you get a deeper chin spoiler, lower side-effects, and an extended tail section that not only helps make the car a bit more stable at high speeds, but also draws a link between it and Saleen's monstrous S7 supercar.

The interior is largely left untouched, but you get Saleen specified seats, which are great, Saleen pedals which are a lot better than the ones from a year ago, and a Saleen quick ratio five-speed manual transmission (five-speed auto is optional) which is not just better than the original unit or previous units, it is better than a lot of transmissions on much more expensive cars.

As an option, you can have a Saleen Max-Grip speed sensitive limited slip rear differential, which really helps you in putting the power down on the ground squarely. This system is so good it should really be standard.

Together with Saleen's patented suspension setup, this car is phenomenal to drive, even in less than ideal weather conditions.

When I picked up the car from Saleen's head office in Montreal, the roads looked more like rivers. It was pouring down, and normally I wouldn't even go for a drive in a normal car, let alone a 400 hp muscle car with a live-beam rear axle. What happened next was just amazing. This car was tracking down a wet Quebec highway, at speed, with not a sign of nervousness to be found. That all changed very quickly however, when I had to step on the brake pedal. Some brakes are often described as anchors, the ones on this car won't be. Unfortunately, this demo had regular Mustang GT brakes, which are not even good enough for the regular car. Town speeds are fine, but at high speeds, no. Saleen does offer an optional 14-inch brakes package on this car, which are said to be a huge improvement. But sadly I wasn't able to try them out.

Nor was I able to try out the optional xenon (HID) headlights, which is a must for this car if you plan on driving this at the midnight hour. The standard beams are so poor, that I constantly had to switch to high beams to see where I was going. Since the Saleen loses the Mustang GT's massive fog lights, you lose the visibility they provide too. The good news is that Saleen Canada is looking to make xenon lights standard on all their cars.

So, this car is a work-in-progress, but it remains a great car.

So far, you've been told how nice it looks, and how nice it goes and that should be enough reasons to get one. Then imagine the sound this car makes. If every hair on your body is not standing to full attention when you hear this car, you should be certifiably deaf.

The normal Mustang GT sounds good, but again, the Saleen takes it to a new level. The custom exhaust not only looks good, but has a few tricks up its pipes too. Visually, the Saleen has a centre exhaust, which works but only below 3000 rpm. Above that, a vacuum controlled trap door in the exhaust closes the path to the centre pipe and now allows the exhausts to come out from side main muffler. That in turn makes it a free flow exhaust, and now not only does it help increase power, but also helps with the sound effects. The sound it makes would make you smile so hard, your cheek muscles would be hurting after a spirited drive.

In a year I drive many cars, some I forget about in two minutes, some I will remember for a long time. This one I will remember for a very long time.

So, how much is it for having this much fun?

A base Saleen S281 3-valve starts at about $53,000. The Supercharged version like this adds $10,000. If you want goodies like the bigger brakes, HID lights and custom paint, it'll cost extra. But these cars are all about individualism, so top end price is determined by how deep your wallet is.

Is this Saleen worth twice as much as a loaded Mustang GT? Logically thinking, no, but when is such a purchase a logical decision? However, if you compare it to a Corvette C6 and some other cars costing as much or more, it becomes a more enticing prospect.

Would I have one? In a heartbeat.
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