2006 Saleen S281 and S281 SC review

No name is more synonymous with Mustang tuning than Saleen's. When Ford brought out their new Mustang in 05, I've been a big fan. (To see my review click here) Ford put the car together well, gives excellent performance for the money, and kept the price within reason. I've always liked the new Mustangs, so a souped up one must be even better, right? Isn’t that how is usually goes? Well, that's why I drive the cars in person. Sometimes things live up to their expectations, sometimes they don't.

Of the major modders of Mustangs, (Saleen, Roush, Steeda; and yes just to quiet nitpickers technically Saleen is calssified as a small volume manufacturer, but the S281 still starts life as a Mustang GT) I find the Saleen to have the best styling. Well, from 10ft away at least. The thing is, once you get closer to it some disturbing things come to light. First of all, the side skirts went about 1/2" past the edge of the car! This was consistent among the half dozen or so Saleen models on display. Things only got worse from there. In some spots of the body kit, the parts modified by Saleen, the paint was so thin you could see through to the primer. One part on a particular model had paint runs and air bubbles in the Saleen part. Worse, on one corner of the rear spoiler, there was no paint - only primer. Given that this was a top of the line supercharged model, I certainly expected MUCH more - just like anyone else looking at its $56,000 price tag. Like mentioned before, there was more than one model to compare – it was NOT just a case of seeing one bad one. Obviously quality control is a foreign concept to the folks at Saleen. “Slap them together and ship them out” seems to be their quality mantra (which I think originally belonged to Yugo), and that is unforgiveable. When you look at other makes/models available in that price range that include the letters M or C6 in their name, you really have to wonder why Saleen believes they can play in this league. All I thought at this point was “This thing better drive unlike anything I’ve ever experienced”.

Mechanically, just about every major system on the car was modified to Saleen specs. The suspension was modified, as was the intake and exhaust, braking system, and on S281SC models a supercharger sits atop the engine. The S281 wears quite attractive 20" chrome wheels with low profile shoes. But it's not too far fetched to wonder, if the body portion was so poorly done and so little attention paid to the outside (and most obvious parts of the car), do you really trust that the mechanical bits were given all the attention that they deserved? A drive in a S281 SC revealed a rattle out of the rear suspension that sounded like either a loose shock or sway bar every time we ran over a bump. Plus the suspension was continually bottoming out at the bump stops. And on Michigan's blown out roads, there are a LOT of bumps. This problem never surfaced in previous test drives of a regular GT Mustang.

The performance, while probably fast to a stopwatch, didn't feel particularly fast in regular or supercharged trim. There was no explosive acceleration like you would expect - from either power plant. It was…… almost boring. (Maybe the price to pay for getting four dubs rotating?) A first gen CTS-V "feels" faster. I'm sure a stopwatch would prove me wrong, but that's just not the feeling you get when piloting this machine. Overall handling feel was improved over stock, with more predictability and feel at the limit. At least until you encountered a bump mid-corner. That seemed to throw the car off course and you find yourself trying to correct. The short shift kit was much improved over stock with short and positive, if perhaps a touch notchy, shifts.

The interior touches were nice, with Saleen specific seats, covered pedals, and other little touches. But at the end of the drive, I left disappointed. I've driven some high powered, special machines. This one left me the emptiest. I didn't get the feel I was expecting, and the build quality was atrocious given the MSRP. One positive that came out of all this - I was again amazed at the value that Ford packs into the regular Mustang GT. At the mid-upper $20's loaded, the GT is by far one of the best bang for the buck cars you can buy today. There are hundreds of thousands on the road already, but thanks to an abundant aftermarket it's not hard to make yours stand out from everyone else’s. And there are certainly more cost effective ways to do it without resorting to paying the undeservedly high prices from Saleen.

The Mustang GT is a phenomenal value and continues to be as this new generation charges on. But think hard and look harder if considering a Saleen version. If you really have that kind of money to drop on a car, there are better choices with much higher quality. Skip these and move on. Also point and laugh everytime you see one on the road.


Anonymous said...

This article is total BS, these vehicles still demand a premium.

Chris said...

Perhaps quality will return now that Steve Saleen is back at the helm. We'll see.

Appreciate the anonymous comment. Enjoy the drive.

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