Steve Saleen has moved on, so how will the new owners of Saleen Performance Vehicles fare with their latest tuner Mustang offering? The 2010 Saleen S281 Mustang doesn’t wander too far from the formula that made Saleen one of the biggest names in the Mustang world, but it also makes some admirable advances over its predecessors. And when it comes to cosmetics, this just might be the best looking Saleen Mustang to ever hit the streets.
The core of the S281, like many Saleens before it, is a supercharged 4.6-liter V8. The Series VI supercharger bumps the power to 485 horsepower and 460 b-ft of torque, which puts it about on par with previous Saleen efforts and about in the middle of other tuning efforts in the same range. The engine is mated to a short throw five-speed manual transmission that is sure to be a delight for all drag racers, and the final gearing ratio is 3.73:1, which will deliver ample power at the wheels. This is a solid setup, but isn’t exactly groundbreaking.
The big wow part is the suspension design. Ford’s reliance on a live rear axle is great for drag racers, but, as the design hasn’t changed all that much for a few decades, it’s hard to adapt modern suspension that will put the handling abilities of the Mustang on par with other sports cars. The stock vehicle makes an admirable attempt, but it just can’t get away from the fact that the rear end is a decades-old design. The Saleen S281 still has the live rear axle, but it also features a series of new suspension components to help mitigate its disadvantages.
The suspension, dubbed the Saleen Racecraft system (which will surely be available as an aftermarket modification for those who already have a 2010 ‘Stang and want to upgrade it) puts new single-rate springs at the corners and uses a nitrogen-pressurized front strut system and a rear shock upgrade. These components feature a variety of damping settings so that drivers can fine tune the fell of their ride without too much hassle. Also, there’s a new sway bar system to help cut down on body roll. The system feels tight, and it flexible enough that you can use it for a lot of different applications. For example, if you just want to use the car to drag race and don’t mind a bit of bumpiness, you can tighten up all the settings. If cutting corners is more your game, then you can adjust the damping rate so that the live rear axle stays firmly planted. There have been modified Mustangs in the past that can accomplish either of those, but the Saleen system is one of the most versatile.
While these technological improvements are most welcome, it’s the looks of this car that will get a lot of peole excited. Starting at the nose, Saleen shows that they know how to make a good-looking car without going overboard. The blacked-out front grille is subtle, but still conveys a bit of menace, and the front fascia and splitter start a low point in the car’s aggressive stance that is perfectly balanced out by the rear wheel shoulders and the revised rear end with integrated wing on the trunk. The 20-inch seven-spoke alloy wheels are beautiful, and the fact that they’re covered with high-performance Pirelli P-Zero Rosso tires is the icing on the cake. Even the louvers over the quarter windows look immaculate.
On the inside, the treatment is similar. There are plenty of Saleen logos spread about, but not so many as to become an annoyance. The gauge cluster, and the extra boost gauges, are a nice touch. And the new leather sports seats make the Mustang even more comfortable than the stock model, and that’s a pretty impressive feat.
At the end of the day, the S281 Mustang is a big surprise. A lot of people were worried that Saleen had lost its touch, along with its founder, but those fear have proved unnecessary. The car looks fantastic, has plenty of power, and features just enough technology to keep things safe, without getting in the way of the fun. And that’s exactly what a modern muscle car is all about.