Join Date: Nov 2004
2010 Saleen 435S: First drive
Saleen Performance Vehicles is staging a bit of a comeback.
It's debatable whether the company synonymous with custom Mustangs actually ever went anywhere, but it's undeniable that most of the recent news out of the speed shop has hardly been positive.
There have been two sales in recent years, lawsuits, a warranty spat and a brush with liquidation. Oh, and the company's founder and namesake, Steve Saleen, is now a competitor.
Set against that backdrop, Saleen Performance is now moving forward with new products and hopes to change the conversation back to sheetmetal. A new powerful S-line, to be revealed next month at SEMA, the company is promising will conjure images of the Saleen cars of old with “American exotic” mojo.
Until then, Saleen has rolled out an entry-level model, the 435S, that upgrades the 2010 Mustang GT with more power, a tighter, sportier chassis and some subtle styling modifications. We had seat time in coupe and convertible versions of the 435S on Tuesday in the backwoods of Michigan. And for enthusiasts, this go-fast Mustang is worth putting on the radar.
It's actually a minimalistic approach, but it's obvious that the car is a Saleen at first glance, with the chevrons, optional rear spoiler, blacked-out “Saleen” insert in back and modified front fascia. And, of course, there's plenty of badging. But the whole package is not overdone, and the 435S would not look tacky as a daily driver.
Behind the wheel, it's quiet agreeable. The car is fitted with a Racecraft suspension, and ride height is lowered about an inch and a quarter. It feels fast in corners and the body is composed--there's definitely a sporty vibe when you push it, but at the same time, it's not punishing on gravel roads or choppy pavement. An enthusiast who had to, say, sell insurance to pay for his or her rear spoilers could comfortably and satisfyingly take the entry-level Saleen into the office every day and be no worse for the wear.
The heart of the 435S is the supercharger, and blowers happen to be a specialty of the new owners of Saleen, a Michigan-based group of auto-parts companies led by businessman Michael Shields. The superchargers are powerful, but in a sane manner. Punch the throttle and acceleration is brisk. And when the blower kicks on, hold on.
The revs build and the pull is strong. Still, at slower speeds, it's a normal albeit powerful motor. It makes 435 hp and 425 lb-ft of torque, and the boost is the heart of what you are paying for over the 315-hp Mustang GT. Saleen pairs it with a five-speed manual gearbox, and the short throws are pleasing and easy to get the hang of.
Inside, you get some stitching on the headrests, more badging and slightly modified gauges. Otherwise, it's a stock 'Stang, which is completely fine. Ford has worked a minor bit of magic with its interiors in recent years, and the pony car has not been left out. There's a nice drive position and comfortable seats--Saleen was smart not to mess with a good thing here. Some engine noise is noticeable in the cabin, and in the convertible there's a bit of ambient sound. Still, carrying on conversations is easy, and most enthusiasts will savor the exhaust note.
Our time in the new 435S was brief but satisfying. There are a lot of custom Mustangs out there, and this one is a nice addition to the stable. Is it a harbinger of things to come from a performance-oriented company? Stay tuned for SEMA.