Review: 2019 Mustang Bullitt gives big-screen icon a 21st Century update
In 1968 a film was released that was to set the standard for car chase scenes. Filmed on location in San Francisco, the film starred Steve McQueen (the "King of Cool") and a green Ford Mustang GT Fastback. 50 years later, Ford has created an homage to that: the 2019 Mustang Bullitt.
What an homage too. This car oozes cool with its Highland Green paint, loud exhaust note, cue ball shift knob, and lack of external decor. Like the Mustang in the film (displayed alongside this new model in Detroit), the Bullitt has no Ford or Mustang pony logos on its bodywork.
The only indication that it's a modern Mustang model is its wheel center caps and overall design. The only logo on the car's body at all is a stylized target (from the film's promotional materials) with "Bullitt" in the center. This placement pays tribute to the original fuel filler cap on the 1968 model.
Interestingly, the 1968 Mustang GT Fastback doesn't appear in the film until almost halfway through, at around the one hour mark. Yet it is indelibly marked as an integral part of the movie. Almost as soon as it's introduced, with police lieutenant Bullitt (McQueen's character) sliding behind the wheel, the car immediately becomes a focal point for the plot.
Fast forward 50 years and we have the 2019 Ford Mustang Bullitt. This is not the first homage to the Mustang Fastback from the film, but it's by far the best one to date. The car has the kind of cool that both marked Steve McQueen the actor and the Bullitt film itself. Maverick cop movies aren't exactly new and they weren't new in 1968, but the combination of character, on-location filming, and one of the greatest car chase scenes of all time made this particular police detective film an immediate classic.
The 2019 Mustang Bullitt is an appearance and performance package that will be offered as a limited edition model. Ford has not said how limited, but we can make guesses (1,968 for the movie's date is a favorite bet).
The core of the car's performance comes from its 5.0-liter naturally-aspirated V8. This produces 480 horsepower (358 kW) and 420 pound-feet (569 Nm) of torque. The sweet spot for that combination of power comes at around 4,500 rpm or so and the six-speed manual transmission makes it fairly easy to keep that spot primed. And no, Ford is not going to offer any other transmission option for the Bullitt.
The Mustang Bullitt is a rear-drive sport coupe in the American tradition. This means it goes really fast, puts out a lot of beautiful sounds doing so, but it doesn't turn corners terribly well. Nor does it necessarily inspire with anything other than its raw power and wonderful exhaust notes.
Ford claims the Bullitt has a top speed of 163 mph (262 km/h), but we wouldn't be able to test that without a race track. We did put the 0-60 mph (0-96.5 km/h) sprint to the test and came out at just about 4.3 seconds as an average. Very practiced and expert hands could probably get just below four on a track. That's an awful fast sprint for a car weighing more than 3,700 pounds (1,678 kg).
One thing to note, however, is that the manual shift does take some time to get used to. Ford has a penchant for mushy clutches and the Bullitt has a high break in the pedal. This means the timing for swapping from clutch to throttle comes a bit later. Once mastered, the coupe is easy to love as a three-pedal goer. It does take time, though.
The extra 20 hp (15 kW) of power in the Bullit versus the GT model comes from the added intake and throttle body parts that come from the GT350. This also accounts for the lower growl of the exhaust and the heavenly return burp made when the throttle is released. To be honest, the sound of the 2019 Mustang Bullitt is more satisfying than any other aspect of the car. Apart from the cool factor.
That "cool" comes from the persona that the car creates for itself. Were this a normal (as much as that word can be used here) Ford Mustang GT or GT350, it'd be a great car for those who love the Mustang heritage, the new look of the coupe, or the beauty that is its overall Americana.
With the Bullitt model, things get more visceral. The deletion of the logos that proclaim anything but the McQueen tie-in, the heavy green, even sinister appeal of the car that promises a direct link to the dark green original .. these all come together to match the low grumble and powerful feel of the 2019 Ford Mustang Bullitt as something more than just another muscle car.
Driving around in the Bullitt makes one feel cool. Not cool like, "Hey, look at me in my awesome car! Never mind the receding hairline and paunch, I'm still cool like I was in high school." That kind of cool is still available with most of the mid-life crisis coupes and convertibles found on dealership lots.
The Bullitt's cool is stand-alone. The car gives off a coolness that is instantly transferred to whomever happens to be in it. The Highland Green paint (don't opt for the black option. Why would you?) and logo-free persona of the car speaks for itself to anyone looking.
Driving the 2019 Bullitt is fun, especially as an everyday ride. It makes life good to get into a fun vehicle, and look for opportunities to make the engine do more than purr. You find yourself working on rev matching to make downshifts heading towards a red light. Or leaving it in first gear until the last possible moment before shifting, just to hear the engine roar and the exhaust happily let out its sounds of muscular joy.
That is the point of the 2019 Ford Mustang Bullitt as a limited edition sport coupe. Everything else is superficial.
On the inside, the Bullitt is essentially a Mustang GT model with a few extra fixtures. The 12-inch digital display instrument cluster is probably the greatest thing we've seen in a long time. Not only is it well-designed and easy to see, but it's almost totally customizable. Our favorite setting is to have a digital readout of the speedometer and a wide color-coded bar, going left-to-right, indicating the RPM. That RPM bar is immediately intuitive and gives edge-of-the-eye cognizance of the engine's rpm rate without requiring eyes off the road or a head-up display. It's breathtakingly simple and brilliant. More standard round gauges can be used as well, of course, including readouts of performance metrics such as oil pressure and heat.
The Mustang is a comfortable coupe that offers good seating, lots of adjustment, and a nominal two-person back seat. The trunk is large and useful and visibility out of the car is very good. Aluminum foot pedals, a very positive dead pedal for stability, and aircraft-style switchgear at the bottom of the center stack adds to the ambiance. The switch to the far right will be the most familiar, as it controls driving mode.
To get down to nuts and bolts, the Bullitt model will be sold in only two color choices: dark shimmering green or basic black. It's a V8 GT Fastback and comes in no other body options. The six-speed manual with the white cue ball shift knob is all there is for transmission choices.
The active valve performance exhaust option for the GT is standard in the Bullitt. So are Brembo brakes, light-touch chrome accents around the greenhouse, 19-inch five-spoke alloy wheels (blacked with brushed edges), and leather seating. Options can include Recaro seating (though that wouldn't be our choice), the MagneRide adjustable magnetic suspension dampers (recommended), and some electronics upgrade including a few driver's aids and some stereo upgrades.
The 2019 Mustang Bullitt starts at US$46,595 and with few add-ons, doesn't get much more expensive beyond that. It's hard to put a price on cool, but we think Ford has done a good job of finding the ballpark.
Product Page: 2019 Ford Mustang Bullitt