Steve McQueen was undeniably cool. His understated performances displayed both nuance and power other male leads of the day could only marvel at. His ability on the track and street in a car and in the dirt on a bike have been widely chronicled. His impeccable fashion sense and taste in cars still impact pop culture today. Which brings us to this car, the latest Ford tribute to the 1968 movie that made Mustang famous, Bullitt.
Oh sure, from the moment it debuted in 1964 the Mustang was a phenomenon. Ford marketing made sure of that featuring it in the World’s Fair and placing it atop the Empire State Building. But, when McQueen drove that green Mustang GT Fastback in arguably the greatest chase scene in movie history, its place as the premiere pony car was cemented in the American psyche forever. Over the course of ten minutes of screen time, with squealing tires, roaring engine, crunching landings, and scraping sheetmetal, McQueen pursued two hired killers in their Dodge Charger 440 ultimately forcing them off the road to a fiery end. Bullitt is a good movie, but the chase scene is epic.
The 2019 Mustang Bullitt is the third car Ford has created in tribute to the movie and it is probably the most successful interpretation of the movie car for modern times. The color is right, the exhaust note is perfect, the power is undeniable, and the ride strikes a nice balance between streetable comfort and trackable handling. Driving it in San Francisco on some of the very streets and locations of the original movie I kept turning the corners hoping for a Charger to hunt down.
At first glance you might think the Mustang Bullitt is just an exercise in creative packaging because for the most part it is. Apart from the color, some trim bits, the wheels, a reworked intake system, and retuned exhaust, everything else can be had on a GT. But those things make all the difference in the world.
Let’s start with the most obvious: color and trim. The Dark Highland Green is absolutely gorgeous (it’s available in black, but really, why would you even consider it?) As far as trim goes, it’s minimal. Like the original fastback, there’s just a touch of brightwork around the grille, windows, and wheels. There are no stripes, spoilers, nameplates, or Mustang badges. The only exterior identifier is a “Bullitt” badge on the rear where the old Mustang’s gas cap was. In my eye, that badge is a little big and I would have used a pony badge to more accurately mimic the original car.
Inside you have options. The standard seats in the Mustang Bullitt are heated and cooled sport seats with leather trim and green contrast stitching. You can opt for aggressively bolstered Recarros but I wouldn’t recommend them for two reasons. First, this isn’t a track car, and no matter how hard you drive on the street, you’re not going to need all that restraint. Second, the standard seats are just more comfortable with the right amount of padding and adjustment. And if you upgrade to the Recarros, you don’t get in seat coolers, a feature I’ve come to love the more I experience it.
Other interior appointments include a 12-inch all digital instrument panel that presents different information depending on which drive mode you’re in. Put it in track mode and you have a RPM gauge that runs right across the top of the screen, something you’ll appreciate because this V8 revs quickly and you’ll reach the red line faster than you can say Jaqueline Bisset. The highlight of the interior for me, was the cue-ball shifter which you use to row the six manual gears. And row you must. The manual is the only transmission available in the Mustang Bullitt which is as it should be. Steve McQueen had to use all three pedals in his chase through the Bay area. You should, too.
Fire up the engine and it comes to life with a satisfying growl, settling down into a low burble. Throw the shifter into first, tap the throttle and release the clutch and the Mustang pulls smoothly away. There’s a lot of power and low end grunt in this thing. The V8 uses an open-air induction system and the intake manifold from the Shelby GT350 on the front end and an active valve performance exhaust system out back to make the V8 breathe more freely. This boost horsepower by about 5% increasing it to 480 HP and delivering 420 lb.-ft. of torque. The thrust is immediate and the sound is awe-inspiring, especially when you’ve got the car in Sport or Track mode. You can also set the steering effort, shock rates, and exhaust note individually if you’d rather pair a softer ride with a louder presence. The friction point on the clutch is fairly high off the floor, but effort is fairly light so it didn’t take long to execute perfect takeoffs and upshifts. Downshifting is made easier and smoother with the addition of rev-matching. You can turn it off, if you’d rather blip the throttle yourself, but the pedals are not set up for heel and toe downshifting.
Blasting through a twisty section of road south of San Francisco, I came up on the tail of a BMW M4. The driver took the bait and sped up, leading me through some fun roads at speeds that would have significantly lightened our wallets had the CHP been around. I pulled up beside him at a stoplight and he rolled down his window with a big grin on his face. He couldn’t get over how good the Mustang Bullitt looked and how well it performed wanting to know when it was going to sale (it’s available now). After answering his questions, the light turned green, and I nodded, hammering the throttle, leaving him well behind with a roar and just a whiff of tire smoke. And at that moment, I was Steve McQueen.
2019 Ford Mustang Bullitt
Two-door, four-passenger, high performance coupe
Engine: naturally aspirated 5-liter V8
Transmission: 6-speed manual with rev matching
Power: 480 HP @ 7,000 RPM
Torque: 420 lb.-ft. @ 4,600 RPM
Curb weight: 3,850 lbs.
0-60: 4.1 seconds
Top Speed: 163 MPH
EPA MPG: 15 city/25 highway