Ford’s new Mustang Bullitt is fun, fast and will turn heads
Take the U.S. population. Concentrate on the 49% who are male. Subtract everyone who isn’t looking for a car or isn’t interested in muscle cars. Remove everyone who won’t buy American. Then eliminate everyone who never heard of the 1968 action movie “Bullitt,” or who never saw it, or who saw it but is no longer moved by it.
That’s the audience for the 2019 Ford Mustang Bullitt: small but passionate, and no doubt loud behind the wheel of one of these powerful ponies.
Ford’s limited edition offering of the Bullitt car is timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the movie. Directed by Peter Yates, “Bullitt” starred Steve McQueen as tormented but determined police detective Frank Bullitt, who is given the task of protecting a vulnerable star witness. After the witness goes missing, McQueen engages in a heart-stopping high-speed chase around the streets of San Francisco, his dark green Ford Mustang GT pursing a Dodge Charger R/T. The 10-minute chase scene is regarded by many aficionados as the finest ever filmed.
Like the McQueen car, the 2019 model comes in a dark green color and is based on the Mustang GT platform the company has produced for decades. It is designed as a testosterone booster and provides a highly analog alternative to today’s largely anodyne digital driving options.
The car is powered by a 5-liter V-8 engine, which makes 480 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque. The power pushes the rear wheels through a six-speed manual stick-shift transmission — the only transmission available, and entirely the right one for this vehicle. Stopping power comes courtesy of an excellent Brembo braking system.
It’s fun, and it’s fast. The Mustang Bullitt was rated by Car and Driver at an acceleration rate of zero to 60 mph in 4.2 seconds, and a top speed of 163 mph.
In testing this Mustang I did not chase any Chargers around the hills of San Francisco, or even Silver Lake. I didn’t attempt to go from zero to 60 in 4.2 seconds, or approach anything near 163 mph. But I did enjoy myself tremendously. This car is designed to produce driving pleasure, and it succeeds.
The clutch is firm. The gearbox is tight. The acceleration is delicious. To paraphrase the Beach Boys’ “Little Deuce Coupe,” it gets rubber in all six gears.
In other words, it’s a throwback, a troglodyte car, irresponsibly burning up the dinosaur juice in much the same way McQueen’s Mustang did, and producing a very similar driving experience.
The car offers several concessions to modern technology, from Bluetooth connectivity to device plug-ins and cup holders — none of which accompanied Frank Bullitt on his frantic police rounds.
The most welcome of these is the selection of drive modes. Drivers can tune up, going from Normal, Sport and Sport Plus all the way to Track and Drag Strip; they may tune down from Normal to a safety mode for rain or snow conditions.
Each tick of the mode selector changes available torque, affects traction control or alters suspension settings — or all of those simultaneously.
Rolling from Normal through Sport and Sport Plus, where I spent most of my driving time, also opens baffles and augments the muffler report, bringing it from a pleasant purr to a powerful roar guaranteed to unnerve the neighbors.
The car is also equipped with automatic rev-matching on the down shifts, effortlessly performing the three-pedal maneuver that McQueen — along with his stunt drivers Loren Janes and Bud Ekins — used to terrorize the tourists around Nob Hill, Chinatown and Fisherman’s Wharf.
Like its predecessors — not just the McQueen movie car, but homage models that Ford sold in 2001 and 2008 — the Bullitt car sits long and low, with powerful shoulders and hips riding over the wide track-ready tires.
Ford has kept the traditional broad, deep hood and the wide gate-mouth grille. The interior is masculine and spare. The Bullitt car comes standard with Recaro race seats up front and almost no seats behind.
The car is technically a four-passenger vehicle, but your back-seat guests had better be no bigger than a bag of groceries if they expect to be comfortable.
The capacious trunk is somewhat compromised by a smallish trunk opening, too. On a weekend trip to Paso Robles, I had some difficulty maneuvering suitcases in and out of the otherwise generous space.
Limited visibility is improved by a very good rearview camera. The excellent sound system is, alas, overwhelmed by engine and tire noise.
Like some other muscle cars, the Mustang Bullitt is a head-turner and a great way to impress strangers — if you want to impress middle-aged car enthusiasts. Everywhere I went, it seemed, someone was giving me the thumbs-up or approaching me at the gas station to ask questions. They invariably hit the profile: Men in their 60s, or older, who think 10 minutes of “Bullitt” beats an entire series of “The Fast and the Furious” movies.
This car isn’t for everybody, but it will certainly satisfy some of the folks who idolize the King of Cool.
2019 Ford Mustang Bullitt
Times’ take: Historical, hysterical fun
Highs: Fast, loud and relatively affordable
Lows: Limited usability and appeal
Vehicle type: Two-door, four-passenger sports car
Base price: $47,495
Price as tested: $52,885
Powertrain: 5-liter V-8 gasoline engine
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Torque: 420 pound-feet
EPA fuel economy rating: 15 miles per gallon city / 24 highway / 18 combined