Steve McQueen is one of those guys we all wish we could be. On-screen, he was the debonair antihero, radiating a confident charisma that helped make him the highest-paid man in Hollywood. McQueen was also a passionate racing fan who used his movie star clout to produce and star in films that put the automobile front and centre. One such film is Bullitt, which features a legendary 11-minute car chase involving a Dark Highland Green Mustang, the iconic hills of San Francisco, and an evil Charger meeting a fiery demise. The film may have been named for McQueen’s character, Lieutenant Frank Bullitt, but it was the Mustang that was the film’s true star.
Ford has long bowed down to the cult of McQueen and has been offering a special-edition Bullitt Mustang GT since 2001. And while the first two generations of Bullitt Mustangs were kind of lackluster, the all-new 2019 model may very well be one of the best Mustangs yet.
It doesn’t hurt that the current Mustang is pretty freaking fantastic, and the Bullitt’s only powertrain is muscle car perfection: a 5.0-litre V8 mated to six-speed manual transmission. Ford has worked some magic on this engine, upping the fun factor by increasing the Bullitt’s power to 480 horsepower — 20 ponies more than the standard V8 Mustang GT. Other chassis upgrades include 19-inch alloy wheels, designed here to resemble the classic American Racing Torq Thrust from the ’60s, sticky Michelin Pilot Sport tires, and large Brembo front brakes.
The 2019 Ford Bullitt Mustang is available with only three options, and our tester is equipped with all of them: a MagneRide adaptable suspension, deeply bolstered RECARO seats, and a navigation/safety package. But no one is buying a Bullitt Mustang because they want to be safe — they want to go fast, and to look cool while doing it. Depending on your personal tastes, this car can do both flawlessly.
Let’s start with the “go fast” part: it’s a Mustang GT with almost 500 horsepower. To say it’s quick would be an understatement. Sure, there may be cars out there that are faster on paper, but none deliver the visceral response of the Bullitt. Its tuned exhaust is probably the best-sounding one out there — better, even, than our previous favourite, the ear-shattering Mustang Boss 302.
The Bullitt’s menacing growl is so intoxicating, you can’t help but want to keep stabbing that loud pedal just to hear (and feel) that roar over and over again. And as that glorious noise comes from a large-displacement V8, each stab of the throttle comes with an immediate, aggressive shove that perfectly matches the intensity (or lack thereof) of one’s right foot. That this power is mated to such a well-balanced chassis makes us feel like an action hero every time we get behind the wheel.
And that brings us to the “looking cool” part of the package, and again, whether this car succeeds or fails depends on your own personal taste in cars. For us, the styling is a bit hit-or-miss. The current Mustang has been a hit with us from day one; its curvaceous body feels thoroughly modern, offering just the right amount of heritage design cues to tie it back to Mustang’s past. But it’s the incorporation of the Bullitt design cues that miss the mark for us.
We love the fact that Ford de-badged the front end, giving the grille a more menacing appearance…and that’s about all we really like. We’re not so excited about the massive Bullitt badge that adorns the trunk. McQueen would have likely gone with something subtle; we can’t see the man driving a car that shouts his name on the back. We’re also not fans of the ’60s-inspired brightwork that surrounds the grille, greenhouse, and wheels. This kind of chrome trim looks at home on a vintage ’60s machine, but the current Mustang is such a decidedly 21st century design, this brightwork simply feels out of place. It’s like someone bought a chrome trim package from Pep Boys, slapped it on, and called it a day.
As for the rest of the car, it’s standard Mustang. It’s got the customizable full-digital gauges, aluminum-machined dash trim, and budget-driven leather that you’ll find in the standard GT. And it’s here where we’d normally tell you to save your pennies and get the standard, comparably equipped Mustang GT Premium with the Performance package. But since the MSRP for the Bullitt Mustang is pretty evenly matched to a comparably equipped GT — and comes with the higher-performance engine to boot — perhaps the Bullitt Mustang is the one to get.