Car reviews - Ford - Mustang - Bullitt
Performance, handling, ride, refinement, understated looks, interior improvements over predecessor, that V8 burble
Room for improvement
Messy retro pastiche cabin presentation persists, hardly $75K’s worth of interior quality, inevitable V8 fuel consumption
Ford Mustang Bullitt references old-school muscle car, but hones updated V8 virtues
12 Dec 2018
YOU don’t need to be a Steve McQueen or 1960’s Hollywood chase scenes fan to appreciate the Ford Mustang Bullitt.
Just 700 examples have landed from Flat Rock, Michigan, each only in manual coupe guise, offering a bit more oomph as well as a tasteful homage to a 50-year-old film and its iconic lead.
If you really dig big hairy-chested V8 muscle cars, swipe right on this modern baby.
Price and equipment
In an alternate, Aussie performance-car surviving universe, one might imagine that an XB Falcon GT coupe successor might look a lot like a Mustang Bullitt.
Just in case you’ve missed the hype, the Bullitt is a limited-edition Mustang GT that pays homage to a Hollywood action film of the same name from 1968 starring Steve McQueen.
Finished in fetching Dark Highland Green, the $73,688 (plus on-road costs) Mustang Bullitt commands a $10,698 premium over the regular GT Fastback V8 manual on which it is based upon, but justifies the difference thanks to rarity, 6kW of additional power, unique 19-inch alloys (dubbed ‘Torque Thrust’), standard Magnaride adaptive dampers
Importantly, the Bullitt is also part of the Series II facelift launched in the middle of 2018, ushering in a bolder nose and (blink and you’ll miss it) tail redesign, upgraded interior, improved safety tech (but still no five-star safety rating – it’s now up one to just three stars), substantially more V8 power and price hikes of up to 10 per cent. Offsetting the latter are revised suspension tunes and more kit.
Note, though, that the all-new 10-speed auto isn’t available on Bullitt. It’s manual or the highway.
Along with the special colour and wheels, the Bullitt also brings a blackened grille and rear bootlid, chrome lipstick surrounding the grille and front windows as per the movie car, green stitching on the leather upholstery, scuff plates and white cue-ball gear shifter.
These are on top of the usual MY19 Mustang fare like autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control, auto-levelling headlights with auto high beams, an 8.0-inch touchscreen, sat-nav, reversing camera, DAB+ digital radio, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, configurable digital instrumentation and multitude of driving modes. Additionally, Magnaride adaptive dampers are also standard.
A big, imposing two-door coupe, the Bullitt’s beefier exterior makeover isn’t really echoed inside save for the branded steering wheel boss, glossy white gear knob and green-stitched leather trim, meaning it’s all pretty much the same as the regular Mustang GT.
That said, the changes made during 2018’s Series II facelift do result in a palpably better user experience. Ford’s been listening.
While the frameless door designs, basic ‘owed-to-the-1964-original’ dashboard architecture and low-slung two-plus-two seating remain, there’s better quality and more consistent trim material to go with the redesigned and now-customisable 12.4-inch digital instrument cluster, new-look wheel and MY19 Bose audio upgrade.
It’s still cheesy in that cheapo hard-plastics no-nonsense American way, but not as much as before, and at last the cloying ‘Ground Speed’ and ‘Since 1964’ motifs have been removed. Good riddance.
What you might miss is the no-memory manual-rake adjustment front seat in a model costing close to $75K, but at least they’re heated and cooled (note: not on the optional Recaros), as well as sumptuously comfortable, even over longer journeys.
There’s little to complain about the driving position bar limited side and almost non-existent rear vision, since the wheel tilts and telescopes, most switchgear is within reach, ventilation is strong, storage is ample and even the indicator is positioned for Australians (on the right). And, thanks to a long wheelbase (2720mm) and plenty of girth, even giants can spread out up front.
That fresh fancy instrumentation comes in three configurations according to Normal, Sport+ and Track mode settings, and each is quite fussy though extremely informative, with digital auxiliary speedo and (annoying) tachometer readouts duplicating their corresponding needled alternatives. Hours can be whiled away going through the menu.
On the multimedia front, Ford’s familiar Sync3 system remains one of the best in the industry for ease of operation, especially the voice-control functionality, though some might feel the pale blue look is a little dated and domineering.
Access to the rear is only suitable for shorter trips, or if you’re well under about 180cm tall. There’s not much in the way of space or amenities, and it can become a bit claustrophobic back there since the side windows are fixed, but at least access to and from is made easier by a pair of well-placed release latches and the fact that the seat now both tilts and slides in one movement. That’s progress.
Beyond that, the Mustang’s boot is wide and fairly deep as there’s no spare wheel, just a tyre emergency-inflator kit, but at least the rear backrests fold for some cargo versatility.
Engine and transmission
In normal Mustang V8s, tweaks to the naturally aspirated 5.0-litre Coyote see power and torque outputs leap by 33kW and 26Nm, to 339kW and 556Nm respectively, chiefly due to a bore-size boost from 92.2mm to 93mm, an uprated dual fuel injection system, cylinder head redesign and different crankshaft and connecting rod bearings.
For Bullitt, said engine is rated to 345kW. For “heightened performance”, it gains an ‘Open Air’ induction and intake manifold, with 87mm throttle bodies, Ford Racing air filter and a powertrain control module shared with the US-market Shelby Mustang GT3.
The result is Porsche-bothering performance – with the Bullitt’s GT manual drivetrain capable of 100km/h in around 4.6 seconds, which is still just shy of the 4.3s if you opt for the regular V8’s optional 10-speed auto.
Either way, you’re in for a treat. From the guttural idle burble that never ceases to create anticipation, to the exciting thunderous howl of that Coyote in full flight towards 7000rpm, it is an exhilarating soundtrack that – when you look at the figures on offer – make the Mustang seem like a bit of a bargain.
Yet the experience is more than noise and theatre. The Bullitt is properly, gracefully fast, capable of bounding off the line and maintaining the pace and fury for as long as you care to keep your licence, blasting across the earth’s surface with uncomplicated, fluid and flowing ease. In a nutshell, there’s spectacular lightning to go with the V8 thunder.
If you’re in the mood to relax, the Mustang can off that too, since it will readily laze about with barely more than 1600rpm flashing before your eyes in sixth, yet with the flexibility to lunge forward again without needing to downshift should the need for more speed arise.
One totally unexpected pleasure is how much better the latest V8 manual’s shift quality is, thanks to an upgraded twin-disc clutch and dual-mass flywheel, easing weight and effort (to the tune of 15 per cent, Ford reckons) while improving feel.
Big Brembo brakes on the standard 19-inch wheels provide prodigious stopping power, rounding out the Bullitt’s performance abilities.
Ironically, given its Dark Highland hue, greenies are unlikely to approve of the 13L/100km 98 RON premium unleaded petrol thirst. Again, the auto’s numbers are better. But, by golly, that V8 manual pairing is terrifically entertaining.
Ride and handling
The Coyote V8 makes light work of the 1770kg it has to lug around, but this doesn’t mean that the rear-drive underpinnings aren’t up for a demanding-road challenge.
Though planted and connected, Ford’s engineers have also managed to deliver beautifully balanced and fluid handling across the entire dynamic spectrum, with evenly weighted steering defaulting to what’s best described as relaxing feel and feedback in true grand touring style. People seeking crisp, agile sports-car immediacy should look elsewhere.
That said, driving the Bullitt hard and fast through tight turns in Sport+ mode does loosen the electronic chassis controls’ grip on things as it hardens the adaptive dampers, with progressive tail-out cornering on tap, or snap oversteer if you’re game enough to switch the ESC/traction systems off, and the helm is certainly quick enough to react and respond if the driver is too.
And, as we’ve said before, selecting the Track mode can have the Pony Car smoking its tyres attempting to go sideways all day.
Conversely, back in Normal mode, those adaptive dampers do a great job ensuring that that the strut-front/multi-link rear ends remain calm and collected, especially around town where, riding on 255/40 and 275/40 rubber front and rear respectively, the ride can get compromised. The Magnaride set-up does a great job keeping the suspension soft and pliant, as well as pleasantly quiet.
Safety and servicing
Like all Mustangs, the Bullitt manages just three stars in the ANCAP crash-test ratings, despite the advent of AEB and other driver-assist tech. A very disappointing result.
Warranty is for a five-year, unlimited kilometre period and includes a roadside assistance program. Intervals are at 15,000km or 12 months, with published service-cost pricing on Ford’s website.
The Bullitt delivers on an impressive number of fronts, with better-than-anticipated performance, dynamics, refinement and comfort.
With few vices other than the lack of auto, V8 consumption and tacky American cabin, it stands as the greatest Mustang of modern times sold in Australia.
HSV Chevrolet Camaro 2SS from $85,990 before on-roads
Completely rebuilt in RHD at HSV, the well-presented, square-jawed Camaro offers surging oomph from its 339kW/617Nm 6.2L LT1 V8/eight-speed auto combo, viceless GT handling and surprising ride comfort. There’s more than a hint of VF SS in its dynamic character, but also a unique, likeable charm too.
BMW M2 Pure from $92,929 before on-roads
Arguably the best M-division BMW right now, the perfectly pert M2 pure harks back to a simpler, rawer and more visceral sports coupe experience not seen since the E46 M3 thanks to a soaring 272kW/465Nm 3.0-litre in-line turbo six, six-speed manual ‘box, stripped-back spec and honed dynamics. Life-affirming stuff.
Nissan 370Z Nismo from $61,490 before on-roads
Aging quite disgracefully inside only, the 370Z nevertheless has a brutish, ballistic attitude, as well as a dynamic athleticism that remains swathed in a veneer of civility. Nismo’s focussed inputs make for an even better proposition. Still highly desirable, and a bargain to boot.
All car reviews
Click to share