2019 Ford Mustang Bullitt First Drive - Like Steve McQueen

Chad Kirchner
by Chad Kirchner

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the movie Bullitt, starring Steve McQueen, Ford is reviving the special edition Bullitt Mustang. This is the third time Ford has modified a Mustang to honor McQueen’s ride in the movie.

For this Mustang, there are two important factors that determine if it will be successful. First, obviously, it has to be a good car. Second, it has to be a car that makes you feel like Steve McQueen, or at least Frank Bullitt, when you’re driving it.

We hit up the streets of San Francisco, which was where the movie and the iconic car-chase scene were filmed, to see if it really will make you feel like Bullitt McQueen.

(Full disclosure: Ford flew me to San Francisco, fed me, and provided me with access to the car for this review. They also put me in a hotel where they give you earplugs because guess what? Fog horns are loud. I also kept the Ford cue ball shifter wine-bottle stopper.)

Let’s address the “good” aspect first. For 2019, Ford offers automatic downshift rev-matching on all of their manual-transmission V8 cars. That means the Mustang GT, Bullitt, and Performance Pack 2 Mustang all have it.

If you’re someone who can’t heel and toe downshift, or find the pedal placement not ideal, it’s a welcomed feature. It’s quick to respond to the gear change and downshifts become silky smooth.

If you’re someone who doesn’t want the feature, you can turn it off via a menu accessed from the steering wheel.

Starting at $46,595, the Mustang Bullitt isn’t an inexpensive car. The base comes equipped the same way a Performance Pack 1 Mustang GT comes equipped, with performance-tuned suspension and big Brembo brakes.

The original movie car was modified for better performance for the movie, and this Bullitt is no different. The 5.0-liter Coyote V8 has an open-air induction system and, more importantly, the intake manifold from the GT350’s engine. It also has an 87-millimeter throttle body.

Also standard is the active performance exhaust, including a quiet mode that will help you avoid annoying the neighbors.

With 93 octane fuel (it’ll run on 87 octane but you won’t see the horsepower gains), it makes 480 horsepower and 420 lb-ft of torque.

Options are minimal, and include MagneRide magnetorheological ride control dampers, a Bullitt technology package with blind-spot monitoring and an upgraded stereo, and Recaro seats.

Only two paint colors are offered; Dark Highland Green and Shadow Black. Inside, green stitching is unique to the Bullitt. A cue-ball shifter replaces the standard unit. The full-color digital instrument cluster has a Bullitt-specific start up sequence.

Bullitt badging is minimal, and the entire car is quite subtle. Mustang badging is removed. In a lot of ways, you have to know what to look for to see that it’s a special edition.

We drove fully-loaded models, which retail at $51,385, around the San Francisco area. While it’s seldom talked about, the hill-hold feature is a life saver on the streets of the hilly city.

You notice the extra power over the regular GT, but it’s not just peak power where you notice gains. Chief Engineer Carl Widmann explained that since the engine upgrades and exhaust are standard on this model, he could remap the setup to take advantage of the components.

What that means is that power and torque is up across the entire rev range. It makes the Mustang more livable, with the power more accessible, more of the time. It’s reason enough to select the Bullitt over a regular GT.

Widmann also said that the shifter should feel a bit more precise for the 2019 models. The sensors required to know what gear the car is in for the rev matching require tighter tolerances in the manufacturing of the gearbox.

Can I tell the difference? No. But I didn’t drive a 2018 back-to-back with the new one. What I can say is I like how the gearbox feels, with the throws and precision closer to a sports car than it ever has been.

At backroad speeds, the Mustang feels connected. In the Sport+ setting, the magnetic shocks still provide good ride quality. Steering is good for an electronically assisted unit.

One thing I don’t really care for is the engagement point on the clutch pedal. The engagement point is way up towards the top of the pedal travel, which takes a bit to get used to and also makes me wonder why the pedal needs to have so much travel to begin with.

The Michelin PS4 tires are grippy with very little noise. Standard launch control helps you accelerate from a stop, and the line-lock will allow you to smoke the tires easily.

The Bullitt is a very good street car. Driven at seven-tenths it’s a great sports car. At the absolute limit it doesn’t feel as planted as a Performance Pack 2 car or a Shelby. That’s not a demerit, because I don’t consider the Bullitt a track car and don’t see many customers going to a track with it.

If you are a track rat, go for the Performance Pack 2. If you want a good street car that is easy to live with every day, get the Bullitt.

Now it’s important to address the second goal of a car like the Bullitt. Does it make you feel like Steve McQueen?

The exhaust is tuned to make a unique sound that really does mimic the sound of the car from the movie. It’s louder than a GT exhaust and makes all the right noises. It also doesn’t sound artificial. I’m sure a lot of time went into tuning the sound, and it paid off, as it sounds real and authentic.

In Dark Highland Green especially, the car is subtle. Dark accents with subtle chrome lines make it the best-looking Mustang on sale, in this author’s opinion. The unique wheels are straight from the movie and look like aftermarket units.

They could remove the Bullitt badging on the trunk and the steering wheel and I’d still want this car. It pulls off the retro look.

Despite that, the Bullitt draws a lot of attention. Waiting in traffic to cross the Golden Gate, it felt like I was cruising at Woodward Dream Cruise. People had their windows down asking me and my drive partner about the car.

A guy in a manual-equipped M4 and his wife were ready to drive to their local Ford dealership and trade in the BMW for it. He was completely enamored with the car.

Even a younger kid in a Challenger had to tell us about how nice our car was. My drive partner made a movie reference, since he was in a Dodge, and the kid didn’t get it. So he might not have ever seen the movie, but he still thought the car was cool.

The Ford Mustang isn’t the ideal city car, especially San Francisco. But driving up and down the steep hills, listening to the exhaust echo off the architecture that hasn’t changed much since the movie was released in 1968, the Bullitt feels right at home.

Blasting through the fog across the Golden Gate Bridge in the morning, LED headlights burning through the mist, put a smile on my face.

McQueen wanted a movie that was a Western where the lead character would strap on his car like a gun belt.

That thought stayed in the front of my mind as I was driving around. Every time I saw a Charger or Challenger I wanted to chase after it. I felt cool driving it.

I am not, by any definition, cool.

The modern Mustang is better than ever, and if it’s something that appeals to you, the Bullitt is a compelling trim that’s more than just the sum of its parts.

Also, for the first time, the Bullitt is global. It is not restricted to U.S. sales, meaning enthusiasts in Europe and Australia can channel their inner Steve McQueen in London, Paris or Sydney.

It’s limited to 2019 and 2020 model year cars, and Ford assures me that while production will be limited, if you want one you should be able to find one. Ford hasn’t announced total production numbers, just model years produced.

Don’t buy it as a collectible. Buy it to drive it and enjoy it. It’s what it’s best suited for.

Many people drive Aston Martins wanting to fulfill a fantasy of being James Bond. The Mustang Bullitt pulls off the same trick. When you drive it, you feel like Steve McQueen. He was the king of cool, and behind the wheel that’s how you feel.

[Images © 2018 Chad Kirchner/TTAC]

Chad Kirchner
Chad Kirchner

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3 of 50 comments
  • Hubcap Hubcap on Aug 06, 2018

    Car looks good, for the most part. The chrome around the windows and grill should be black. The red brake calipers should be black or grey and those gigantic Bullitt logos between the rear lights and on the steering wheel need to go. I'm reasonably sure someone in the design studio floated these ideas but for whatever reason, this bit of garishness made it through.

    • TMA1 TMA1 on Aug 06, 2018

      Both the chrome around the windows and the shape of the logo on the back are reminiscent of the 2015 50th Anniversary model. Maybe Ford had some leftover parts they needed to get rid of?

  • Stingray65 Stingray65 on Aug 07, 2018

    I'm so tired of these retro-themed Mustangs. Why not make a version the reflects today's SF - scent dispenser with human feces smell, center console littered with hypodermic needles, deranged homeless person and illegal immigrant in the backseat - all direct from the factory.

  • Bob65688581 We bought zillions of German cars, despite knowing about WWII slave labor. Refusing to buy something for ideological reasons is foolish.Both the US and the EU have imposed tariffs, so the playing field is level. I'll buy the best price/quality, regardless of nationality.Another interesting question would be "Would you buy one of the many new European moderate-price EVs?" but of course they aren't sold here.Third interesting question: "Why won't Stellantis sell its best products in America?"
  • Freshblather No. Worried there will be malicious executable code built into the cars motherboard that could disable the Chinese cars in the event of hostilities between the west and China.
  • Bd2 Absolutely not - do not want to support a fascist, totalitarian regime.
  • SCE to AUX The original Capri was beautiful. The abomination from the 90s was no Capri, and neither is this.It looks good, but too similar to a Polestar. And what's with the whacked price?
  • Rover Sig Absolutely not. Ever.