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2019 Ford Mustang Bullitt first drive review


2018 marks the 50th anniversary of Steve McQueen’s memorable performance in the movie Bullitt, in which McQueen himself did much of the stunt driving in a dark green 1968 Mustang. Ford has made Bullitt-badged tribute models three times in the last 18 years – in 2001, 2008, and now the current model. In each case, the Bullitt edition gets dark green or black paint and comes with a somewhat hotter engine than the corresponding Mustang GT of the same year. For the 2019 Mustang Bullitt, Ford has delivered all the regular performance goodies plus a few special ingredients not available on any other Mustang.

The Mustang Bullitt obviously competes with the rest of the modern pony car contenders: the Chevrolet Camaro SS and the Dodge Challenger. It won’t run alongside the top performance models because the Bullitt is not the most powerful Mustang you can buy. In this generation, that honor still goes to the GT350– at least until the Shelby GT500 arrives. The Bullitt delivers 480 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque from a 5.0-liter V8, so it’s comparable to the Challenger T/A 392 (485/475) or the Camaro SS (455/455) but not the Hellcat variants or the ZL1.

The Mustang Bullitt starts at $47,590, and you can spend up to $52,980 if you choose every option.

Ford’s smartest horse

Let’s cut right to the chase. There are only three options on this year’s Bullitt, and one of them is the seats. The Bullitt comes standard with regular Mustang GT seats upholstered in black leather with green contrast stitching. They’re super comfortable, with full eight-way power adjustment and power lumbar support. They’re also heated and ventilated for additional comfort.

The alternative is a set of Recaro sport seats for $1,595. If you’re skinny and you plan to take your Bullitt to the race track, you will like the Recaro seats. However, if you’re on the larger side they’re probably going to be tight, and they offer only minimal lumbar support. All adjustment (fore/aft, up/down, and seatback angle) is manual, and there’s no heating or ventilation available.

It will do 0-60 in about 4.1 seconds – depending on how good you are with the clutch.

With that in mind, we recommend you test both seat options before you make your decision. You’re sure to have a strong preference one way or the other.

Technically speaking, the Bullitt is a four-seater. However, the back seat is mostly vestigial, and we didn’t even try to climb back there and sit down. It’s a good place to put your backpack, though.

The Bullitt offers several infotainment options to choose from. The basic stereo is a nine-speaker unit shared with the premium trims on all Mustangs. It’s got SYNC 3 with voice control, Bluetooth, USB input, AM/FM, satellite radio, and support for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Optionally, you can choose the Bullitt electronics package for $2,100 and that gets you the 12-speaker B&O Play sound system with navigation, CD player, and HD Radio. Really, either infotainment option is good. It takes a lot of volume to hear anything over the engine, anyway.

2019 Ford Mustang Bullitt review
Jeff Zurschmeide/Digital Trends

The Bullitt also comes with a 12-inch digital instrument cluster. This is fully configurable and its design changes when you cycle between the various driving modes. It shows turn-by-turn navigation instructions, infotainment information, and everything else the car can possibly tell you. It’s even got a G-force monitor and a nifty display of air intake temperatures, air-fuel ratio, and related data. The Bullitt also comes with a pair of gauges up on the dash to display oil pressure, which is handy and reassuring, and intake manifold vacuum, which is fundamentally useless information but still strangely interesting.

Down on the center stack, Ford gets points for keeping it real because you get analog audio and climate controls. You can use the touch screen if you prefer. There are also toggles for various functions like driving modes and the hazard lights. Finally, one last Bullitt touch is that the shift knob is a white ball modeled after the original movie car.

Good ol’ fashioned V8 power

The Mustang Bullitt is above all a performance car based on the Mustang GT. The Bullitt carries the same 5.0-liter engine as the GT but it’s upgraded with a cold air intake system, an upsized 87mm throttle body, and an intake manifold borrowed from the GT350. The engineers also reworked the engine control mapping. Put it all together and you get a 20-horsepower bump over the GT’s 460 horses. Torque is the same at 420 pound-feet, so you’ll find those 20 horses all above 7,000 rpm.

Honestly, when you’re pulling into a grocery store parking space, a throttle blip makes you sound like a moron.

That’s about it for performance differences with the Mustang GT. Though, one feature to mention is the active exhaust, which de-baffles itself based on how you’re driving. It sounds great, and Ford engineers told Digital Trends they gave a little more grumble to the Bullitt. It’ll put a smile on your face.

Behind the Bullitt’s V8 engine is a six-speed manual transmission. There’s no automatic available, which is right and proper. The six-speed features rev-matching on downshifts. When you drop down a gear, the engine gives the throttle a little blip for you. That’s great on winding mountain roads and sharp corners taken at speed, but it would be better if the Mustang didn’t do it when you’re coasting down to a stoplight or driving in a parking lot. Honestly, when you’re pulling into a grocery store parking space, a throttle blip makes you sound like a moron who ruined the transmission synchros in a brand-new car.

2019 Ford Mustang Bullitt review
Jeff Zurschmeide/Digital Trends

Behind the transmission is a 3.73 rear end with a Torsen limited slip differential. That’s standard on the Bullitt but optional on the Mustang GT. Underneath the Bullitt, you get the same chassis and suspension as the Mustang GT equipped with the optional performance pack 2. You also get the six-piston Brembo front brakes, and they work very well. You’ll want to notify your passenger before you stand on the brake pedal.

The one performance option available on the Bullitt is the MagneRide active dampers. These electromagnetic shock absorbers adjust their damping rate every few milliseconds in response to changing road conditions. The short story is that they work admirably and make a noticeable difference in managing grip and keeping the Bullitt stable. For $1,695, the MagneRide option is well worth the extra cost.

The Mustang Bullitt is a hot rod for the street and the countryside; a true homage to Steve McQueen.

Equipped with MagneRide, we took the Bullitt through San Francisco and south into the Santa Cruz mountains for some of the twistiest roads in the Bay Area. The car is charmingly responsive and predictable in cornering, thanks in large part to Ford’s change to independent rear suspension back in 2015. The V8’s power is always available, and throttle modulation is precise with Ford’s combination of port and direct fuel injection. There’s plenty of Michelin Pilot Sport rubber under the car, and the MagneRide keeps them in contact with the pavement.

The Mustang engineers told us the Bullitt’s top speed is 163 mph — we didn’t check — and that it will do zero to 60 in about 4.1 seconds depending on how good you are with the clutch and the shifter. The built-in drag racing mode includes launch control, so that should help.

The Mustang Bullitt offers seven driving modes called comfort, normal, sport, sport+, track, drag racing, and snow/ice, respectively, plus a customizable mode named MyMode. From comfort through track, you can choose how much feedback you want in the steering. We found that normal and sport worked just fine for spirited driving in the hills. The biggest difference naturally comes with snow/ice mode, as the Bullitt drastically reduces the engine’s available torque.

Peace of mind

The Bullitt offers all of the standard passive and active safety equipment available on the regular Mustang. Blind spot monitoring comes with the optional electronics package. Fuel economy is EPA-rated at 15 mpg city and 25 mpg highway. The standard Ford warranty applies to the Mustang Bullitt; that’s three years/36,000 miles on everything, and five years/60,000 miles on the drivetrain.

How DT would configure this car

Configuring the 2019 Mustang Bullitt is easy with only three real options. But first, the car has to be green. Ford makes it available in black because customers requested it, but those are the kind of people who blip the throttle in grocery store parking lots, right? Green is proper for this car.

2019 Ford Mustang Bullitt Compared To

On the options: yes to the MagneRide, no to the Recaro seats, and maybe to the electronics package. That yields an out-the-door price of $51,385 with electronics or $49,285 without. In that price range, there’s hardly any point in quibbling.

Conclusion

During the car’s launch, Ford engineers and marketers insisted the Bullitt is not intended to be a track car. Sure, it’s got track mode, but that’s not its reason for being. The Mustang Bullitt is a hot rod for the street and the countryside. It’s a true homage to Steve McQueen.

Just for comparison, if you built a basic Mustang GT with all of the available performance options, you could get to Bullitt performance (less 20 horsepower) for $44,245. That’s with cloth seats and a basic radio, but with the MagneRide, Brembo brakes, the performance pack 2, and the Torsen diff. If you made a GT with everything up to Bullitt trim (including leather, navigation, and the upgraded sound system) you’d spend $49,340. With the Recaro seats it would be $50,935. The takeaway is that if you want all the goodies, the Mustang Bullitt is a good deal. If you want a track car, you’re better off starting with a GT, cherry-picking your options, and saving a few bucks.

The bottom line is that the 2019 Mustang Bullitt is a good old-fashioned muscle car with modern handling. It’s a delight to drive and you can really tell that the engineers wore out more than a few pencils making this car just right. Even if you’re not a fan of the movie, the smooth de-badged exterior in deep green makes the Bullitt a treat for the eyes, while the performance gear makes it a giggle to drive.

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