Slip on your favorite pair of shades and you instantly feel more cool and confident. Sliding behind the wheel of the 2019 Mustang Bullitt has the same effect. Featuring a few performance tweaks, this specialty ’Stang channels the spirit of Steve McQueen’s steed from the 1968 classic movie, Bullitt, which features the most iconic car chase scene in celluloid history.
It is understated, but timeless and effortlessly cool. It doesn’t need to scream at you. — Darrell Behmer, Ford
“The whole idea is that it has attitude,” Tom Barnes, Mustang vehicle engineering manager, told us. “…It has to have attitude, it has to be emotional, and it has to be true to what it should be.”
And what it should be is a modern interpretation of the movie Mustang that goes beyond a Highland Green paint scheme and emotes that cool confident star of the actor it is so associated with.
“The script that we are using is kind of taken from the original Bullitt car in the movie, so we wanted to adhere to that,” Darrell Behmer, Mustang Chief Designer, told us.
Delivering The Lines
Sticking to the script means both toning down the styling and amping up the aggression. Presenting a tantalizing styling challenge for the designers who dream up all manner of Mustangs, most of which are far flashier than Bullitt.
If you run it all the way out, you just want to run it to 7,500… — Tom Barnes, Ford
“This is the Mustang that runs under the radar. This is the designer Mustang, for me anyway. We do a lot with stripes and scoops and most of our Mustang owners like to modify their cars. It think everybody modifies them to some extent, whether it’s under the hood or visually,” Darrell added. “So, we try to offer a spectrum of cars, but this is the one that really is consistent with what Steve McQueen was in the movie. It is understated, but timeless and effortlessly cool. It doesn’t need to scream at you. It doesn’t need any badges, stripes, or loud colors.”
The result is a styling that is reserved, but still stands out from the crowd. It begins with a blacked out grille and chrome trim around the grill and side windows. That carries to the black wheels with machined lips right down to the blacked out exhaust tips. Available in either Highland Green inspired by the movie car or black, inspired by the popularity of black-on-black Mustang GTs ordered with all the options.
“It’s interesting when you start doing minimalist cars because you when you start to take things off of them they can look cheap,” Darrell said. “So, the chrome around the grille, and the machined lip on the wheels are these little touches that bring the car up.”
It isn’t just the styling changes that raise the car up, however. This isn’t simply an appearance package. While the looks are a big part of it, this car carries forward the tradition of its production predecessors in 2001 and 2008-2009. Both of those versions had the look and just a splash of extra performance. Where its forbearers received suspension tweaks and modest engine upgrades, the latest model plays off the strength of the current platform and adds a generous helping of deep breathing.
“If you look at the torque curve for the base car it is smooth, but on this car, even though the peak is the same, there are bumps where it goes above, especially between 3,000 to 4,000 and 5,000 to 6,000. If you ran them back-to back, you would feel that,” Tom explained. “If you look at the base car, the horsepower starts dropping off at about 6,700. On this car it just keeps going. …If you run it all the way out, you just want to run it to 7,500. That is the effect of the better breathing and the calibration. The induction essentially lowered the losses and increased the flow.”
Pushing the Gen 3 Coyote engine’s performance to 480 horsepower is a full induction upgrade headlined by the intake manifold and 87mm throttle body from the Shelby GT350 along with a similar air box and inlet tube that is tuned specifically for the Bullitt.
Meanwhile, the suspension is a direct carryover from the Performance Pack option available on the 2018-2019 Mustang GTs. The driving modes and Michelin tires are untouched from the Mustang GT as well.
Hitting The Streets
We arrived in San Francisco and walked into a warehouse full of priceless classic vehicles and there sat the 2019 Mustang Bullitt next the original movie car that returned to the public eye at the North American International Auto Show earlier this year. While the original emits a special aura, its modern equivalent looked right at home next to it. Just outside a line of Highland Green machines (and the occasional black version) lined the street and attracted a lot of attention from the locals.
We grabbed the key fob for a Recaro-optioned green machine and hit the road into the hills above the city. During the rare times when traffic didn’t hold up the flow, we pushed the car in the turns and let it rip in the straight sections. We couldn’t help but appreciate just how easy the car was to drive.
In the tighter sections, it glides through the transitions and only the most severe imperfections in the road can deter it from its task of conquering in the corners. In the straight sections, the car definitely has a bit more urgency, especially at the top end of the tach, and yeah, we pushed it beyond 7,000 to see how it felt and it was nice. However, the difference between this one and the Mustang GT isn’t huge in the seat of the pants, but this car is undoubtedly faster carrying the car to 163 MPH versus the GT’s 155. We didn’t push it that far to find out, but we don’t doubt it.
Likewise, there is a subtle, but noticeable change in the exhaust tone on deceleration. Mustang’s Chief Engineer Carl Widmann explained to us that the team really worked on this to add some extra personality to this car. The focus was adding some more pronounce burble during decel, and interestingly, some of that was borrowed from the work put in on the Focus RS’ off-throttle exhaust tone.
“The active exhaust is the same hardware that is optional on the base car, except for the darker tips. But, the calibration of the valve is different. It is not hugely different, because it has to fit within the law, but it is different. We wanted to have just a little bit more throatiness…” Tom explained. “If you are running, say, at 2,000 and you press into it up to 2,800 and you get out of it, you will hear that burble. It’s not a poppy, rat-a-tat thing. It’s a burble. That gives you a good feel.”
It certainly does. When you are a wide-open throttle the engine whirs with spaceship-like precision, but let off a bit and it rumbles and reminds you that a muscular V8 is revving under your right foot. We loved the sound and feel so much that we never even turned on the vaunted, 1,000-watt B&O audio system, which is new for 2019.
What made the standard Active Valve Performance Exhaust even more fun was that little rev before downshifts. Sure we could have been using the heel-and-toe method as we barreled into the turns, but never this smoothly. That’s because all the 2019 Mustang manuals, including the Bullitt, feature rev-matched downshifting.
Relying on a septet of sensors (six on the gear shift and one on the clutch pedal) the onboard computing power anticipates your downshift and blips the throttle to smooth the transition between gears on deceleration. Racers have long done this themselves, but now any Mustang driver can drive smoother and faster thanks the technology.
We quickly grew accustomed to the digital assist, and would even feign a downshift with out letting the clutch back out to get a quick engine rev in a tunnel purely for research purposes, of course.
Before we knew it our drive through the curvy NorCal roads was over, but we longed for more time in the seat. Fortunately, the next way we were able to take the car out for photos and Ford cleverly mapped out the movie chase scene in the onboard navigation. Though we kept the speeds legal, we can only imagine how harrowing it was to film that sequence in car far less capable than the 2019 Mustang Bullitt.
With a new calibration and blacked out tips, the Active Valve Performance Exhaust on the car sounded so good that we never even tried the 1,000-watt audio system, but we did try wide-open throttle several times.
“When the valves in the back are open, when you are running it track or you are fully WOT, if you could drop a ping-pong ball behind the catalyst, it would just shoot straight out,” Tom Barnes said. “If you are not just completely WOT with the valves wide open, the valves are just constantly moving. …The algorithm that controls them looks at engine speed, throttle position, vehicle speed, and other parameters.”
So, while the hardware is the same, this car is running a unique, remapped calibration for those exhaust valves, which borrowed a few tricks from the active exhaust calibration on the Focus RS. The result sounds great, especially when you get off the gas for a second.
“It’s kind of like Steve McQueen. You look at how he dresses in the movie, and on one hand you say there’s nothing that really stands out, but on the other hand the way he dressed then, you can dress that way today and still up to date and cool,” Darrell explained. “That’s the timeless element that this car has. That car will never go out of style. It will always be looking great. That’s what we were after. That’s what makes this a unique Mustang versus the GT350 or the California Special.”
In short it looks great, it’s fun to drive, and it’s a little faster than your average Mustang. If those are the kind of things you look for in a pony car, the latest Bullitt is definitely for you. There are others that go faster, handle better or shift themselves, but this one makes you feel a little cooler while driving it, and that’s really what owning a Mustang is all about.