First Drive

2019 Ford Mustang Bullitt First Drive Review | Muscle and Attitude

This Mustang would be cool even without the Bullitt connection

  • Image Credit: Christopher McGraw / Autoblog
  • Engine
    5.0L V8
  • Power
    480 HP / 420 LB-FT
  • Transmission
    6-Speed Manual
  • 0-60 Time
    < 4 Seconds (Est.)
  • Top Speed
    163 MPH
  • Drivetrain
  • Engine Placement
  • Curb Weight
    3,850 LBS
  • Seating
  • Cargo
    13.5 Cu. Ft.
  • MPG
    15 City / 25 HWY
  • Base Price
  • As Tested Price
Few special edition cars have a backstory like the 2019 Ford Mustang Bullitt. And it all started with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson – not as a potential lead in a Bullitt reboot, but in a Ford commercial back in early 2017. In the background, a sketch – the future 2019 Bullitt. Fast forward to the 2018 Detroit Auto Show, where the 2019 Mustang Bullitt actually debuted. And yet, the new car – looking phenomenal in Highland Green, packing "at least" 475 horsepower, 420 pound-feet of torque, and a manual transmission – was overshadowed by a dingy '68 Fastback, bringing one of the most enduring movie car mysteries to a dramatic conclusion.

It was The Car. One of two used in Bullitt, the one less beat-up by filming. The one Steve McQueen himself tried to buy from the long-time third owner, with no luck. Fifty years out of sight, untouchable by even McQueen – whose letters to Bob Kiernan, the Guy Who Wouldn't Sell, appear to show McQueen at his least cool. Kiernan emerges as the real hero of the story, and a more complex character than his more famous competitor for the '68 Fastback's possession, which eventually passed to his son, Sean. It's a story Hollywood would snap up and turn into a schmaltzy movie, but it works better as an unfilmed testament to Kiernan's character. Hagerty has the whole backstory, and you should read it if you haven't already.

1968 Ford Mustang Bullitt

Ford brought the whole period drama to the show floor – it was a total surprise. The 2019 Bullitt might have leaked, but few outside of Ford knew what would happen in Detroit. Like the debut of the Ford GT a few years earlier, it was a coup. And enough patina wore off of the aged '68 to polish the 2019's credentials.

Despite the stranger-than-fiction Bullitt movie car sideshow, and even ignoring the movie-homage trappings, the 2019 Bullitt is a nicely-specced Mustang. The finalized power output is 480 hp – although torque is unchanged from other GTs at 420 lb-ft – due to a cold-air intake snagged from the GT350 and an 87-millimeter throttle body, paired with an ECU tweak. On the handling side, the Bullitt is basically a GT with the Level 1 Performance Package – so it packs Brembo six-piston brakes up front, a Torsen limited slip differential out back, heavy duty front springs, a bigger rear sway bar, and uniquely optimized traction and stability control. At the moment, the more serious Performance Package Level 2 is not available.

Unlike any other GT with the PP1, the Bullitt gets some unique goodies. Most prominent are the 19-inch wheels with a Torque-Thrust design and the metallic Highland Green paint. Shadow Black is also available as an exterior shade, but why would you get it when the green looks so superb? Things get more subtle (and tasteful) as you look closer. The Active Valve Performance Exhaust tips get a dark ceramic finish, and the upper grille is a menacing, badge-less expanse of hexagonal mesh. The lower grille has a wider mesh area than a standard GT. Bright lips on the rims set off the brightwork on the window surrounds nicely. The blacked-out rear panel features a Bullitt logo, and there's no spoiler, which accentuates the decklid's sporty upsweep. While the real Bullitt car was Highland Green, recent Bullitt-edition cars have offered black and blue as an exterior color option. The '19 will get Shadow Black is a no-cost exterior option, but blue didn't make a return.

A gripe – while the Brembos are absolutely phenomenal, with superb bite and modulation, did they need to be painted red? It is a stark anachronism in what's otherwise a coherent and appropriately retro package.

Inside, it's vintage chic meets modern. The 12-inch LCD gauge cluster is something we love in the regular GT, and it works here too, considering the standard view still shows two classic-looking simulated gauges. A white cue ball style shift knob – which took a year and a half of wrangling with a supplier to perfect – and some requisite limited-edition badges invoke the appropriate air of exclusivity. The dark leather seating with Highland Green contrasting accent stitching is really tasteful. It's subtle, and should age well. But like the Brembos, I wish the Sync 3 display's Windows 98 color palette had been reskinned in more muted tones to match the character of the rest of the car. Thankfully, you can turn the screen off when it's not needed.

There are few options. Most important is the MagneRide suspension, at $1,695. The Bullitt Electronics Package adds blind spot warning, a premium audio system, driver's seat memory, and an upgraded Sync touchscreen with a pre-paid subscription to SiriusXM Traffic and Travel Link. Recaro front seats are an option, with that tasteful green stitching, too. Fully loaded up, a Bullitt is $52,980. Our tester was $51,385 – with MagneRide but without Recaros.

You can configure a similarly-contented GT Premium Fastback for $47,440 – missing of course the induction bits and special Bullitt cosmetic content. So while the Bullitt is expensive – $47,590 to start, without additional options – you get a reasonable amount of exclusivity and a heap of extra power for not a lot more.

But everybody already knows the GT with the Performance Package is a great drive and a relative bargain. What I'm in the Bay Area to find out is how the Bullitt bits change the character of the car out in the real world.

Fire it up, and the Coyote shakes the fog-swept hills. There's a feral, growly note to the exhaust – similar to the typical GT Active Valve Exhaust, but with a more forceful tone. It's not strictly retro; more like an homage to the idea of the GT 390's rumble. Ford showed restraint, thankfully, on the overrun. There's a bit of an extra rumble, like the Bullitt is clearing its throat, but no staccato burst of engineered pops. The soundscape is loud overall, but perfect. Prowling at low speeds or pegging it in a one-lane tunnel in the Marin Headlands, it's going to disappoint exactly zero fans. If you need more, someone will certainly offer louder pipes, but I'll venture that anything more free-flowing than this will lose the Bullitt's pitch-perfect character.

You can say the same thing about the Bullitt's raw performance. It doesn't feel massively more powerful than a run-of-the-mill GT, because it isn't. But the GT is already a performer. Slot that white cue ball shifter into gear and nail it, and – just like the GT – my smile increased as the revs swelled. I slipped out of San Francisco, running down Skyline Boulevard and eventually Pescadero Road to the ocean, and during the rare moments when tourist Altimas weren't lumbering roadblocks and the road curved just so, I cracked open the throttle and bent it into the turns. And, for all its heft, the Bullitt settled into a delicious rhythm – the optional MagneRide, the grippy Michelins, and the very aggressive Brembos working in close harmony for maximum real-world, real-road fun.

The Bullitt doesn't do anything better or worse than a Performance Package 1 car despite the Bullitt's heft – it's the heaviest manual fastback in the lineup, at 3,850 lbs – but that's a compliment to the underlying car's balance. What the Bullitt brings to the table is taking the thoroughly enjoyable character of the contemporary Mustang, and using its additional refinements and unique bits as a lens to focus it into an additional feeling of specialness. It succeeds. It may, mechanically, just be a GT with a mild power bump and some well-tuned factory handling parts. But there's an subtle but perceptible magnifying effect: Driving the Bullitt is, McQueen connection notwithstanding, a cooler experience.

The only drawback is that, as a limited edition vehicle of an undefined production run – we know it'll exist for two model years, but Ford's not talking about volumes – interested buyers will have to deal with markups and demand from collectors interested in investment opportunities rather than track day opportunities. Some of the Bullitt's bits may show up in the Ford Performance catalog – one Ford exec hoped that after a supplier catches up, the extremely cool cue ball shifter will appear in it – but many won't. And for those who find the new bodystyle polarizing, the exclusivity of its most flattering color will be frustrating.

The tangible bits unique to the Bullitt are, on their own, enough to justify the car's premium. But outside of the spec sheet, outside of the Bullitt mythos, and banishing the dry prognostications about value and appreciation – this is a Mustang that nails the intangibles. It looks and sounds better than a GT with a Performance Pack. Frankly, it transcends its own pigeonhole as a movie-related special edition without snubbing its heritage. This is, quite simply, the best-looking, best-sounding Mustang around – and if the GT350's flat-plane character leaves you flat, this is the best Mustang, period.

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