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2019 Ford Mustang Bullitt First Drive: Modern Nostalgia

Tackling the streets of San Fran in a special 50th anniversary edition By ,

Back in 1968, the actor Steve McQueen and director Peter Yates teamed up and revolutionized both the cinematic world and the driving experience by putting up on the big screen what would become the most legendary car chase scene ever shot. The film was Bullitt, and the setting was San Francisco. Thus was a legend born, and the green Mustang driven in the movie by the iconic actor took its place of honour in cinematic history.

Some 50 years on, Ford has decided once again (this is the fourth time) to revisit the legend, by presenting a modern version of the famous Mustang Bullitt. And, fittingly, it was through the streets of San Francisco that I got the chance to drive this next-generation Mustang Bullitt.

Discreet coolness
The 1968 Ford Mustang Bullitt was a fastback version, relatively discreet with the exception of its incredible engine roar, but it was singularly capable of withstanding all the jumps it had to perform when filming the movie. Of course, it did require a second car to complete the other sequences seen in the film, the first having been battered and bruised just a little too much during all the hard landings.

That aura of discreet coolness was a central quality that Ford sought to infuse in its 2019 Bullitt. So discreet is the new edition that nowhere on it will you find the famed Mustang head-and-mane logo. It does sport the logo of the film, mind you. The target with the Bullitt name at its centre is found on the base of the trunk, simulating at the same time the gas tank cap that used to be located there.

Photo: M.Bouchard

For the rest, forget about any ostentatious extras like outsized spoilers or showy chrome accents. The car is monochrome or just about, the only compromise being the chrome borders on the windows and the front grille. That grille, by the way, is totally black, as are the 19-inch wheels, setting in sharp contrast the red Brembo brake calipers.

Even the quadruple exhaust, one of the defining features of the Bullitt, sports black nozzles. These exhaust pipes, I should mention, come with active valves. In this regard, it bears explaining that, like the Mustang GT, the Bullitt features a “silent exhaust” mode, which when activated quiets down the roar produced by the engine.

That’s great, but it seems a shame to deprive oneself of the pleasure provided by the engine’s veritable symphony of noise, which by the way has been configured to replicate the precise sound emitted by the original Bullitt. And while there’s been some tweaking of the sound quality to enhance the in-cabin experience, the uniqueness of the aural experience you get is still due to the mechanical brutality of the engine and its road. I have to admit, during our test drive, we tried to spend as much time as possible driving through tunnels, of which there are many in the San Francisco region. We’d open the windows and savour the sound reverberations that enveloped us in those moments. We were told, by the way, that the Bullitt also has a very serviceable audio system, but I wouldn’t know – I was too enthralled by the sound of the engine to evaluate it.

Photo: M.Bouchard

A genuine sports car
The 2019 Mustang Bullitt is powered by the same 5.0L V8 found under the hood of the Mustang GT. The settings have been played with, with the effect of conjuring up 20 more horses (for a total of 480) and 420 lb-ft of torque. This gives the Bullitt a maximum top speed around 262 km/h, or 15 more than the base-model GT.

To transmit this considerable power to the rear wheels, the Bullitt relies on a stunningly precise 6-speed manual transmission; I did find the lever travel to be longer than I’d anticipated. A nice little nostalgic touch is the gear shifter knob, a white ball that looks like nothing so much as a billiard ball, and which has the gears outlined on it.

To ensure the Bullitt’s (virtually flawless) road grip, Ford Canada is including the Magnetic Ride suspension as standard equipment (it’s available as an option in the U.S.). It substantially reduces roll but still allows the steering to remain precise and responsive, so that the driver can keep the car pointed where it needs to go, even in tight corners. I would have loved to test this suspension on a jump, but the folks at Ford discouraged me. Ok, strongly discouraged me.

I should mention as well the Bullitt’s interior, which is as comfortable as any traditional Mustang despite its more sporty vocation. It’s great that they managed to preserve the unique personality of the car by including elements attesting to its special personality at various places. So for example the seating has green cross-stitching, and the standard 12-inch screen lights up to show a silhouette of the car accompanied by the Bullitt name instead of the usual Mustang logo.

On the other hand, in keeping with the intent of the special edition, few options are available on the car. You can choose between two exterior colours (green or deep black), and you can add sportier Recaro seats that offer firmer support – although in my view the standard seats do the job just fine. The navigation package is also available as an extra, but that’s about it for the options.

Photo: M.Bouchard

A dream come true
It was almost like being a part of history. Taking part in the launch of the Ford Mustang Bullitt, in the year of the film’s 50th anniversary, and me being a huge Steve McQueen fan and lover of car chases, well, for me this was a dream come true.

Starting at an early hour to avoid the worst of San Francisco’s rush hour traffic, and with an (of course) heavy fog floating around us, we roamed the city streets, climbing and descending in a slow-motion car chase along a pre-set route. A goofy smile crept on to my face, and a little shiver shot up my spine, as I took the corner at Taylor Street with some insistence - just like in the movie, or almost!

Then it was out of the city to take the Bullitt along winding and mountainous country roads. Here the car, and all that torque available to it, could let loose; even the snuggest corners were a breeze.

Like all Ford Mustangs, the Bullitt doesn’t offer the best visibility. Towards the back, visually checking blind spots is a challenge (thank you, drive-assist system). In the front, meanwhile, the long sloping hood seems never-ending.

Another undeniable fact: the rear seats are uncomfortable. Also, the steering wheel is a little too large and is sometimes difficult to grip comfortably.

But when you press that start button and hear the engine roar to life, when you feel your seat and the sheet metal around you vibrate, and when you look out and see the Golden Gate bridge shrouded in fog, all you can think of is that you are, for a brief moment, Steve McQueen about to chase down the bad guys!

The Ford Mustang Bullitt is available starting at $57,025.

Photo: M.Bouchard
Photo: M.Bouchard
Photo: M.Bouchard
Photo: M.Bouchard
Photo: M.Bouchard
Photo: M.Bouchard
Photo: M.Bouchard
Photo: M.Bouchard
Photo: M.Bouchard
Photo: M.Bouchard
Photo: M.Bouchard
Photo: M.Bouchard