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First Drive: 2019 Mustang Bullitt
JJZ 109 Lives! Yes, Mustang Bullitt is back and ready to burn rubber to celebrate the 50-year anniversary of the film classic 'Bullitt,' where the hero, Lt. Frank Bullitt (Steve McQueen) thunders after the sinister Black Dodge in the thrilling 10-minute-plus chase scene.
The silver-screen classic is such a favorite of Mustang enthusiasts that Ford brought Bullitt back to life in 2001 when it paid homage to McQueen's Highland Green 1968 Ford Mustang with the special-edition Mustang. Ford repeated the theme in 2008 (and 2009) with another Bullitt—and now the special Dark Highland Green returns for third go around. And not surprisingly, 2019 Mustang Bullitt hits the mark with nostalgia, the latest in technology, and a tuned up 5.0L Coyote engine developing 480 proud horsepower. Pricing starts at $46,595.00.
San Francisco was the scene for our full-on Bullitt experience. In addition to a fleet of Green and Black Bullitt Mustangs, Ford brought in one of the original 1968 Mustang GT fastbacks driven by Steve McQueen in the film. Sean Kiernan, owner of the '68 Mustang Bullitt hero car, inherited it in 2014 from his late father Robert, who purchased the car in 1974. To fulfill his family's lifelong dream, Sean contacted Ford, and together they revealed the movie car alongside the new Mustang Bullitt at the 2018 North American International Auto Show in Detroit last January. Amazingly, this is believed to be the first time it will return to San Francisco since the movie was filmed back in 1968.
To best recreate the '68, Ford removed the pony in the grille and the 5.0 badges and it added chrome trim around the grill and side windows. The only exterior badge is a circular trunk-mounted Bullitt emblem on the decklid. Ford designed unique 5-spoke "Heritage" wheels that fit the modern S550 body. Bullitt rides on Michelin Super Sport 4S P255/40R19 (front) and P275/40R19-inch (rear) tires.
"When making a Bullitt, there are certain things it absolutely must have," said Carl Widmann, Mustang chief engineer. "It has to have the right attitude, and it has to be unique in some way from a Mustang GT. More than anything, it has to be badass."
In this case, "badass" comes by way of a 5.0L engine that's been upgraded with a Shelby GT350 intake manifold, an open-air induction system, and specific calibration to help deliver optimal performance. This combo results in 480 horsepower, 420 lb/ft of torque and a top speed of 163 mph. It's also a whopping 155 ponies over McQueen's 390 mill. With a skilled driver, we estimate Bullitt could cover the quarter-mile in 11.90-12.10 seconds.
Ford knew Bullitt had to sound good, so the Active Valve Performance Exhaust System is standard, and features black NitroPlate exhaust tips. The system gives the Bullitt its signature growl.
The high-revving 5.0L engine is linked to a 6-speed manual transmission featuring a white cue ball shift knob that mimics the one in McQueen's machine. Plus, you'll be coddled with a heated leather steering wheel, 12-inch all-digital LCD instrument cluster with a unique Bullitt welcome screen that starts with an image of the car rather than the standard pony, and you can select between classic Dark Highland Green—as worn in the movie, or Shadow Black.
Performance is also enhanced with Brembo six-piston front brakes, 3.73:1 gearing, a Torsen limited-slip differential, a larger rear anti-roll bar, and a bigger radiator to keep the Bullitt's 5.0-liter V-8 engine cool during extended chases.
Ford invited us to drive the all-new Bullitt in the only way appropriate: on the mean streets of San Francisco. After familiarizing ourselves with the features, we selected a green Bullitt from the test fleet and hit the road.
The Recaro seats are comfortable and supportive, even for larger individuals. They provide enough bolstering to keep you planted, but don't squeeze you as tightly as the ones found in the Shelby GT350 or the Focus RS. And they look way cooler than the standard seats.
Inside you'll also find aluminum pedals, satin chrome instrument cluster register vents, cup holder surrounds, and a racy "Spindrift' aluminum instrument cluster panel. There's Bullitt logo in the center of the heated and leather-wrapped steering wheel and Dark Highland Green stitching on the dash, center console and shifter boot.
"If a car needs to be special, it needs to have a differentiation in power. That's important," said Mark Schallar, Mustang brand manager. "It needs its own character variations and it has to deliver. Ultimately, it's what delivers the experience and puts smiles on people's faces."
A tap of the dash-mounted button fires the engine, which comes to life with a cackle from the active valve performance exhaust system and a unique 'Bullitt' welcome screen that projects an image of the car rather than the standard pony.
Seat belt on and mirrors adjusted, we let out the clutch and hit the road. My initial reaction was, 'wow, there's a lot of luxury and it's easy to drive.' Clutch action is, linear, it requires a comfortable amount of effort and take-up is in middle of the throw. The 6-speed manual is the one of best shifting Mustang transmission we've ever laid our mitts on; it's amazingly smooth with virtually no NVH transmitted, and the gears are easy to find. Dare I say it's too refined?
Upshifts were great, but Ford makes gearing down just as much fun with the new rev-match feature that automatically blips the throttle to help provide ultra smooth downshifts. Bullitt and 2019 Mustang GT owners will enjoy this feature. Rev-matching is a road-racing technique used under braking and downshifting to match engine speed to that of the transmission. When done correctly, it eliminates jerkiness on downshifts, which can cause wheel lockup or an unbalance of the chassis when braking and downshifting. Racers often use the heel-and-toe technique to rev match, but the 2019 Mustang does it for you. Naturally, it can be deactivated should you want to do the work yourself. "We use six sensors on the shifter and a continuous sensor on the clutch to provide seamless rev-matching," said Widmann. "We measure rate of change and other inputs to allow the engine to accurately rev-match."
After working our way through side streets, we hit the highway and rolled into the 480hp Coyote. Lt. Frank Bullitt, errr McQueen would have loved this engine. Tip-in torque is ample, but it really comes alive over 5,000 rpm. Take it to redline (7,000 rpm) and you'll get the benefit of those extra ponies. Widmann added, that while the engine makes more power at high rpm, it also makes more torque below the curve, around 3,000 rpm.
After busting out of the city limits we created our own little chase through the twisting roads through San Mateo, California. We planted the gas, the active exhaust belted out a gnarly howl, and the tach swept quickly across the face. Upshifts came easy, we slammed the big white ball through the gate and the speedo rapidly climbed towards double digits.
After a few miles, we found a road that led us west towards the California coast. We pushed the Mustang hard in the corners and the Performance Pack level 1 suspension simply ate it up. It's not as taught as a Performance Pack Level 2 or a GT350, but that's not what this car is about. The Recaro seats do a perfect job of keeping the driver and passenger firmly in place so you can focus on hitting the corners. Steering feel is accurate, and the wheel is weighted nicely, too. The Brembo brakes have a firm feel and provide more than ample stopping power.
Climbing through the hilly terrain, we were able to dive into the corners with a good amount of speed and control. The engineers did a fantastic job designing a suspension that is perfect for the every-day commute or spirited canyon carving. In fact, a good portion of the route was not exactly smooth, but the Mustang didn't mind. It absorbed imperfections and kept the Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires in compliance with the surface.
Bullitt will feel different to seasoned Mustang drivers thanks to the unique tuning on the stability control, Electric Power-Assist Steering (EPAS), and ABS. And there's a Line Lock and Launch Control should you want to exercise the full potential at the strip.
Bullitt assaults your senses whether tearing up a canyon or gunning it from a dead stop. The active exhaust lets the 480hp Coyote scream out its proud song, and the rev-matching on downshifts is smooth and magical. After a few hours of fun, we retuned to San Francisco, crossed the fog-engulfed Golden Gate and headed to our hotel. Once again, Ford has hit the mark. McQueen and Bullitt fans will enjoy the simple, but unique look, the themed interior and of course that wonderful 480 horsepower 5.0L engine. And every once in a while you'll peak in the rear-view hoping to spot the Charger.