Mustang Bullitt Blows Away All but Icy Driveway

April 23, 2019 by
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

The 50th Anniversary Mustang Bullitt packs 480 horsepower, GT handling, special look, even in the face of impending storm.

By John Gilbert
When you review new cars, there’s never a good time to bid adieu to the really fun vehicles in which a week-long term goes by too fast. But when a mid-April, 8-inch snowfall hit Duluth, Minnesota, it’s probably best that my week-long test drive of a 2019 Mustang Bullitt ended prematurely.

Actually, I ended it three days before it would be picked up at my house, even though my term ended on the very day that the 50th anniversary of the movie “Bullitt” was released — the movie with the legendary chase scene that ultimately made Steve McQueen a superstar and the 1968 Mustang he drove an icon that has prompted Ford to make copies for two model years, 2019 and 2020.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s never a good time for a week-long test drive of a truly fun car to end. But this one arrived with the admonition that the Bullitt was shod with Michelin Pilot Sport high-performance tires on those classy 19-inch alloy wheels, so if it snows — park it.

Available only for 2019 and 2010, the Bullitt comes in dark green or black.

It snowed, and I parked it. Knowing that those smooth, track-worthy tires are fantastic on a race track or high-speed freeway, but they have pretty much no traction if anything slippery is between the car and the pavement, I compressed as much driving as I could into the first four days it was in my control. It’s not unusual for snow to hit Minnesota in April, but after getting into the 50s, the nasty long-range forecast seemed especially mean.

For those old enough to remember the wonderful action-filled Steve McQueen movie from 50 years ago, it is a brilliant bit of strategy for Ford to bring out a replica bristling with modern technology as a reminder of the spectacular chase scenes filmed on the hilly streets of San Francisco, with McQueen, the late actor who thrived on hot cars and exciting chases. McQueen drove a hot, dark green 1968 Mustang with a tricked up V8 that allowed him to bound and bounc through wild street scenes while being chased by bad guys in a menacing Dodge Charger.

The 50th Anniversary Bullitt Mustang is the amalgamation of all that has been good about Mustangs through the ensuing decades, tempered by the latest engineering marvels such as a 5.0-liter dual-overhead-camshaft V8, juiced up to 480 horsepower and 420 foot-pounds of torque, regulated by a 6-speed stick shift that changes gears smoothly and keeps you in the power band, maxed between the torque peak of 4,000 RPMs and the power peak at 7,000 RPMs.

The kick you get from 0-60 capabilities of 4.5 seconds, and — according to Car & Driver magazine — 0-150 in 23.1 seconds(!) is enough to cause you to remember those hot cars of the late 1960s and 1970s, or to recall a weekend at a drag strip watching the top racers compete.

Simple driving controls all at hand.

White shift ball, toggles and nav screen coexist.

The biggest thrill of the Bullitt comes when you climb into the bucket seat, hook up the safety belt, step on the clutch, and push the starter button. The explosion of finely tuned power rumbles out through four exhaust tubes and, unless you find it annoying, is worth the chill that runs up your spine and back down. Let the clutch out — gently now — and zap! You’re off.

The Mustang GT has similar power and features, but Ford added punch to the Bullitt and assures it of being an instant classic during its two-year run, in Dark Highland Green or black only. I’m surprised Ford’s market wizards didn’t make it in that dark green or silver, which would allow non-movie buffs to buy a Silver Bullitt.

The base Bullitt is just under $50,000, while the test car was just a tad over $52,000. Those crafty folks at Ford know that Mustang zealots won’t pay ridiculous prices for just any Mustang these days, so there are specialty versions like the GT, the Shelby 350 and the newer Shelby 500, which has even more power. But every Mustang zealot who knows a door from a steering while will pay a lot for something that conjures up the image of the most famous Mustang in cinematic history,

You don’t have to recall the Steve McQueen movie to appreciate the Bullitt’s dashing style.

The front end of the Bullitt has been pinched down for style and aerodynamics, with a narrowed horizontal grille and small slits to house the LED headlights, and there are a couple of active hood vents to eliminate some of the hot air that can build up in the engine compartment.

The wonders of modern auto technology mean that unlike the original, which could shake and rattle in short order, but was fast enough and handled well enough that you didn’t care, this one handles with near flawless race-car precision. Sure it’s a little stiff as you bounce across potholes, but it stays firm and flat around the tightest curves, with responsive steering and startlingly efficient braking from the big red Brembo brakes.

In the never-ending battle against Camaros and Challengers, Mustang has gone high-tech with the DOHC engine. Having overhead cams instead of pushrods means the Mustang will rev easily to the 7,500 red line, but as fun as that is, the Bullitt is also an every day driver. The fantastic exhaust note might get tiresome to some, although I fall into that group who would find it only and always exhilarating. The DOHC, the 5.0 V8 cruises effortlessly at freeway speed. I noted at 70 mph it was registering only 2,000 RPMs on the big tachometer, which isn’t much higher than idle speed. A pushrod engine would be working harder for that speed, and not delivering as much efficiency.

I got 24 miles per gallon except in only city driving, where — and Duluth’s hills are a lot like San Francisco’s, now that I think of it — the mpg dropped down to around 18. I confess, though, that I was unable to suppress the urge to blip the throttle going up, for bursts of street-legal acceleration, and on the way down, where it held speed descending those hills at moderated speed.

Actually, the Bullitt blips itself, so to speak, on every downshift, where you hit the clutch, and as you drop the shift lever down a gear, the engine automatically revs to matching engine speed. That may prevent an unsophisticated driver from a jagged downshift that might pitch hit wife toward the windshield, and it also supplies the perfect alert signal that you are driving one of the hottest but also most manageable sporty cars on the planet.

The console has the shift lever, with a giant white ball for a hand grip, and on the center stack, below the navigation screen there is a row of horizontal toggle switches, which are a neat way to control various features. The Bullitt Electronics feature everything from cross-traffic alert to the premium audio system and all the connectivity. Suspension adds MagnaRide dampers for precise handling through the independent rear suspension, and the usual safety features, such as stability control and controllable modes for comfortable ride up to track stiffness are there.

As my week seemed to hurry by, the forecasted storm that was supposed to hit all of Minnesota and all of Wisconsin did hit, with southern reaches of Minnesota getting up to 15 inches of snow. It was delayed in hitting Duluth, which, located on the pointy westernmost tip of Lake Superior, we sometimes get hit hard and sometimes find storm fronts diverted. This time, the wind was blowing in hard out of the east, at an estimated 35-50 mph in a straight line, and the next day we learned that it hit a measured maximum of 71 mph. That pushed the front a bit to the west, for a while at least, and gave me another day to drive, driving rainstorm or not.

Crashing waves couldn’t prevent the fantastic exhaust note from adding to Bullitt thrills.

I couldn’t resist driving down by the Aerial Bridge at Canal Park to shoot some photos of the giant waves rolling in, higher than the piers that reach out into the lake. Then I drove up the North Shore a ways, to shoot the spectacle of the waves crashing off the shoreline rocks, just for background for the Mustang Bullitt. By Thursday night, the storm was about to change from rain to snow, so I drove up our rural highway, pulled into our driveway, and backed the Bullitt up against the garage.

Sure enough, we got hammered by 8-plus inches of the wettest, heaviest snow of the entire winter. Shoveling was a weight-lifting project. I left the Bullitt under its snow blanket and drove other vehicles through the weekend. The fellows from the Chicago car-distribution site were arriving Monday morning to retrieve the car, and my plan for the snow cover on our driveway to melt by then didn’t quite work out. The snow had melted off the car, but the driveway was still under several inches of hard-packed snow, which greatly resembles ice.

When the drivers arrived, I suggested that while they are expert drivers, I know the odd little rise in my driveway, and the delicacy with which a car with high-performance tires needed to attack it. I got it moving, and tried to maintain speed as I got to the last part of the driveway, then only spun. Three or four more times I tried, backing up and trying to build enough speed to make the little rise at the end. Finally I backed up to a bare asphalt patch for some rear traction, figuring that might work. But as soon as I tried to give it a tiny dose of gas, the Mustang’s rear end shot to the left. I counter-steered, but both left side tires were immediately over the lip and off the road, and the car was hung up on the hard-packed snow.

Prompt rescue by AAA extricated my slick-tired Bullitt from an attempt at off-roading.

We tried shoveling, putting de-icer and gravel down, but any attempt to engage the clutch caused the tendency to go farther off the road. We gave up, and I called Triple-A. A young fellow showed up with a gigantic wrecker in a half-hour, and with his modern devices was able to quickly pull the Bullitt out of danger, and out to our road. When he unhooked it, he asked if we could wait a second while he shot a few photos of the car, and he called his grandpa to notify him of the prize he just rescued.

“It’s not every day we get to tow a Bullitt,” he said, grinning broadly.

We gave him a ride in the car, and it blew his mind. He is ordering a special Mustang with a gigantic crater engine, but now he’s thinking maybe the Bullitt’s 480 horsepower are enough. I assured him this was a better prospect, from the standpoint of all-around driving and handling. And you can’t duplicate the sound of the Bullitt engine.

So the car left town and headed toward Chicago, because once out of our driveway, the snow had pretty much been cleared or melted. While I pondered what the 50th Anniversary Mustang Bullitt might be like with Nokian Hakkapelliita tires mounted instead of Michelin Pilot Sport summer tires, that thought was over-ridden by my hope that I might get another crack at that car anytime from May through November.

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