I have this problem where I can’t pretend I’m someone else.
Oh, I have fantasies; grand, ridiculous fantasies where everyone gets a yacht and there’s no such thing as a hangover. But one thing is consistent: I’m always me. I’m not James Bond, which is a problem when I’m driving my Aston Martin and people try to talk to me in bad English accents. And I’m not Marty McFly, which was a problem when I was driving my DeLorean and everyone thought they were the first person to ask about 88 mph. The saving grace to the owner of a 2001 or 2008 Bullitt edition Mustang is, without good dialog, there are no catchphrases.
Bullitt, the 1968 copudrama featuring a blue-eyed, brooding, Steve McQueen as Frank Bullitt, is an objectively awful movie. The plot of the entire first 45 minutes of the film would fit neatly inside the opening credits in a modern film. Even the 12-minute chase, the most iconic film car chase of all time is just not good, especially when compared to the sequences in Ronin or The Transporter. Bond films can be campy, but they are definitely fun. Many film historians regard Back To The Future as “the perfect script,” and the movie itself is unequivocally great. But even with great films as a backdrop, nostalgia stinks. Imagine Aston actually tried to sell you an “On Her Majesty's Secret Service Edition” DBS Superleggera today. Yuck. Manufactured nostalgia stinks worse.
Nevertheless, here we are in San Francisco, Ford squeezing that Bullitt flavored fruit once again. Bullitt 4: The Overreach.
This is a 2018 Mustang GT in Highland Green. It has 480 horsepower, 20 from the regular GT. That's thanks to a GT350 intake, larger throttle bodies, and an ECU tune. Torque remains the same as a standard GT, at 420 lb/ft. It has Torq Thrust-syle wheels, (though, noticeably, not Torq Thrust wheels, and in black, not gray), and some chrome around the window bezel and the new-for-18, Billy Bass mouth, two places where chrome absolutely need not be, ever again. I count four Bullitt badges, which is three too many (I’ll give you the dash plaque). For the record: if Steve McQueen was half as cool as all these old guys think, he would never drive a homage car with a movie name stamped all over it.
If you like Bullitt, and worship all things McQueen, I’m sorry. You probably love all this kitschy shit. But I like The Fast and The Furious a whole bunch, and I’ll talk the same smack if Toyota comes out with a F&F-themed Supra with chromes and the gladiator graphics on the side. Remember the Transformers Camaro? Cheesy is cheesy.
The dual-mode exhaust sounds loud and aggressive, though Ford says it’s unchanged from the standard GT. Neither is anything else, for that matter. Aside from the color, trim, horse delete from the grill, and 20hp, this is a Mustang GT PP1 that retails for $47,000. The rest is, more or less, what you make of it. The car I drove was pretty loaded up; almost $54,000 out the door, with Recaro seats, the tech pack, and magnetic ride suspension. In case you’re doing math in your head right now, no, you aren’t nuts; this is awfully close to the GT350’s base price, and deep into market price of low-mile used GT350’s with the much-prettier 2017 schnoz.
Now, the good news! This car is fast. Holy hell is this car fast. 480 horsepower in a Mustang GT is a ton. Just eight years ago, the Mustang GT made 300 horsepower. Now we’re at 480 without forced induction? MURRICA. From someone who drives an old-school 5.0 around, the smoothness of this engine at high-RPM, and the newest Coyote’s willingness to rev, is borderline exotic. It sounds brilliant, deep, punchy, and never droning, all over the rev range, and its overrun exhaust blasts aren’t as digital as you’ll find in all the new Porsches.
The powerband begins a bit higher than the Camaro SS or other LT-powered cars, but the tradeoff is it’s happier to rev out and stay up at the top of the range. Now, that’s not to say it has nothing down low; you can practically lug the engine below 2,000 if you really wanted and still keep the car moving slowly. But the gearing is spot on to match the revvy nature of the engine. My home canyons are all third gear, same as a Porsche 911 GT3. By my estimate, third is good for as low as 30 or as high as around 107-109 mph in the Bullitt.
The six-piston front Brembo brakes keep the nose-heavy ‘Stang hauled down more than adequately for street and canyon driving, though there’s no way around physics. At 3,700 pounds and change, I’d recommend high temp pads/fluid for track work, as in any other Mustang GT. The steering is direct–if slightly distant–through the electric power rack, and the car’s default handling setup is understeery unless you start with the heavy-footed drifty stuff. For obvious reasons, you shouldn’t do that on the street.
The optional Magnetic Ride suspension is, in my opinion, a must. I thought it was standard until I arrived at dinner and some of the other journalists started complaining about the car’s handling. “Bouncy rear end,” was thrown around a lot, alongside grumblings of poor body control and live axle-like behavior. I thought I had lost my touch, or my mind, as the body control was excellent in the cars I drove. I even spent about 20 minutes gushing about how well the car was handling the uneven canyon terrain around the Nocasio Reservoir. Turns out I had Mag Ride, and they didn’t. For track work, in all but the hottest conditions, Magnetic Ride and Ford Racing Sport Springs will be a winning combination, whereas the stock springs are great if you regularly drive on bumpy or uneven roads.
Sooner or later, someone has to tell me why the seats in all Ford sports cars are so high? I drove two Bullitts: one with standard-shaped, leather, heated/cooled seats, and another with Recaros. Both seats were 2-3 inches too high at their lowest positions. I’m tall, but the Mustang is huge, and there is no reason I shouldn’t be able to fit in one with a helmet. It feels like you’re sitting on top of the car, not down in a cockpit.
Another knock: the first of the two cars I tested threw a check engine code 20 minutes into the drive and repeatedly ground the 2-3 shift. This is a noted problem with the still-fragile MT-82 transmission. On top of the glorious Voodoo engine, a big reason I’d recommend a base Shelby over a Bullitt or Roush GT is the tougher Tremec gearbox. The engine code didn’t clear itself, but didn’t seem to negatively affect the car in any other way. The second car I tested showed neither of these issues. As a pre-production development prototype, it is entirely possible the first car had a very tough 2,500 miles.
If you’re a better fantasizer than I am, and you can imagine yourself a soundtrack-less, turtleneck-wearing detective from the 1960’s, chasing an unusually calm baddie through an empty San Francisco, passing the same Beetle and Firebird over and over, Ford has just the car for you. I’m guessing, based on how many folks stopped me to ask about the car, that there are a bunch of you, and you will all write me angry letters now.
But if you can’t relate to this movie, that character, or the nostalgia of a mostly-standard 1968 Mustang with a couple bolt-on modifications, I’m with you, and I don’t get it either. But, you can feel mostly secure in the fact that the 2018 Mustang GT with Performance Pack and Mag Ride is an incredible performer for the money. It's probably never been a better value than it is right now. If you lined up a drag race with the 1968 390-powered “Bullitt” GT, a 2001 “Bullitt” GT, a 2008 “Bullitt” GT and almost any Mustang at all from the current lineup, the new car would smoke them all by what I’d probably guess is an embarrassing margin. Why bother with manufactured nostalgia? The glory days are right now.