There simply isn’t a cooler brand new car on sale right now
I never miss an opportunity to get behind the wheel of one of the most evocative and iconic nameplates in automotive history – a Ford Mustang. For well over half a century this has been the coolest ride on the block, it features in more movies and TV shows – not to mention – social media posts – than any other car. From Nicholas Cage’s Eleanor in Gone in 60 Seconds, to Will Smith’s Shelby in I Am Legend, to James Bond’s Mach 1 in Diamonds are Forever.
But there’s one movie appearance, a mesmerising 10-minute sequence, that rightfully claims the unchallenged crown of best movie chase ever – featuring a 1968 Ford Mustang 390 GT Fastback driven by Steve McQueen’s character Lt. Frank Bullitt, in the movie, Bullitt. One of the coolest actors of all time, in the undisputed coolest car in existence, in one heck of cool car chase.
Ford recognises the high regard that still remains, 52-years later, for that particularly movie appearance, and every now and then dresses up a current Mustang model in tribute to the Bullitt Mustang – selling it as a special edition. It’s tempting to be cynical about these sort of marketing machinations, but one look at this brand new Stang, resplendent in a dark shade of the distinctive signature Highland green paint, wearing black Torq Thrust wheels and a blacked out grille – minus the galloping horse logo that normally lives there just like on the 1968 original as specified by McQueen – and any intellectual challenge crumbles and desire takes clean sweep.
Like McQueen’s car the changes are a little more than just skin-deep. This Mustang has been beefed up, it is stiffer and gets a few extra ponies under the long bonnet housing that now well-proven Coyote V8 5.0-litre engine. And just as McQueen would insist on shifting his own gears, so this Bullitt edition Mustang comes only with the choice of a 6-speed manual, complete with white cue-ball shift knob.
Ever since the retro-revival Mustang arrived in 2005 it’s been a hit, blitzing sportscar sales records and not just in America. It launched in Europe in 2015 and outsold the Porsche 911 on its home turf – mostly V8s of course. It is officially the world’s best-selling sportscar.
The Bullitt Mustang looks magnificent. It doesn’t just ooze charisma, but its sleek lines are both imposing, powerful and sexy – you just know McQueen would approve. And the toned-down de-badged look adds continuity correct subtlety to the delightful extravagance.
It looks a million dollars – even if it doesn’t cost it. £43,000 for a regular V8 Mustang, and £49,000 for this Bullitt edition, then add another £1600 for the magneride suspension fitted to this car. Do you need it? I might have said no, because with fully-independent suspension, this is the most sophisticated of the breed so far, but roads in the UK can be abysmal compared to the smooth, wide and straight tarmac normally found in the States, so if you can stretch the budget, do so. The set-up is excellent and besides if it’s good enough for Ferrari (its cars use the same system) it’s even better for this.
This isn’t the biggest muscle car, that honour goes to the Dodge Challenger. I’ve driven many Mustangs in the Middle East, from the classic models to the Shelbys and Roush editions, and never felt it was a large car. On British roads however, it seems to have grown, or the roads have shrunk – or it’s just being an American abroad – big and loud. But you’d have a drink with it right? It’s longer than an Aston Martin DB11 and as wide as a Jaguar F-Type, so you have to tread around town warily, poking that long nose out of corners gingerly. You get used to it though.
Having said that, if they don’t see you coming, they’ll hear you. Particularly if you keep the sports exhaust on – which I did, because why wouldn’t you? Even so, I do think the sound has been turned down fractionally compared to the last one I drove a couple of years ago (Middle East spec) or it might be to do with the exhaust having to be re-routed from the engine bay due to the conversion to right-hand-drive, which also leaves us with a few bhp less.
Not that you’ll miss them, because there are still 459 ponies on call with 529Nm of torque aiding the 0-62mph run in just 4.9 seconds and getting it up to 163mph. As such you always find yourself being a little tentative on moving off, particularly in built-up areas, if you don’t want to be too antisocial about it. The engine is happy to rev up quickly, so you can find yourself leaping from the lights with sound and fury, and potentially a chirp or two from the tyres.
But the clutch take up allows you to moderate your progress, and the gear changes, whilst a little notchy, are well defined, easy to engage and inviting to use – particularly with that traditional white cue-ball shifter. Interestingly this car comes with a rev-matching system, that blips the throttle for you on every down change. At first you’re a little indignant, wanting to cry out like McQueen: ‘those aren’t my gear shifts!’ but then you realise three things: progress is much smoother, the noise is wonderful, and the pedal spacing makes it difficult to heel-and-toe naturally. So I left it on, and grinned at the thought the world would think I’m a driving god.
Once you get going, there is a little gap in the surge – although this being a brand new press car – with less than 400 miles on it when I got it, I did feel the engine wasn’t quite run in yet. But then again as you climb the rev range, the grunt propels this thing forward with alarming velocity, until inevitably, in very short duration, you’ve run out of room due to a corner, a slow-moving car, a traffic light, people or all of the various reasons muscle cars have to be kept on a leash in Blighty.
It’s a good thing the Brembo brakes are strong, perfectly judged and very reassuring. Talking of well-sorted, keeping the steering in dynamic (you can select individual set-ups, so I keep the suspension in comfort and everything else turned to 11) gives it just the heft I like whilst still being very twirlable around town.
Find yourself on a B-road and it hustles well, with excellent grip and cornering competence, once you’ve coaxed the long bonnet into changing direction – the initial suggestion of understeering disappears, and the threat of oversteer isn’t as overbearing as you’d think. It’s actually very surefooted and enjoyable.
Turn off the traction control and you can be a hooligan, pull off power slides, and of course it comes with Line-Lock that applies braking to the front wheels so you can execute spectacular burnouts should you feel the need – and somehow, somewhere, sometime, you inevitably will! It will also cruise effortless down motorways even boasting active cruise control.
Should we discuss practicality? The wing mirrors are a little small (McQueen only got one mirror) and rear visibility can be a little tight due to the fastback body style, but it has reversing camera and cross-traffic alert when reversing out of parking spaces, so there’s no need to fret. The boot’s a decent size and the rear seats fold down, should you need more room.
The rear seats are only for occasional use or children, particularly if there are tall people up front – ie no one could sit behind my 6ft 2in frame! It’s undoubtedly thirsty though, I barely saw more than 15mpg in the city, and only got it up to 24mpg on a longer run. The tank isn’t huge either, so you’ll be on first-name terms with your local petrol station attendant in a short time.
But none of this matters – what matters is that Bullitt Mustang brings the movie soundtrack to our motoring lives that we all crave, the only thing missing is the Lalo Schifrin’s chilled score from Bullitt itself.
It makes you feel like superstar, and boy is it a head-turner and show-stopper. Drive a supercar and people will either be dismissive or stare daggers of envy at you; drive a premium German car and it’s not the kindest attention you may encounter. But in this thing, people give way, smile and point, they want to stop and chat.
Returning to a parked car I found myself in a 10-minute conversation with a passerby who’d spotted it was a Bullitt edition, on another occasion another guy wanted to have a rev-off with his Porsche Cayenne and happily conceded victory to the Stang, meanwhile a neighbour remarked that it ‘was really something, and we always know when you start it up!’ and never have I had so many ‘cool car bro’ comments around London, than in this thing.
My initial approach to this Mustang review – having loved many a Stang before during my tenure in Dubai – was to ascertain if this muscle car works in London. It totally does – not just in all the ways a muscle car always does, not just as a pseudo sports-car and even more a GT cruiser, but as a star attraction that not only makes its owner feel special and downright happy, but other’s too. Mustangs are cool, the Bullitt Mustang, is the coolest of all.