All photos by Peter Nelson
With plans to spend Fourth of July weekend in Northern California, we were able to secure a very fitting car for the weekend’s festivities. Why was it fitting? It just so happened that we’d be in the Bay Area with a car that was made famous by an iconic cop drama set there in the late-60s, Bullitt. Well, not the exact same car, but rather a tribute to it that’s been raising enthusiasts’ pulses since 2001: the Ford Mustang, Bullitt edition.
The film is pretty good without the iconic, dark green, ‘68 Ford Mustang fastback: its camera work set the standard for how to film modern action dramas, Steve McQueen played one of his most well-known roles, the jazzy soundtrack is one of the catchiest of the era (and ever), and it’s the first film to have the word bullshit written in the screenplay and actually filmed. Fun fact, right?
You can tell we like the film, so you probably assume before reading on that we dig the car, the 2020 Ford Mustang BULLITT. It was indeed a little hard to maintain a critical viewpoint. We couldn’t get over our fanboy mentality of this thing’s forefather mobbing around the streets of San Francisco, being a part of the first car chase of its magnitude to hit the silver screen. Though, we were able to find a few downsides, so please do read on. Here’s how it all went.
Thanks very much to Ford for lending us the 2020 Ford Mustang BULLITT for this review. Our tester's base price was $46,705, with $6,390 in options and a destination fee of $1095, making the all-day price $54,190.
Engine: Tons of Character, Glorious Noise
Great power from a high-revving V8 that sounds excellent
Poor fuel economy (though, who cares?)
Since we're talking about a fun, torquey American sports car, we've got to start with what lives under the hood. The naturally-aspirated, 5.0-liter Coyote V8 under the hood of the Bullitt (no more all caps, it reads like we're yelling) is very much like how it comes in the standard GT, albeit with a bigger 87mm throttle body, the Shelby GT350’s intake manifold, and a mild tune. That adds up to a cool 20 more horsepower over the GT, netting 480 with 420 lb.-feet of accompanying torque. Almost 100 horsepower per liter, naturally aspirated? Yes please. This is enough to shove the 3,705 lb. green beast to 60 MPH in 4.7 seconds, and hit the quarter mile mark in just 12.9 seconds.
This engine has lots of character. Power feels great all over the tachometer, it has a very noticeable shove at 4,000 RPMs, and it reaches its pleasantly-scary-sounding 7400 RPM redline quite quickly. The Coyote felt more revvy and smooth compared to GM’s current LT1 V8, perhaps due to being dual-overhead cam. Routinely revving it out definitely doesn’t help it reach its EPA estimated 17 MPG city and 23 MPG highway fuel economy, but who cares? Between the induction sound of the engine and its active exhaust system, it was an experience that never got old.
Ford really got the theatrics right with the Bullitt. The side-to-side rocking of the Coyote V8 as the tach needle came off the peg while slowly pulling away from a green light, the throaty growl it made while finding the clutch’s take-up point, revving it out with its Active Valve Performance Exhaust System set to Sport or Track, feeling the shove of its 420 lb.-feet of torque, rowing through its manual gears to get up to speed; this car possessed a ton of sense of occasion. Traction control was also way too easy to defeat; now we understand Mustangs’ reputation for careening towards cars n’ coffee crowds on the regular.
We couldn’t help but have the exhaust set to Track as much as possible, we don’t care how many people we annoyed. Even just rolling down low-speed streets in 2nd gear, the exhaust was so entertaining. Any average right-turn onto a big empty street with a heavy right foot to the floor always gave us a massive grin; we just couldn’t get enough of this thing’s angry exhaust note. Because of this, we had no shame in spending an astronomical amount of money on fuel during our week with it.
Suspension, Handing, and Braking: A Solid Thumbs-Up
Good compliance for cruising around in town and on the highway
Handing wasn’t as sharp as we’d like for spirited, curvy-road fun
Adding to the Bullitt Mustang having a strong sense of occasion, our tester had a good mix of suspension characteristics. Equipped with Ford’s optional $1695 MagneRide suspension, damping could be quickly configured to suit our intentions and desired level of comfort. We generally kept it in Sport as we found it to be plenty compliant on Southern California’s rough, sunbaked streets, and switched to Comfort for longer jaunts up and down the highway. In fact, undulations, uneven surfaces, and rough concrete on the highway were very nicely dialed out. Despite wearing some pretty aggressive 255/40/19 front and 275/40/19 rear Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires, there was never any tramlining or above-normal road noise.
For spirited drives on our favorite canyon roads, we found Sport and Track to be stiff and sporty, though not quite as confidence inspiring in more technical corners. When entering sweepers we had to be patient with the throttle; instead of gradually feeding it in, a bit of maintenance throttle was required until just about corner exit, and then it could be opened up as soon as the wheels were straight. It exhibited more body roll in tighter sections of tarmac, and the front end didn’t feel as sharp as we were hoping, but again, for a smidge over 3700 pounds this is understandable. It looks like the Ford Performance Mustang MagneRide Handling Pack is a solid consideration for those who pick one up and might want a bit more sharpness.
While slicing through fun canyon roads, one area where the Bullitt’s weight wasn’t as noticeable was under braking. The massive 15-inch rotors up front and 13-inch in the rear, combined with gigantic Brembo calipers, made easy work of reigning in the mighty Mustang in all conditions, but especially once brought up to temperature during some spirited driving. We didn’t experience any noticeable fade, and pedal feel was exceptionally good. The brakes always felt strong and ample, and never too grabby.
In terms of general Mustang tomfoolery, it all felt better behind the wheel of the Bullitt. Maybe it’s because of the iconic car chase, or maybe the active exhaust system, but lighting up the rear tires at green lights, ripping impromptu donuts in a secluded area to see how big of an eye-roll we could get from our significant other, and more, were just more fun behind the wheel of this one. We didn’t get the chance to chase a black Dodge Charger up a hilly street in San Francisco, but if we did, we would’ve gladly risked blue lights in the rear view mirror, followed by a stern talking-to from Johnny Law.
Interior: Worth the Premium, But Just Barely
Comfortable driving position, especially for tall folks
Some chintzy-feeling materials
The Mustang has always been an all-body-types-friendly car, and this Bullitt is no exception. We were pleasantly surprised by how much our long-legged frame had to bring its optional manual-adjust Recaro seats forward, and the telescoping steering wheel ensured we were able to fine-tune the right driving position for performance, as well as for comfort. The Recaro seats (with dark green stitching as a nice design touch), while not kitted out with such comforts as heating and cooling, were incredibly comfortable. We could’ve pushed them all the way back, reclined them as flat as possible, and had a very nice nap between their firm-yet-supple bolsters and excellent head support.
For a low-slung, shorter-roofline muscular sports car, this Mustang’s visibility was very good throughout the cabin; its blind spots were very minimal, and the way the hood sloped down improved frontal visibility, making getting acquainted with its dimensions very easy. Part of the optional $2,100 Electronics Package included cross-traffic alert, as well as some tech features that made life a bit easier, such as voice activation, and its upgraded Bang and Olufsen sound system; its definitely a solid upgrade.
Backseat room was actually very good for a slick two-door coupe with a low roofline. A tall/lanky frame under 6’4” would find it tolerable for a short trip, which is quite rare in coupes these days. The rear seat isn’t as cavernous as other sports cars, too, thanks to the car having a nice greenhouse, and despite the large Recaro front seats taking up a lot of the forward-view. Cushioning was on par with Mustangs we’ve tested in the past; more bucket-like than over-bolstered.
Ford’s SYNC 3 infotainment system was easy to use, though laggy at times. Moving through screens wasn’t as smooth as similarly-priced sports cars that we’ve tested in the past, though it had a clean interface, and connecting an iPhone and utilizing Apple CarPlay was quick and easy.
The seats, gigantic shifter, and steering wheel felt excellent; props to Ford for nailing the three most important interior surfaces for such an engaging sports car. From there however, there was a good amount of chintzy and cheap-feeling plastic, primarily on the door cards and various console surfaces. To distinguish this special edition Mustang from other trims, a Bullitt emblem sits in the middle of the steering wheel, as well as a production number plate on the passenger end of the dashboard. Another nice design touch that made up for the chintziness was its stitched-leather-covered dash, which was nicely accented by dark green stitching.
Transmission: Props for Only Coming in Manual
Engaging, geared to take advantage of the 5.0’s fun power band
Noisy and clunky at times
In our current year of 2020 we’ve become less and less picky about manual transmissions and how they feel; we’re just happy that they’re still an option. We also appreciate that there are cars that only come with a manual transmission. We like modern automatics, especially after all of the fun we’ve had with lightning-fast, 8-speed ZF boxes, but there’s still something special about a car that only comes in manual.
That’s the case with the Bullitt: no optional automatic. The clutch travel was long, as were the throws between gears, but we didn’t mind as we really liked the gearbox’s spring and feel. Revving out the angry, loud V8 while pulling and pushing its large shifter in between gears was a special experience. It behooved us to not necessarily have the fastest shifts, but rather focus on smoothness and precision. When this precision was then balanced with the right throttle and clutch inputs it made for a very rewarding experience.
Gearing was wildly long; we found ourselves merging onto the highway at the bottom of third gear most of the time, sometimes even at the top of second (check out our video below for an idea of what gearing was like). We liked this however, as we could be pretty lazy with gear selection and get away with it just fine. The big V8’s low-end torque helped here, too. It also enabled the 5.0 to have a pleasant purr at highway speeds that didn’t drone or get in the way of its 12-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system. Its low-end torque ensured that acceleration was always felt ample, foot to the floor or not, even while passing in 6th with the tach needle sitting south of 2000 RPM.
We’ve read mixed reviews of the Bullitt’s MT-82 gearbox. We didn’t have a huge issue with it, though it was occasionally clunky and loud at times. Even with smooth and careful clutch action, we found ourselves grinding gears more than usual. General gearbox noise was quite apparent, especially while shifting from first to second, and second to third, at low speeds around town and in parking lots.
Exterior: Cool, Subdued Design
Understated, simplistic, clean beauty
No real qualms
We think the 2020 Ford Mustang Bullitt looks great. Its Dark Highland Green paint is quite substantial and looks great in almost all light, especially up against a sunny SoCal backdrop (though it’s a little hard to photograph). Folks on social media commented that this is a great trim for its more understated, sleeper design alone, and we agree. The black wheels and dark green color were nicely contrasted by its big Brembo brake calipers, and the small amount of badging and lack of a spoiler added to its sleeper looks.
Fun, Understated, And Worth the Premium
We had a ton of fun with the 2020 Bullitt. It handled and rode well enough, its engine was genuinely entertaining, inputs were great, and we found it to be a good, flexible performance car that one could live with day-to-day quite easily. Even if a lot of Bullitts will probably get squirreled away for a Barrett-Jackson event in 30 years. This car was as fun to cruise around in at a leisurely pace, as it was to ring out on a fun canyon road. We also took the opportunity to cruise Modesto, California (where American Graffiti was filmed, making it a famous spot for car enthusiasts) while we were in NorCal, and we got more than a few solid thumbs-ups.
For those after a Mustang that has all the options and niceties of a high-spec V8 Mustang trim, but has more understated looks with a gorgeous color to boot, it’s worth the upgrade, even if buyers aren’t as keen on the car’s status as a film tribute car.
In a sense, the Bullitt Mustang has become somewhat of an icon on its own, Steve McQueen film or not. Since the New Edge SN95 generation back in the early aughts, the Bullitt has always been a more understated-yet-hopped-up trim in the Mustang lineup. There are plenty of folks who grimace at tribute cars, especially ones that are a tribute to films made fifty-two years ago. But one thing they can’t deny is that the Bullitt edition has always been a “those in the know, know” car, and are often looked back on favorably by enthusiasts. This is unfortunately becoming an increasingly-rare thing among carmakers.
To those who indeed dig it as a tribute car, and end up with one of their in their garage: we highly recommend cueing up the Lalo Schifrin soundtrack, and going for a cruise in an urban environment. Just be careful if you turn off the traction control before making an abrupt left turn up a hilly street with your foot to the floor.
Check out our POV video
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