Used Car Review: S197 Ford Mustang Bullitt
TST Reader Michael Bechara is a high school senior from Virginia who would like to be an automotive journalist.
Lets help him on his path by critiquing his review of his 2008 Bullitt Mustang.
In 2008, Ford released a Mustang to commemorate the 40th anniversary of what is widely known to be the best car chase movie in history, Bullitt. Bullitt’s main crowd pleaser was a chase involving a 1968 GT390 fastback Mustang, piloted by Steve McQueen’s character, Frank Bullitt. Between 2008 and 2009, Ford produced 6582 Bullitt Mustangs were produced, with special features to set them apart from the regular Mustang GTs of the period. Here’s what I think about mine.
The Bullitt starts life as a standard Mustang GT, powered by a 4.6L SOHC 3V V8, a TR-3650 five-speed manual, and an 8.8 rear axle ratio. On the exterior, Ford removes the fog lights, the spoiler, and the bright silver wheels. A new honeycomb grille with an aluminum surround is instead used, along with a set of 18-inch dark grey Torq-thrust style wheels. It’s a sinister, yet understated look, and the changes create a very handsome and grown up car to look at. It’s nowhere near as flashy or boy-racer as the other Mustang GTs, and above all else, it’s at first glance merely a V6 to most passers by.
Ford’s Special Vehicle Team (SVT) contributes several parts from the Shelby GT500, namely the seats, the steering wheel, and the entire rear axle and differential set. Performance wise, the Bullitt has a new Ford Racing cold air intake, a 3.73:1 axle ratio, and a new exhaust from behind the catalytic converters. All of these little changes are wrapped together in a Ford performance engine calibration, allowing the redline to be raised 250 RPM from the stock GT to 6500 RPM. Maximum power, all 315 horses, is made way up high in the rev range, and it’s a treat to rev this engine. It revs smoothly, but quickly, and the power comes in linearly. It sounds deep and throaty, but it’s simply not loud enough. Down low, when the engine is in its torque sweet spot, 325 lb-ft of it, it has plenty to throw you back in your seat. It pulls hard and launches superbly, but make no mistake, it’s no modern 5.0 Mustang GT or Boss. The stock tires, a set of 235 series rubber, aren’t the widest set at all, but despite this lack of grip, the car is well controlled in its launch. With a proper launch and firm, deliberate shifts, the car can sprint to 60 miles per hour in the very low 5-second range, even getting to 4.9 or 5.0 seconds. The quarter mile comes up in 13.7 seconds, all attested to the shorter gear ratio, and the small bump in power. Those shifts, however, are the most important part. The shifter is smooth in its engagement, but has somewhat long throws, along with a very vague feel. Worst of all, it’s just sloppy and frustrating, especially when shifting at the higher RPM ranges. Yes, the shifter can be completely changed for $200, but for a performance car, a proper shifter is to be expected, and unfortunately, it’s just disappointing. Third is the most difficult shift, and if you aren’t careful, the shifter will punish you for it.
Surprisingly, though, the Bullitt’s not all about straight-line acceleration. The handling and suspension are the true secret stars of the show. New shock and strut tuning, a set of different springs in the rear, and a front strut tower brace round out the majority of suspension improvements. While the ride quality is firm, it’s not punishing, despite its live rear axle setup. Around town, it’s perfectly livable, and is great through large sweeping turns. It handles great, especially for a pony/muscle car, but is still far from European standards of performance. What this car seems like, at least to me, is the precursor to the Boss Mustang of today. Braking, however, leaves a bit to be desired. The pedal feel is good, weight transfer is alright, and there isn’t excessive nose dive, but despite feeling as though the stops are deliberate, there isn’t enough of a sense of urgency. Ford touts these brakes as having heat-fade resistant pads, but the fact of the matter is that the Bullitt’s braking performance is sub-par, which can also be attributed to the thin rubber on the tires.
Day to day, the Bullitt’s a treat. Its sound is an aural sensation, the seats are fantastic, and the ride is perfectly acceptable. Clutch engagement is perfectly linear and livable, even in the worst of traffic, mostly due to the mountains of torque the engine produces down low to satisfy slow rolls without application of throttle, but is heavy, and I have sense that after more than two and a half hours or so, your left leg will be begging for a break. The interior unfortunately is just depressing. Yes, the Bullitt has several interior improvements made to it, namely, more supportive and better bolstered seats, a full leather steering wheel with thumb pads, a comically large brushed aluminum shift knob, an entire dash face made of engine turned aluminum, and new door sill plates and gauge graphics. But, everything else, the plastics on the interior and the doors, are just low quality. Credit where credit is due, the touch points are fantastic, but the rest of it, unfortunately, needs work. The base stereo, a Shaker 500 six-CD system with an auxiliary input sounds good, especially for a stock audio system. The bass is tremendous and brawny, but can become tinny and fall apart upon high volume levels. Optionally there was a Shaker 1000 audio system with a pair of subwoofers in the trunk, but it’s behind the value of a single aftermarket subwoofer with proper amplifier tuning. Look elsewhere. Rear seats are useless for anyone besides those you want to torture, or small children. Space for the front two passengers, is excellent, and there’s plenty of room for adjustment of both seats. The trunk space is pretty adequate, its perfectly fine for grocery runs, or road trips for two or three, but if you have a habit of breaking furniture and making frequent IKEA runs, this is not the car for you.
The best thing about the Bullitt is not its speed in a straight line, nor its surprisingly European characteristics in the corners; the Bullitt shines on road trips. On a four hour long road trip I took, the Bullitt settled down, cruised beautifully in fifth, and had it’s distinct exhaust note barely fill the cabin, that is, little drone, a lot of satisfaction. The seats don’t wear you out, they feel more comfortable as time passes, and though only having five speeds, the Bullitt successfully averaged nearly 29 MPG, as opposed to EPA estimates of 23 MPG highway. The city number of 15 MPG is possible if you drive like an absolute pansy, but if stop and go traffic is your daily commute, expect a resounding 11 to 12 MPG on a good day. It’s a thirsty car, but, thankfully, Ford’s special engine calibration lets the engine run on even 85 octane without knocking, power is the same, and so is torque. The only change is the torque curve, which is much more peaky and less smooth. It’s a price to pay, for sure, but for those tough spots where better gas isn’t available, it’s nice to know there’s no possible risk to the engine.
Mustangs of this generation have very few mechanical or electrical problems, and while searching for my example, I witnessed many that were past 175,000 miles. The Modular 4.6L V8 has proved its reliability since its introduction in the early 1990’s, and even though it was phased out after 2010, spare parts are easy to find, with Ford still manufacturing many replacement and performance parts through Motorcraft and Ford Racing. The 4.6 is also quite easy to modify, with aftermarket support in widespread abundance.
The Bullitt is a special car, with a cult following on several forums and websites, and it deserves the widespread praise and following it’s received. In sum, it’s probably just what McQueen would have wanted. It’s fast, it’s comfortable, and it’s competent in the twisty strips of tarmac. No, the interior isn’t marvelous, actually it’s barely forgivable, but it’s worth the sensation of driving something that can truly make you feel as though you’re a modern Steve McQueen; and really, that’s what Ford was going for in the first place.