The Ford Mustang, introduced here in 2016, arguably taps into buyers’ nostalgia better than any car currently on the market. Now, with the limited-edition Mustang Bullitt, which is due in South Africa in 2019, those who even vaguely remember the iconic Steve McQueen film of the same name surely won’t be able to resist its charms. So, should you be preparing to pony-up for the latest Mustang? Ciro De Siena travelled to the South of France for the international media launch to take the Mustang Bullitt for a drive.
There are 1 000 movies to choose from on any Emirates aircraft. This presents a unique "1st world problem": What on earth should I watch on the way to France, where I’d been invited to drive the limited-edition Mustang Bullitt? As fate would have it, one of those 1 000 movies was Bullitt, a film which, up until now, I had never watched in its entirety.
Sure, I’d seen that car chase. Who hasn’t? Ironically, the rest of the film progresses slower than a commission of inquiry, which is quite ironic for a film made famous by a car chase. But, happily, I now better understood the heritage behind the car I was about to drive.
The Mustang has been an extraordinary success for the US company even though, until 2015, it was barely available outside the US. There are now in excess of 10 million Mustangs around the planet. When the Mustang debuted in America in 1965, and for the first 18 months thereafter, Ford sold roughly 100 000 Mustangs a month in the USA, so, with some back-of-the-envelope calculations, that’s 3 333 units a day, or 1 every 26 seconds. If you assume that the Ford dealerships closed at night, which they probably did, that number shrinks to an almost unfathomable figure. How on earth did they get through the paperwork so quickly?
It's all in the detail
The Mustang Bullitt is destined for South Africa in 2019, but pricing for the bespoke model has yet to be revealed.
Suffice to say, slapping the words “Mustang” and “Bullitt” onto the back of the car not only recognises the incredible history of Ford's muscle car, but also elicits the powerful force of nostalgia. And, given that the average buyer of a modern Mustang is around 50, Ford’s marketing department has got this spot on.
Having licensed the name from Warner Brothers, Ford has applied the famous Bullitt logo to the 2018 Mustang quite reservedly. If the unique green paint job doesn’t give the game away, the “gas cap” loses the GT lettering and now features the famous target motif, which is large enough to be spotted from across a car park.
A blacked-out grille and wheels give the Bullitt a distinct, hardcore look.
The Bullitt logo also makes an appearance in the centre of the steering wheel (in place of the galloping stallion emblem). The stallion also disappears from the front grille, which is left blacked out, just like on the 1968 Mustang GT Fastback used in the film. The retro-styled Torq-Thrust wheels are blacked out too and house red Brembo brake callipers, a detail (which the designer told me) the team deliberated about for months. Should they be black too? I think they’ve gotten away with it...
Matte-black quad tailpipes (and they are real tailpipes, not a piece of plastic integrated into the bumper) round off the rear and the colour scheme continues in the cabin, where green stitching contrasts with the soft black leather and even Recaro have come to the party and embroidered its logo onto the backrests in green.
The white cue ball gear knob is identical to that found in the famous 1968 Ford Mustang GT Fastback.
As standard, the Bullitt is fitted with Ford’s latest 12-inch LCD instrument cluster, which has also been designed to echo the past; with the rev counter running up the left side and right over the top of all the instruments. It does feel like Ford has generally improved the interior for the 2018 Mustang; the plastics feel less, well, plasticky and the interior generally just feels better screwed together.
Each Bullitt edition receives a unique numbered nameplate and I was to be piloting number 005. And then, arguably, is the most important interior feature of all, the white “cue ball” gearknob, which sits atop a stubby gear shifter, connected to the 6-speed manual transmission. The Bullitt edition is only available in manual.
Driving the Mustang Bullitt is... Nice
The Bullitt is a capable GT, but transforms into a sharper and more precise sportscar at the flick of a switch.
The location of the launch, Nice, in the South of France, is surprisingly built up. Punching through late morning traffic, the roads became steeper and narrower as high rise apartment blocks gave way to pretty, well-aged shops and homes adorned with bougainvillaeas. It was all very romantic, but the Mustang is a fairly large, unwieldy sort of car, with an impossibly long bonnet. It felt like we were trying to push a buffalo up a fire escape.
Thankfully, the villages gave way to some of the most epic mountain roads I’ve ever had the pleasure of driving on. Fast, sweeping corners with connected short straights, punctuated with chicanes and hairpins. At this point, I must state that while I have driven on the wrong side of the road more than a few times now, I have very rarely been required to operate a manual gearbox with my right hand. Auto ‘boxes and dual clutches are the order of the day these days and so my first few kilometres in the Bullitt was more of a “let’s get to know each other” kind of drive rather than maximum attack in the French countryside.
However, the very sight of 3 pedals in a large V8 coupe is more than enough to awaken your "inner driving hero". I tried to remember the last time I drove such a large capacity engine with a manual and I could only think of the Audi R8 V10 and Chevrolet Lumina, both of which don’t exist anymore. The Mustang Bullitt, in today’s motoring landscape, is a rare thing indeed.
Oddly, my brain seemed to rewire itself quite quickly, and it had to. I only had about 40 km of open road to present my dialogue to camera for our upcoming video on the car. And of course, I had to enjoy myself. Which, I’m happy to report, is very easy to do in a manual-box V8 Mustang.
A genuine quad performance exhaust system with active flaps gives the Bullitt a delectable soundtrack.
With more driving modes than you’ll probably ever use (including Racetrack and Dragstrip), the Bullitt is a proper GT car in Comfort mode. But flick it into Sport Plus and the combination of the adaptive dampers, weightier steering and new active flap in the exhaust turns this seemingly ungainly GT into a much sharper sportscar.
The driving experience is a world away from that what you might experience in a German sports coupe. While the usual suspects like BMW’s M4 or Audi’s RS5 are tightly wound, relatively highly stressed machines, the Mustang, with its 5.0-litre, naturally aspirated V8, feels decidedly more relaxed. There’s just so much engine. It feels like it could be hammered all day and barely break a sweat. With outputs of 338 kW and 529 Nm and a redline of 7 500 rpm, there’s plenty of oomph available.
I wouldn’t describe it as lazy, however. The linearity of its power delivery is at once welcome.... and disappointing. It's welcome as in that it's predictable, tractable and thanks to the manual ‘box, entirely in your control. Again, in today’s motoring landscape, these are rare and wonderful characteristics. But because they are so rare, we’ve all become so used to the elasticity (the sudden whoosh, followed by a feeling of being catapulted forward) that a turbocharged motor provides.
Coupled with very tall gearing (2nd gear takes you to over 100 kph, while 3rd will take you all the way to 180 kph), the Bullitt doesn’t feel as dramatic as its appearance suggests. The tall gearing also means its relatively difficult to get the rear to break traction at slow speed. You certainly can induce oversteer, but it happens at higher speeds than you might be comfortable with. Booting it out of a hairpin in 2nd does not produce anything near the lairy tail happy action you might associate with a Mustang.
That being said, it is capable of epic burnouts, as you’ll see in this little video we shot on location:
That being said, the setup does inspire confidence and once you learn to trust that the rear is going to largely stay put, you find yourself cornering harder and faster and getting on the throttle earlier. The gearbox action is not as notchy or mechanical as that of a Honda Civic Type R, for instance, but it shouldn’t be – this is a grand tourer. However, Ford has done more than enough to make you feel fully engaged with the 'box. And again, the fact that your left foot is actually doing something is rewarding in itself.
I’m still not sure how I feel about rev-matching software, but I’m guessing 99.5% of buyers can’t heel-and-toe (including myself) and during the test drive I came to appreciate the convenience of the car doing the work for me in that regard. The front seats are spot on in their design for application here, in that they are super comfortable as well as being supportive enough when France’s mountains throw their best curves at you.
And of course, every moment behind the wheel plays out to the background of that incredible 5.0-litre V8 soundtrack. I’m not sure which of the exhaust system's many tones I enjoyed the most; the low rpm wobble-wobble-wobble or the high speed, guttural and bassy roar that only a big-block V8 can produce...
An open airbox enhances the sound of its V8 engine and adds to the Bullitt's head-turning ability.
Ford has even fitted an open airbox under the "hood", so now there’s a bit of induction noise too. And of course, because the Mustang Bullitt is manual, you can very easily blip the throttle when sitting in traffic (if you feel like being particularly anti-social). But in my defence, all the locals, who eagerly took pics of the car, loved it. And if you ever grow tired of the soundtrack, which I doubt you ever will, a 1 000W Bang & Olufsen sound system should keep you entertained.
The clutch pedal is well weighted and its bite is progressive. In totality, the driving experience is just on the right side of intimidating, and by that I mean it's quite intimidating. The Bullitt is an impressive compromise of GT and sportscar characteristics, and is likely to be sufficiently challenging (and offer enough depth of ability) to keep a very experienced driver interested for long enough to justify the purchase. If a BMW M4 is your idea of a dream driving machine, I don’t think Ford is ever going to tempt you into a Mustang. But the experience is so vastly different that if you owned both, you wouldn’t feel that you’d wasted a cent.
Happily, I feel that the 2018 Mustang, upon which the Bullitt is based, is worthy of your interest even without the Bullitt treatment. The added exterior and interior treatment exclusive to this edition is a bonus and turns the Mustang from a “cool car” into a car that stops traffic. It really does look very, very good in the metal.
And then, of course, there is the Hollywood connection. Bullitt was a phenomenon of its time, immortalised by one of the coolest guys ever to walk the planet. When you buy into the Bullitt, you own a piece of that heritage, and that alone will make you feel more interesting at dinner parties. Perhaps more than anything else on the market, the Bullitt makes you feel like the star in a blockbuster. Add to a genuinely enjoyable driving experience, and you have car that makes you feel like a hero.
Price in South Africa: To be confirmed
Availability in South Africa: All we know is that the Mustang Bullit is coming to SA in 2019.
Number of units available: Anyone’s guess at this point. But Ford global plans to limit the numbers to keep the edition exclusive.