A green Ford Mustang fastback overshoots a tight right-hand corner in San Francisco. A turtle-necked Steve McQueen casually looks back out of the driver’s side window, spinning up the rear wheels as he reverses, before shifting back to first and nailing it into the distance in a cloud of smoke. There’s a baddie-filled Dodge Charger up ahead, and they don’t have a chance.
It’s an iconic part of Bullitt’s 11-minute car chase, considered by many - me included - to be the greatest ever. I’ve seen the film a few times and I can’t for the life of me remember what happens in the rest of it, but that doesn’t really matter - everything around that scene is just filler.
It isn’t hard to see why Ford would want to capitalise on this bit of cinema history, and indeed it has done many times. The new Ford Mustang Bullitt isn’t a new concept - it’s merely the latest in a long line of special-edition ‘Stangs.
And doesn’t it look lovely? It has the same Highland Green green paintwork of the ‘559’ car McQueen drove for the film, which was unearthed not so long ago. In the arches you’ll find the correct five-spoke gloss black/chrome wheels. And on the boot lid, it says ‘Bullitt’. Wait, what?
This is the one part of the Bullitt Mustang I don’t quite get. Isn’t making it look like the original enough? Slapping ‘Bullitt’ on the place you’d usually find the ‘GT’ badge - and on the steering wheel, the sill kick plates and the dashboard - seems like Ford is trying to explain what the car is to people who don’t care. Those who know will surely ‘get it’ just from looking at the spec. If McQueen himself was still knocking around, he’d probably find the badging a little lame.
Thankfully, the rest of the list of changes is more agreeable. The Bullitt is more than just a trim job, gaining an intake manifold from the Shelby GT350, a fatter rear anti-roll bar and standard-fit Recaro seats. Power raises to 452bhp, a little less than US-spec cars, as the steering column on right-hand drive models necessitates the fitting of a smaller exhaust manifold.
No matter, as the 5.0-litre ‘Coyote’ naturally-aspirated V8 has never been about outright power bragging rights. It’s all about the way it rocks the car from side to side as you rev it. The bark emitted as you get back on the gas after each gear change with the oh-so-cool cue ball-style shifter. The way it encourages you to cruise a gear or two lower than you should, just so you can rumble along amid V8 bliss.
Once you’re past the weird delay from the throttle pedal, the Mustang Bullitt pulls forward purposefully, rather than with any real fury. It tops out of 7500rpm, but this isn’t an engine that encourages you to rev, partly because the gearing is stupidly long (it’ll do around 85mph in second), but mostly because the upper-mid range is its sweet spot. Nearer the top end, it becomes a little breathless.
It’s probably a good job that the gears are so tall, as shifting with the six-speed ‘box is something that’s tricky to do quickly. It’s a heavy, notchy, old-fashioned kind of shift that takes two distinct movements to complete.
There’s something quite nice about that. But you probably will want to use the auto rev-matching feature - the pedal action and spacing along with that sluggish shift makes heel-and-toe shenanigans difficult.
Mustangs may have come a long way dynamically in recent years, but this latest one is still a long way from being a sports car. The steering is actually pretty sweet, with a modicum of feedback and a darty feeling off-centre - it’s just that the rest of the car can’t keep up.
V8 ‘Stangs tip the scales at 1743kg, but you’d swear this is a two-tonne car. Or maybe more. It feels vast and boaty, not helped by the damping which is somehow stiff yet wallowy. The new adaptive setup - a £1600 option that’s fitted here - is an improvement on the pre-facelift Mustang’s suspension and definitely worth having, but it’s still not brilliant.
Lateral grip is decent, something you can thank the Michelin Pilot PS4 S boots for, but traction levels are easy to exceed even in the dry.
I’m just fine with all of that because you don’t buy a Mustang for dynamic polish or how it feels when driving fast. You buy a Mustang because it feels awesome all the time, whether you have space to gun it through a few gears, or if you’re cruising around with the windows down to fill your ears with the V8 sound of freedom.
It’s not cheap, of course - the Bullitt is £48,210. You could almost buy a BMW M2 Competition for that amount of money. A car which is leagues ahead dynamically and much more premium-feeling inside. But for feel-good factor, it’s no contest - the Ford wins that battle easily.
However, all of the above could be said about the standard GT, a car which is nearly £3000 cheaper than the Bullitt even after you spec the Recaros and the Sync 3 infotainment pack options the green car comes bundled with. It’s not like the sportier seats are really a ‘must-have’ on the GT anyway.
You have to really want the spec, and/or have a deep affection for the original movie car (not to mention be OK with the excessive festooning of ‘Bullitt badges’), as the new anti-roll bar doesn’t make a noticeable difference to the way it drives, and the power bump just isn’t perceptible.
It’s another way to get simple, old-school N/A V8 kicks, though, and as cars become ever-more complicated, downsized and less entertaining, it deserves to be welcomed with open arms.