Power-Sliding the 2019 Ford Mustang Bullitt: Drifting the Tires Off the New McQueen Muscle Car

What do you do when you've got a 480-hp retro-inspired muscle car and an open track to play on? Get sideways, of course. 

Recently, chief auto critic Lawrence Ulrich drove the 2019 Ford Mustang Bullitt both on the road and at the Monticello Motor Club track, where ace wheelman Chris Duplessis also took the wheel for a brief spin. Ulrich wrote a full review of the Bullitt Mustang for his regular "This Year's Model" review column; the following is an excerpt from that write-up.

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Since no Bullitt review can last two sentences without dropping the words “Steve McQueen” and “iconic,” this Mustang’s backstory and provenance, it must be said, is pure marketing hokum: A tie-in with McQueen’s Bullitt, a forgettable 1968 movie with one unforgettable car chase in a fastback Mustang GT390. If Jeep decided to sell a Jurassic Park-edition Wrangler, it would amount to precisely the same thing, yet car fans would bare their teeth and roar for Jeep’s blood like so many T.rexes.

Fortunately, judged on its merits, Ford’s special-edition ‘Stang is one hell of a muscle car. This Bullitt could pierce the hardest heart with its power and personality. Its style stops people in their tracks—including some civilians who normally don’t give a shit about cars—and its V-8 thunder will send them running for shelter. And while the Bullitt still can’t touch the Chevy Camaro SS 1LE as a precision-handling instrument—as I learned while driving Bullitt hot laps at New York’s Monticello Motor Club—the Ford is roughly as fast, and looks more handsome and sophisticated than the cartoony Chevy. 

Now, I get a huge kick out of the hellacious Dodge Challenger family, with its straight-up, retro-Detroit vibe. But the Mustang takes a different tack, and I can see the long-play upside to its approach. There’s no mistaking this for anything but a Mustang, yet the Ford isn’t afraid of progress or frozen in amber; it looks like a modern, approachable, not-ridiculous automobile. It’s a muscle car that you might buy, and take a significant other to dinner in, without eliciting eye-rolls or snarky cracks about male enhancement. And as it did back in 1964 1/2, the Mustang surely appeals to more women buyers than its purely macho competitors.

The 480-horsepower Ford should run neck-and-neck with the (slightly lighter) 455-hp Camaro in a straight line, with Ford citing a 4.2-second squirt to 60 mph and a 163-mph top speed given enough straightaway, the latter topping a standard GT by eight mph. At Monticello’s full road course, the longest straight line is a roughly one-mile stretch, with a slight downhill kink. Here, the Bullitt shows me a consistent 143 mph before it’s time to whang on the brakes before a slow uphill switchback. 

Those Brembo red-painted calipers make for a poor contrast with the green paint—silver or yellow would look better—but I can’t complain about the stopping force, thanks to six-piston front calipers that don’t fade after eight or more consecutive hot laps. On a hot-and-humid New York day that’s stymieing Roger Federer at the U.S. Open, the Mustang does flash an "Axle Overheat" warning during my opening laps, but after a brief cool down, it vanishes for the rest of the day.

With apologies to the late McQueen, the real star of this car is a wily Coyote: The 5.0-liter, 32-valve Coyote engine, here bumped to 480 horsepower. Sure, the flat-plane crankshaft Voodoo engine in the Shelby GT350 is even better, but the Bullitt packs another American V-8 that you barely believe is an American V-8. The soaring 7,400-rpm redline, the way the power is packed way up high, tempting you to come and get it; I could listen to this thing rev all day, and that’s exactly what I did. Sure, there’s much to be said for the Camaro SS’s 6.2-liter, Corvette-derived pushrod V-8, which underlines the old saw that there’s no replacement for displacement. The Chevy’s 455 pound-feet of torque tops the Bullitt’s 420, which is unchanged from the standard Mustang GT. And if down-and-dirty grunt is what you prefer, the Camaro may be for you. 

But as much as I enjoy the beefy Chevy mill, I like Ford’s better, because I love wringing out a great, high-revving eight-pot. The Ford’s Marshall stack wail also sounds better than the Chevy’s—this despite ditching the ‘Stang GT’s tube that pipes induction noise into the cabin, while keeping some engine enhancement via the audio system. Versus a standard GT, the Bullitt brings a better-breathing engine and a more-expressive note through its active, two-stage exhaust. 

The torque peak may be unchanged versus the GT, but the Bullitt's twist rides a healthier curve throughout much of the powerband, including as many as 15 additional pound-feet between the 4,800-rpm peak and 7,400-rpm redline. Credit Shelby GT350 components for the Bullitt’s 20-hp gain over a GT, with a freer-flowing intake manifold with longer runners, and an enlarged throttle body of 87 millimeters vs. 82. Like all 2018 Mustang GTs, the Bullitt’s 5.0-liter V-8 actually grows to more than 307 cubic inches, up from 302, with thinner, spray-in cylinder liners that allow a larger bore. Oh, and for future owners: Do pop the hood regularly to show off the naked, open-element air filter that also improves flow.

Want to read more? Check out Ulrich's full review of the 2019 Ford Mustang Bullitt by clicking here.