The Ford Mustang Bullitt's V8 Made Me Understand Why People Are Obsessed With Exhaust Notes

For years, I brushed off unappealing sounds in favor of mind-bending performance. Then I fell for a ridiculously loud 5.0-liter V8.

Stef Schrader

My whole outlook on road cars changed when I tested an absurdly-loud 5.0-liter V8 Mustang, and I probably owe some people who I dismissed as backward Luddites over the years an apology.

Exhaust notes have never really been a must-have for me in a car. They're enjoyable as all hell, but am I going to complain if the sound doesn't stand my hair on end, or isn't there at all? Probably not, unless the tailpipe has been replaced with a giant whistle. We live in an age when nearly silent electric vehicles offer truly mind-bending performance nowadays, after all.

Stef Schrader

Don't get me wrong—I love the noise of a loud V10, and the chorus of NASCAR V8s reverberating off of an oval track is practically a religious experience. Yet if you compare the loud, higher-pitched sound of the current-day Porsche 911 RSR to a long, annoying trumpet-fart, I'm just going to shrug and ask, "So?" Who cares as long as it wins?

I even defended the initial year of Formula 1's much-loathed, much quieter V6 hybrid power units. They reminded me of the diesel Audi Le Mans prototypes where I could sit at the track and listen to the other sounds the car was making—turbos, tires, everything. (This doesn't really come through in the TV broadcast.)

Now I'm facing the music, and I'm so sorry, sound people. I've brushed away all of your concerns and protests for years—but I finally get it. I had the 2019 Ford Mustang Bullitt as a test car, and the noise alone completely made my day.

In theory, this special-edition Mustang isn't a car I should enjoy. It's a heavy, 3,850-pound chunk of a car, which you're reminded of every time you want to change directions. It's easy to see how ham-fisted teens exiting Cars and Coffee end up eating trees when they toss that heft around. No amount of factory suspension updates or drive-mode wizardry can hide the fact that the Mustang Bullitt is still a larger, softer, and heavier muscle car. On top of that, it's a special edition tie-in to a 52-year-old movie. It's a great-looking Mustang, but how many more Steve McQueen references must we endure?

Of course, you're here for the rumbly thing under the hood. It was one of my worst days that endeared this big, boomer-bait muscle car to me, and most of it had to do with that spectacular 480-horsepower, 5.0-liter V8. 

Stef Schrader

There's even Bullitt branding on the strut tower brace in the engine bay, but at least it's not as egregious here as it was on the faux gas cap on the rear of the car. 

I struggle a lot with depression, and it's been especially bad the past couple of years. Right after the Mustang Bullitt was dropped off at the house was one of the worst days I'd had in a while, which is my cue to get out of the house. 

There's a Starbucks I tend to head towards whenever I just need to go for a drive. It's near the end of a pleasant meandering road, there's canopy of large trees overhead and it's lined with the kind of low-slung mid-century homes that remind me of my favorite house as a kid. It's a road that's fun enough at the speed limit, and the route to said Starbucks is just long enough to clear your mind without wandering too aimlessly. It doesn't hurt that it stays open the latest out of all the drive-thru coffee shops near me, either. 

Sport mode really doesn't do anything performance-wise for a relaxing 30-mph putter, but it does open up the exhaust. I was tinkering around with different settings anyway, and hey, this is in the name of testing, right? 

It didn't take long for me to start giggling at just how loud this thing was even at low speeds. It's fantastic. The words of that Audi engineer from Truth in 24 who writes off noise as lost energy no longer rang true. In the context of distracting yourself from everything wrong with this garbage world, the Mustang's V8 makes all the sense in the world. 

There's always that one stand-out feature that brings us back to why we like cars in the first place. For some of us, it's laying on the throttle and knocking the sunglasses off of our heads. For others, it's the sideways G-force of tight turns. Never discount the joy of a sick burnout, either. And I finally get it: sometimes a nice-sounding exhaust note can make all the difference in the world.

I wasn't sure I was going to like the Mustang Bullitt at all. I fell in love with the white shifter ball immediately as Texas' hottest days can turn metal knobs into branding irons, but that was about it for first impressions. Everything else about it felt just a little big for me, right down to the fart sounds the seat made from moving so far forward that its bolster squeaked against the transmission tunnel. 

Yet I found myself taking the long way to places, including down the kinky creekside road to where my Porsche 944 lives. Enthusiast cars won't be like this forever—they'll get faster, more efficient and may barely make any noise at all—but that doesn't mean we shouldn't enjoy the cars we have now while they're here.

The Mustang Bullitt didn't need to handle like a Toyota 86 or accelerate like a Model 3 to put a big dumb grin on my face. It just needed to sound good. 

Stef Schrader

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