When we tested the pre-facelifted Mustang GT nearly three years ago, its atmospheric 5.0-litre V8 felt like it might generate at least 75% of your total affection for the car; and that was allowing for all of the dynamic improvements realised by that newly independent suspension and the car’s considerable visual allure.
In the new Mustang Bullitt, the truth of the car’s mystique isn’t too different. This is a sports car whose engine continues to exercise a superb dominion over everything else bound up in its driving experience. This car clearly isn’t the fastest option at a near-£50k price point and doesn’t have the accessible torque of modern turbocharged equivalents. But the joy you find in exploring the rich V8 bellow of its engine, in appreciating the crisp proportionality of that engine’s response to pedal inputs and in deploying gathering outright potency as the revs rise is both rare and worth savouring.
Against our timing gear, the Bullitt showed as big an improvement over the Mustang GT of 2016 as you might expect of a car of about the same kerb weight, of the same amount of torque, and having gained less than 10% on peak power. Performance tested in similar conditions, the Mustang Bullitt needed 5.2sec to hit 60mph from rest – precisely what the Mustang GT needed – and it was well into three figures before starting, on paper at least, to take significant strides away from its pre-facelifted sibling. From 30mph to 70mph through the gears, the Bullitt was just 0.1sec quicker.
It’s also quickest away from rest without the aid of a launch control system that seemed oddly wary to protect the car’s driveline. The Bullitt proved quite hard on its clutch during standing-start testing, which seemed to have plenty to do with converting the energy of an apparently heavy crankshaft into urgent forward motion in a fairly hefty car. There’s a note of stubbornness, too, about the shift quality of the notchy, heavy manual gearbox, which is right on the borderline between a likeable sense of mechanical connectedness and something more objectionable when the transmission is operating at normal temperatures.
But what a lovely engine. Ford’s induction and software control modifications allows the Mustang’s crossplane crankshift to spin all the way to 7300rpm, whereas the last Mustang V8 we tested was all done by 6500rpm. It doesn’t raise hell with its soundtrack even in the noisiest setting of that active exhaust system and it doesn’t sound greatly different from a GT, either; a touch more vocal and burbling at low revs, perhaps.