So the key question that hangs over the Bullitt Mustang is surely this: is it little more than a cynical marketing exercise on Ford’s part, or is it, in fact, a rather tasty new performance model in its own right? On paper you’d be inclined to plump for option one, because to be honest there isn’t a great deal of substance beneath that dark green paintwork to distinguish the Bullitt above or beyond a regular V8 Mustang.

True, it boasts a natty new set of Torq Thrust 19-inch alloy wheels with Michelin Pilot Sport tyres, and to be fair the combination of that green paint and some subtly applied flashes of chrome around the rear windows do lend it a look that is markedly different to and, to these eyes, more appealing than that of the regular V8 model. But mechanically we are not talking about a transformation here. Far from it. Which is perhaps a touch disappointing given that, at $73,688, the Bullitt costs nearly eleven grand more than the standard V8.

And yet the subtle modifications that Ford’s Performance division has applied have, as it turns out, made quite a bit of difference to the way the Bullitt drives, specifically to the way it sounds, which is borderline magnificent and terrifically old-school. Lift the bonnet and you’ll see a huge, new, bright-yellow air filter, which Ford calls an Open Air Induction System. Mated to a new intake manifold and whopping great 87mm throttle body that have been lifted straight from the flat-crank Shelby Mustang GT350 (which we don’t get in Australia, boo-hiss), what you end up with is a V8 that sounds, well, just how a V8 should.

Helpfully, there’s also a new ‘good neighbour’ feature whereby you can dial the noise right back on start-up via a drive modes menu that contains no less than five different options, including a Drag Strip mode in which you can reduce the expensive rear Michelins to dust in seconds, if that’s what turns you on (and it will be for many Mustang owners).

Of rather more significance is the new rev-matching feature for the six-speed manual gearbox, which automatically dials up just the right amount of revs on downshifts the moment you depress the clutch and slot a lower gear. It works a treat in practice, even if it does render the art of using both feet
to heel and toe entirely (and somewhat weirdly) redundant. Sounds good, though, and makes you look like a true pro from the outside, with the brake lights ablaze and an almighty burst of revs being perfectly applied when you shift from, say, third to second into a corner. The white cue-ball gearknob also feels lovely in your hand and somehow manages to make the shift feel a touch crisper than normal, even though the mechanism remains unchanged.

Inside the Bullitt you get a pair of bespoke Recaro front seats that are pretty decent but, for me, don’t adjust low enough, possibly due to the amount of electronic gubbins required within to provide movement in all desired directions except down, or maybe to meet the latest crash protection legislation.

Not-so-subtle Bullitt badging appears on the steering wheel boss, the sills and the tail, which is fair enough; you need to be reminded where your money is going. You also get Ford’s new Sync system as standard, complete with a nice, big 12-inch touchscreen, plus Apple CarPlay and a top-notch B&O sound system for good measure. So although the vibe might feel quite traditional, quite old-fashioned even, the Bullitt is anything but inside.

Same goes for the way it drives, although being front-engined and rear-wheel drive and featuring a six-on-the-floor manual gearbox, there is a certain old-school feel to the way it goes down the road. It’s still a big car (though forward visibility is better), and feels it, especially if you start to lean on it through a set of S-bends, when eventually the level of mass wants to take over, causing the nose to run wide to begin with, followed by a fairly sharp transfer of weight away from the tail if you then choose to back off. To begin with, indeed, the Bullitt can seem a bit of a handful
if you take it by the scruff and simply expect it to go where you point it. A BMW M3 it is not.

And that’s where the MagneRide suspension comes into its own, because although this doesn’t solve the Mustang’s big-bruiser handling and ride completely, it does make a big difference on the move. As such, and once you’ve learned to manage the weight on corner entry, and use the car’s fine traction towards the exit, you can hustle the Bullitt across country at some decently ridiculous speeds, as I discovered when driving it across the famous Mountain Road on the Isle of Man. I came across a local chap driving a V8 M3 who clearly knew a) his car, and b) his way over the mountain, yet he didn’t manage to drop the Bullitt. If anything, the Mustang had the edge in a straight line, which I wasn’t expecting at all.

But then it does go a bit, the Bullitt. Its new breathing apparatus has definitely given it a fair bit more edge over the final 2000rpm, and if you keep it in that sweet spot it feels, and is, properly quick. The spec sheet says 345kW and 556Nm, with 0-100km/h in 4.6sec. But it feels quicker than that, especially above 5000rpm. My new friend in his M3 will attest to that, giving a big thumbs up as we went our separate ways.

Cynical marketing exercise? Yes, perhaps, but also a surprisingly committed – and really rather good – V8 performance car at the same time. Steve Sutcliffe

Engine V8, 5038cc
Power 345kW @ 7000rpm
Torque 556Nm @ 4600rpm
Weight 1668kg (207kW/tonne)
0-100km/h 4.6sec
Top speed 250km/h B
Basic price $73,688