Ann Arbor - It's amazing how a few simple changes can transform one's perception of a car. A regular Mustang GT is nice enough, but you can hardly say it's cool.
Unless, that is, you're sitting inside a Bullitt edition GT. Yes, that's Bullitt as in the movie immortalized by one Steve McQueen and a Mustang GT 390 dueling with a Dodge Charger on the streets of San Francisco. Ford could be accused of mild cynicism in cashing in on the movie's Mustang goodwill, but we are definitely not complaining about the result.
The changes start on the outside. The Mustang was redesigned for the 1999 model year with creases and flat planes laid over the bulging curves of the '94 model. Critics hated the redesign, but a couple of subtle modifications to the C-pillar and the rear quarter-panel make the Bullitt GT far more pleasing to behold. The look is muscular and masculine, helped by a lowered suspension, a new rocker-panel molding, and sexy Superior mag-style wheels. A racy aluminum fuel-filler flap completes the exterior package.
Inside, the Ford designers have transformed a cabin that was an accountant's dream into something we actually like. For that, we have merely to thank a brushed aluminum ball shifter and shifter bezel, as well as bright metal doorsill plates (compete with Bullitt movie logo) and alloy pedal covers. The cabin sports some very retro seats clad in dark leather and some equally retro instrument graphics. The interior hardly becomes a style center, but it feels classier and is more of a tribute to its forebears.
But Ford didn't neglect the suspension and the engine. The Bullitt GT's 4.6-liter SOHC V-8 produces 265 horsepower and 305 pound-feet of torque, modest increases over the stock GT's 260 hp and 302 lb-ft. However, the torque curve is much flatter, with close to 300 lb-ft available at 2000 instead of 3000 rpm. The car was lowered by 0.75 inch, the Tokico struts and dampers were revalved, thicker rear and thinner front anti-roll bars were fitted, and a front body brace was added. The Bullitt GT has 13.0-inch front discs from the SVT Cobra in place of the GT's 11.0-inch-diameter discs, as well as Cobra calipers--painted red for dramatic effect.
The Bullitt GT feels more eager to go street racing, with more low-down urgency and a serious desire to smoke the rear tires from every stoplight. The exhaust note is badder, a Sixties V-8 soundtrack with a sweet "bop-bop" on the over-run. The brakes provide more bite and confidence, but the handling still suffers from the curious front/rear disconnect that plagues the current Mustang, where the front end feels softer and less planted than the rear. However, the Bullitt turns in more crisply than does the GT, and it doesn't understeer as much. It still rides pretty softly, which is good for your fillings if not for ultimate grip and handling.
Still, we like the Mustang Bullitt GT. It costs $3600 more than a regular GT--putting it perilously close to the Cobra, a better and faster car. Still, we suspect that the Bullitt GT's 6500 customers won't care. We just hope they order their cars in Bullitt-correct dark green, rather than the available blue or black.