Ford Mustang Steve McQueen Bullitt Edition 2021 review – a 720bhp tribute act
Immense performance from about the coolest modern muscle car out there. It’s expensive, but there’s nothing else quite like it
Blending into traffic on an elevated section of the Nottingham ring road, I can’t help thinking that the roller-coaster streets of San Francisco – or anywhere warm, in fact – would be a better place to appreciate a car of this potential. That said, there was no way I was going to turn down an invitation to drive the UK’s one and only Steve McQueen Edition Bullitt Ford Mustang… all 720bhp of it.
So here we are, treading warily on the cold, damp roads of middle England, willing the pale winter sun higher to warm and dry the glistening surface so that we can get at least one full-throttle sweep of the rev-counter. Yes, at evo we’re all about judging cars in the round but when one comes along with outrageous horsepower you’re not going to be satisfied until you’ve felt the full force at least once.
The Bullitt Mustang that is the basis of this Steve McQueen Edition has been around for a couple of years now. It trades on the appeal of the Mustang driven by Frank Bullitt (played by McQueen) in the 1968 movie and is similarly subtle: painted Highland Green, lacking the usual badges and wearing a set of black five-spoke alloys with diamond-turned edges. You also get an extra 9bhp from the 5-litre V8, while the GT Performance Package is fitted as standard, adding six-pot Brembos, lower and stiffer springs, thicker anti-roll bars, recalibrated dampers and a Torsen limited-slip differential. All this adds £5400 to the price of the standard V8 GT, taking the total to £46,830. This Steve McQueen Edition, meanwhile, costs a whopping £92,000. But what else can you buy with upwards of 700bhp for less than £100,000?
The car is the work of Steeda, a long-established American Mustang tuner, in collaboration with Chad McQueen Racing, the outfit run by Steve McQueen’s only son, Chadwick. Visually, the McQueen edition is a subtle take on a subtle take, the only outward change being the wheels. These are upsized from 19in to wider 20s in the same attractive Fuchs/wobbly-web style but painted body colour and shod with appropriately wider Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres. And yet the McQueen edition looks fantastic, much better than the stock Bullitt, because those wheels and tyres sit perfectly in the arches, giving the car a superb stance. We couldn’t help walking around it, admiring it from all angles, as it sat in the showroom of Sandicliffe Ford, the Nottingham dealer working with Steeda to supply examples in the UK.
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The reason the McQueen edition looks so right isn’t just down to the upscaled wheels and tyres. Most of Steeda’s work is on the chassis and includes dual-rate road springs that lower the car by a modest but visually ideal 19mm. The rest is a comprehensive package of proven upgrades that sets out to increase dynamic precision and control and includes extra bracing for the front and rear suspension assemblies, billet aluminium mounts for the new front and rear anti-roll bars and billet front suspension vertical links. There’s also an anti-hop kit for the rear suspension, though you’d think that the severe axle-tramp Frank Bullitt induced by reversing enthusiastically in the iconic movie wouldn’t apply to the latest Mustang because it has independent rear suspension rather than a live axle and cart springs.
That lot costs a cool £26k fitted. For another £19.5k you can dramatically increase the power of the 5-litre V8 by installing a huge Whipple supercharger between its cylinder banks. The 3-litre, twin-scroll ’charger swells power from an already tasty 453bhp to a shirt-ripping, Hulk-like 720bhp with a similar uplift in torque. It also comes with Ford Performance half-shafts rated at 1500bhp. If you’ve gone that far, it’s just a small financial step (another £1000) for ‘Stage 2’, which gets you a larger diameter throttle body that lets even more air in and helps generate even more power, taking the total to a stupendous 800bhp.
If you’ve not been in a Mustang in the last ten years you’ll probably be surprised to find that although, at a glance, the cabin looks as retro as the exterior, it’s actually packed with thoroughly modern kit and has all the features you’d expect to find in a Focus ST. There are Recaro seats, a central screen and multiple drive modes including ‘Track’ and ‘Drag Strip’, each with its own dashboard display. There are McQueen-specific details too, of course, including illuminated sill-plates and a numbered facia plaque. Steeda also offers a ‘club sport’-style option to delete the rear seats and have a half-cage instead, although this car doesn’t have that particular feature.
It’s no secret that I’m a sucker for a traditional V8. The standard Bullitt Mustang sounds fabulous, and when you push the start button of the McQueen edition it fires up with exactly the sound you’d wish for: a deep, heavy pulse, full and rounded but with a hint of the jagged, angry edge of a slightly petulant competition engine. Awesome.
The gearknob is a glossy white cue ball marked with the shift pattern, as in the Bullitt edition, but here it sits a lot lower thanks to Steeda’s ‘Tri-Ax’ short shifter. It feels initially like it might be a little too short, but it works well if you adopt a positive, wristy action, slotting home with an appealing, mechanical precision. The six-speed ’box has to handle massive torque yet the clutch is both well-weighted and easy to modulate thanks to Steeda’s spring assist kit – one of its most popular mods. The shift is also enhanced by Ford’s rev-matching feature, which works brilliantly. Further down the driveline there’s a carbonfibre propshaft and limited-slip diff (both standard on the V8 Mustang), those heavy-duty half-shafts and, finally, a pair of 305-section Michelin Pilot Sport 4Ss. Racier Cups are offered but these will do fine for today, thank you.
By the time we’ve added fuel and got beyond the city limits, there are dry roads. I steel myself, give the throttle a decent squeeze and the engine note gets even better, the solid V8 rumble overlaid with light supercharger whine, like a Mad Max Interceptor. There’s a delicious, heavyweight feel to the engine’s response no matter which gear you’re in, and it’s easy to mistake sixth for fourth because the engine is quiet on a light throttle. Surprisingly, there isn’t an excess of low-down torque to trouble the traction, the V8 building urge progressively and really hitting its stride from about 3000rpm. Mind, this isn’t an engine that runs out of puff as the revs rise, the tacho being redlined at almost 7500rpm.
While I’m a big fan of the noise of this V8 at idle and under load, there’s far too much in the way of theatrics on the overrun. It’s not that it’s loud – the tailpipe pops are muffled and soft – but that they seem to go on forever on a closed throttle, like you’re hearing the faraway finale of a grand firework display.
On interesting A- and B-roads you’re conscious that the Mustang is a big car, and the seat doesn’t seem to go low enough so you feel perched high, too, but at low and medium speeds it’s calm and composed. Steeda’s chassis mods work with the optional Magneride adaptive damping so the McQueen edition rolls smoothly over broken town surfaces and delivers good comfort on niggly B-roads, with only a hint of big wheel mass at each corner. In Normal mode, the steering is well- weighted, quick enough and reasonably sharp off-centre but there’s not a lot of feedback and although steering weight increases as the drive modes get sportier, you’re always hankering after a bit more feel to know just how hard you’re pushing the grip and to place the car with total confidence at speed.
The Steeda mods give more crispness to the responses and finer control, too, but as the speeds rise you start to feel the mass of the Mustang more. In combination with the car’s scale and the lack of detail feel to the steering, this makes it less easy to hustle than you’d hope. In tighter corners it’s satisfying to feel the car adjust its attitude as the torque arrives at the rear but, contrary to expectation, you have to be quite insistent if you want to break traction and play with opposite lock.
A long-travel throttle and long gearing (top is about 45mph per 1000rpm) help, but electronic traction and stability control are surprisingly conservative, closing down slip almost before it has begun, even in Sport mode. In fact, to properly stand down traction control and pit that monster engine against the mechanical grip of the chassis and those fine Michelins, you have to select Track mode. Happily, once you’ve unstuck the rear with a stab of throttle early in a corner it’s quite easy to modulate the throttle and therefore the angle of oversteer, so it’s not the wild ride you might expect.
I’ve driven a few cars with 700 horsepower plus, one of which was a Ford GT, and the full-throttle kick in the back from that was almost terrifying. When conditions were right and I finally got to pin the throttle of the McQueen edition, it didn’t feel as mind-blowing. It’s a heavier car, yes, but there was also a technical issue: just when the power was swelling impressively the engine faltered, once at around 5500rpm and again at 6500rpm. Sadly, there wasn’t time for us to try the car again after it had been debugged on the rolling road because it then went straight to its new owner.
The McQueen edition Mustang looks fantastic, perfectly stanced on its revised suspension and bigger wheels and tyres. It sounds magnificent too, the rumble of the V8 and the screech of its supercharger creating a sound that could be used to overdub race car scenes in films. The comprehensive chassis mods enhance its dynamics and the supercharger should turn it into a monstrously potent car, but it’s not cheap.
Prices and rivals
A budget of £90k can buy all manner of excellent driver’s cars, including our current car of the year, the M2 CS, and while this is one of the best-sorted Mustangs we’ve driven, the best Europeans still have the edge in tactility and dynamic refinement. But that’s not really the point. If you’re drawn to the standard Mustang Bullitt, the McQueen edition ramps up its appeal, with a stronger connection to the actor and his most famous movie, and promised rarity, too – 300 units globally per year. New cars don’t come much cooler.
|Engine||V8, 5038cc, supercharged|
|Power||720bhp @ 7300rpm|
|Torque||570lb ft @ 5250rpm|
|Top speed||155mph (limited)|
|Price||c£92,000 (see text)|