It’s quite cold on this Sunday morning. The thermometer shows two degrees Celsius, the sun is shining from a blue sky. Snow covers the roadside and a thin layer of dust covers the asphalt. These are the conditions for a fun tour, which also includes a detour into deep snow in between.
It warms your heart immediately. All it takes is the push of the start button. The five-liter V8 ignites – the prelude to the big fireworks later. An animated Bullitt appears in the instrument cluster, to the left and right of it the tachometer and speedometer light up green, while the naturally aspirated engine roars after a few bursts of throttle. Already it has conquered you, the Mustang Bullitt, without having driven a meter. Actually, the first eye contact is enough. There stands a coupe with a wide cross that commands respect from everyone and is blessed with a certain elegance – and fine details: the paint in Montana Green metallic, the chrome rim around the black radiator grille and the side windows, the wheels with five spokes, the one logo in the rear.
The representative of the working class is juxtaposed with the premium product. In any case, the BMW designers have succeeded in one thing: No one looks past this front end. Everyone is talking about it. But the main character is quite different: the rear.
The Mustang fights its way out of the low revs, works its way above 4,000 rpm, only to kick in with 529 Newton meters shortly thereafter. The engine snorts, rumbles, seethes, and is omnipresent with its warm sound. At the top end, its voice becomes brighter, and at 7,500 rpm the V8 demands the next gear. But far before we get there, the road kinks. On to the brake and parallel to it, sink the billiard ball into the appropriate hole with the right hand. The electronics scatter intermediate throttle, the engine grunts, then hisses.
Old school made modern
V8 instead of electric, manual instead of automatic: In the Bullitt you can switch off, simply enjoy driving, bob over the asphalt and bumps, listen to the orchestra as a conductor.
The Bullitt reaches for the crown of the head via the steering. It’s a shame that the seats offer somewhat less lateral support than the M Sport seats. When accelerating, the rear tires’ grip diminishes. The rear end pushes, but doesn’t wedge out. Great, because you easily control the Yank with your throttle foot.
The Ford Mustang is like the printed newspaper in the digital age, which moves with the times to survive but continues to stand by the old values. V8 instead of electric, manual transmission instead of automatic. A car that acts as a corrective in an increasingly hysterical (automotive) world. In the Bullitt you can escape it, switch off, simply enjoy driving, bob over the asphalt and the bumps, listen to the orchestra as a conductor. Or tackle it, ride it briskly on the country road or even the racetrack.
It always feels a bit like the body is simply bolted onto the chassis – a bit rocky, but that makes the Bullitt authentic, alive. The lateral forces don’t throw it off its stride. Instead, it lives up to them. The beauty is that the Bullitt doesn’t need a lot of bells and whistles. Only the MagneRide suspension pays for the driving dynamics as a paid extra. It adapts the damping to the road conditions by using magnets to excite a fluid rich in metal particles in the shock absorbers. The fluid is then sometimes thicker for firmer handling, sometimes thinner for more comfort.
What the Bullitt leaves behind in the 0-100 sprint on icy roads it makes up for in the higher gears. Up to the 200 mark, the 460-hp Mustang is practically on a par with the M440i.
Now the Bullitt meets someone who wants to wrest the hero role from it with a mild hybrid drive. A snoot from his point of view, which already costs 13,000 euros more in the base price. But the BMW is just as much a representative of the driving fun faction.
Turbo engine, E-boost and sports automatic are a cream trio! The inline six is supported by a 48-volt starter generator. On the one hand, this ensures that the combustion engine operates as often as possible in an efficient load range, while on the other hand it boosts acceleration with 37 Nm and 11 hp. In combination, this almost feels as if pedal and sole are sticking together.
Launch Control doesn’t necessarily improve the sprinting qualities. Even without it, the BMW accelerates to highway speed in 4.4 seconds. The Mustang pants behind the opponent and its own claim. Ford could sort out its Launch Control directly. At first it holds about 3,000 revs, but with the start-up it drops like many a soccer player with minimal body contact. So it’s better to strive for the perceived optimal degree of slippage yourself. In 5.5 seconds (factory specification: 4.6 sec.), the Bullitt heaves itself to 100 km/h – no chance against the M440i with all-wheel drive.
BMW extremely rear-focused
BMW has really given its 4 Series a leg up with the model change. The 440i F32 has been transformed into a real M: a car with great handling in all types of bends.
The transmission in the Ford only requires third gear at 135 km/h at the latest. Up to the 200 mark, the 460-hp Mustang practically draws level with the M440i. But in terms of elasticity, it has to concede right back – mainly because of its very, very long gear ratio. In sixth gear, the Bullitt accelerates from 80 to 160 km/h in 31.2 seconds – 18.3 seconds slower than the competitor. The eight-cylinder does generate decent steam below 2,000 rpm. But it can’t do anything against the BMW’s power: With its 500 Newton meters (from 1,900 rpm), the turbo dominates.
BMW has really given its 4 Series a leg up with the model change. The 440i F32 has been transformed into a real M: a car with great handling in all types of bends. The linchpin is its highly variable all-wheel drive, which makes the M440i drive like a rear-wheel drive car. The rear end swings along at every opportunity, but doesn’t dangle loosely like the end of a hanging string; instead, it maintains tension. Drifting made easy.
Coming out of the left at the Mercedes grandstand in Hockenheim, it’s already transverse, but under acceleration the all-wheel drive pulls it straight. A right-hand bend follows, into which you can take a lot of speed. Turning in – that was a bit too brisk – slight understeer, no problem. You only have to lift your right foot minimally for a moment, let the 4 settle down, before you increase the throttle input. The drive force receives the command to slip to the rear left, the rear end “overrevs” so to speak, which results in a thoroughly buddy-like oversteer. With a reduced steering angle, the technology straightens the line again.
The sports brake of the 4 Series is not built for permanent load and already takes its toll on the Hockenheimring after two or three laps.
The fun handling also has its pitfalls. And that’s when you really try to get the last ounce out of the 4-series and want to make speed, especially in the second part of the curve. Now, one would think that the Mustang moves more with the rear at the limit and also sometimes comparatively exits. This is actually the case on the brakes. There the rear axle pushes and demands more steering corrections than with the BMW. Otherwise, the Bullitt kneads the corners evenly with its 1,756 kilograms from turn-in to exit.
The BMW, on the other hand, lolls around on the ideal line like many a poolside. Those who read us regularly may remember: This is exactly how the M340i (2:01.2 min) behaves, with exactly the same speed on the Hockenheim lap. One reason for the rather greasy handling on the rear axle compared to the Mustang is the high air pressures. The electronics resist too low air pressures, which then automatically reactivate the DSC.
Point victory for the Bullitt
In the end, the muscle car is ahead on points. However, both guarantee great driving fun. The good thing is that they achieve it by different means.
The Bullitt needs larger steering angles, is more stable and has more momentum on the straights. On the racetrack, the V8 shows off its performance advantage. Another Mustang plus: The six-piston brake lasts longer. This gives the driver more time to feel his way to the limits and get used to the diffuse rear axle lock, which sometimes engages, sometimes lets the unloaded rear wheel spin. In the M440i, the brake pedal already gets longer after two to three laps – as it does in the M340i – despite the larger brake discs from the M-Technology package.
The Mustang passes through the slalom in third gear neutrally and safely. In second gear, the driver feels more stress because higher revs mean more steam on the chain and thus potentially more instability. The M440i fidgets comparatively more. It just likes to waggle its rear end, but the oversteer always remains well controlled.
After the limp at 0-100 acceleration, the Bullitt successfully counters on the brakes, in the slalom and on the fast lap. It also comes out on top in terms of power-to-weight ratio – and when it comes to value for money, it can’t be beaten anyway. Test victory for the muscle car. But both guarantee great driving pleasure. The nice thing is that they achieve it by different means.
Both the BMW and the Ford can race on the track. But both don’t care about the time, instead focusing on the experience on the lap. That is worthy of all honor. The M440i is fully committed to lateral drive. The experienced hobby driver can let off steam. Simply great, but also a must, otherwise the BMW would have remained pretty pale against the icon, this American primeval beast – despite the unmistakable kidney.