- Photos: Kurt Bradley

Ford Mustang Mach 1: More Than A Parts Bin Muscle Car

Sharing loads of the good stuff from faster Mustang models, the Mach 1 rocks.

2w ago

Few cars are as American as the iconic Ford Mustang. The pony car that started a revolution has now been on the road for nearly 60 years. Over the decades, the Mustang's performance and handling have improved, while still sticking to its roots as a 2+2 coupe or convertible that's fun and somewhat attainable by a big variety of drivers. Last year I had a go in the wickedly fast Mustang Shelby GT500, that packs 760 supercharged horses and a ton of hardware to keep it planted on any twisty road or track. While I thought it was an absolute riot during my test, I felt that it packed too much power for the average driver while costing nearly double the price of a good GT.

With the return of the Mach 1 for 2021, Ford assembles a Mustang that steals plenty of parts from the Shelby warehouse, and offers a reasonable amount of power at a lower price. With Ford discontinuing the Performance Package 2 model of the Mustang GT, in addition to the Bullitt and Shelby GT350, the Mach 1 has to fill a big void between the normal GT and the Shelby GT500. Does this Mustang hit a sweet spot?

The Key Figures And Upgrades

The Mustang Mach 1 starts out as an upgrade over the GT package, and starts grabbing from the Ford and Shelby parts bin to combine a smart yet fun setup. Delivering 480 horsepower, the Mach 1 gets a bump of 20 over the GT, and has the same 420 lb-ft of torque. Pop the Mach 1's hood and you'll see the GT's 5.0-liter Coyote V8, but there's a massive strut tower brace and a cold air intake on display. The Mach 1 borrows the intake manifold, throttle body, and oil cooler from the Shelby GT350. Ford installed the same massive quad-tipped exhaust system you'll spot on the Shelby GT500, and wrapped around those big pipes are the same rear diffuser and tire spats from the fastest Mustang variant.

Suspension components on the Mustang Mach1 get Shelby upgrades too, with the adjustable camber plates up front, and out back there are the same rear toe-control links and subframe (with stiffer bushings) shared with the GT350 and GT500. To improve composure and handling over all surfaces, Ford gives the Mustang Mach 1 its MagneRide dampers. Transmission choices are between the same 10-speed automatic the lower Mustang models offer, in addition to a 6-speed manual. Knowing its drivers are going to dish out harder driving, Ford equipped the Mach 1 with the differential and transmission cooling systems from the Shelby GT350.

Ford doesn't state acceleration figures for the Mach 1, but with a slight power bump, expect it to have a similar 0-60 MPH sprint as the GT's 4.5 seconds, while probably clearing the 1/4-mile run in around 12.6 seconds. The Mach 1 packaging doesn't come cheap, but it's more affordable than its Shelby siblings. At a base price of $51,720, my Velocity Blue tester ticked option boxes to add the elite interior, red-painted Brembo brake calipers, the 10-speed automatic transmission, and voice activated navigation system to hit an MSRP of $58,490 after destination.

Surprising Comfort In A Pony Car

Ford gives the Mustang Mach 1 a great setup for the daily driver. Even though it's packing plenty of muscle underneath, the Mach 1 is composed on city streets, thanks to its MagneRide suspension and some seriously comfortable front seats. The 5.0-liter V8 is potent enough for getting you into trouble, but behave yourself when applying the throttle, and the powerplant is refined and smooth, offering EPA estimated 15/23/18 MPGs.

Steering feel is a little on the light side when cruising in the normal drive mode, but it's not bad at all, while still being precise. Props to the Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires for being steady during usual driving, while being refined enough in town, considering they'll hold their own in the bends. The 10-speed automatic transmission will do its best to keep the revs low, to better reduce emissions while improving fuel economy, so you'll have to get used to how often it shifts back and forth during your errand runs and commute to work.

The Mach 1's seats have a classic Mustang look, with cool stripes and stitching detailing the leather, as part of the upgrade to the nicer interior, while also having heating and cooling features. Ford also allows you to have Recaro cloth buckets installed if you plan to do more performance driving. Back seats are fine for the kid's car seat, but don't try to stuff adults back there.

The center audio and climate control stack is about the same as you've seen in the Mustang for ages, but it's easy to use. Ford's Sync infotainment system has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto installed, and with the elite package Ford adds a 12-speaker B&O audio upgrade. Trunk space in the Mustang Mach 1 is surprisingly large for a coupe, albeit with a high load floor, but you'll be able to stuff plenty in there.

Potent Abilities In The Twisty Stuff

Ford made damn sure the Mach 1 held its own along your favorite back road, and the overall performance package is great. 480 horsepower is plenty of juice to move this Mustang along at a quick pace. As opposed to the 760-horsepower supercharged GT500 I tested, the Mach 1's output is much more manageable, and never was I craving more punch under the hood to have fun along a winding stretch of road. It may not sound as wonderful as the flat-plane crank menace stuffed into the GT350, but the upgrade to that Voodoo engine costs a pretty penny.

There are quick toggle switches on the center console to engage the standard drive modes, in addition to one for the steering mode. Activating your individual mode is done on the steering wheel, as is the suite of track apps. Go into this menu, and you'll spot the Line Lock control, which pins the front brakes as you load up the throttle, allowing you to rip the smokiest burnouts with ease (or so I've been told).

In the sport or track drive modes, the Mach 1's throttle response picks up considerably without being twitchy, and the exhaust system lets out a more thunderous roar. I also like how the Mach 1's digital instrument cluster changes its layout dramatically when you switch through the drive modes, better showing you the data you need when you're hooning this faster breed of Mustang. Ford's drive modes include the usual normal, winter, sport, and track configurations, with a custom setup, but the Mach 1 also gets a drag strip mode that helps you lay down the quickest sprint along the 1/4 mile.

I liked the engine in its track mode, while having the suspension stick to its sport setting, and disabled the traction control to set this quicker Mustang free. Doing this, I was able to let the back end slip ever so slightly when I'd stab the throttle whether going straight or exiting a bend. Despite videos you've seen involving certain Mustang drivers leaving car events, the Mach 1 is actually pretty planted when you toss it into a corner or introduce your right foot to the pedal. The magnetic dampers are perfectly balanced too, softening simple bumps on your favorite back road, but not deadening sensations you want.

I was delighted with how well the Brembo brakes scrub speed just before the nearly 4,000-pound Mustang's precise steering allowed me to peg the apex and steadily accelerate away. While the standard Mach 1 handling setup is great, drop an extra $3,750 for the Handling Package, and Ford will fit the Mach 1 with a bigger front splitter, a huge rear wing with a Gurney flap, adjustable strut top mounts, and upgrade from the fantastic Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires to stickier 305mm wide front and 315mm rear Pilot Sport Cup 2 rubber.

If you want the best engagement and performance from the Mach 1, opt for the Tremec 3160 6-speed manual Ford also offers in the GT350. The 10-speed automatic just doesn't get the job done, with ratios that don't match up to the V8's output well at all, and have some slow shift times. Had Ford given the Mach 1 the same Tremec TR-9070 7-speed dual clutch transmission from the GT500 I reviewed on fun roads and around Circuit of The Americas, I would be much happier suggesting a two-pedal Mach 1 to you.

The High Points

To better distinguish the Mach 1 from other Mustangs, Ford slapped on some cool stripes along the hood and sides, added Mach 1 badging to the front fenders and trunk panel, and gave it a set of black five-spoke wheels with a polished lip, to complete a classic look. Inside Ford installed a Mach 1 badge to the interior dash with the unique chassis number. The styling upgrades add up nicely to make the Mach 1 feel a bit more special, without looking like it's trying too hard.

I applaud Ford for sticking to physical buttons and switchgear throughout the Mustang Mach 1's cabin, making life easier while keeping your eyes on the road. There are a ton of buttons on the steering wheel, so you'll have to quickly get used to where controls are placed. If you care about audio quality, definitely tick the elite interior package option box to get the Bang & Olufsen upgrade.

Less Wonderful Things

Ford did a good job with the exterior styling additions to make the Mach 1 stand out versus its Mustang siblings, but I do wish it fitted some bigger side mirrors. The ones on the Mach 1 are tiny, barely bigger than my hands, so outward visibility is compromised. The Mustang's back seats are hilariously cramped, but I think it's cool that Ford made sure they came with plenty of lateral support for any occupants you stick back there. My tip is to tick the no-cost option box to delete the rear seats, which also help reduce a chunk of the hefty 3,900-pound curb weight.

Toggle switches on the center console are cool for making adjustments on the fly, but the drive mode one only goes one direction, so if you are trying to select the sport mode and accidentally pass it up, you have to click six more times to loop through the full slate of modes to get back to it. I also wish there was a switch to adjust the exhaust modes like Ford installed on the Shelby GT500. Instead you have to go into the track apps menu that's accessed via the steering wheel button.

Another overlooked feature was allowing the Sync infotainment system to have a physical menu button or some way to access the Ford native settings and screens when you're using Apple CarPlay. If you want to adjust any setups for the remote, display, or other settings, you're going to need to disconnect your mobile from the plug first.

Plenty Of Bang For Your Buck

By dumping the GT PP2, Bullitt, and Shelby GT350, Ford left a massive hole in its Mustang lineup. Thankfully the Mach 1 slotted in nicely, offering a fantastic balance of performance and handling that any driver can make the most of. Reviving this model name, Ford offered the enthusiast a cool model in the mid-$50,000 range.

The person that wants to brag about power figures and sheer performance, while having the extra cash in the bank might opt for the Shelby GT500 (which I had a blast in), but they'll spend anywhere from $80,000 to $100,000 to get one. As a more practical yet fun package, I think the Mach 1 nails its marks.

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