2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1: Hardcore to the Mach

Strong points
  • Captivating V8 (naturally aspirated)
  • Exceptional handling
  • Tremendous brakes
  • User-friendly displays
Weak points
  • Darts merrily on wavy pavement
  • Large turning radius
  • Some of the controls are hard to reach
  • Tight rear seats
Full report

Muscle car and pony car enthusiasts were sad to see Ford axe their beloved Shelby GT350 not long after the fabulous, 760-horsepower Shelby GT500 became the new alpha stallion in the Mustang lineup.

They can find solace in the return of the illustrious Mach 1, however. This new model inherits a few performance goodies from both the departed GT350 and the new GT500 as it takes the torch—and the celebrated V8 engine—from the limited-edition Mustang Bullitt.

The original Mach 1 launched in 1969, while the latest came in 2003. For 2021, Ford didn’t just put some kind of disguise on the Mustang and call it a day. The automaker has meticulously developed a car that excels on the track while costing a whole lot less than the Shelby models.

Photo: Marc Lachapelle

Muscle and Gusto

Engineers didn’t need to look far to find the perfect engine for the Mach 1. As mentioned above, they turned to the Bullitt’s naturally aspirated 5.0-litre V8, which produces 480 horsepower at 7,000 rpm and 420 pound-feet of torque at 4,600 rpm.

Then they had the brilliant idea to borrow the six-speed Tremec 3160 manual gearbox from the Shelby GT350, complete with the same oil cooler, but use the twin-plate clutch and short-throw shifter from the Mustang GT, the latter capped by a white cue ball shift knob just like in the previous Mach 1. A 10-speed automatic transmission is also available for you to choose, but why would you?

The stick shift comes with rev matching technology, which some drivers may appreciate, but there’s no button to quickly turn the function on or off. You have to scroll through various menus using the controls on the steering wheel and check the right box. It’s the same thing with the sport exhaust system, which produces a different sound based on the drive mode you select. Our advice is to activate Quiet mode before you start the engine to avoid waking up the neighbours (even if it’s really not that quiet).

Sharp Reflexes

To improve ride and handling, the Mach 1 features the latest MagneRide dampers, stiffer sway bars and front springs, rear subframe with stiffer bushings and rear toe-link from the Shelby GT500. There’s also a stiffer steering I-shaft and new electric power steering calibration.

The Mach 1 Handling Package ($4,500) adds a larger front splitter, new front wheel lip mouldings and Magnetic swing rear spoiler with a Gurney flap that together increase downforce by 150 percent. Michelin Pilot Cup Sport 2 tires (305/30 front, 315/30 rear) wrap unique, wider 19-inch wheels, while adjustable strut tower braces provide extra rigidity and sharpness.

The front brake discs grow from 352 to 380 millimetres in size and are clamped by six-piston front callipers. As a result, the Mach 1 achieved the shortest braking distances from 100-0 km/h (33.4 metres) of any Mustang we have tested to this day. Both the GT350 (37.5 metres) and the Chevrolet Camaro SS 1LE (36.9 metres) are well behind.

Photo: Marc Lachapelle

When it comes to acceleration, the Mach 1 sprinted from 0-100 km/h in 4.99 seconds and ran the quarter-mile in 13.15 seconds at a speed of 181.1 km/h—almost as quick as the times posted by the GT350 (4.88 seconds and 13.06 seconds at 187.3 km/h, respectively), which packs 46 extra ponies under the hood and is 35 kilograms lighter. The Mach 1 did prove quicker from 80-120 km/h (3.0 seconds versus 3.15 seconds), though.

These numbers were made possible by using Launch Control as well as the No Lift Shift system, the latter enabling drivers to perform upshifts without releasing the throttle. It’s hard to do any better on regular pavement without the help of Line Lock, which locks the front wheels while the rear tires warm up in a cloud of smoke.

Photo: Marc Lachapelle

Taming the Beast

The interior of the new Mustang Mach 1 is a nice place to be, with comfortable and supportive leather seats (in Premium trim) the key part of a great driving position. Recaro buckets in fabric or leather are available for $1,800. Fit and finish is decent, while the controls are smartly laid out and easy to use.

The digital instrument panel is gorgeous with graphics that change depending on the drive mode (Normal, Snow/Wet, Sport, Track, Drag Strip). In Normal mode, the selected gear is displayed in the left gauge and speed appears on the other side. In Track or Drag Strip mode, a bar-graph tachometer takes up all the space. Sport mode is sort of a mix between the two displays, with a tachometer that stretches horizontally all the way to the 7,500 rpm redline.

Photo: Marc Lachapelle

With wide tires featuring squared-off shoulder blocks and chassis tuning that maximizes handling, the Mach 1 can be dangerously twitchy on uneven roads. Gripping the steering wheel firmly with your two hands is a must. Once you know how to tame the beast, it actually proves quite civilized. Just beware of the front splitter that’s easy to scratch when entering sloped driveways.

The ride is loud on bumpy roads, but the noise is adequately dampened. And what can we say about the engine? Simply impeccable. It starts with a deep growl but quickly lets out a crisp roar every time you hit the throttle as revs build up in a hurry. Truth be told, we don’t miss the flat-plane-crank Voodoo V8 from the GT350, which sounded harsh at higher revs. The manual transmission delivers clean, quick and precise shifts, while the progressive clutch pedal never feels too heavy.

The Mach 1 is just unflappable as it attacks corners, no matter how sharp they are. Steering is firm and big on feedback, body roll is nil, and traction never fails to amaze.

Photo: Marc Lachapelle

Bottom Line

The 2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1 is essentially a Porsche 911 GT3 at a fraction of the price. You absolutely need a race track to have any hope of testing its limits. And enjoy the well-bred, naturally aspirated V8 while you still can because you know what the next step entails.

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