First drive review: 2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1 turns something borrowed into something new

The 2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1 feels familiar from the moment I climb into it, which is to be expected. Though the limited-edition Mustang is a new model this year, all of the components are from vehicles I’ve tested before, combined in a witch’s cauldron to create a magic potion of performance. Even the name is borrowed as Mach 1 is a revived nameplate that first launched in 1969 and was last used in 2004 on the fourth-generation car.

We are now in the Mustang’s sixth generation, and with the Bullitt and GT350/GT350R discontinued for 2021, Ford needed something to fill the space between the Mustang GT and the Shelby GT500. The Mach 1 rips down parts from both shelves. The engine, twin-disc clutch, and short-throw shifter come from the Mustang GT, while the Tremec 6-speed manual transmission is swiped from the GT350. The GT500 donates various suspension, aerodynamic, and cooling parts for track duty. 

A full day of testing on the track at Willow Springs Raceway and the surrounding streets revealed a car that isn’t simply thrown together out of the parts bin, but a cohesive and track-ready Mustang that hits the sweet spot at the performance end of the Mustang lineup.

2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1

2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1

2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1

2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1

2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1

2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1

Mach 1 models featuring the available appearance package ($1,000) are the easiest to spot, with exclusive fighter jet gray paint, orange accents inside and out, orange brake calipers, and an ebony/orange interior to boot. Mach 1 badging sits on each front fender. 

The tail is highlighted by four massive exhaust tips, which project the V-8’s monstrous bellow into the world. The Mustang is sold worldwide now, and the Mach 1’s exhaust was designed to toe the maximum decibel line as closely as it could in multiple countries but stay legal everywhere. The exhaust note isn’t as distinctive as the tune played by the GT350’s flat-plane-crank V-8. It’s closer to what you get in the standard GT, but with added gusto and it still sounds appropriately coarse and substantial. 

The 5.0-liter V-8 makes 480 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque, a boost of 20 hp over the standard Mustang GT and a match for the Mustang Bullitt’s output from a year ago. The 6-speed manual transmission comes standard, with a 10-speed automatic optional. Power flows to the rear wheels and the rear wheels alone.

2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1

2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1

This engine is a more than willing dance partner. It gets into the power quickly for a naturally aspirated engine, and the throttle mapping is spot on for both street and track. This level of dexterity is hard to pull off for an engine that nears 500 hp, but kudos to Ford for making it feel very controllable in all situations. 

View Also:  Ford, off-road specialists showcase Bronco accessories at Easter Safari

I blistered the track in both the manual and automatic, and each was excellent in its own way. With the automatic in Track mode, I didn’t feel the need to grab for the paddle shifters in any situation; the Mach 1 seemed to be in the right gear on entries and exits, and held to near redline on the straightaways. When I did select my own gears, the transmission was very responsive and kept up with multiple pulls of the paddles in rapid succession. However, I found it hard to keep track of 10 gears in my head while I was trying to focus on driving clean laps.

Ford had test drivers on hand who said they were putting down similar lap times with the automatic and the manual, though for those of us who aren’t professionals the automatic will be quicker. 

Nonetheless, the manual is much more fun, thanks to two key features: rev-matching and no-lift shifting. 

No-lift shifting is something to behold. With the engine charging hard over 5,000 rpm and the throttle pushed down at least 90%, you clutch in, keep the throttle pinned, and shift gears. I’m used to backing off the gas when shifting, but if you do that the throttle won’t be open far enough to prevent the transmission from locking out the next gear when you attempt a no-lift shift. Once you do it correctly, it’s supremely satisfying to come out of a corner into a straight and just pin that gas pedal to the floor. It works between all the gears, but is most useful for shifts between second and third and third and fourth. Those two performance features, along with well defined gates, easy-to-operate clutch pedal, and the very cool cue-ball shifter are enough to make me prefer the manual.

2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1

2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1

It’s telling that we tested the Mach 1 on the tighter, more technical Streets of Willow rather than Willow Spring’s larger track. The two straightaways were enough to get a feel for the Mach 1’s ability to build speed (and no-lift shifting), but the tighter corners revealed a car that continues to chip away at the stereotype of the Mustang as a point-and-squeeze muscle car that gets lost in the bends. 

I was thankful that the Mach 1s I tested on track featured the $3,500 Handling Package. It includes a larger front splitter that provides 150% more front downforce than a Mustang GT Performance Pack, plus a larger spoiler, rear tire spats from the GT500, and most consequentially, wider 19×10.5-inch front and 19×11-inch rear wheels wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires. I didn’t come close to testing out the 2 mph gain in top speed (from 166 to 168 mph with the manual) but the added grip from those tires and the big jump in downforce made the Mustang feel planted on the track. The nose never twitched when turning in at speed, and I detected no hint of understeer. 

View Also:  There is no 2021 Nissan 370Z

The entire package makes the Mach 1 nearly flawless on the track. It doesn’t have quite the of the outgoing GT350, but 480 horses is plenty. The GT350/GT500 suspension components make a difference compared to a GT PP2 as it feels another degree sharper on turn-in. Whether accelerating or carving up corners, the Mach 1 just feels incredibly stable even though the world is passing by very quickly. Lots of cars claim that you can drive them to the track, play, then drive home the same day. The Mach 1 is a perfect example of that ideal.

2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1

2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1

On the street, the Mach 1 feels more or less like a normal GT with the Performance Package. My street tester was stripped of the Handling Package, but the steering still imparted plenty of road feel and the Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires are still a good match for any canyon road. The standard adaptive magnetic dampers do a good job of tailoring the Mach 1 to match its environment; it’s comfortable in Tour mode and notably firm in the Sport+ and Track modes. 

The Mustang Mach 1 starts at $52,915, about $8,000 less than the outgoing GT350 but more than the Bullitt’s $48,905 starting MSRP from last year. It’s a great value when you consider that a Mustang GT with the Performance Package, adaptive suspension, and an active exhaust costs $52,400. I’d much rather pony up the extra $515 to buy the better vehicle. If you do plan on tracking your Mach 1, the Handling Package is a no-brainer for $,3500.

Ford hasn’t said how many Mach 1s will be built, only that the model mix (transmission, packages, etc.) will be determined by demand and that orders remain open ahead of its on-sale date later this spring.

Though the Mustang loses some varieties for 2021, the one it gains back is an absolute blast. The Mach 1 borrows from the cars it replaces to provide a thumping soundtrack and a high level of track performance. While its power figures are great, the pony car’s stand-out features are its sure-footed handling and trackability. What a wonderful machine.

Ford provided test vehicles and track-time at Willow Springs Raceway for Motor Authority to bring you this first-hand drive report.

Next

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You May Also Like