A parts-bin car, but is that really such a bad thing when all the parts are just so damn good?
Whether or not you believe in evolution, it’s tough to argue Ford’s most iconic pony car isn’t a completely different animal in this day and age. It may have been a one-trick pony in the past, but today – and provided you check the right boxes – it does one hell of an impression of a sharp sports car. Nowhere is this more evident than the 2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1.
Think of the Mach 1 as an everything bagel. It’s not quite the perfect bread for every sandwich, just like the Mustang isn’t the perfect car for every situation. But it’s seasoned with a generous helping of go-fast goodies cherry-picked from other go-fast Mustangs over the recent years, and the end result is very tasty. As it should be; in a way, the Mach 1 basically replaces three Mustangs for 2021: the GT with the Performance Package Level 2 (PP2), the Bullitt, and to a lesser extent, the Shelby GT350.
It all starts with Ford’s venerable “Coyote” 5.0-litre V8 under the hood. It’s cribbed from the Bullitt, so you have 480 horsepower – 20 extra horses over the standard GT – and 420 pound-feet of torque to play with. That’s hooked up to a six-speed manual by default, but unlike the manual-only ‘Stangs the Mach 1 replaces, Ford’s 10-speed automatic is now a $1,750 option.
Unless you have a really good reason to spring for the automatic, the manual is pretty much the only way to go with the Mach 1. It’s the same Tremec box you’d find in the GT350, and you can certainly tell – the shifter feels tighter than the standard GT, delivering much shorter and more precise throws. Between the Mach 1, Camaro SS 1LE, and Challenger Scat Pack, this thing arguably has the best shift feel of the bunch.
And paired with the free-breathing Coyote, it’s a ferocious combination. True, it isn’t as special as the GT350’s Voodoo V8, but the Coyote is proven and it absolutely rips. Depending on whom you ask or how quick you are with your hands and feet, the Mach 1 should run from zero to 100 km/h in the low to mid-four-second range. It’s plenty fast for almost any mortal human, and with the active exhaust system uncorked, tunnels and underpasses will quickly become your best friends.
In addition to the powertrain, the collection of Shelby-ified enhancements to the Mach 1 reads like a Monday morning to-do list at the office after a long weekend: it’s fitted with the GT350’s intake manifold, engine oil cooler, and oil filter adapter, as well as the same front and rear subframes. As well, the GT500 donates its rear axle cooler and toe link, as well as its rear diffusor and massive 4.5-inch quad exhaust tips. All of this is augmented by the $4,500 Handling Package, which adds unique 19-inch mesh wheels, Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires from the GT350R, and aerodynamic enhancements including the same spoiler and Gurney flap combo from the base GT500, among many other enhancements. There’s just too much to list, so for your sanity, just consider the Mach 1 a Shelby-lite.
Now, the Mustang Mach 1 is pretty much a parts-bin car, but is that really such a bad thing when all the parts are just so damn good? No matter how hard you push the Mach 1 on the tightest of tight highway on-ramps, its limits are sky-high thanks to all the chassis enhancements, super-sticky Michelin rubber, and Brembo brakes. You’ll chicken out and let off the gas well before the Coyote V8 even considers blinking and letting up. You’ll even find yourself shifting for no good reason, if only to listen to the exhaust bark and to feel just how well the transmission snicks into each gear.
It’s also remarkably easy to drive when you’re not wringing it out. The Mach 1 is far from perfect; the tires produce a lot of road noise and lend to a degree of twitchiness on the highway. But it’ll happily settle down and gobble up longer distances on the highway, the magnetic dampers do an excellent job at soaking up bumps and rough pavement, and even the manual transmission is friendlier – take it slow with the clutch and the car helps avoid stalling while taking off gingerly from a stoplight by blipping the throttle ever so slightly. There are also rev-matched downshifts, but mercifully, drivers who’d rather do it themselves can disable it.
Beyond the greasy bits, the Mach 1 looks as butch as you’d expect with its more aggro bodywork, functional aero bits, and smattering of badges letting you know this one’s more special than the straight-piped Mustang EcoBoost coupes that make your ears bleed. Our tester featured a $1,350 appearance package that added a handful of fetching orange accents inside and out, but it’s only available with a colour Ford calls Fighter Jet Grey. Inside, it’s exactly what you’d expect: fit-and-finish is respectable, Ford’s Sync 3 handles infotainment, it’s easy to get comfortable behind the wheel, and the highly configurable digital gauge cluster looks crisp and modern. If we had one nit-pick, it’s with the seats: the standard chairs are almost too cushy. The Recaros we’ve come to know and love over the years will run you another $1,800 here, but they should really be standard.
All told, at $77,650 as-tested, the 2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1 is a tough sell, especially considering the GT PP2 and Bullitt it replaces each would’ve run you closer to $60,000 fully loaded. Is it really $17,000 better? Probably not, but if you missed out on a Shelby GT350, the Mach 1 is one helluva consolation prize.