Ford loves to dig from the well of history when it comes to naming various versions of its Mustang performance coupe. We all know that.
Perhaps, though, that inadvertently puts pressure on each edition to live up to expectations set by past models sharing a moniker. Expectations that may have been set decades ago.
Fortunately for us enthusiasts, Ford has generally made sure any Mustang that gets slapped with a special nickname has lived up to the name. That’s true of the most-recent Shelby models, the recent-vintage Bullitt, and now, the Mach 1.
It helps that the Mach 1 builds on the Bullitt, a model that left us after the 2020 model year. It builds on that car – which came standard with the Mustang GT’s Performance Pack (includes Brembo front brakes, oil pressure and vacuum gauges, aluminum instrument panel, heavy-duty front springs, K-brace, larger radiator, performance rear wing, a strut-tower brace, Torsen differential, unique chassis tuning, unique tuning for electronic driving aids, and larger rear swaybar) and adds, in manual-transmission cars, the GT350’s Tremec six-speed manual transmission.
But it also separates itself via the available Mach 1 Handling Pack. The Handling Pack changes the settings for the magnetic ride control and electronically-assisted power steering and gives the car stiffer springs front and rear and a stiffer rear bar. The Mach 1 gets the GT350R’s tire fitment and 305/315 Michelin Cup2 tires, front mounts that are adjustable for track camber, higher downforce from the front splitter, and the GT500’s swing spoiler with Gurney flap.
Engine-oil cooling is also improved, says Ford, by 50 percent over the Performance Package.
That’s in addition to a slew of exterior changes compared to both the standard GT and the outgoing, retro-themed Bullitt.
Consider the Mach 1 as a replacement not just for the Bullitt, but also for the Shelby GT350.
Whatever you consider it, it’s one bad-ass Mustang – though still far more civilized than the hairy GT500. It combines the daily-driver ability of the GT with the handling of the GT350.
It should not shock you, then, when I tell you the Mach 1 will accelerate like its hair is on fire when you drop the hammer. The 5.0-liter V8 is putting out 480 horsepower and 420 lb-ft of torque in this guise. That’s 20 more ponies than a GT, though the torque figure is the same. The Mach 1 is heavier than a GT, but it doesn’t feel, at least when measured by the seat of the pants, like the extra weight is hindering acceleration.
Speaking of torque, I found a shady spot to play with the available line-lock system and I found myself worrying I broke the car when I saw smoke coming out from the FRONT wheels. I later figured out that no, nothing was wrong mechanically – the car was just putting down so much power that the front brakes weren’t fully holding and the front tires were rotating a bit. I basically did a four-wheel burnout in a RWD car, quite by accident.
The biggest difference from the extra performance goodies is a feeling that the car is just better put together, both when pushed and when not. The Bullitt had this feeling, too, but it’s amplified in the Mach 1. It feels stiffer and firmer than the GT when pushed, even though it can’t quite shake the artificial feeling in the steering.
It turns in sharply and is a willing dance partner, though the car has the ability to wag its tail, and you keep this in mind when pushing it, lest snap oversteer leaves you facing the wrong way (or worse). If you get a little wiggle, you can rein it in, even in the more-aggressive drive modes with gentle throttle and steering corrections.
My test loaner was equipped with the optional 10-speed automatic, but between the time of the loan and the time of this writeup, I had the chance to drive the manual on the track at Road America (yes, at the same event in which I binned a Lexus). The car was a joy to drive, with mostly predictable cornering, even in Track mode, stout brakes, and a shifter/clutch setup that was a blast to work with. I did need to stay patient on corner exit in order to avoid getting the tail wagging, but that wasn’t hard to do, knowing how much power was on hand to make quick work of the straightaways when the wheel was centered.
I’d definitely recommend the manual over the automatic because it’s just more joyful to drive.
The Mach 1 feels more buttoned-down on the street than the GT, with less chassis flex and cowl shake over bumpy pavement. That said, the ride is stiff, no doubt about it. Oh, and this car is loud – not Shelby loud, but still enough to piss off killjoy neighbors. There is a quiet mode for the exhaust system, should you live in suburbia and have to leave at 5 a.m. to commute to work.
The rest of the experience is mostly standard Mustang – a backseat useless for humans much over the age of toddler, the aircraft-inspired interior with little in the way of storage, and a decently-sized trunk. There are, of course, Mach 1-specific exterior appearance bits.
The car doesn’t come cheap: It’s going to cost you around $60K, which is a few grand pricier than the outgoing Bullitt. My tester was $59K and change and standard features not already mentioned included rain-sensing wipers, dual-zone climate control, two USB ports, Wi-Fi, Ford Co-Pilot 360, keyless starting, satellite radio, and track apps.
Options included heated and cooled front seats, the 10-speed automatic, the Mach 1 Appearance Package (includes Fighter Jet Gray paint and hood and side stripes), the Mach 1 Elite Package (includes Bang & Olufsen audio), and navigation.
But it’s oh so worth it, especially if you miss the Bullitt or the GT350. It cleans up some of the GT’s biggest dynamic flaws while adding performance. And it looks cool.
I admit I was skeptical when the Mach 1 was announced. Why not keep the Bullitt around – it never made sense to me to make that car a limited-edition model – and also keep the GT350 as a track toy? Why replace them both with a car that borrowed another name from Mustang’s deep history, even if this one sort of mixed the two?
I did understand the need for a higher-performance model above the GT, I just wasn’t sure this car was the right one. Consider me a convert.
New for 2021
The 2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1 is an all-new, high-performance trim that’s meant to handle better, on street and on track, than any other Mustang currently on sale – save for the Shelby GT500.
Who Should Buy It
Those who want more than the GT can offer and can afford the extra spend but can’t swing the Shelby. Also, those who want extra performance from their pony without the sacrifices of the Shelby.
[Images © 2022 Tim Healey/TTAC]
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