Ford Mustang Mach 1 review: worth the hefty premium?

By topgear, 12 April 2021

OVERVIEW - What is it?

It’s been 17 years since a Mach 1 last graced the Mustang line up. And 53 years since the hulking original appeared. There were several land yacht versions during the early Seventies, too. But the Mach 1’s mission has always remained the same: to be a sexier, faster, better handling version of the Mustang GT. 

You might be tempted to think it’s a replacement for the outgoing GT350, but its not. It’s more of the heir to the 2012 Mustang-on-steroids Boss 302 than son of the Shelby, the latter being a carbon-wheeled, cross-plane cranked V8 special. Look closely, and you’ll see the 2021 Mach 1 is a high-fidelity greatest hits of the current Mustang line-up’s parts bin.

At its core is a Mustang GT fitted with the optional Performance Pack 1, giving even the base Mach 1 stiffer front and rear suspension sway bars, a Torsen limited-slip differential, bracing, six-piston Brembo brakes and a high-flow radiator. But that’s far from everything. 

Ford engineers have also added the rear subframe from the GT350 and GT500, which gives tighter, more precise handling with its stiffer structure and tighter bushings. They’ve then slapped on a set of the superb MagneRide active dampers as standard. Elsewhere, there’s a diff cooler and rear diffuser from the GT500, too.

That’s where the standard Mach 1’s key specs end – and the optional Handling Package starts. Available only on the manual, this adds wider, lighter staggered 19-inch wheels, a rear spoiler with the GT500’s Gurney flap, adjustable upper strut mounts and a more aggressive front splitter. Crucially, it also adds a set of Michelin Cup 2 tyres, instead of the Pilot 4Ss. 

Tuners and wheel companies take note, this pack will not be available on Mach 1s outside the US, so there will be a demand for something similar as it makes a massive difference to the car’s handling and grip.

The Mach 1’s Coyote V8 continues the borrow-from-the-best path set by the rest of the car. It uses the same upgraded motor from the Bullitt which makes an additional 20bhp more than the standard GT, bringing the total to 480bhp, by employing a wider throttle body and intake manifold from the GT350 and open air box. The good news is it comes to the UK… the bad news is our cars are slightly detuned, to 454bhp.

Gearbox options are a ten-speed automatic or the cue ball-operated six-speed Tremec TR-3160 from the GT350. The Mach 1 goes one better than its Shelby sibling by offering rev matching and no-lift shifting. 

Cosmetically, you can spot a Mach 1 from a distance by its appreciably wider and deeper front side grilles and two pop-out slots for aftermarket fog lamps. Other tells are the five-spoke wheels and the giveaway Mach 1 appearance package and badges. 

UK prices start from £55,000 (RM308k).

DRIVING - What is it like on the road?

Much like the GT350 and 350R, there are two very distinct versions of the Mach 1. Fitted with the optional Track Pack it clings, grips and goes in a very satisfyingly Mustang way. The steering is still light on sensations and feel and the rear end is loose enough that you are constantly aware of its thirst for oversteer. But you can still make rapid progress around a track.

And rapid stopping, too. One of the Mach 1’s most impressive feats is its finely tuned chassis and braking systems. You can get super deep into a corner on the brakes with the ABS in full panic yet still accurately place the car on your chosen line. Not bad for any car, never mind a muscle car like this.

The choice of gearbox is an interesting one. The rev-matched Tremec manual adds a whole new level of fun to the experience – especially the flat-shift option which allows you to keep the throttle buried while swapping gears. But the ten-speed auto ‘box is a good unit and will inevitably allow you to go faster. Not least because you can focus your attention on keeping the car in line instead of swapping cogs, too.

Without the Track Pack - as all UK cars will be - the Mach 1 feels like a completely different animal. The engine still spins up freely and happily smacks into the redline – some might actually prefer it to the wailing Voodoo lump in the GT350 – all while making suitably muscle car noises. There’s just even less steering feel and an almost alarmingly lower amount of grip at the rear. 

At first we thought it was just the 4S tyres taking some time to warm up, but no. Even after 80 kilometres of spirited driving, there was still much lower precision on the turn in and a growing caution about applying too much throttle on the exit unless the steering wheel was dead straight. 

All of these feelings were heightened as we’d just stepped out of driving the Track Pack cars on the circuit. But still, it was mildly surprising just how much less grip and control the non-Track Pack cars had. If nothing else, a set of Cup 2s should be on a Mach 1 buyer’s shopping list from new.

ON THE INSIDE - Layout, finish and space

The Mustang has four surprisingly comfortable seats and loads of storage space, too. So it’s practical, if not exactly economical.

Otherwise, there’s nothing much to report here – it’s all standard Mustang GT fare just with the addition of some Mach 1 cosmetic upgrades. The Instrument panel gets an aluminium-accented makeover, there are accent stripes on the seats, new sill plates and an engraved badge with the car’s chassis number.  

Optional Recaro seats can be added on UK-bound Mach 1s.

OWNING - Running costs and reliability

Like the Mustang GT, the Mach 1 should be a pleasure to own - if you are sure you want a rowdy US muscle car instead of a tidy German sports car.

It has the chops – once you throw away the standard tyres and fit something stickier – to be a proper weekday commuter then a weekend track warrior. Ford doesn’t mess about with its reliability and endurance testing on these cars, especially the Mach 1. It’s got oil, diff and larger main radiators, big, fade-free brakes and plenty of power.

Plus it’s a Ford, so you can have it serviced almost anywhere and parts won’t cost a fortune. That’s a big plus over the competition.

VERDICT - Final thoughts and pick of the range

"Faster and better handling than the GT, but is it worth the hefty premium?"

The Mach 1 was designed to fill the gap between the Mustang GT and Shelby GT350. And judged on that criteria, it’s a success. It’s appreciably faster, better handling and generally more sorted than the GT. And it’s not quite as exotic as the Shelby. 

But it’s a huge chunk of change more expensive than the standard GT - £11,000 (RM62k) before you start adding options. Sure, you get the excellent MagneRide dampers, more power and the option of that rev-matching manual box. But it doesn’t feel very different, especially without the Track Pack features. 

Our advice? Buy the standard GT and spend the savings on a lifetime of stickier tyres and fuel. Or maybe a supercharger…