Ask a group of Mustang enthusiasts which current iteration of Ford‘s iconic muscle car is the best pony of the bunch, and the chances are good that they will point to the recently axed Shelby GT350 model. Both the standard version and the hotter R variant made their mark on the track, where they proved to be excellent corner-carving weapons. However, their manual-only demeanor left them out of reach of an ever-growing pool of enthusiasts, and their ultra-stiff suspensions made them unsuited for the everyday commute. But Ford thinks it has the answer to these drawbacks with the 2021 Mustang Mach 1, which makes its triumphant return for 2021. But can it really replace three models at once and still be a better performance special to live with?
Cruising Woodward In Mach 1 Style
To find out, we took the opportunity to sample one while visiting the 2021 Woodward Dream Cruise during our extensive coverage of Ford’s events for the day. The exterior styling of the Mach 1 is certainly very striking, and it even manages to go in a different direction than the GT350. Whereas the Shelby was all about taking care of business and looking sinister, the Mach 1 prefers to vibrantly express its personality much as the original 1960s version did.
The fighter Jet grey paintwork (a Mach 1 exclusive) is balanced by black contrast accents and splashes of orange striping, which is another retro-themed touch. The faux foglights play a similar role, and while plastic pieces back them, Ford reps that we have spoken with in the past claim that customers can easily remove those panels. And use the space for custom lighting conversions. The front grille has a 3D mesh effect, while the GT350’s rear diffuser is added to help balance out the look. Our tester certainly drew plenty of stares from other drivers, and it did a good job blending in with some of the wild muscle cars that dotted Woodward during our visit.
In our opinion, we will miss some of the track-ready DNA that defined the GT350, but Mach 1’s clothes can be seen as a breath of fresh air, and it allows the Mustang to boldly explore another side of itself. With the Camaro potentially entering retirement soon, the Mach 1’s only real muscle car rival is the Dodge Challenger, with the R/T Scat Pack and the R/T Scat Pack Widebody being two very prominent targets for it.
Plusher Interior Loses Precision But Gains Commuting Comfort
The biggest changes buyers will see are in the interior, with the atmosphere notably different from its Shelby badged cousins. The theme here is approachable sportiness, with the dashboard having a crisp and clean layout. Our tester had the Premium package, which gives it goodies such as a heated steering wheel and heated and cooled leather sport seats. The seats here are slightly more comfortable than the GT350’s base seats were, and that extra plushness is noticeable when cruising around town. The side bolstering is very good for a base sport seat, and we enjoyed how the thrones here blended performance-focused support with long-haul comfort. The back seats per Mustang tradition are best left for children, but they can always be used as supplemental cargo space.
The bulk of the materials are high quality, but we did notice a few low-quality plastics in the lower part of the dashboard. Premium models like our example ditch the analog gauges for slick digital instrumentation. The digital gauges are very crisp and informative, with virtually all the information being within easy eyesight. The lone exception is a pair of analog gauges between the main air vents that cover oil pressure and vacuum.
A 12.3-inch infotainment screen also comes along for the ride, with the SYNC 3 software delivering crisp feedback and plenty of lag-free performance. The menu layout is straightforward and unlike some of its competitors, finding many of the various menus was quick and easy. The Mach 1 vibes are understated, but the main giveaway is a special plaque on the passenger side of the dashboard that has the Mach 1 label and the specific production number below it. This was also used on the GT350 lineup, and its reappearance here is a nice slice of familiarity for buyers.
Mach 1 Embraces 5.0-liter Performance
The biggest change here is found under the engine bay with the GT350’s 5.2-liter supercharged “Voodoo” V8 being pitched out to pasture. A lightly tweaked 5.0 liter V8 is in its place that produced 480 hp (a gain of 20 hp) over the stock GT, which allows the Mach 1 to make the sprint to 60 mph in 4.3 seconds. Unlike the axed Bullit, the Mach 1’s manual used the same Tremec sourced six-speed as the GT350, but our tester came with the optional 10-speed automatic. While the combination here did a good job cruising up and down Woodward, that 4.3 second 0 to 60 time is a very prominent elephant in the room, especially when you consider that it’s not only slower than the GT350’s figure, but it’s also slower than the axed Bullit and the GT PP2 package.
Handling in the Mach 1 will be very familiar to those that have spent time behind the wheel of the GT350, with the Mach 1 having a very connected feel to the road. Sadly, that includes the specter of tram lining, which causes the Mach 1’s tires to eagerly follow the uneven sections of Woodward’s pavement like a fox hunting hound in pursuit of his elusive prey. Ford’s latest iteration of its magnetorheological dampers comes with three different suspension modes to match the three powertrain modes in the car. We hope to spend a little more time with the Mach 1 beyond the confines of Woodward to see if some of the other suspension tweaks that Ford engineers made to the car truly allow it to be a jack of all trades.
Pricing for the 2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1 starts at $53,400, which gets you a base no-frills model. Opt for the Premium model, and you are greeted with a slightly higher $55,300 sticker. While Ford did not have formal pricing information in the model we tested, some number crunching in the company’s online configurator revealed that a Mach 1 comparably equipped to our tester’s specifications rings in at about $61,495. That includes the $3,750 Handling Package as well as assorted taxes and fees.
That figure places it a few grand under the axed GT350 though it does fall short of matching the Bullit’s heritage-filled bargain quotient. This puts the Mach 1 in a very awkward place when compared to these two, but it does allow it to be a true contender to the Challenger as well as the Camaro (for however long that particular model remains in production.)
In the meantime, the 2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1 has all the chops needed to be a true time machine. It recreates the Mach 1’s brash demeanor in a distinctly modern package. While it does not quite have the GT350’s ferocious appetite for track work, the car is a better-rounded entry as a result, and look for the optional 10-speed automatic to lure in more young buyers that want a chance to enjoy the more potent things in life.
Carl Malek has been an automotive journalist for over 10 years. First starting out as a freelance photographer before making the transition to writing during college, his work has appeared on numerous automotive forums as well as websites such as Autoshopper.com.
Carl is also a big fan of British vehicles with the bulk of his devotion going to the Morgan Motor Company as well as offerings from Lotus, MG, and Caterham. When he is not writing about automobiles, Carl enjoys spending time with his family and friends in the Metro Detroit area, as well as spending time with his adorable pets.