The 2021 Mustang Mach 1 is upon us, and Ford has hailed it as the “pinnacle” of the non-Shelby Mustang range. Sure, it’s got a bit more power and a slightly more aggressive demeanor. But what are you really getting with the Mach 1, and is it really the slam-dunk, top-dog Mustang that Ford says it is? Let’s look a little closer and find out.
2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1 vs. 2020 Mustang GT: Engine
For starters, you do get a little extra power in the new Mach 1 (20 more horses for a total of 480) thanks in no small part to a number of components adapted from the Ford Mustang Shelby GT350—including the intake manifold and engine oil cooler. The latter is responsible for an increased cooling capacity of 50 percent, which is going to make the track rats happy. Torque, however, stays the same at 420 pound-feet. Both models, however, produce peak horsepower at 7,000 rpm and peak torque at 4,600 rpm.
2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1 vs. 2020 Mustang GT: Transmission
There are, however, a plethora of other changes that separate the Mach 1 from a normal GT. The manual transmission, for one, is a major change. Instead of the MT82 and MT82-D4 manuals—which Ford is being sued over—that are standard equipment on the normal GT, the Mach 1 uses the tried and true Tremec 3160 six-speed manual out of the GT350. The transmission alone should bring a huge improvement in the driving experience, and for the first time, Ford has added rev-matching to the transmission. Many new cars with manuals come with this feature—even the Toyota Corolla.
For those unfamiliar with the art of heel and toeing, though, this will no doubt be a welcome addition. Those more interested in the automatic transmission will be pleased to learn that Ford has tweaked the 10-speed unit for greater performance in the Mach 1—and more cooling thanks to an additional trans fluid cooler. The Mustang is a relatively big and heavy sports car, meaning that the extra cooling that you can’t get on the regular GTs—again, regardless of which performance pack you opt for—won’t go unnoticed.
2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1 vs. 2020 Mustang GT: Performance
That said, Ford didn’t call it quits after fiddling with the transmission and adding extra cooling. The Mach 1 also features a much longer flat underbody and a rear wing that’s pulled from the Shelby. As a result, the Mach 1 makes 22 percent more downforce than the standard GT with the Performance Pack. The Mach 1 also comes with the latest iteration of Ford’s MagneRide suspension—that’s part of the special sauce that makes Shelbys so good to drive.
You can get MagneRide on other Mustangs as an option, as long as you choose the Performance Pack 1 or 2 kits. That said, the suspension calibration changes Ford made to the Mach 1 are unique to the model. There are also significant changes to the electric-assist power steering system, stiffer anti-roll bars, and new front springs. All of that should make the car more precise on turn-in, and make it more fun on the track or on a twisty backroad. The Performance Pack cars get tweaked stabilizer bars, but the changes are unique to each car.
2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1 vs. 2020 Mustang GT: Styling
These changes are pretty obvious, but some are worth noting. The front bumper has been re-sculpted to add extra downforce and there are some retro design cues such as the stripe that goes across the top. The vents in the front bumper, the hood, the decals on the side, the rear diffuser—which was pulled from the mighty GT500—that helps cool the car, and the side decals are all unique to the Mach 1. The Mach 1 will also come in a few colors you can’t get on the current ‘stang: Grabber Yellow and Fighter Jet Gray. Opt for the Appearance package and you’ll get those sweet black hood and side door decals, too. Their accent colors come in red, white, or orange.
The Mach 1 comes with unique wheels, too. On the standard car, the 19-inch rollers are 9.5 inches wide up front and 10 inches wide at the rear. Opt for the Mach 1’s Handling package and the 19-inch wheels measure in at 10.5 inches wide up front and 11 inches wide at the rear. Both wheel options come with Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires. Interestingly, the Mustang GT with the Performance Pack 2 comes with even stickier Pilot Sport Cup 2s.
So the Mach 1 does represent a significant step-change for the Ford Mustang, specifically over its more mundane, V-8 GT sibling. This includes unique appearance details and some real performance upgrades thanks to a bunch of parts cribbed from its Shelby-badged stablemates. The last time we pitted a non-Shelby Mustang against a Camaro 1LE, it lost. So maybe the Mach 1 has what it takes to take the fight to the pony car with a bowtie. Only time will tell.