Track-focused upgrades imbue the Mustang with greater precision, without compromising its charm. Enjoy it while you can

What is it?

Ask anyone at the Blue Oval and they’ll tell you there’s plenty of life left in the Ford Ford Mustang yet - but given that Ford  has promised its entire European line-up will be available as a plug-in hybrid or full EV by 2026, you can’t help feeling time is running out for the naturally aspirated V8. Best make sure this latest pony car is a corker, then. 

The Ford Mustang Mach 1 effectively replaces the Mustang GT350 that went off sale in the US last year, and is no mere styling pack. A combination of transmission, suspension and bodywork upgrades make this the most track-friendly slice of American muscle Ford has ever officially sold on this side of the Atlantic. 

A bespoke front splitter, underfloor chassis tray and rear diffuser deliver a combined 22% of extra downforce over the regular Mustang GT, while the new-look front end has been sculpted for optimum aerodynamic performance. The front and rear subframes have been uprated, and the MagneRide adaptive suspension has been given a unique Mach 1 calibration, with stiffer springs and tighter anti-roll bars. 

Power isn’t the name of the game here, although the 5.0-litre engine has received a mild power hike. A new intake manifold, oil cooler and oil filter have helped liberate an additional 11bhp over the Mustang GT, for a total output of 454bhp and 390lb ft. Drive is sent to the rear wheels via a Shelby-sourced six-speed manual transmission, which now includes rev matching and a short-throw shifter for sharper gearchanges. 

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What's it like?

It's immediately obvious the upgrades have had the intended effect, the uniquely calibrated steering providing much more feel without adding artificial weight. This is still a heavy car with most of its weight at the front, but overall balance is surprisingly well maintained.

The wider wheels (up from 9.5in to 10.5in at the front and 10in to 11in at the rear) provide noticeably more contact with the road. Driven with a focus on lap time rather than drift angle, the rear doesn’t feel as loose as you’d expect from a car with a reputation for “watch this” moments that end up on YouTube - though it can still be lairy, and the limits of grip quickly run out when pressing on with steering lock applied. 

The eight-cylinder soundtrack can make you feel like a hooligan at any speed, sounding menacing at idle and truly raucous as you climb towards the redline. Rev matching is handled well, not blipping while you’re still mid-gearchange, and the shifter itself feels wonderfully precise now.  

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It lacks the torque of turbocharged rivals, but acceleration is linear, plentiful and perfectly in tune with your pedal inputs. The combination is what makes the Mustang so appealing to so many, and that remains true here.

Equally impressive are the Mach 1’s road manners. You don’t need to be on the limit to appreciate its improved control weights, and in its most comfortable setting the adaptive suspension copes well with most road surfaces and feels rather relaxed at a motorway cruise. The sportier modes let you feel every imperfection through your backside, but you’ll want to swap when the roads allow to get the best from it. Just be prepared for the thirst that comes with exuberant use: after a track session, a full tank of fuel indicated 83 miles remaining.

Inside, things haven’t changed much from the Mustang GT, with some aluminium trim and a cue ball shift knob being the only real additions for the Mach 1. The digital instrument cluster perfectly blends modern technology and old-school analogue dials, but elsewhere you get hard-moulded plastics, an overabundance of dashboard switches and buttons, and a Sync 3 infotainment touchscreen that’s rather compact and graphically basic. The cabin is still roomy, with four usable seats and plenty of storage, but anyone expecting a certain level of material quality from a fifty grand sports car might be disappointed.


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Should I buy one?

The Mach 1’s improvements can be felt on the road as well as on track, and they do nothing to dent the Mustang’s enduring muscle car appeal. 

But while sales of plug-in hybrids and EVs are helping Ford balance its emissions output, it seems safe to say this won’t be the last of the breed - meaning you’d need to consider at least occasional circuit use to justify the £11,000 premium it carries over the standard car.

Then again, with the number of UK-bound naturally aspirated V8 sports cars now in single digits, the temptation to get one while you can remains strong.

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artill 13 October 2021

Have Ford fixed the gearing in the manual? The current GT has stupid long gearing which robs much of the fun. You cant legally max the revs in any gear other than first, and as its so long it feels quite flat at lower revs, not something you expect in a 5.0 V8.

Other than that, its great, but getting a lot more expensive. Those 2016 cars launched at £35k look amazing value these days. 

But, its 2021, and no one else lets you have a naturally aspirated V8 and a manual box do they? So we better enjoy them for the short time they have left on sale in the UK