Ford has boldly claimed that the new Mach 1 is the best-handling factory produced Mustang ever to come to Australia – we put that claim to the test.
Developed partially as a replacement for Australia’s own XR-rated Ford Falcon sports sedans, the sixth-generation Mustang really is the first ‘pony car’ that could have competed head-to-head with Australia’s own muscle cars.
However, while the five-litre Mustang GT has firmly established itself as a sports car of choice in Australia, the model has lived with a reputation of being a less-than-stellar track vehicle from the factory. Enter the Mach 1, which borrows liberally from the Shelby parts catalogue to create a hardier Mustang that can stand up to track abuse.
In fact, Ford claims the 2021 Mustang Mach 1 is the best-handling ‘pony car’ ever to come to Australia in factory form. That’s a bold claim, but one Ford Australia stood behind when launching the Mach 1 on road and track at Sydney Motorsport Park.
More affordable than similarly track-oriented two-door beasts like the BMW M2 CS, the Mustang Mach 1 is visually identifiable by a number of unique styling cues.
These start with a unique front bumper – which nods its head to the original Mach 1 – a set of 19-inch alloy wheels that are wider by half an inch (though the tyres are the same size) and the Mach 1 logo on the back.
Our colour of choice would be Fighter Jet grey with the appearance pack that adds orange highlights ($1,000). Regardless of the spec, though, the Mach 1 looks suitably tougher than a regular GT.
There are plenty of parts on the spec list that Ford’s claim that this is the best Mustang to date sound realistic. The front subframe is lifted from America’s Shelby GT350 and the rear comes from the even faster GT500. There’s also a new steering calibration for sharper response.
In addition, the Mach 1 gets bespoke suspension with lower and stiffer front springs, new swaybars and retuned Magneride dampers all with regular track use in mind.
That said, the tweaks haven’t hurt the Mach 1’s on-road manners, in fact it rode more deftly than the standard GT with far greater control over large compressions. There was only a small sacrifice in comfort, with NVH largely on-par with a regular GT.
But the best part about the suspension tweaks is that this Mustang now moves as one. The front end responds crisply on turn-in inspiring confidence to push harder, do so and Mach 1 sits flat through the mid-corner and really allows the driver to choose what happens on exit.
Compared to the regular GT, the Mach 1 eggs the driver on to turn in faster and commit more where the standard car rolls and responds unpredictably to throttle inputs. That said, no suspension changes can help the Mach 1 outrun its 1,754kg kerb weight which affected its ability to deal with fast off-camber corners.
If you found yourself chasing times at a sprint event or timed trackday, the Mach 1’s weight could be a source of frustration. That pork keeps this pony from feeling as sharp as a Lotus or Porsche Cayman on track.
The flip side is the Mustang takes itself less seriously – it wants you to forget about the stopwatch, kick the rear end out and party.
That is despite our Aussie Mach 1s missing out on the 3.73:1 ratio Torsen limited-slip differential, as was originally advertised to be fitted to Australian cars as it is for their American-market counterparts. But in final form, this wasn’t to be, and Australian-market Mach 1s retain the Mustang’s standard clutch-type diff with a 3.55:1 ratio.
In practice, this didn’t matter with the Mach 1 never struggling to find grip (save for deliberate provocations) or overheating during track sessions. However, customers that ordered their Mach 1 before the specifications were revised have been handed a sweetener in the form of free scheduled servicing for three years.
Since Mustang GT’s 2018 power bump, the pony car has struggled to stay cool on track, this was particularly pronounced in the ten-speed auto. To remedy this, Ford has added three extra coolers to all Mach 1s. One for the engine oil (increasing cooling capacity by 50 per cent), one for the limited-slip differential and a final to keep transmission temperatures down on both manual and auto cars.
The five-litre V8 also performed admirably when chasing the red line; the extra 6kW over the standard GT wasn’t noticeable but the added snarl from the GT350’s cold-air intake made the 345kW of power and 556Nm of torque that little bit more special.
Ford has fettled with the Mach 1’s exhaust adding larger 4.5-inch tips and a new central resonator that is bordering on anti-social in Track mode. Switch the drive mode back to Sport or Normal and the Mach 1’s hard-edged soundtrack softens into a gurgle that warms the soul like a sip of good whiskey.
Within the drive modes you can separately configure the exhaust’s volume separately, something Ford hasn’t chosen to offer in cars like the Focus ST.
While Ford does offer the Mach 1 with the ten-speed torque converter automatic, it’s the six-speed manual that impresses. The new Tremec ‘box is heftier than the standard GT’s to shift, it also has a longer first gear, but then the ratios are more closely stacked through the box.
On paper the difference is slight, in practice this means you get to use each of the gears more often. Heel and toe downshifts are one of the reasons to buy a manual, but the Mach 1 packs a good rev-match system that can be turned on-and-off at will.
The Mach stops well thanks to six-piston Brembo front calipers. The set-up is ostensibly identical to the regular GT, but the Mach 1’s pedal remained more consistent thanks to added brake cooling ducts.
In 2017 the Mustang was only able to score three stars in the Australian ANCAP and that rating remains. It does pack features like forward AEB with pedestrian and cyclist detection and a lane-trace assist. However, the Mach 1 is not fitted with adaptive cruise control or audible rear parking sensors.
Inside, the Mustang echoes the retro exterior with elements influenced by the original ‘pony car’. The Mach 1 builds on this with the beautiful white gear knob and a set of Recaro bucket seats ($3,000) which are a must-have.
But the Mustang’s (relatively) affordable price point occasionally shines through, with noticeable plastic shifting noises evident in the cabin when hitting sharp bumps on the road.
Luckily the technology is nothing like the original ‘Stang. A 12-inch digital driver’s display boasts customisable colours and live data on air, coolant and oil temperature. It also responds to the drive mode, transforming into a simplified racecar-like cluster in Track mode.
There’s also an eight-inch touchscreen running Ford’s Sync 3 infotainment system with live traffic functionality for the navigation, along with wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring.
For two people, the Mustang is a fairly practical vehicle with reasonable door bins and two centre cup-holders. The nature of the athletic coupe means that there have to be some compromises for space, though, with no tray to store a phone and only a small centre storage bin.
The rear seats are best left unused, especially if someone over six-foot-two is driving. That said, if the front passenger is shorter or willing to compromise on their comfort then the Mustang would be enough for three people on short journeys.
However, the rear seats function best for extra luggage storage that amplifies the already generous 408L boot. The Mustang Mach 1 is easily big enough for a couple to head off on a weekend away. The rear seats even fold, meaning you could go shopping at Ikea or pack a bicycle.
Keeping a V8 Mustang satiated with premium petrol is always going to be expensive, especially when 98-octane is required –but our highway-biased road loop in the ten-speed auto showed that the Pony can be reasonable. We managed 10.8L/100km, better than the 12.4L/100km claim.
Of course, when opened up on track the Mustang guzzled unleaded at a rate of knots, blowing through three-quarters of its 61L tank in an hour of lapping.
Luckily, Ford is a big company and that means there are plenty of dealers in Australia. Servicing is also affordable. Servicing intervals are 12 months or 10,000km – whichever comes first. Ford Australia cap the price of the first four services at $299 apiece, for a four year/40,000km scheduled maintenance cost of $1,196. That’s very affordable for a car like this.
Ford also backs the Mustang with a five year, unlimited kilometre warranty that covers racetrack use if the car is driven in accordance with the owner’s manual.
Ford has done a bang-up job in taking the normal Mustang GT and turning it into a car worthy of going to the track in the form of the Mach 1.Driving one in anger should put a massive smile on anyone’s face, even if it’s not the world’s most sophisticated vehicle.
That rambunctious V8 breathes that little bit better, and the extra noise afforded by the exhaust is addictive. The fact that you get to row through the six-speed Tremec gearbox even more with its shorter ratios is always a bonus.
Yes, the weight of the Mustang does still hold it back compared to lighter track specials. But it’s unlikely buyers will be cross-shopping the two.
What matters is that the tweaks made to the cooling system and the improved suspension make the Mach 1 not just a more accomplished car on the track, but also more enjoyable on the road.
Variant tested MACH 1
Key specs (as tested)
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