Ford claims its Mustang Mach 1 is both the "best-handling factory-produced" and "most track capable" Mustang to arrive in Australia.
The power behind the bold claims is a raft of up-spec componentry that's been fitted. The majority of these goodies have been pilfered from the Shelby GT350/500 program, and are beyond basic bolt-on modifications.
Before we get to the drive, let's quickly understand what's been done and why.
We'll start with cooling. Heat is the enemy of any modern car on a racetrack, so the regular Mustang isn't alone in that category. There's only a small selection of sub-$100K cars that are truly track-capable.
After a quick discussion in the Sydney CarAdvice office, it seems you need to spend six figures to get something properly suited to hard circuit driving.
|2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1|
|Engine configuration||V8 petrol|
|Drive type||Rear-wheel drive|
|Fuel consumption (combined cycle claim)||12.5L/100km|
|Fuel tank size||61L|
|Key competitors||BMW M2, Toyota Supra|
That's where the 2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1 differs. Not only is there the usual fare of an auxiliary engine oil cooler, but there's also a dedicated cooling set-up for the transmission and the differential. I'd take a stab and say it's probably one of few cars on the market with such a comprehensive factory-fitted cooling package.
On the topic of dissipating heat, we'll give the clutch a mention too. More importantly, the fact the Mach 1 rocks a twin-plate item. Again, a common modification in the aftermarket scene – that's already been sorted out of the box.
With a long bow, you can throw in underside aerodynamic trays to flow air into six-piston Brembo brakes in the same category too.
In terms of suspension hardware, it's a mix of unique elements and parts bin pieces. Adaptive dampers feature a unique Mach 1 tune, the springs coiled around them also bespoke, as are the swaybars and hardness of its bushings.
What's more exciting, however, is the introduction of Shelby GT500 subframes and toe-link components. They're designed to keep the steering sharp and precise under big lateral loads.
For the expense to introduce them, I doubt they offer any more mass-showroom appeal. However, it's the sort of hardware that'll be noticed by a keen weekend warrior, who's maybe dabbled with a cheeky track day or two.
Into the mix there's an improved brake booster to handle high-load braking efforts, a short-shifter for the six-speed manual transmission, and 22 per cent more downforce thanks to aerodynamic tweaks both visible and invisible (or underneath).
A lot of hardware, then, and we haven't started on the motor. Under the bonnet lies a 345kW/556Nm version of the same 5.0-litre naturally aspirated V8 that powers the regular Mustang. The mechanical package may seem familiar to some, because it's essentially identical to what was used in the previous Bullitt special edition.
Considering the Mach 1 retails for $83,365 – or near-on $20K more than a regular Mustang – there's value here. The cream on the top is the fact only 700 cars are coming to Australia, so consider the exclusivity a value-add given the mechanical package.
Our testing venue was Sydney Motorsport Park and the full 4.5km Brabham Circuit. As we were driving a pre-production vehicle, it meant we couldn't go hell-for-leather. Instead, we had to pick our moments: enjoy the technical sections of the track at pace (away from mission control) and prevaricate through the straightaways under watchful eyes.
The first tangible gain felt is more bite on turn-in. There's a new degree of sharpness from its front end, which translates to more grip. The lack of movement also does wonders for the confidence of a novice driver (yours truly), as it lets you explore more speed and the sensations that come with it. The regular car does have the tendency to understeer earlier than expected, but none of that is found here.
It's also far flatter through the quicker sections, which again prevents roll from corrupting your senses. The best way to explain the uprated chassis is its ability to provide clearer feedback to the driver. Detecting moments of relevance, such as the rear axle running short of grip, are blatantly obvious given how pronounced they sit against more general movement (or lack thereof).
You feel more of the things you want to be feeling, instead of oodles of pointless pitch and yaw events that do nothing more than raise unnecessary concern. While a regular Mustang GT and a Mach 1 are not worlds apart, a part-time track-day warrior will extract much more 'learning-per-lap' in the latter.
Finding the upper reaches is far easier, despite the well of performance being far deeper. It's fascinating how some buttoning down – in areas both big and small – does wonders for the confidence a car provides, and not just the seconds it may save on a stopwatch.
Speaking of time, the extra grip reserves will likely transpire to faster times. I'd be interested to know how much by, and it's something we'll attempt to show in due course.
Steering weight is adjustable, as is usual. With your personal preference aside, it feels direct and honest enough on the track. My only reservation is a slow 16:1 steering ratio, which feels more at home on a lazy highway cruiser than a track-prepped offering.
Performance from the hopped-up V8 sees it land in the sweet spot. The homebrew supercharged R-Spec feels a touch too big for the package, despite being hilariously tyre-smokey at every opportunity it sees.
In the Mach 1, the extra tyre width keeps up with the added grunt, which is felt from around 2000rpm. Interestingly, the deeper you peel into the mid-range, the more commonality is felt between it and the GT.
From about 5500rpm until redline, however, the Mach 1 strikes back and feels like it's now in the headspace to rev past the 7500-ish limiter. The engine package feels like a top-and-tail treatment, which is fine by me.
Something else that turns the wick up is the ability to flat-shift between gears. It means you don't lift between clutching each gear: just keep the jandal down, clutch, bang third, and keep calm. As someone plagued with way too much mechanical sympathy and general overthought, this felt worrying to begin with.
However, it becomes fun when you realise you're not actually destroying the car like you would be in anything else. The engine's brain figures everything out cleverly, and ensures you snatch the next gear with the utmost momentum.
The gear change is short and positive, but selecting third does take some getting used to. Its location is probably half a centimetre off where the mechanism naturally centres to, so rowing from two to three requires some thought.
Considering it's a pre-production car, it could just be a quirk. Something else to check on when we get our hands on a production example.
The thought of a Mustang with track manners sounds appealing. Digging just under the surface gives Ford's bold claim clout. After a whole hour of fairly action-packed driving, the Mustang didn't show any signs of well-doneness. That's a big departure from when Josh Dowling drove the R-Spec and noted that "The V8 got too hot after just one lap". The extra cooling is just one part.
The handling package is another part that should bring this car into the sights of those keen to explore their abilities in a controlled environment.