Can the 2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1 Muscle up for Racetrack Duty?

2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1 track article highlights:

  • I got a chance to evaluate the 2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1 at the Road America track in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin
  • In addition to its standard features, some of which come from the Shelby GT350 and GT500, the Mach 1 at the track had several option packages, including the Handling Package
  • Although it takes time to get used to it, with the Handling Package the 2021 Mustang Mach 1 makes a solid case for itself as a track car

Long before it had to share part of its name with an electric crossover, the Mach 1 gave the Mustang some extra racing-ready performance. And when Ford resurrected the trim for 2021, it promised the new Mach 1 would love up to its classic forebears. But can the 2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1 handle itself on a racetrack, or is this pony all show and no go? To answer that, I recently went to Wisconsin’s Road America to lap this reborn muscle car.

The 2022 Ford Mustang Mach 1 buffs up the Bullitt with some Shelby supplements

The front 3/4 view of a gray-and-black 2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1 with Handling Package at Road America
2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1 with Handling Package front 3/4 | Matthew Skwarczek, MotorBiscuit
2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1 Premium
Engine5.0-liter V8
Horsepower480 hp
Torque420 lb-ft
TransmissionsSix-speed manual
10-speed automatic
Curb weight3868 lbs (manual)
3913 lbs (automatic)
0-60 mph time4.3 seconds (manual, Car and Driver)
PriceAt time of testing: $51,720 (base)/$62,745 (as-tested)
At time of writing: $55,300 (base)/$65,540 (as-tested)

One year after Ford released the original Mustang Mach 1, the trim had proven popular enough to knock the GT off the order forms. The 2021 Mach 1 does something similar, though not to the GT. Instead, it replaces the Bullitt and Shelby GT350 as the stepping-stone trim between the GT and range-topping GT500. And while it’s technically not a trim, the Mach 1’s introduction was also the GT Performance Package 2’s goodbye.

Unfortunately, the 2021 Mustang Mach 1 doesn’t have the same flat-plane-crank V8 as the sadly-departed GT350s. Instead, it has the same mildly-tweaked V8 as the Bullitt. However, the 2021 Mach 1 isn’t merely a re-skinned Bullitt. Rather, think of it as a Bullitt enhanced with select parts from the GT350, GT350R, and, depending on option choices, the GT500.

For example, rather than use the Bullitt’s six-speed manual, the 2021 Mustang Mach 1 has the GT350’s stick. It also has the GT350’s engine-oil cooler, as well as the GT500’s transmission-oil cooler, rear-axle cooler, and brake cooling ducts, Road & Track reports. The 2021 Mach 1’s Shelby part mixing doesn’t stop there, though. It also has the GT350’s front and rear subframes with their stiffer bushings and the GT500’s rear diffuser and wheel spats, Car and Driver says.

And if you want even more Shelby goodies, there’s always the Handling Package.

The Handling Package really gears the 2021 Mustang Mach 1 up for racetrack

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Besides the Bullitt engine, the 2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1 also gets that car’s MagneRide dampers and Performance Pack 1 goodies. That means a front strut-tower brace, larger rear sway bar, bigger radiator, upgraded brake booster, Brembo brakes, and stiffer front springs. Ford also reprograms the power steering, traction control, stability control, ABS, and driving modes. And not only do manual Mach 1s have limited-slip differentials, but they also have (defeatable) automatic rev-matching.

The 2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1 Premium I drove at Road America had a few extra options, though. In addition to the rear seat delete, it also had the optional Recaro leather-trimmed sport seats and voice-activated navigation. It had the Mach 1 Appearance and Elite Packages, too, which added the ‘Mach 1’ decals, some orange accents, and a 12-speaker Bang & Olufsen stereo. But the most expensive option was the Handling Package.

Think of the Handling Package as the 2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1’s version of the now-gone PP2. Externally, the muscle car gets a front splitter, wider- and lighter-than-stock aluminum wheels with Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires, and a rear spoiler with the GT500’s Gurney flap. As standard, Ford claims the 2021 Mach 1 makes 22% more downforce than the regular Mustang GT PP1. With the Handling Package, that jumps up to 150%, R&T says. Also, the Handling Package adds “special chassis tuning” and adjustable top-strut mounts; the latter are also from Shelby, Car and Driver reports.

With the Handling Package, the 2021 Mustang Mach 1 Premium really galloped around Road America

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Full disclaimer, I could only get one lap of the 4.042-mile, 14-turn Road America course when I drove the Mach 1. And the intent was evaluation, not outright competition. But that one 70-75%-maximum lap was enough to understand what this Mustang is like on a circuit.

Bigger and heavier than something like the BRZ or Supra, the Mustang Mach 1 never really shrinks around you. Though to be fair, the GT350 and Bullitt weren’t exactly delicate, scalpel-like sports cars, either. However, much like MotorTrend, once I got past the initial “heavy and awkward” sense of the thing, its strengths started coming through.

Due to its suspension design, the 2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1 has a touch of initial understeer, Car and Driver says. But the upshot is extreme stability and balance at speed. And with an LSD that MT calls “freaking magic” and those Michelin tires, the Mach 1 puts its power down extremely well. Even on a cool, rainy afternoon, the Mach 1 gripped ridiculously hard and never felt flummoxed around Road America’s twists and turns.

Although it’s a muscle/pony car, the 2021 Mustang Mach 1 has surprisingly light steering, even in Track Mode. There aren’t Miata levels of feedback here, but there’s some; it’s also extremely accurate. And once you get used to it, the Mach 1’s other great attributes make holding racing lines pretty easy. Tightening the line is as easy as prodding the throttle, but because the car’s so stable, the rotation is never frightening. But if you do go in a little hot, the brakes are incredibly strong.

Speaking of the powertrain, I kept automatic rev-matching on and was glad of it. Not only does it work smoothly and prevent chassis upsets, but it makes you feel like a driving superhero. Also, the cueball-topped shifter has a satisfying heft and notchiness that makes it a blast to use. And while the 2021 Mustang Mach 1 doesn’t have a flat-plane engine, the 5.0-liter V8’s deep, throaty roar makes one heck of a consolation prize. Furthermore, its low-end torque makes powering out of corners a cinch.

Is this a track car worth buying?

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It took me half a lap to understand that the 2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1 was more capable than me. If that’s not a thumbs-up for a track car, I don’t know what is. And let’s not forget, this Mustang ran a 7:58.29 Nürburgring lap, R&T notes. That time was in a manual car, BTW.

Admittedly, there are lighter, cheaper track-capable cars out there, like the Supra, BRZ, and Miata. I drove all of those at Road America on the same day as the Mach 1 and felt more confident earlier in their seats. As a track-day newbie, I’d probably get one of those cars instead.

However, if what you want is a muscle car that won’t embarrass itself on a twisty track, the 2021 Mustang Mach 1 makes a lot of sense. No, it’s not quite as special as the GT350, but it’s a more capable car than the Bullitt, R&T says. And while it’s more expensive than a GT PP1, it has more equipment and higher limits. Plus, as fast as the GT500 is, it’s also even pricier, not to mention overkill for most drivers, especially if they want a commuter-friendly car. And it offers a stick.

The 2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1, therefore, won’t be everybody’s first choice for a track car. But its stable, easy-going, approachable nature does make it a solid pick regardless. This pony’s got some moves.

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