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2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1 first drive review: Bullitt with butterfly wings

Sharper than a Bullitt but less aggressive than a GT350, does the Mach 1 bridge the gap between Mustang GT and Shelby, or is it simply stuck in the middle?

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This gray color is exclusive to the Mach 1's appearance package.

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

The Mach 1 aims to bridge the gap between GT and Shelby in the Ford Mustang hierarchy and essentially picks up where the Bullitt left off. Its 5.0-liter V8 has the Bullitt's 480-horsepower tune and with a few powertrain and suspension upgrades from the Shelby GT350 (RIP), it makes for a rootin'-tootin' Mustang that's easy to like.

Ford says the Mach 1 is a limited-production model, though the company's somewhat vague on exactly what that means. "We expect Mustang Mach 1 demand to outweigh supply as availability is limited by model year," a Ford spokesperson told me. Does that mean the Mach 1 is a one-year-only deal? Maybe. Ford only suggests that interested parties "get their Mach 1s now."

The 2021 Mach 1 starts at $53,915 (including $1,195 for destination), but if you want one like the car pictured here, you'll need $55,510 for the Mach 1 Premium, which unlocks the $1,000 appearance package. This gets you Ford's cool-as-hell Fighter Jet Gray exterior color, as well as a black/orange interior scheme, black/orange exterior stripe treatment and orange brake calipers. I'll admit it's a little Boomer Bullitt for my tastes, but there are whole bunch of good-looking options to pick from instead. Go wild, friends; spec yours in Grabber Yellow.

The Mach 1's interior isn't all that different from a Mustang GT, aside from a few trim-and-tape add-ons like a dark-finished instrument panel and aluminum accents. Every Mach 1 gets the Mustang's 12.3-inch reconfigurable gauge display, as well as an 8-inch central touchscreen running Ford's tried-and-true Sync 3 multimedia tech. Embedded navigation and a 12-speaker B&O sound system are optional, but Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard.

You can fit a Mach 1 with the Mustang's optional Recaro seats, which you should, since they're super supportive and comfortable. Like every Mustang, the Mach 1's interior materials are so-so, and outward visibility is just OK. Better than a Chevrolet Camaro, for sure, but that's not exactly high praise. At least the Mach 1 comes with a whole bunch of driving aids, like lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. You can even add adaptive cruise control to the mix, as well.

The 5.0-liter V8 makes 480 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque in the Mach 1.

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

For Mach 1 duty, the Mustang's 5.0-liter V8 gets the engine oil cooler and intake manifold from the Shelby GT350. This increases the engine's cooling capability by about 50%, which is great for long stints of hard driving. The aforementioned 480 hp is complemented by the same 420 pound-feet of torque you get in a base Mustang GT, which is plenty for this 3,868-pound coupe. Power delivery is strong and linear, accompanied by one of the heartiest exhaust notes in the business. Fuel economy be damned; it's hard to resist laying into the throttle at every opportunity just to hear that V8 roar, even if it does make you a total chotch.

Rather than the Getrag six-speed manual you'll find in the Mustang GT, the Mach 1 uses the stronger Tremec TR-3160 transmission from the Shelby GT350. This 6MT setup comes standard with automatic (and defeatable) rev-matching, but you sadly don't get the Shelby's super-notchy shifter. Instead, the Mach 1 has the twin-disc clutch and short-throw gearbox from the Mustang GT, complete with the Bullitt's cue-ball shifter. It's a consolation prize, but I'm not mad about it.

Buyers can also opt for a 10-speed automatic transmission, which is sort of hit or miss. Driven in the Mach 1's Normal and Sport settings, the 10AT has a tendency to hunt for the right gear and it just constantly feels like it's shifting. You can put the transmission in its own sport setting in an attempt to settle it down, but that doesn't do much. Thankfully, steering wheel-mounted paddles are standard, letting you hold gears for longer periods of time.

Wider wheels and Pilot Sport 4S tires are standard.

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

The Mach 1 comes with a larger front splitter and extended underbelly pan for improved aerodynamics. Two side heat exchangers help cool the oil in the engine and transmission, with the rear axle cooling system and diffuser borrowed from the ready-to-rumble Shelby GT500. Every Mach 1 has recalibrated electronic power steering, stiffer sway bars and springs, the Mustang GT Performance Pack 2's brake booster and staggered width (9.5-inch front, 10.0-inch rear) wheels with Michelin Pilot Sport 4S summer tires.

None of this ruins one of the Mustang's best attributes: It's a sports car you really can drive every day. The MagneRide adaptive dampers are a treat, constantly making adjustments to keep the Mach 1 smooth and composed, whether driving on a pristine track surface or gross stretches of patchy pavement. The recalibrated steering is a little too light and devoid of feedback in its Comfort tune, but the slightly better Normal and Sport settings are just a toggle of a switch away.

There's a $3,500 Handling Package available for the Mach 1 and if there's track time in your future, it's a must-have upgrade. The extended front splitter is almost comically large in comparison to the standard Mach 1, though it looks appropriate when combined with the big rear spoiler and GT500-spec rear tire spats. Ford says the Handling Pack results in 150% more downforce at speed than a Mustang GT with the Level 1 Performance Pack, compared to a 22% improvement for the standard Mach 1. More important, however, are the wider 10.5-inch front and 11.0-inch rear wheels and their super-sticky Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires.

The Mach 1 just shows how good the 5.0-liter Mustang can be.

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

Honestly, this wheel/tire upgrade alone is worth the cost of admission; Cup 2s are some of the best performance tires money can buy. There's grip for days and with the Mach 1 in Track mode this big coupe feels surprisingly nimble around the tight and technical Streets of Willow course at Willow Springs International Raceway. The manual transmission's no-lift upshifts and rev-matching downshifts are great for track use, though the 10-speed gearbox shines here, as well. The automatic executes perfectly timed gearchanges and quick requests from the paddles are met with immediate action.

The Handling Package will get you close-ish to the feeling of a GT350, but there's still a pretty big disparity between the two. On the other hand, the Mach 1 is sharper than any other 5.0-liter Mustang, but without the Handling Package, I'm not sure it's so significantly better than a GT with the Performance Pack and MagneRide dampers to really be worth the added cost.

Of course, the Mach 1 won't be around forever and, as with all things Mustang, there will be enough consumer interest for Ford to find a buyer for every example it builds. The Mach 1 splits the difference between GT and Shelby exactly as intended. Where it falls on that spectrum doesn't really matter at all.