Test Drive: 2023 Ford Mustang Mach 1

A robust vehicle that keeps the driver engaged

Since its introduction in 1964, the Ford Mustang has continued to push the limits of design, performance, culture and subculture. It seems to fit in no matter where it goes, whether it’s in Hollywood or an underground car meet. And though Ford seems to offer countless unique Mustang variants, there’s one version that stands head and shoulders above the rest: the Mustang Mach 1.

Other Mustangs may be faster. And others, more exclusive. But the 2023 Mustang Mach 1 takes the best bits of each and combines them into one incredible whole. Its engine is the 5.0-liter V8 sourced from the Bullitt, rated at 480hp at 7000rpm and 420lb-ft of torque at a lofty 4600rpm. A 10-speed automatic transmission is optional, but both of our Mach 1 test vehicles came with the Tremec 3160 six-speed manual and transmission oil-cooler from the Shelby 350. The rear subframe has been uprated with components designed for the Shelby GT500. Not to mention the robust suite of suspension, brake and steering upgrades exclusive to the Mach 1.

Our drive of the standard 2023 Mustang Mach 1 coincided with the arrival of record-setting rainstorms. Rain-slicked roads, low visibility and flooded streets plagued the experience. Even with its advanced traction control systems, the Mach 1’s combination of high power, rear-wheel drive and high-performance summer tires mandated we take things slowly. Even at low speeds, the Mach 1 provides a sense of occasion, with its visceral engine note, notch-perfect stick shift and deeply bolstered Recaro seats. There’s ample tactile feedback to keep the driver feeling engaged, and it’s easy to keep the Mach 1 pointing in the intended direction.

In drier weather, we took out the higher-spec version, the Mustang Mach 1 with the Handling Package. It may very well be the ultimate Mustang, taking the basic Mach 1 parts and adding a full complement of functional aero work, and then some. The visible vents are functional, directing air as needed to help with cooling. It boasts revised wheels, with stickier Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires, plus the rear tire spats from a Shelby GT500. Its rear Gurney flap looks excessive, but when paired with the rest of the body, helps increase downforce by 150 percent when compared to a standard Mustang GT.

It’s extreme. The engine note is ferocious. On a straight, open road the Mach 1 almost builds speed quickly, taking just over four seconds to accelerate from zero to 60. But what really demands attention is the grip. Driven at speed, all these upgrades work in harmony to practically slam the car into the asphalt. And through a fast, curvy road, this Mustang effortlessly responds to every input, maintaining its balance as you flick it from corner to corner. But even at speed, this Mustang Mach 1 feels poised and composed. It communicates exactly what it’s doing, exactly when it’s doing it, delivering a heightened sense of exhilaration while allowing the driver to feel like everything is under control.

The Mustang Mach 1 plays the role of the rebel who tries to inject some fun into the day. And Ford is committed to keeping the Mustang by keeping future iterations gas-powered, even as its direct competitors embrace full electrification. This rambunctious, rebellious nature of the Ford Mustang Mach 1 delivers what many auto writers like to call “the fizz.” It’s this “fizz” that takes a sports car from good to great. And the Mustang Mach 1 is beyond great. It’s a car that not only celebrates the driver—it celebrates driving itself.

Images courtesy of Ford