The Ford Mustang started life as a simple, somewhat sporty 2+2 back when such things were still novel. For 2021, Ford’s segment-defining pony car offers rear-wheel-drive performance (and drop-top options) for just about any taste and budget, from the newly revived Mach 1 to the face-melting Shelby GT500, both of which leave the factory with powerful V8s and sophisticated, multi-mode independent suspensions – far cries from the 6-cylinder, solid axle fashion statement that debuted in 1964.
While the formula may have evolved over the decades, the Mustang – like the competing Chevrolet Camaro and (sort-of) Dodge Challenger – still offers some of the best bang-for-your-buck performance in the enthusiast marketplace. There’s no electrified variant just yet; the Mach-E crossover is a Mustang in name only, and we cover that in a separate review.
The current-generation Mustang was introduced for the 2015 model year, so it’s entering the twilight of its life. We expect the 2021 updates will be the last of any significance before a redesigned model is introduced.
What’s new for 2021?
For 2021, Ford has dropped the Shelby GT350 variant and its glorious, 5.2-liter, flat-plane-crank V8 from the lineup entirely. The Bullitt model, which honored the Mustang GT390 in the 1968 film of the same name, is also toast. The revived-for-2021 Mach 1, which borrows the Bullitt’s up-rated 5.0-liter V8 and the GT350’s 6-speed manual, now bridges the gap between the GT and the supercharged, 760-horsepower GT500.
What’s the interior and in-car technology like?
By and large, the Mustang’s interior is fine for a pony car, but like many cars that are designed to deliver fun on a budget, it’s not nearly as well-appointed as conventional sedans or crossovers at the equivalent price point. This interior was acceptable when this generation debuted for the 2015 model year, but it comes off a bit low-rent for 2021. We’re not huge fans of the standard seats, as they seem a bit overstuffed and unsupportive, but the available Recaro sport buckets (whether cloth or leather) are snug and pleasantly comfortable, even for long hauls. Unfortunately, they have a smaller range of adjustability.
Ford’s Sync infotainment system is robust but imperfect, offering lots of flexibility at the expense of ultimate performance, but the relatively small touchscreen and last-generation hardware and software stand out in a market where in-car technology moves much more quickly than just about any other aspect of vehicle development. We expect Ford to resolve these shortcomings with the introduction of its fourth-generation Sync suite when the Mustang is redesigned.
How big is the Mustang?
The Mustang is about the same size as a Chevrolet Camaro – its sole competitor in the traditional pony car segment. Both are smaller and lighter than the Dodge Challenger, which isn’t saying much; it’s effectively an entire size class above the Ford and Chevy. The Mustang’s curb weight falls between the other two.
The Challenger is the best option for those who plan to buy one car to do everything, as it’s the most comfortable commuter, complete with a usable back seat and sedan-like trunk. The Camaro would be at the bottom of the pile with its poor visibility, cramped front footwell and tiny trunk. That puts the Mustang in the middle, but it’s certainly closer to the Camaro in terms of functionality. For instance, its back seat may technically be bigger than the Chevy’s, but its mini buckets are still best suited to kids, dogs or adults who don’t mind slouching. The rear headroom issue can be solved by dropping the top on convertible models, but don’t count on using a Mustang as a family hauler on the regular.
What is the Mustang’s performance and fuel economy?
The Mustang is offered with a choice of three engines. The standard engine is a 2.3-liter turbocharged “EcoBoost” four-cylinder making 310 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque. The EcoBoost High Performance package ups output to 330 hp. Both are capable of hitting 60 mph in around 5 seconds. A six-speed manual is standard with a 10-speed automatic optional, though a six-speed auto is technically offered for fleet-spec convertibles. Models equipped with the 2.3L engine are rated between 20 and 23 mpg in the city, 27 and 32 mpg on the highway, and 23 to 25 mpg combined, depending on body style and engine/transmission choice.
Ford’s 5.0-liter “Coyote” V8 is standard on GT models and produces 460 hp and 420 lb-ft. It should hit 60 mph in the low-to-mid 4-second range. It has the same transmission choices as the EcoBoost. With the 10-speed automatic, GT models are rated at 16 mpg city, 25 mpg highway and 19 mpg combined for the fastback, 15/24/18 for the coupe.
The new Mustang Mach 1 gets a version of the Coyote good for 480 horsepower. Ford has not yet announced numbers for the Mach 1, but last year’s Bullitt (which used the same variant of the 5.0) was rated at the same 15 mpg city, 25 mpg highway and 18 mpg combined as the GT fastback with the six-speed manual. The Bulllitt also went from zero to 60 mph in the low 4-second range.
The true pinnacle of 2021 Mustang performance is the Shelby GT500, which makes a whopping 760 hp and 625 lb-ft. thanks to its supercharged, 5.2-liter V8. While it rides on the same fundamental chassis, the GT500 is almost a distinct model from the more run-of-the-mill Mustangs, and among its many other upgrades, comes standard with a seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission. No manual is available on the big snake. It will run a sub-4.0-second 0-60 and knock off the quarter mile in a little over 11 seconds. That’s quick. If you’re worried about fuel economy, the GT500 is not for you.
What is the Mustang like to drive?
EcoBoost models are surprisingly fun to drive, offering solid acceleration and quick response thanks to their ample torque. The 2.3-liter’s stand-out characteristic is its exhaust note, which sounds more like it belongs to a hot hatch than a pony car. GT models are heavier in the nose and not quite as quick to turn in, but the 5.0-liter’s ample power and torque combine with its linear, high-revving delivery to make for one of the best affordable V8s on the market.
The Mustang is offered with both performance package upgrades and dedicated enthusiast models for those who want even more speed and handling. The latter comes at the expense of comfort in both EcoBoost and GT Performance package models. GT models, especially with the firmed-up suspension, can be a bit punishing on rough roads. Fortunately, those who truly want the best of both worlds can (and should) opt for either the EcoBoost High Performance or Mach 1 variants, both of which are equipped with the exceptional MagneRide adaptive suspension. It’s a shame it’s not more widely available.
The EcoBoost High Performance model gets extra power, a sharpened chassis, and the aforementioned MagneRide. The HPP also boasts a “square” tire setup (all four tires are the same diameter/width), which reduces understeer as you approach its limits. The Mach 1 also gets extra power, plus it incorporates all of the goodies found in the GT’s available Performance package, plus MagneRide and some other niceties. Both also get super-sticky Michelin summer tires for that extra edge.
The GT500 is in another league entirely. This is a dedicated performance model, with MagneRide, available carbon fiber wheels and extreme-performance summer tires. This is a track-ready monster, and thanks to its dual-clutch automatic, can crack off consistently fast laps or quarter-mile passes.
What more can I read?
A blend of Shelby parts pump up the Mach 1.