The Mustang is a performance car that’s been around for quite some time. While you can probably find plenty of examples at your local used Ford dealer, Ford is always working to keep this iconic model fresh with each new model year. The automaker sent shockwaves through the auto enthusiast community when the Mustang Mach 1 returned for the pony car’s 2021 model year. This was always meant to be a limited edition, so we knew it couldn’t last for long, and it looks like the 2023 Mach 1 will be the last (for now, that is). The 2024 Mustang will be getting an all-new head-turning trim called Dark Horse. However, is the new Dark Horse really worthy of all the buzz it’s been getting, or are you better off picking up a used Mach 1? Let’s dive in and get the answers.
A Plethora of Ponies
The Mustang Mach 1 is not messing around when it comes to power. Ford’s 5.0L V8 engine delivers 470 hp and 410 lb-ft of maximum torque, which is a 20 hp bump over the Mustang GT. Those impressive stats are tough to beat, but Ford’s team was looking to outdo themselves with the Dark Horse. The new Mustang is also powered by a 5.0L V8, but the new fourth-generation Coyote engine is poised to provide 418 lb-ft of torque and a whopping 500 hp.
When it comes to the transmission systems, the difference is less dramatic. Like the Mach 1, the Dark Horse offers either a six-speed manual transmission or a 10-speed automatic. The manual provides drivers with complete control around every turn in the track, while the automatic is designed to be nice and smooth, with paddle shifters on the steering wheel, creating something of a compromise between a true manual and a fully automatic system.
Classic vs Modern Styling
The Mustang Mach 1 has a classic racing style with plenty of flair. Available racing stripes and bold accents on the exterior are matched up with an interior decked out in ebony and orange. The unique 3D mesh grille includes faux circular lamps that harken back to the original Mustang Mach 1. The Handling Package adds a rear Gurney Flap spoiler to the back of the car that both enhances its performance and adds to its classic race car aesthetic.
From the name, you can probably guess the basic color scheme of the Dark Horse’s exterior. But rather than go for basic black, the design team created a unique signature color for the trim: Blue Ember Metallic. Featuring both deep blue and a touch of amber, this color changes as the light shifts, giving the body extra depth and a mesmerizing appearance. Black trim around the headlights and other black accents further emphasize the “dark” in Dark Horse, and the interior is black with touches of blue to complement the signature exterior tone.
Instead of standing out boldly against the paint color, the racing stripes are also black, acting more like a shadow than a showy contrast color. Painted stripes are placed inspired by the way air flows over the Dark Horse while it’s in motion, with gloss black on the center of the hood, the roof, and the rear spoiler. Vinyl graphics emphasize the raised area on the hood, giving the body an even greater sense of musculature and depth.
Available Tech Features
Even if you buy a used model, the Mach 1 has plenty of tech features. Behind the steering wheel, designed to be within the driver’s natural line of sight, is a 12-inch digital instrument cluster. Because it’s all-digital, it’s easy to customize, letting you switch between Normal, Sport, and Track Mode and giving you the option to switch up the color scheme. Mach 1 comes standard with Ford’s SYNC 3 system for infotainment. The system is mainly controlled through a touchscreen in the center of the dash, located under the air vents between the driver and passenger seats.
In the Dark Horse’s driver-centric cockpit design, a 12.4-inch digital instrument cluster and a 13.2-inch central touchscreen are placed side by side. Both sit behind a single piece of integrated glass at the top of the dash, where the driver can easily see them without taking their eyes off the road for any longer than necessary. In addition to being practical, the placement is also designed to feel like a fighter jet cockpit, adding an extra cool factor to the Mustang’s interior.
The infotainment system also gets a significant upgrade, switching over from SYNC 3 to the next-generation SYNC 4. The first thing you might notice is the updated graphics, which look fresh and new with higher quality. With wireless Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and SYNC AppLink compatibility, you don’t need any cables to access your favorite apps through the Mustang’s interface, making it easy to blast your racing tunes or navigate your way to the track. Voice commands are also improved, giving you a way to adjust various settings without taking your eyes off the road or your hands off the wheel.
One of the biggest upgrades is that the system is now connected to the cloud. That gives it access to the internet, granting the ability to answer more questions through voice recognition, learn your driving preferences and make suggestions based on them, and receive over-the-air software updates to constantly improve its functionality. A digital owner’s manual will also be built-in, featuring both text and how-to videos in a searchable database. If you subscribe to SiriusXM, you can also take advantage of the new 360L, which gives listeners a more personalized experience with on-demand content and a curated “for you” channel.
The Mustang has been around since 1965, so it’s no surprise that Ford often serves up a heaping helping of nostalgia when designing new special editions. On top of that, the Mach 1 nameplate is almost as old as the Mustang itself. It had its first run from 1969 to 1975 and was revived in the early 2000s before making its third appearance in 2021. The modern Mach 1 is definitely a step forward when it comes to engineering and performance, but its styling is more of a remix of what came before it than a fresh, new look. Of course, if you are a fan of classic Mustangs, this might be what drew you to a used Mach 1 in the first place.
On the other hand, Dark Horse is an all-new edition, not a revival of an old nameplate. This seems to have given the Mustang team more freedom to develop something fresh and modern. Not only does the machinery under the hood bring the Mustang a whole new level of power, but touches like the cool new paint color, lightweight carbon fiber wheels, and a 3D-printed shifter all speak to a sense of experimentation, trying new things instead of following old patterns. The upgraded infotainment tech not only makes the cockpit look cooler, but it also has plenty of practical features and can continue to improve and evolve as technology moves ahead in the years to come.
These big achievements and small touches come together to make a truly exciting new iteration of the classic pony car. While Mustang will always have roots connecting it to its legendary past, it’s refreshing to see the Dark Horse accelerate into the future. Whether the advances are worth lining up for a chance to buy this new Mustang model instead of swinging by a used Ford dealer for a slightly older Mach 1 is up to you.