Over the past few years, it’s become clear that automobile manufacturers are making the switch from internal combustion to partially electric and, eventually, completely electrified models. As one of the world’s largest manufacturers, Ford was destined to be a prominent company in the industry-changing transition. It had made EVs before, but according to Hau Thai-Tang, Ford’s Chief Product Development Officer, “Our first-generation battery-electric vehicle started its life as a product that we needed to do to be compliant in the zero-emissions states.”
If Ford was going to make a mass-market EV, it needed to be more than appeasement on four wheels. It had to stand out and excite people. The 2021 Mustang Mach-E did that – a little too well. When the blue oval officially announced its name in 2019, the internet was set ablaze with the fiery anger of Mustang owners and fans outraged by Ford’s decision to associate the legendary nameplate with an all-electric, four-door SUV that was available with all-wheel drive.
Cyber rage aside, Ford succeeded in spreading awareness about the Mustang Mach-E. People were talking about it, even if it was in all caps or through clenched teeth. Then there were those curious about the newest entrant to the EV space and how it would compare to similar vehicles such as the Tesla Model Y. As an automotive writer, I had my own questions. How would it look? Would it have anything close to the dynamics or spirit of a conventional Mustang? Fortunately, my position gave me the opportunity to get a week of hands-on experience behind the wheel of the 2021 Mustang Mach-E. Prices for the model range, which includes the Select, California Route 1, Premium, and GT, start at $42,895 (excluding the available federal tax credit of up to $7,500). My GT press loaner with the extended-range battery and all-wheel drive had Star White Metallic Tri-coat paint, a black roof, the Ford Co-Pilot360 Active 2.0 suite of features, and a resulting final price of $63,885.
LONG AND LEAN
Despite its fundamentally different body style, the Mach-E has undeniable visual links to the car that inspired it. A six-sided grille sits between canted LED projector headlights and surrounds the prominent illuminated pony emblem in the middle. At the rear, the roof slopes down dramatically toward the tri-bar taillights, which tilt outward and draw the eye to the Mach-E’s flared haunches. There’s no getting around the fact that Ford needed a certain amount of wheelbase – in this case, 117 inches of it – to fit the battery pack’s 376 lithium-ion cells and a roofline of a certain height to make the Mach-E passenger-friendly. Ford’s designers compensated for those functional concessions by carving any superfluous mixed metal/composite away from the sides and blacking out the roof and rocker panels. They went as far as shaving off the door handles and going with touch-activated door poppers and small winglet-like handles that blend in with the black greenhouse trim. What remained after they were done was a trim, athletic silhouette that looks ready to bolt.
SOMETIMES LESS REALLY IS LESS
That minimalism is even more pronounced inside. There wasn’t a patch of leather anywhere. Ford opted to wrap the steering wheel in vinyl. My tester’s seats were covered in black ActiveX synthetic material. Not only is it animal-free, but Ford says it’s stain-resistant and easier to clean and more durable than leather. Additional fabric on the dash housed some of the hardware for the 10-speaker B&O Sound System by Bang & Olufsen.
Ford went too far with its less-is-more approach with the infotainment system. The portrait-oriented 15.5-inch center touchscreen only had one hard control: the large volume dial at the bottom. The whole configuration seemed out of place in a performance vehicle, which should feel natural and instinctive and provide quick access. If I wanted to do something as simple as adjust the fan speed, I had to look at the screen, tap the icon on the bottom left, and make my selection, hoping that my tap was long enough to give me what I wanted. A setup like the one in Ram’s pickups with the 12-inch touchscreen, which combines the flash of modern tech with the convenience and quick accessibility of redundant hard buttons on the sides, would be much more user-friendly.
The lack of an internal combustion engine freed up room for a front trunk that could double as a 4.8-cubic-foot ice chest on 20-inch wheels. Thanks to the Mach-E’s undeniably long wheelbase, there was plenty of legroom in the second row. I’m 5’10” and I was able to sit there comfortably without worrying about my knees brushing against the back of the driver’s seat. In terms of conventional cargo capacity, the Mach-E is closest to its Escape Hybrid and Plug-In Hybrid cousins. There’s 29 cubic feet of room behind the second row; folding that down unlocks 59.6 cubic feet for Costco hauls, IKEA purchases, or car camping.
As one of the most potent versions of the Mach-E available, the GT is only available with the 88-kWh extended-range battery and a second motor that gives it all-wheel drive. According to the EPA, that combination is capable of returning 90 MPGe in the city, 77 on the highway, and 84 combined. Aside from using a charging station, there are three main ways to recharge it to its maximum estimated driving range of 270 miles. The hardwired 240-volt/48-amp costs $799 and requires installation by a licensed electrician but can pump 28 miles of range back into the battery per hour and take it from empty to full in 10.9 hours, according to Ford. If you happen to hook up the Mach-E’s included Ford Mobile Power Cord to a 240-volt/32-amp outlet, you can add 20 miles of range in an hour and completely fill the battery in 15 hours. My plan was to find a 150-kW DC fast charger in my spotty local network and clock its time, but I ended up being sick most of the week I had the Mach-E, so I stayed at home, ran limited errands, and dealt with the newest form of “fast car slow”: plugging into a 120-volt/12-amp regular wall outlet. Even though I seldom emerged from the house, every time I checked the level of charge, I was disappointed at how little progress was made since my last look. The wall outlet only added three miles of range every hour I recovered inside. Luckily, I never tapped the battery and didn’t need to zap it to 100 percent. Otherwise, I would’ve had to return to being a hermit for 95 hours straight.
FROM A TROT TO A FULL-SPEED GALLOP
Sick or not, I had to take the Mach-E out and discharge its 480 horsepower and 600 lb-ft of torque. I knew a great stretch of broad curves and S-bends connected by long straightaways near my house. In certain ways, zooming around in the Mach-E was reminiscent of driving one of the 10 iterations of the S550 Mustang, including the Mustang GT Premium convertible, California Special, Bullitt, and Shelby GT500, I’ve reviewed in the past. With each turn of the wheel, particularly when I engaged the mid-range Engage and all-out Unbridled drive modes, I felt how heavy the steering became – and a tangible connection to all those current-generation V8-powered Mustangs. Just as I did in those cars, I saw the bulges in the hood and the peaks of the fenders every time I was behind the wheel. When I wasn’t getting an eyeful of those, I was looking forward to the next kink in the road and any opportunity to mash the right pedal to the carpet. In a fundamental way, the Mach-E was closer to its ICE siblings than it appeared on paper. It distilled the spirit of driving a Mustang, using its ample power to accelerate to thrilling speeds as quickly as possible, into its purest form – albeit one with a modern twist. The dual electric motors’ instant torque delivered through a single-speed transmission and all four wheels made hitting a new high score on the speedometer a quick trip.
Of course, there are undeniable major differences between Ford’s two horse breeds. As fun as zooming off in the Mach-E was, I realized something was missing. It wasn’t sound. Granted, the Mach-E didn’t growl like a Coyote or emit the menacing sound of a Predator, but it did provide a soundtrack for my full-throttle romps. Ford calls it “Propulsion Sound.” Thankfully, it didn’t copy the sonic signature of a Mustang V8. The further I pushed the accelerator down, the louder the digital whoosh and whir got, making it seem as if I was rocketing away in my own personal spaceship. Power certainly wasn’t lacking. It was the other exciting, dramatic mechanical sensations that come with a powerful gas-burning performance vehicle that weren’t there: the bucking of the transmission as it banged into the next gear, the blare of the engine as it hit the sweet spot in the rev range. Those combined with the sound pumped out of the rear pipes heighten the experience of flooring it in a traditional Mustang and make it feel even faster than it is.
THE NEXT FURLONG
One of Ford’s most historic nameplates also happens to be one of its most future-oriented. Not only is the Mustang Mach-E a key piece to what Ford will become, but it’s also a sign of what lies ahead for the Mustang. As of right now, it looks as if the seventh-generation version (yes, with two doors!) will come out in 2023 as a 2024 model with triple-beam headlights, revised exterior and interior styling, and the potential for a partially electric powertrain at some point down the line. Fear not, Mustang purists. The 5.0-liter Coyote V8 is set to return to the Mustang lineup. It may even have company, too. There’s a possibility Ford will also offer a massive 6.8-liter V8 under the hood.