by Manoli Katakis
The Ford Mustang stable has long been exclusively dominated by a particular pedigree of horses. The breed has been exclusively a two-door coupe-based vehicle, and while engine options have varied over the years, a V8 was always available. Then there are the Shelby variants: high-octane stallions that are bred to win against whatever challenger comes their way.
But the world is changing, and the Mustang's gene pool is getting more diverse because of it. When Ford revealed the Mustang Mach-E in November 2019, the internet erupted with cries of "That's NOT a Mustang!" and "How DARE they!" and more of "that IS NOT a Mustang!" But Porsche now builds SUVs and EVs, when once upon a time they only built sports cars. So while the concept of an electric SUV with a Mustang badge might seem sacrilegious, it's one we need to get used to. To help ease the transition, Ford stuck us behind the wheel of the Mustang Mach-E to get to grips with a new breed of pony car.
Some early design proposals of a very anonymous-looking Ford electric SUV surfaced last month, and all we can say is we're glad things didn't shape up that way. Somewhere along the timeline, somebody at Ford was brave enough to sign off on making this electric vehicle a Mustang, and the final design delivers on exactly that. The silhouette of the Mach-E is very coupe-like, and the rear door even lacks a handle, accentuating its sleek intentions. Moreover, the elongated nose and easily identifiable rear signature lighting convey to onlookers that, yes, it is indeed a Mustang. Even if they're confused as to why there's no engine noise.
Ford has catered to those who want varying styling attributes, too with wheel sizes and designs ranging from 18-inch Carbonized Gray alloys on the base Select to 20-inch cast aluminum aero-design wheels on the range-topping GT. Select and GT models also get the option of a black-painted roof which goes some way to slimming own the overall design.
In our opinion, the design team nailed it.
It's true that the main benefit of an electric powertrain is instantaneous torque on a whim. But a low center of gravity and even weight distribution are also plusses. In the Mach-E, these aspects help deliver 0-60 in as little as 3.5 seconds in the GT Performance Edition and 6.1 seconds in the California Route 1. But depending on which spec you choose, the waters get very muddy. The Mach-E can be had with either RWD or AWD and either standard range (SR) or extended range (ER) batteries, meaning power outputs, range, and acceleration all vary wildly from one model to the next.
The base Select, for example, has 266 horsepower, but either 317 lb-ft (SR RWD) or 428 lb-ft (SR AWD). The California Route 1 (ER RWD only) has 290 hp and 317 lb-ft. The Premium can be had as an SR (266 hp) with RWD (317 lb-ft) or AWD (428 lb-ft) or as an ER variant with RWD (290 hp) or AWD (346 hp). The First Edition packs 346 hp and 428 lb-ft into an ER AWD package, while the GT boasts 480 hp and 600 lb-ft, or 634 lb-ft in Performance Edition guise.
The claimed electric range of each model also varies substantially, with no fewer than six claimed EPA estimates. The two battery systems contribute to this, with Standard Range models receiving a 68 kWh pack while the Extended Range is equipped with an 88 kWh unit. The best range of the lot is attained by the California Route 1 at an EPA-certified 305 miles, while SR AWD Select and Premium models net the worst figures of 211 miles, or 230 miles in RWD form. For those who opt for a performance-based derivative, the GT Performance Edition still bags 235 miles, the standard GT a figure of 250, and the First Edition a 270-mile effort.
Regardless of battery choice, all Mach-Es are capable of 120V, 240V, or DC fast-charging capabilities, the latter up to rates of 150 kW (115 kW on the Select).
On a quick autocross course, the Mach-E was surprisingly responsive, rotating itself around the orange cones like a true horse showing off its athleticism around a patterned reining course. Under hard acceleration and braking, the Mach-E has a very neutral bias in its weight transfer - there's very little sloppiness here. On the rolling hilly roads on the outskirts of Ann Arbor, Michigan, the AWD Mustang Mach-E Premium with the extended range battery behaved as if it summoned the spirit of the late Ford Focus RS: it might not embody the raucous boy-racer hatchback that the EcoBoost-powered Focus RS once was, the Mach-E can nevertheless juke and cut and dart through winding roads like something much less its size. This is in no small part thanks to the low center of gravity.
Ford doesn't exactly plan to enter the Mustang Mach-E in motorsport, but we've experienced the potential of this platform first hand riding shotgun in the Mustang Mach-E 1400 with Vaughn Gittin Jr. This suggests there may be more to come from the Mach-E, and a Shelby derivative down the line would certainly be something special.
Up until this point, non-premium EVs have cut corners on interior quality to meet affordability targets. with dollar-store quality plastic found in abundance. Relative to the competition, Mach-E's interior is stunning.
Unique textures, materials, and ergonomics all play in the favor of this electric SUV, all of which combine to deliver a more distinguished interior experience than both current ICE offerings and even the Tesla Model Y. The Mach-E Combines traditional elements like a realm instrument cluster with future-forward aspects like a frankly massive portrait-oriented touchscreen. As Ford's first dedicated EV, it's also shown what the Blue Oval can do from a packaging point of view, with the flat floor and low-mounted batteries opening up an airy cabin with plenty of space for all comers - including 43.3 and 38.1 inches of legroom for those in the front and rear, respectively, while the trunk measures an appreciable 29.7 cubic feet, not forgetting the 4.7 cubic-foot frunk.
It's not built to a budget, but it is built with the know-how that only 100+ years in the automotive game can afford.
Continuing to draw comparisons with the Tesla Model Y, the massive tablet-style touchscreen in the 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E can be easily be critiqued for aping the Tesla, but the truth is that it's a far more complete system when looking at what's coming out of Fremont these days.
The one swing-and-miss here in our opinion was the naming of the driving modes. When's the last time you've heard anybody use the word "Unbridled?" Or use "Engage" to describe a default setting? And how will Ford dealers hope to communicate these modes with customers who are wondering why the company couldn't settle on something simpler? At least the graphics look nice. This is in no small thanks to the new electrical architecture in the Ford Mustang Mach-E, which allows for crispy camera resolutions, sharp visuals, and OTA updates.
However, there's far more worth mentioning than graphics and cameras; and that's Ford Co-Pilot360 Active Drive Assist system.
Ford's answer to Cadillac Super Cruise and Tesla Autopilot rolls out hands-free driving capabilities on a network of 100,000 miles of highways, not just in 50 US states, but Canada as well. The catch to this is that, while other Ford models like the F-150 will also boast this functionality, the tech isn't usable yet, and will only become available in the third quarter of 2021. That's where the new electrical architecture and OTA updates will be most handy, as a simple update will enable the suite's full functionality, a complimentary feature on California Route 1, Premium, and First Edition variants.
The inaugural Mustang Mach-E is a quantum leap from any previous EV effort from Ford Motor Company. It's far and away the most complete and uncompromising effort we've seen from any American automaker thus far, Tesla included. The interior simply blows the Model Y away, while the sleek exterior design, and athletic vehicle dynamics push the Mach-E from good to simply exceptional.
Is it a Mustang? Perhaps not like the rest, but it deserves a place in the stable nonetheless.
Considering how premium the 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E feels, a $42,895 MSRP is a fair starting price. Consider that the current $7,500 federal tax credit drops the base price to $35,395, and that's even better. Prices quickly climb, however, when considering the $47,000 Mach-E Premium, $49,800 Mach-E California Route 1, $58,300 for the First Edition, or $60,500 for the upcoming Mach-E GT. But all of them qualify for the same $7,500 credit as the base model. It's your tax money, after all, fellow Americans. So you might as well get some of it back to use on a car.
Rebates or not, the Mach-E is no basement bargain car, but it does rival Tesla Model Y in starting price. About $900 separates the two, and at the same time, the interior of the Mustang Mach-E looks more than just a $900 improvement. The Model Y Performance does undercut the Mach-E GT by almost $5,000, though, so Ford may have to observe the demand for the upcoming electric performance SUV closely when it launches later this summer.
Check out some informative Ford Mustang Mach-E video reviews below.