When I was still a kid, my old husband owned a sharkskin blue Mustang 289 from 1965. Some of my favorite childhood memories were spending our Sunday afternoons cruising around San Francisco in it. Now, nostalgia is a hell of a drug, so when I first spotted Ford’s electric Mustang Mach-E at the LA Auto show in 2019, my reaction was a resounding and heartfelt “hard pass”. With its crossover styling, the Mach-E certainly did not look like a Mustang in my youth, and given its whispering quiet EV propulsion system, it certainly did not sound ̵
Nevertheless, Mach-E has already won the title of 2021 North American Utility Vehicle of the Year and saw pre-orders of its “First Edition” sold out almost immediately after debut, so clearly the EV crossover has aroused the interest of American car enthusiasts. This raises the question of what actually makes a Mustang, a Mustang? I just spent a week behind the wheel of the Mach-E in 2021 in an attempt to figure it out.
Premium that I borrowed is one of four optional models (not including the short-term “First Edition” which is again sold out): Select, California Route 1, Premium and GT. They can be specified as RWD or e-AWD, and with the choice of standard 68 kWh or larger optional 88 kWh battery pack (an option of $ 5,000). These batteries will give you an EPA estimated 230 – 300 miles range, depending on options and drive types, and anywhere from 266 hp from Select to a 480HP gut punch from the AWD GT. Select starts at $ 44,995, Premium will give you back around $ 49,000, with Route 1 coming in at $ 53,500 and GT at $ 61,600.
My specific model was Premium with AWD and the extended 88 kWh battery pack that would be sold for $ 56,400 if it were not a borrower. It offers 346 hp, 428 lb-ft of torque and a range of about 270 miles. Apart from the larger battery and Star White metallic tricoat paint, everything on this Mach-E came as standard – which includes the Bang & Olufsen sound system with 10 speakers, Qi wireless charging plate, 4G hotspot and Ford Co-Pilot 360 driver assistance system. You will also find USB A and C sockets in both the front and rear rows to keep jockeying for charging rooms during car trips to a minimum.
While it may not look much like the ancestors, Mach-Es’ design makes it easy to spot a busy parking lot – similar to a Tesla Model 3, but taller with a wider, more aggressive stance. Once I got used to the dimensions, I came to appreciate the Mach-E height. It’s far enough from the ground that you do not have to constantly worry about scraping the bottom of the door on curbs or requiring a deep squat to get into it, but not so high that you need a step ladder to get help (looking at you, every American full-size pickup built since 2009).
It comes in one of seven exterior paint colors, although the most muted turned my head when I pulled up to stop the lights. During the first 24 hours after this car reached my driveway, I had three separate neighbors asking me to go for a walk. And despite the prominent front end and bold lines, the Mach-E maintains a surprisingly smooth resistance coefficient of 0.3 – it’s just a touch higher / worse than the new Audi e-tron GT or Polestar 2, both of which have coefficients of . 24.
The Mach-E interior is surprisingly sparse. Apart from the headlights, gearshift and a few knobs on the steering column, almost all cabin functions are controlled through the Mustang’s central 15.5-inch, vertically oriented infotainment screen and the integrated volume dial. The infotainment screen is paired with a 10.5-inch mailbox screen that replaces the traditional instrument cluster behind the wheel. Voice command, volume and track jump / repeat controls are all available as tactile buttons on the steering wheel. In addition, the large properties of the infotainment screen mean that Ford has room to make its digital buttons and sliders enormous. This is a great help when you are in traffic and trying to keep your eyes on the road while also navigating through Mach-Es’ various control menus.
In fact, this scenario did not happen as often as I expected it to, thanks in large part to the car’s skilled voice recognition technology and integration with both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Connecting to your smartphone, whether it is an iPhone 12 or Pixel 4a, is as simple as turning on the Bluetooth handset and pairing it with the infotainment system. I got both iPhone and Pixel to connect to Mach-E on each of their respective first attempts. When I was a couple, I could call, play my own setlists (instead of relying on the AM / FM / Sirius XM radio) and use Google Maps for directions instead of Ford’s built-in hub system. I like to take Mach-Es’ infotainment system over Teslas.
The Mach-E interior may be sparse, but it is spacious with plenty of leg and ceiling height to accommodate up to five adults. The seats are comfortable and breathable, and the entire cabin feels far less plastic than what Tesla offers. The feeling of openness in the cabin is enhanced simply by tapping the next back to look up through the full glass roof. It is polarized and toned so that harmful UV rays and the prying eyes of car thieves can not penetrate from the outside, while remaining clear enough for passengers to enjoy the sights around and above them. Mach-E also offers 29.7 cubic meters of storage space in the luggage compartment, so you should not have much trouble fitting in the luggage of the five people. I’m also a fan of the incredibly helpful Fordpass companion app. It provides reminders to drivers about upcoming maintenance, service and recalls. It also always knows where the nearest charging station is and how to get there.
Unfortunately, the most disappointing aspect of the Mach-E driving experience is, well, the driving experience itself. When you get behind the wheel and press the start button, you are greeted by flashing logos on the screens, a couple of electronic chimes, and it’s all about it – no swallowing V8 rumbling, no rich smell of gasified petrol. The whole thing is very minimalist, and well, a little lack of soul. You have three driving modes to choose from: Whisper, Engage and Unbridled – and they generally work just as they sound.
Whisper is great if you are running errands around the neighborhood and will minimize the time you need to spend charging the car when you return (it takes around 10.5 hours to fully charge with a 240V power outlet). There is little power and little power. Engage is a solid daily alternative, and gives you a skilled mix of power and range. Unrestrained is for maximum performance, battery reserves are condemned. This driving mode will gently push you back into your seat when you step on the accelerator, and the EV’s instant access to 100 percent of the torque is lovely when you beat other cars from the stop line and get up to 60 MPH in just over 3 seconds, but generally Mach- E just not the same bone-chilling, suction-filling-out-your-molars raw power that I expect from my muscle cars. This feels more like someone has jumped on testosterone and set it loose on the streets.
Of course, the Mustang is far from America’s first classic muscle car to undergo radical design transformations during the model’s lifetime. I mean, just look at the Chevrolet Impala. That, however, when the final vehicle rolled off the assembly line in February 2020. Nor is the Mustang the only former petrol guzzler that went green. GM is also moving engineers from the Corvette team to its burgeoning EV division.
For what it’s, Ford’s first custom-built EV, a five-seater crossover packed to the gills with modern styling, technology and accessories, the Mach-E is a sure bet. The car offers better than average handling and battery performance, while maintaining a high degree of daily life functionality – in addition to getting you to your destination in as short a time as possible. But as the heir to the Mustang crown, or even just as an EV sports car, no, this is not it.