The acrid sting of burnt rubber irritates my eyes as the G forces try their best to yank them from their sockets. The five-point harnesses – cinched as tight as is tolerable – and a hip-crushing Recaro racing seat do an admirable job of keeping me in place. Vaughn Gittin, Jr. races to create ever more tire smoke and lateral force amid the violent shrieks from the 1,400-horsepower electric crossover we’re strapped into.
That CUV is, loosely, a Ford Mustang Mach-E. More specifically, it's the Mach-E 1400 prototype, a joint project between Ford Performance and Gittin's RTR Vehicles to see just how far the Blue Oval's newest Mustang could go. It's a no-holds-barred approach to performance, with seven electric motors, up to 2,300 pounds of downforce, and the ability to switch from front- to rear- to all-wheel drive at the twist of a knob. It's the craziest EV this side of the record-breaking Volkswagen ID.R. And we went for a ride with one of the Mach-E 1400's creators.
In The Passenger Seat
The Mach-E 1400 is a sneaky thing. My first real taste of its acceleration is underwhelming, initially. I'm expecting the brutality of a launch-controlled Porsche Taycan Turbo S, but it's subtler... and then the wave of longitudinal G forces arrives – along with that fluttery, breathless feeling in the chest – as the Mach-E's pace builds. After too brief a blast, Gittin backs off so I can catch my breath.
Looking out from the passenger seat of the Mach-E 1400 is as shocking an experience as accelerating in it. You'll see a Mach-E–like dash, albeit finished in carbon fiber, and a huge portrait-style touchscreen display, shared with the EV you can buy later this year. The seats are obviously different, and there's a full roll cage. Despite these items, getting in and out is surprisingly easy: stick one leg in, position yourself on part of the roll cage, slip the other leg in, and slide your body into the seat. Then prepare to go to third base with the person that helps with the five-point harness.
Like the very first Mustangs, the Mustang Mach-E 1400 is a two-plus-two.
Ford and RTR designed this Mach-E as a sort of ambassador car, which will (eventually, thanks COVID) travel around and introduce people to electric performance for the first time. And doing that with one person at a time is a slow process. So, like the very first Mustangs, the Mustang Mach-E 1400 is a two-plus-two. Bisecting the cabin is a transparent box that's easy to refer to as a transmission tunnel. But in reality, it's a housing for the Mach-E 1400's seven inverters (one for each motor). Get over the bizarre sight of thick, bright-orange wires going every which way and the overall cabin feels a lot like the Mach-E you'll be able to buy later this year.
As I take all this in, Gittin flips a few knobs and switches the Mach-E 1400 from all-wheel-drive to rear-wheel drive. You can't feel this change, though, until the driver stands on the accelerator and overwhelms the sticky Nitto NT555 rubber with 1,400 ponies. This mode will be great for drifting, especially with the front gearing removed – there was no time for that ahead of our ride – and it really highlights how versatile Ford and RTR wanted to make this Mach-E.
From outside the car, Ford and RTR clearly built the Mach-E 1400 to beat the air into submission with a huge rear wing, the biggest diffuser I've ever seen, and a splitter that could double as a buffet serving table. There are epic dive planes, too, all so that at 160 miles per hour, the Mach-E generates over 2,300 pounds of downforce. With such aggressive aero, the Mach-E is plenty capable on a road course. But using computational fluid dynamics, Ford and RTR also designed the aero elements to still provide some assistance while sliding laterally, giving the Mach-E epic drift skills.
On a road course adjacent to the VDA, Gittin shows off the effect of that downforce. Even though he isn’t pushing too hard on the tight, hilly course, the Mach-E feels agile and planted despite its roughly 5,000-pound weight. It's a capable handler this, while also proving a good bit of fun when going sideways, as Gittin did once back at the VDA, yanking the vertically mounted hand brake and then executing a number of tight donuts to cap off the ride.
What It's For
Back in the makeshift paddock, I ungracefully remove myself from the Mach-E 1400 and take stock of what Ford and RTR built and why they built it. Ford's entire marketing message with the Mustang Mach-E is that it's an emotional vehicle and a true member of the Mustang family, despite its crossover design and all-electric powertrain. I fully believe that the Mach-E can do that when it arrives later this year.
But stories from the press or Ford commercials tying the gas-powered pony cars with the EV isn't going to convince Mustang purists. It's going to take a demonstration of what electric powertrains can do for performance and what little impact a crossover body or five-door layout has on the Mustang character. It's going to be an uphill battle, but the Mach-E 1400 is just the kind of vehicle to lead the charge. If you get a chance to sample this extreme Mustang, you should absolutely take it. Just try not to scream.