From someone who has driven them all.
The Ford Mustang Mach-E is a Mustang. There. I said it. In fact, I've been saying it basically since this all-electric crossover debuted at the 2019 Los Angeles Auto Show. But I based that argument more on understanding and agreeing with Ford's logic in tying up its most iconic nameplate with its first modern, long-range electric vehicle, rather than extensive first-hand experience from behind the wheel.
That changed this past week, when I spent several hundred miles behind the wheel of a Rapid Red Mustang Mach-E. I've driven nearly every Mustang variant since the revolutionary 2005 redesign, from base V6 models to supercharged V8s and track specials – as well as aftermarket jobs from Roush and Shelby – and I can say with absolute confidence that the Mach-E does all the things a pony car should, and it does them well.
Make It A Mustang
That's not actually surprising when you consider the original Mustang's product brief. According to historical memos provided by Ford ahead of this year's Mustang Day celebrations, the “Special Falcon,” as the original Mustang was known during development, should seat four people, offer both six- and eight-cylinder engine options, feature “attractive styling and unique appearance,” and boast a low price to compete with the Chevrolet Corvair Monza.
The 2021 Mustang Mach-E seats five instead of four, there are multiple output levels and battery options, the styling is arguably attractive and inarguably unique, and (before the federal income-tax credit) it boasts a low price to compete with the Tesla Model Y. And much as the Corvair ruled the roost in 1962, the Model Y dominates its segment in 2021.
I can't say if the parallels between the original Mustang and the Mach-E were on purpose, but they lend some historical credibility to this EV. Real-world credibility, though, comes behind the wheel, where the Mach-E does its damndest to bring the Mustang experience out of black-and-white and into 4K.
My immediate approach to driving electric vehicles is to baby them. Even after installing a Grizzl-E Classic vehicle charger at my home, I can't shake the idea that EV range is a thing to treasure and guard, like a rare and precious ingredient you actually need for every recipe. It took me time after the Mustang arrived to build trust in its 270-mile range, but once that happened, I began driving it like, well, a Mustang.
Set to Unbridled mode, this extended-range, all-wheel-drive tester can scamper to 60 in a manufacturer-estimated 4.8 seconds, or half a second quicker than a Mustang EcoBoost and about as sharpish as the EcoBoost High Performance Package. That’s as fast as the Mach-E gets for now, although the upcoming Mach-E GT Performance should do the deed in around 3.5 seconds, or about four-tenths faster than a V8-powered Mustang GT and about two-tenths off the GT500.
The Mach-E is just as capable of putting a smile on its driver's face as a Mustang GT.
I can attest to Ford's estimate, as wide-open-throttle sprints were the rule rather than the exception when taking off from stop lights. But where a gas-powered Mustang will regale its driver with a build-up of power and plenty of noise, the Mach-E does so with an instant explosion of torque and a sound that's best described as part V8, part warp drive, and part synthesizer.
Differences aside, the Mach-E is just as capable of putting a smile on its driver's face as a Mustang GT. And like its gas-powered counterpart, you can engage in these sorts of shenanigans as long as there's “fuel” in the “tank.”
For me, though, the Mach-E's Mustang-ness is less about the straight-line thrills than the way it addresses corners. The broader Mustang family has been slowly transitioning from straight-up muscle car to proper sports car over the past decade, and the Mach-E places the same kind of emphasis on handling as its two-door siblings.
This thing is a delight in the corners, offering a level of agility only a few premium crossovers, like the Alfa Romeo Stelvio and Porsche Macan, can exceed. In terms of gas-powered CUVs from mainstream brands, we're comfortable saying nothing can match the Mach-E in the bends. Mounting the heavy battery pack in the floor drives the center of gravity down, while Ford kept the Mach-E's overall height relatively low, at 64.0 inches. For reference, that's 10 inches higher than a Mustang Coupe, but 2.0 inches lower than the aforementioned Alfa.
The Mach-E's Mustang-ness is less about the straight-line thrills than the way it addresses corners.
With physics on its side, a firm suspension, and quick steering, the Mach-E eagerly changes directions with well-controlled body motions and can attack a corner aggressively enough that the back end will step out. Slides happen predictably, with the chassis doing a fine job of keeping the driver apprised of grip levels where the steering falls short.
This car feels lithe and nimble, despite its 4,800-pound curb weight. But more importantly, the Mach-E is genuinely fun and engaging in the bends. The only shortcoming I could find are the pedestrian all-season tires – stickier rubber would go a long way to improving the already entertaining Mach-E handling experience (the GT should address that particular issue).
Even if you don't exploit its tossability or blast away from stop lights, though, the Mach-E has a way of putting you in the mood to drive. You look out on a long hood that, for all intents and purposes, is easy to mistake for a gas-powered Mustang's. The seating position is excellent (although we wish Ford would offer the GT's much-improved chairs on the standard CUV) and looking out the smallish back window reveals a vaguely coupe-like experience.
Purists, And Why They Should Care
I feel like this isn't a huge shock, but the Mach-E seems to confuse purists, although my evidence is largely anecdotal. Motor1.com's own Mustang aficionado, Chris Smith, refuses to call it a real Mustang, and two close friends to whom I introduced my Rapid Red Mach-E tester were equally reticent. One is 30 years my senior and the other is, like me, on the old side of the Millennial generation – both had Mustangs as their first cars and still hang onto some strong opinions, though neither have owned one since.
Despite the age difference, their immediate reactions were almost identical: “That's just not a Mustang.” I predicted this response, and after showing them around and going for a ride, what surprised me is that their issues were with the form factor, rather than the all-electric powertrain.
If Ford can instill so much character into an all-electric crossover, you can bet it'll execute when it comes time to build a Mustang EV.
They took offense that their little pony was now big and tall, had spawned a couple of doors, and that accessing its big trunk came via a liftback rather than a traditional decklid. They ignored me when I pointed out that the current Mustang Coupe is longer and wider (2.3 and 1.4 inches) than the Mach-E, while liftback Mustangs are hardly a new phenomenon, first appearing in 1979.
And look, I get it. Change is scary and the Mach-E is a substantial change to the Mustang family. But the existence of the Mach-E comes at no expense to the gas-powered pony cars millions of people know and love. If anything, it’s an extremely positive sign for future two-door Mustangs, which will sooner or later run on electrons, too.
In many ways, then, the Mach-E is to the Mustang as the Porsche Cayenne is to the 911. But where the Cayenne simply exposes more consumers to the Porsche crest and helps the brand bankroll sports car development, the Mach-E spreads the good name Mustang and serves as a dry run for the inevitable electrified pony car. If Ford can instill so much character into an all-electric crossover, you can bet it'll execute when it comes time to build a Mustang EV.