Henry would approve.
In a perhaps apocryphal quote, Henry Ford said if he'd asked what people wanted during the dawn of the automobile, they'd have said “faster horses.” Like all good sound bites, the sentiment is more important than whether the person said it. In this case, the point is people want what they know until someone presents something better. That was true in the 1910s and Ford The Company is hoping it's still the case today with the 2021 Mustang Mach-E.
Despite a century separating the Model T and Mach-E, similarities abound. No one is demanding this vehicle. People aren't beating down the door in Dearborn asking for an electric pony car, a Mustang-badged crossover, or some unholy combo of the two, just like they weren’t looking to give up their horse and carriage a hundred years ago. And yet Ford both recognizes the future is electric and knows the best way to attract customers to this newer horse is with the hallmarks of the old. Those facts penetrate every aspect of the smartest, most serious EV attempt in the Blue Oval's 117-year history.
Verdict added in February 2021. A vehicle's verdict is relative only to its own segment and not the new-vehicle market as a whole. For more on how Motor1.com rates cars, click here.
The combo of the Mustang badge, the electric powertrain, and the crossover body is a recipe for the future, but all it's brewed in the present so far is controversy. So allow me to get the big question out of the way: The Mach-E is as much a Mustang as the Cayenne is a Porsche, the DBX is an Aston Martin, and the Stelvio is an Alfa Romeo – proof positive you can design an SUV with sports car DNA. Ford sacrificed as little of the Mustang’s character as possible in a bid to offer customers a more versatile form factor, while also introducing them to the potential of electrification.
Looking The Part
That's clear from the moment you first clap eyes on the thing. The Mach-E is a crossover, complete with the attendant ride height and door count. But evolved design, clever visual tricks, and good ol’ Mustang hallmarks by Mach-E design boss Jason Castriota (of SSC Tuatara and Ferrari 599 fame) establish this EV as a new, but faithful, take on the venerable pony car’s iconic design. Key is the body-colored roof railing and the blacked-out roof itself.
Viewed in profile or from the front quarter, the design creates an optical illusion that the rake of the Mach-E's rear is both more aggressive than it actually is and more in line with gas-powered Mustangs. While that element is crucial to the Mach-E’s overall Mustang-ness, other touches, like a long dash-to-axle ratio, prominent rear haunch, and shark-nose fascia emphasize that the Mach-E is a performance car, rather than another boring EV.
The combo of the Mustang badge, the electric powertrain, and the crossover body is a recipe for the future.
There are clever aero tricks hidden in the design, too. While the traditional “grille” around the Mustang badge is fake, active shutters in the lower air inlet open and close as needed to cool the battery pack. And those push-button door openers work an absolute treat. The physical button has a substantial action and the door stays in place once opened – there's no chance of pushing the button and accidentally closing the door. As for the little nubs that stick out of the beltline, Ford claims they're invisible in the wind tunnel, thanks to the shape of the mirrors.
Some awkwardness creeps into this design at the back. We're unsure about the rethought tri-bar taillights, which remind us of trumpeting elephants (good luck seeing anything else from now on), but the bigger issue is the shape of the tail. The black roof hides some of the mass from the front and sides, but viewed from behind, design sorcery can't obscure the height of the rear glass, the Kammback tail, or the rear fenders' girth. And the largest tire available at launch – 225/55/19s – is too skinny to support such a muscular design. From the back, it looks like the Mach-E skipped leg day ( the forthcoming Mach-E GT will resolve that issue).
Tech Forward, Cab Rearward
Where one could argue Ford styled the exterior to evoke maximum Mustang-ness, the cabin is modern, arguably derivative, and unquestionably smarter than any prior pony car. That modernity and derivation is obvious in the glass-intensive dash. Home to an enormous, portrait-oriented 15.5-inch touchscreen and a skinny, 10.2-inch digital cluster, comparisons to Tesla’s interiors have understandably followed the Mach-E since its debut in November 2019.
And that's fair. Whether it's relevant or not is a different story when you consider how big a leap forward this interior design is relative to anything else in the Ford family and how everything works so well together. The flat floor and low, floating center console are counter to the cockpit-like design of gas-powered Mustangs, but in a crossover, this layout is key to an open and spacious front cabin.
On the whole, Ford nailed the Mach-E's tech suite.
That 15.5-inch display hosts a version of Ford's new Sync 4 infotainment system, but it's a significant departure from what we experienced in the new F-150. Unique to the Mach-E (for now), additional functionality creates a tablet-like experience – you can still pluck and tap tiles into place, but rather than an evolution of Sync, the Mach-E's OS reminds us of Volvo's Sensus system. The top of the screen is home to settings and the driver's profile, the upper middle is for the selected tile (which itself is expandable), and below that lives a bank of tabs to access the different sections of the OS. The climate controls sit at the bottom.
It takes mere minutes to come to grips with the system – everything feels only a tap or two away – and once familiar with the layout, you'll enjoy everything from the slick wireless Apple CarPlay to gorgeous graphics and impressive response times. It's really one of the best infotainment packs on the market, especially when it comes time to mess with the physical volume control – props to Ford for finding a way to implement that fat knob on the touchscreen display.
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We just wish the cluster played a bigger role – the 10.2-inch display behind the steering wheel looks as good as the centerpiece, but it only displays the speed, state of charge, status of the active safety gear, and upcoming nav info.
On the whole, Ford nailed the Mach-E's tech suite. A full collection of active safety is standard on every variant in the form of Ford Co-Pilot360 2.0. The integration is the best of any Ford product on the market, with controls that are easy to activate and adjust. And it'll get better later next year, when hands-free driving via Active Drive Assist arrives. Every Mach-E but the base Select comes with ADA hardware standard (it's optional on the starter trim), while downloading the $600 software will come via an over-the-air update.
While the cabin is comfortable, Ford could have leaned into the Mustang character more.
Physical function is high on the list here, too. Even with an aggressive rake to the windshield and the illusion of a plunging roofline, there's ample headroom all around. The backseats, meanwhile, can accommodate a pair of adults on a long journey, with 38.1 inches of legroom (half an inch better than the Volkswagen ID.4), while the 29-cubic-foot cargo hold will manage a foursome's worth of bags. Sight lines are excellent all around, contributing to the airy interior. But while the cabin is comfortable, Ford could have leaned into the Mustang character more.
|Ford Mustang Mach-E||Volkswagen ID.4||Tesla Model Y|
|Head Room (F/R):||40.4 / 39.3 Inches||41.1/38.4 Inches||41.0 / 39.4 Inches|
|Shoulder Room (F/R):||57.6 / 55.9 Inches||57.5/55.9 Inches||56.4 / 54.0 Inches|
|Leg Room (F/R):||43.3 / 38.1 Inches||41.1/37.6 Inches||41.8 / 40.5 Inches|
|Cargo (Min/Max/Frunk):||29.7 / 59.7 / 4.7 Cubic Feet||30.8/64.2/N/A Cubic Feet||68.0 Cubic Feet|
Aside from the badge on the airbag cap and a contoured soundbar that creates a 1965-aping cowled dashboard effect, little in here shouts Mustang through form or function. Those front seats, for example, are comfortable enough to run out the Mach-E's 300-mile maximum range, but a Mustang's chairs should do more, with larger bolsters and significant support helping the driver in sporty conditions while reminding them they're in a muscle car.
Aside from the nice leather upholstery and sharp stitching, these chairs could have come from any mainstream CUV (they probably are from the Escape). And while the Mach-E is a five-seater for a reason, a two-plus-two layout option would go a long way to helping the cabin feel sportier and different.
From certain standpoints, the Mach-E balances the needs of Mustang and crossover neatly. But on the road, this is the vehicle we were hoping for: fun, engaging, and energetic.
To start out, Ford released us on a short autocross course, which featured a few hard braking areas, along with a pair of slaloms, and a long, sweeping turn, in a rear-drive Mach-E. If you've never driven an EV in anger, the most immediate thing is how loud the anti-lock brakes and stability control systems are – we thought we broke something, before realizing it was the Mach-E's nannies coping with our inputs. After getting over that small bit of panic, this EV proved itself not just willing, but entertaining.
On the road, this is the vehicle we were hoping for: fun, engaging, and energetic.
There's give in the stability control systems, and we could feel the playfulness of the rear-drive layout and perfect 50-50 weight distribution – the back slips a little when fed enough throttle. You can adjust mid-corner too, although the steering is a little numb for our tastes (much like the gas-powered Mustang). That said, the weighting is good, and the suspension (McPherson struts up front and fully independent in back) and brake pedal cover for the limited chatter through the tiller. Speaking of those brakes, the left pedal is predictable and offers ample stopping power.
But as engaging as the Mach-E is, ignoring its ample weight is a challenge, even in the lightest trim of the bunch (we're guessing 4,300 pounds). Roll arrives progressively, but add too much speed or steering angle and the unenthusiastic all-season rubber and modest seat bolstering struggle to cope. Cornering hard is a battle between tire and driver over who's going to let go first.
This was relatively extreme behavior in a controlled environment, though. After our session, we switched to an extended range, all-wheel-drive Mach-E First Edition (sold out, but equivalent to the Premium trim) for the kind of twisting country lanes regular owners will experience and found a driving experience that challenges some of the best gas-powered crossovers for overall competence.
The dual-motor Mach-E is a sharp and nippy crossover that's eager to change direction and respond to inputs, belying its nearly 5,000-pound curb weight. The ultimate handling threshold might be lower than most Mustangs, but this crossover should still delight consumers with its willing character and healthy reflexes.
The dual-motor Mach-E is a sharp and nippy crossover that's eager to change direction and respond to inputs, belying its nearly 5,000-pound curb weight.
That its ride is so comfortable will appeal to atypical Mustang shoppers. The stiff body affords excellent cornering behavior, while Ford struck the right balance with suspension stiffness. The result is a crossover that feels more than up to the challenge of pockmarked Detroit roads, isolating the cabin from the worst damage without fully hiding the state of the surface from the driver.
Until the GT arrives later in 2021, this all-wheel-drive/extended-range tester is the hottest Mach-E available, with two electric motors good for 346 horsepower and 428 pound-feet of torque – Ford quotes the sprint to 60 happening in 4.8 seconds, a figure that feels conservative from behind the wheel.
Like many EVs, the Mach-E is an energetic straight-line performer, with some serious pull off the line owing to the immediate torque delivery and all-wheel-drive grip. Set to the most aggressive drive mode, creatively named Unbridled, the accelerator pedal responds instantly to inputs and the synthetic noise piped through the speakers does its best to get the driver in the mood.
We like the sound (it sounds like a V8 that’s been passed through a synthesizer half a dozen times ) even if it isn't as characterful as a 5.0-liter – switching the noise off is as easy as tapping the top left corner of the touchscreen. The three drive modes (the aforementioned Unbridled along with Engage and Whisper), the propulsion sound, one-pedal driving, and automatic adjustments for the ambient lights are right there for convenient adjustments on the fly.
The Mach-E is an energetic straight-line performer, with some serious pull off the line owing to the immediate torque delivery and all-wheel-drive grip.
The Mach-E's other two driving modes, Engage and Whisper, are equivalent to Normal and Eco, respectively. Engage is a fine everyday setting with less aggressive steering response, a duller throttle, and a subtler propulsion noise – it's perfect for when you want the Mach-E to be more crossover than Mustang. Whisper is one we're eager to spend more time with, as it further dulls the throttle for more efficient driving and, along with the silent powertrain, allows this EV to masquerade as a luxury car.
A separate setting engages one-pedal driving, which uses far more brake regen to slow the car without help from the friction brakes. It does the job, but we would’ve liked more adjustability of regen power – simply switching “on” and “off” isn’t quite enough. Giving Whisper mode with OPD much more aggressive regen relative to Unbridled or Engage, for example, would be nice.
Speaking of range, the conditions for our test – about 37 degrees Fahrenheit, breezy, and with driving rain – make any estimates over our roughly 60-mile route difficult. The EPA rates our dual-motor tester and its 98.8-kWh battery for 270 miles per charge – the max for the Mach-E comes with the California Route 1, which pairs the bigger battery with a single-motor powertrain to cover 300 miles per charge – but almost certainly due to the weather, we had just 200 miles of charge to start. We ended the trip with around 120 miles of juice, while the car projected our efficiency at 2.7 miles per kilowatt-hour.
None of those figures compare especially well to the Tesla Model Y, which offers standard all-wheel-drive across the board and range figures that run from 303 miles (Performance) to 326 miles (Long Range). At the same time, our colleagues at InsideEVs quoted the Model Y’s efficiency at 3.85 miles per kilowatt-hour during a 70-mile range test (for more on the Mach-E's EV qualities, check out IEVs' first drive).
Is our low estimated range and poor efficiency any reason to fret? Not yet. As we said, the conditions were as poor as they could be, but more than that, we were driving to gather impressions, which meant a lot of hard acceleration and heavy braking, and we had the cabin set up to keep warm (the heated seats are excellent). We're eager to spend more time with the Mach-E and to see our colleagues at InsideEVs conduct a full range test to find out if the EPA rating is optimistic like Tesla’s usually are or surprisingly conservative like the Porsche Taycan’s.
Cost Of Doing Business
Of course, a huge part of the Mach-E’s appeal comes down to its price and the fact that Ford’s second EV (anyone remember the Focus EV? ) is still eligible for a $7,500 federal income-tax credit. Starting at just $42,895 (not including the tax credit or an $1,100 destination charge), the base, rear-drive Mach-E Select undercuts the $49,990 Tesla Model Y Long Range by over $7,000.
That said, you’ll only see 230 miles from that single-motor Mach-E, and adding all-wheel drive increases cost by $2,700 and drops the total range to 211 miles – the “base” Model Y Long Range packs 326 miles per charge with standard all-wheel drive and it’s a full second quicker to 60, at 4.8 seconds. In one sense, you get what you pay for, but Ford allows you to pay for less if that’s what your budget allows.
In one sense, you get what you pay for, but Ford allows you to pay for less if that’s what your budget allows.
A more apples-to-apples comparison with the Model Y requires a vehicle like our tester, featuring the Mach-E’s larger battery pack and a pair of electric motors – the Ford still doesn’t fare that well, though. The Mach-E Premium starts at $47,000, while the bigger battery and dual-motor arrangement add $7,700 to that figure, bringing the total to $54,700 (before rebates) for an electric CUV with 270 miles of range and a 4.8-second sprint to 60.
That total nearly splits the difference between the Model Y Long Range at $49,990 and the $59,990 Model Y Performance, although both Teslas will beat the Mach-E on range, and the latter model will challenge the upcoming Mach-E GT Performance in straight-line speed. But for now, Ford has that $7,500 federal tax credit as the ace up its sleeve. Depending on how well the Mach-E and other upcoming plug-in Fords sell, though, this rebate won’t be around forever.
Whetting The Appetite
While this first taste of the Mach-E left us craving more, it also made us hopeful for the future. This is a strong EV and a better crossover. But most importantly the Mach-E is a good and necessary addition to the Mustang herd. It will not appeal to purists. Ever. But as a means of bringing electrification to a new generation of shoppers and creating another cohort of Mustang enthusiasts, this is a qualified success. Porsche thrived after introducing the Cayenne, and there's little reason to think the Mustang family won't thrive following the arrival of the Mach-E.
But more than that, the impressive abilities of the Mach-E have us salivating for a turn in the upcoming Mach-E GT, which will hopefully address our concerns over handling and add even more power to this already quick crossover. This may not be the Mustang people know and love, but if the impressive collection of preorders are any indication, we’re confident the Mach-E will take a page from Henry Ford's book and win the public over as something new.
Editor’s Note: While we drove a Mustang Mach-E First Edition, that model is sold out. The pricing information in our data panel reflects the price for a Mustang Mach-E Premium with all-wheel drive and the extended-range battery, which is functionally identical to the $61,000 First Edition. All other information is identical between the two trims.
Mustang Mach-E Competitor Reviews:
See the 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E and all of the other upcoming new cars in our list of future cars for 2021 and beyond.
Gallery: 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E First Drive
2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E First Edition