By Steve Schaefer
For an EV enthusiast—or any American car shopper—the Ford Mustang Mach-E is one of the most intriguing and important auto debuts in years. As an all-electric SUV, it’s as revolutionary as the original 1965 Mustang was in 1964 and points the way to the future, while intimately linking to Ford’s most iconic brand.
The original Ford Mustang, a low-slung sport coupe and convertible based on the compact Falcon platform, offered excitement and affordability, and was the right car at the right time. Hundreds of thousands were sold from the starting gun, invigorating Ford and creating the “pony car” segment.
Over the years, the Mustang has had its great and not so great moments, growing hulking in the early 1970s and shrinking down to Pinto size as a reaction to mid 70’s fuel shortages. It found its footing in 1979 with the form it would hold onto for decades, rounding out in the 1990s and surviving to this day. You can still get a reasonable model with a 2.3-liter EcoBoost Turbo or grab a V8-powered Shelby or other supercar variant.
The Mach-E is Different
But the Mustang Mach-E is different. It’s got four doors, for one thing (although the “E-latch” handles are hidden). It’s all-electric. While its length and width are comparable to the regular Mustang, it stands nearly 10 inches taller, and boasts 101 cubic feet (cf) of interior volume versus 83 cf for the coupe. Sitting in the spacious rear seat, I looked up through the panoramic glass roof and thought of how fun the Mustang would be for four people to take on a long trip.
Ford’s EV history is not impressive so far. They sold the competitive Fusion plug-in hybrid for years (particularly nice in the later design) with the Europe-designed C-Max minivan sharing the drivetrain. Ford offered a 76-mile-range Focus with a $40K price tag that was a California compliance car. The new hybrid version of the F-150 pickup has just arrived and I spent a week with it recently. But the Mustang Mach-E is a new milestone in the company’s movement into the electric vehicle future.
So, what makes the Mach-E a Mustang, and not just Ford’s first serious all-electric car? It’s styling and performance.
Surely there were prolonged and heated discussions in the Ford boardroom about “diluting the brand” but I believe that in the end, they decided to spend a little of their amassed brand equity in order to bless this car with everything they could muster to make it successful. People love SUVs these days and have no problem thinking of them as desirable, sporty vehicles. They are not the truck-based Jeep and International Harvester wagons that were around when the original Mustang debuted at the 1964 New York World’s Fair.
Mustang styling cues include a long and curvaceous hood, muscular sides with rear haunches, a Mustang face with piercing eyes (and a big filled-in grille) and, of course, those tri-bar taillights. There is the running horse logo, of course, seen on the nose and tail, inside on graphics and the screens, and as puddle lamps at night.
Unlike with the coupe and convertible, with the Mach-E you step right in, not down. The sporty bucket seats are covered in “Activex” – an animal-free “leather.” You sit in a typical crossover position, riding high. Legroom front and rear is generous, and headroom is amazing. Just a side note—the Mustang coupe is one of the very few cars that will not hold an upright bass. With the Mach-E, you could just drop the second-row seats and slide that bass right in, with nearly 60 cubic feet of cargo space. With the seats up, I filled the cargo hold (29.7 cf), with groceries on a rare venture out.
The Mach-E’s motor puts out 346 horsepower (428 lb.-ft. of torque) in the standard form and 480 hp (634 lb.-ft.) for the upcoming GT version, due this summer. With the silent powertrain, instant electric torque, and responsive steering through a fat leather-wrapped wheel, I had a blast taking the car on back roads as well as cruising through town. It feels strong and grounded, with the heavy battery pack providing the 64-inch-tall Mach-E with a low center of gravity for road-hugging stability.
Electric cars are rated by the EPA in miles per gallon equivalent—MPGe. The Mach-E gets 105 City, 93 highway, and 105 Combined. Compare these numbers to other EVs’s stats. Weighing between 4,400 and 4,900 pounds, depending on battery size and rear- or all-wheel drive configuration, the new Mustang is not the most efficient EV, but it’s comparable to others of its size and purpose. Of course, the EPA Green scores are a pair of perfect 10’s for Smog and Greenhouse Gas.
The range between charges varies depending on battery size and the number of drive wheels. The rear-wheel-drive car with the standard 66 kWh lithium-ion battery gets 230 miles per the EPA. The 88-kWh extended range battery brings it up to 300 miles. Add all-wheel drive and those numbers drop to 211 and 270 respectively.
The liquid-cooled lithium-ion battery pack sits below the floor and between the axles in a waterproof case with crash absorption protection. That location, preferred for cars designed specifically as EVs, means interior volume is uncompromised.
One of the benefits of EVs is the ability to use one-pedal driving. This means you press on the accelerator to go forward and lift off to slow down using regenerative braking—even coming to a complete stop in some cars, including this Mustang. You can choose not to use it if you wish. I enjoyed one-pedal driving during my three years with my Bolt EV, and with a gearless car, it approximates downshifting with a manual transmission. It also means your brakes pads will last a long time—EVs are known for needing virtually no service.
Modern but Familiar Interior
The Mustang’s interior blends Mustang cues with the modern, simplified design made popular by Tesla. There’s a 15.5-inch vertical screen in the center of the dash that houses the latest version of Ford’s SYNC system, and it works pretty well, although it obscures the traditional twin-cove Mustang dash design.
Along the screen’s waist are a half dozen boxes that you can swipe and select for entertainment, information, navigation, tire pressure, and so on. Tap a box and the upper half of the screen fills in with easy-to-read information. Touch a spot on the top of the screen to open up a place to configure multiple setups. Ford promises over-the-air updates of its SYNC system, just like you-know-who.
Unlike Tesla, the Mach-E provides a small rectangular instrument panel behind the steering wheel, with a digital speedometer, a long blue bar displaying battery range (essential to monitor, impossible to miss), and a few other bits of info, like transmission setting. There’s also a tiny image of the car at the left above the range bar, and a humorous “easter egg”—it says “Ground Speed” under the digital speedometer. A head-up display appears in the windshield as well.
The FordPass phone app lets you go without a key fob (a la Tesla). I tested it, and while the doors locked and unlocked (with an annoying several-second delay), I was unsuccessful at starting the car with it. In fact, with the fob inside my house, I touched the car’s Start button and a screen message demanded to have the fob nearby and started honking the horn! Surely this would get worked out if you owned the car. The app displays lots of helpful info as well, including charging locations, with 13,500 charging stations included in the FordPass network from third parties.
Pricing for the Mach-E starts at $42,895 for the Select. My test car, the next level Premium in Carbonized Gray Metallic Paint with Black Performance Activex interior, had a base price of $47,000. With the optional extended range battery ($5,000) and $1,100 for destination and delivery, the sticker said $53,100.
How the Mustang Competes
Certainly, the Mustang Mach-E, in its premium configurations, is aimed at folks considering cars like the upscale Porsche Macan and Audi e-Tron, but the big target is the Tesla Model Y. Both cars offer standard and performance editions and rear- or all-wheel drive. The Mustang sits on a 3.8-inch longer wheelbase than the Model Y but is 1.4 inches shorter nose to tail. It is an inch and a half narrower but stands a tenth of an inch taller. Weight is similar. So, the cars are essentially the same size.
The Tesla offers significantly better EPA green scores, but both cars are pure EVs. Interestingly, the EPA calls the Mustang Mach-E a “Small Station Wagon” and the Tesla a “Small SUV.”
How the Mach-E Takes on the Tesla Model Y
So, what DOES the Mustang offer? It’s style. The Model Y looks like other Teslas—pleasantly rounded, but subtle, with a grilleless face, generic-looking taillamps, and soft contours. The interiors are spartan Danish Modern in their sober restraint, with only a big, wide screen to interact with. The Mustang, however, is notably muscular, wears its traditional livery well, and inside, feels more like the cars we know and love.
This could be the Mustang’s most important role—using its emotional appeal to entice folks who admire Teslas but love the cars they remember and have enjoyed. Everybody knows what Mustangs are. Ford, who put America on wheels with the Model T, has had numerous other hits (1949 sedan, 1960 Falcon, Thunderbird, Taurus, Explorer) and a few misses (Edsel). This gives them more than a century of brand equity and tradition that Tesla can’t offer. So, if Ford can match Tesla’s performance and approximate the tech but offer more style and curb appeal, not to mention an expansive national dealership network, maybe they’ll bring new buyers into the EV fold. A successful Mustang Mach-E can then lead to more electric Fords as we leave fossil-fuel-burning cars in the dust over the next 10-15 years.