2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E Review: The Electric Mustang You Weren’t Expecting Still Matters

Is it really a Mustang? Yes, no and maybe. It’s complicated. And also pretty quick.

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2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E Review: The Electric Mustang You Weren’t Expecting Still Matters © 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E Review: The Electric Mustang You Weren’t Expecting Still Matters

What's in a name? If you guessed "the fragile sociocultural constructs on which we all depend to define ourselves, our lives and our very reality," congratulations: you know what's going on here. Everything's in a name, of course, which is why you've locked eyes on the 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E, and not the 2021 Ford Zap or the 2021 Ford Magiq or even the 2021 Ford Escape-E. Ford's first realistic electric car for America was always going to be a Mustang, even if it doesn't look like one you've ever seen before.

The significance of this moment should not be understated. A decade after the first viable electric cars reached our shores, the technology has matured to a point where a legacy automaker like Ford will sell you a comfortable, quick zero-emissions SUV with an 88 kWh (usable) lithium-ion battery, a practical 300 miles of range and over-the-air updates for $45,000. Throw in various tax credits and you're in that mid-high $30K target range a certain automaker keeps pushing off—and this one doesn't come with any Home Depot fake wood in the cooling system. That we know of.

And yet, all anyone wants to talk about here is its name: the Mustang Mach-E. Better than not talking about the thing all, though, and that's exactly the point. To be clear, Ford's calling this electric car a Mustang simply so more people will care about it. The question of whether or not it's... I don't know, somehow "okay" to take a name synonymous with two doors, eight cylinders and over 56 years of American automotive history and slap it on a silent, bulbous and otherwise unrelated crossover is largely a moot one, because Ford did, and the wisdom of that plan will reveal itself down the line. 

Some may never forgive that original sin. But with the first customer deliveries imminent, Ford's new CEO Jim Farley brought us all down by the river this month for a public baptism of the Mach-E to show that it is indeed worthy of the Mustang name—if not in sight or sound, then at least in representing the kind of untapped freedom the original car exuded back in 1964. Oh, and also in power. Even without the 480 hp/634 lb-ft in the forth coming GT model, this thing's got some bite.

2021 Ford Mustang Mach E First Edition, By The Numbers

  • Base price (as tested): $58,300 ($59,400)
  • Powertrain: 88 kWh lithium-ion battery | single-speed transmission | permanent magnet synchronous motors | all-wheel drive
  • Horsepower: 346
  • Torque: 428 lb-ft
  • 0-60 mph: 4.8 seconds
  • EPA Range: 270 miles
  • Cargo Space: 29.7 cubic feet | 59.7 cubic feet seats down
  • Curb Weight: 4,890 pounds
  • Quick Take: Is it a Mustang? We'll see at the 2040 Ford Mustang conventions.

The Look of a Mustang

No amount of heritage style cues or purple writing will convince anyone that a four-door crossover looks like the mind's eye Mustang. Indeed the Mach-E's weakest point is probably its exterior design, a bold attempt at realizing a pony crossover that never quite resolves as a cohesive look. Certain angles convey the musclebound Porsche Macan vibe Ford wanted—low front 3/4, or dead-on from the back—though when you have to pick your beauty shots like that, it's never a great sign.

There are some elements that work, like the tapered roofline and flared rear fenders. But move to the side profile view and the subtle strength of those haunches mostly fades into a slabby expanse that strikes me as a little too tall, especially without traditional door handles to break it up (more on those buttons in a bit). Up front, a traditional long hood hides a drainable 133.0L trunk instead of a 5.0L V8, capped off by an interesting grilleless play on the gasser Mustang's front fascia.

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Now, if you're noticing a bit of an underbite in some of the pictures, as if the front overhang juts out a little too far past the front axle, you're not alone. Despite being a rear-wheel-drive vehicle, the Mustang Mach-E doesn't have that classic dash-to-axle ratio of its coupe brethren for two reasons. Obviously it doesn't need to make room for a longitudinal V8 in the engine bay. But more intriguingly, the modular electric skateboard platform underpinning the Mach-E has its bones in Ford's C2 platform used by the front-wheel drive Focus and Escape.

Now, I'm not saying the Mach-E shares any baseline characteristics with those two in any sense. But maybe the roots of its platform are also the roots of my mixed feelings about the way it looks. In addition to being 10 inches taller than a regular Mustang, it's also a few inches narrower and shorter in length, and there's no imposing physicality to it.

This is also the one part of the review where the name really matters. The thing about EV skateboard platforms, where the battery is sandwiched in a frame under the vehicle's floor between the axles, is that the compact nature of the powertrain opens up new design possibilities for bodies that don't have to accommodate the bulk of a traditional engine. But Ford swapped a real set of boundaries for an imaginary one with the demands of the Mustang name; I think that's why it doesn't feel fully realized.

Cool taillights, though. I'll always raise a glass for sequential blinkers.

Minimalist Cabin Makes Way for Future Tech

Inside, you'll immediately notice it's a roomy, accommodating space, more so than a normal crossover thanks to the absent transmission and driveshaft humps down the middle—up front, designers used that negative space for thoughtful storage solutions like bilevel trays and a floating armrest, while the flat floor in the second row goes a long way toward making it usable for three adults. The optional fixed panoramic roof also opens things up nicely, and almost 30 cubic of cargo space hides in the way back.

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The cockpit is absolutely dominated by the vertical 15.5-inch monitor running the latest Sync 4A software making all kinds of bold claims about machine learning and virtual assistant. Sentient infotainment systems aside, the screen's unabashed presence is fitting because you'll need to use it for pretty much every function not controlled by the steering wheel-mounted switches. Yes, that includes HVAC. But the good news is that big chrome multifunction ring is also the volume dial, and it's really pleasant to use. 

A second 10.2 inch gauge screen sits directly in front of the driver, and there's not much more to the cabin than that, though the First Edition model I drove had a few extras like aluminum pedal covers and color-coordinated stitching on the ActiveX seats. The minimalist in me is pleased. Besides, the other important bits are stuff you can't see—customizable ambient lighting, an excellent optional Bang & Olufsen sound system and a bevy of standard driver assist features in Ford's standard Co-Pilot 360 2.0 suite like adaptive cruise control, evasive steering assist, and lane centering.

Ford doesn't have a Tesla Autopilot-type killer app—yet. But sometime next year, it's going to release its own hands-free driving system called Active Drive Assist, following GM's lead with SuperCruise in prioritizing true hands-off driving on mapped highways. Active Drive Assist will supposedly be usable on 100,000 miles of American roads, combining radar cruise control, lane centering, speed sign recognition and a driver-facing camera to allow drivers to safely remove their hands from the wheel. Meanwhile, it's taking a page from Tesla's book in offering current Mach E buyers the option to purchase the Ford Co-Pilot360 2.0 Active Prep Package that hardwires the car to use Active Drive Assist with a simple software update when Ford unlocks the tech in Q3 2021. 

The Mustang Mach-E Battery

At the heart of the Mach-E is either a standard 68 kWh, 288-cell lithium ion battery or the 88 kWh, 376-cell extended range pack swaddled in crash protection and protected by an active liquid heating and cooling system. The real capacities of the packs are 76.8 and 98.5 kWh respectively, with Ford keeping about a 10 percent buffer to preserve their service lives. Earlier this year, it started describing and marketing the usable capacities in a bout of corporate honesty—most companies prefer to state the real installed capacity because bigger numbers are better—so we're going with their usable numbers in this review.

The permanent magnet synchronous axle motors—rear-drive is standard, AWD optional—are likewise oil-cooled and able to deliver peak torque in half a second. There will come a point when EVs are normalized enough that I don't have to explain how the floor-mounted battery gives electric crossovers and SUVs a lower center of gravity than their ICE counterparts, but we're not there yet. So, it does. And that's a significant plus.

As for how to top off that battery, you've got a few options. Plugging your Mach-E into the wall next to your PS5 on a normal 120V outlet with the provided Ford Mobile Charger will get you a trickle charge and about 3 miles of range per hour. Stepping up to a 240V outlet—no electrician needed if you've got one in your garage already—delivers an impressive 20 miles of range per hour, which all but guarantees a full battery every morning for anyone who can charge overnight. Installing a 48-amp Ford-branded home charger kicks it up to 30 miles of range per hour, which doesn't really seem worth it to me if you've already got a 240V hookup handy despite the station's WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity.

Lastly, and most importantly for everyday use, a visit to a public DC fast charger will see 61 miles of range added in just 10 minutes; recharging from 10 percent to 85 percent battery takes 45 minutes. That's not Tesla Supercharger fast, but it's near the top of the rest of the pack. Even better, Ford's working to overlay its own FordPass charging network of 13,500 stations on top of existing ones by partnering with efforts like Electrify America to link up backend services. In addition to communicating with vehicles to relay information like occupancy and charge rates, FordPass-enabled stations will allow Mach-E users to plug in and start charging seamlessly without arranging payment or futzing with menus beforehand.

Will it all work out like that in practice? My brief time with the Mach-E didn't include any fast charging stops, and for many people the idea of having to seek out an electric charger instead of a gas station somewhere is still strange enough that a random schmuck like me talking about how easy it is isn't going to change a lot of minds. But know that it is getting easier in many places, if too slowly in others.

Driving the 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E

Let's talk performance specs, because at the end of the day, this thing still has to drive like it means something. To start, the power and range spread between all the various battery and drivetrain combinations is a bit confusing, so here's how it breaks down with the official EPA numbers:

  • Standard Range Battery, RWD: 266 hp | 317 lb-ft | 230 miles
  • Standard Range Battery, AWD: 266 hp | 428 lb-ft | 211 miles
  • Extended Range Battery, RWD: 290 hp | 317 lb-ft | 300 miles
  • Extended Range Battery, AWD: 346 hp | 428 lb-ft | 270 miles
  • GT (Ext. Range, AWD): 480 hp | 634 lb-ft | 235 miles 

Zero to 60 times for the Ford Mustang Mach-E range from about six seconds with the standard range pack and RWD to a promised 3.5 seconds with the GT, which again isn't yet available. The nearly 5,000-pound crossover benefits from the instantaneous way the powertrain can shuttle torque between the front and rear axles to maximize traction in a straight line or a curve.

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Full-throttle acceleration is brisk and satisfying, and I was able to match the 0 to 60 mph time of 4.8 seconds that Ford suggests for the extended range AWD getup underneath my $59,000 First Edition test car. After that, the electric motors just keep pulling to well past legal limits, but you can almost watch the battery meter go down as you make these full-strength runs. With those shenanigans I didn't get especially close to matching an overall burn rate around town commensurate with the claimed 270-mile range, but it does seem very plausible.

You can choose between three driving modes—Whisper gives you a “seamless, calm drive;” Engage is “fun yet efficient;” and Unbridled offers “an exhilarating experience” augmented by a V-8-sounding exhaust note piped through the speakers as you accelerate. Pass. I gave them all a try and settled comfortably into the default setting of Engage. Neither of the other felt all that unique in any regard.

Handling on the First Edition was fine on paper, sure-footed and quick-steering, but in the real world, it feels as though all the mass is at the bottom—which, of course, it is. It sort of pogoes over humps, and inertia makes itself known in tight turns. There’s simply no way to hide the 2.5-ton weight. This kind of heft is endemic to electric vehicles at the moment. You can make them light, or make them have decent range, but you can’t yet do both. The flip side is on smooth pavement, the Mach E has a great highway ride. On porous surfaces, you’ll hear some tire noise from the Michelins because the rest of the vehicle is so quiet.

Speed-wise, you’ll need to wait until next summer for the hot tune in the GT Performance package; the GT will also have MagneRide suspension, Brembo front brakes and Pirelli summer tires. Definitely something to look forward to. 

Winning the Name Game

There are going to be some who read everything above and think "OK, not bad, but they still shouldn't have called it a Mustang." Two responses there—one, the Ford Mustang Mach-E's mission is a lot bigger than placating the faithful. Stuff like the GT500 exists for that (and as Ford CEO Jim Farley told Jay Leno recently, the Mach-E is part of a larger development plan that ensures a future for V8 Mustangs too).

Two, well, let's look at who we're dealing with. Say what you will about Ford, but this is a company that just put up big time in resurrecting the Bronco as a legitimate off-road SUV with enthusiast wish-list items like a specially-developed seven-speed manual transmission and a removable roof. It's spent the last five years turning the two-door Mustang into a force to be reckoned with on track. It knows what its people want, what they expect, what they demand. And it also knows how to use those wants and demands to further its own goals, like any business.

You may not agree with this particular decision, and depending on where you live, it might not be relevant to you for a while anyway since America's charging infrastructure is so scattershot. But the Ford Mustang Mach-E is not like GM doing the Blazer dirty with a bland remake. There's a bigger picture here. If it really pains you, just call it the Mach-E. Mach has always signaled something special anyway. 

Bottom line: Nice job, Ford. But let’s get that GT in the lineup soon, okay?

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