2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E Review: How It Feels Like a Real Mustang
Yes, it's a very different Mustang than you've ever experienced before. But more pony car DNA is present in this EV than you'd expect.
I have a confession to make. I was extremely skeptical of the 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E. Maybe "skeptical" is not the right word to use. I thought it was bullshit. Just a deeply cynical marketing exercise in leveraging one of the world's most famous cars to hawk another boring, bloated electric crossover that Americans don't even want.
After all, the Mach-E began life as, basically, a Ford Escape-based EV crossover—not unlike a Chevrolet Bolt—until Ford's now-CEO Jim Farley ordered it to go back into development and not emerge until it was more compelling. "Mustang-inspired," Ford called the end result, which I found extremely cringeworthy. And even if Ford somehow managed to pull that off, there was always a huge risk that the Mustang faithful would never completely embrace it; the people who expect a howling V8 engine will accept nothing less.
Then I actually drove one. And I realized besides the time I called the Fiat 500L "worth checking out," it may have been the most wrong I've ever been about something car-related. Wearing that famous name, the Mustang Mach-E had high expectations to meet and I'm happy to report it's actually quite excellent.
It's fast, fun, capable of delivering superb electric range (up to 300 claimed miles, depending on configuration) and prone to turning heads everywhere it goes. And it's a great development for those of us who hope the electrified future of cars won't be boring. The car garnered a positive review from us at The Drive earlier this year. I concur with my colleague Jerry Perez's findings.
But even as I did, I was surprised by one major thing: How much it feels like a Mustang, even beyond the obvious visual cues like the front grille, the overall shape, and the taillights. Those are easy to do. Executing driving feel is a much harder task, and Ford pulled it off. It's an extremely different Mustang, mind you, and one that effectively turns this storied American performance nameplate into a sub-brand as it simultaneously takes it into the 21st century. But the spirit remained more intact than I thought it would.
2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E First Edition AWD: By the Numbers
- Base price (as tested): $42,895 ($59,400)
- Powertrain: 88 kWh battery | 1-speed transmission | all-wheel drive
- Horsepower: 346
- Torque: 428 lb-ft
- EPA Fuel Economy: 96 MPGe city | 84 MPGe highway
- Range: 270 miles (est.)
- 0 to 60: 4.8 seconds (est.)
- Seating capacity: 5
- Cargo volume: 29.7 cubic feet (59.7 with the second row down) | 4.7 cubic feet front trunk
- Quick take: The Mustang Mach-E is different but it more or less lives up to the name. And above all else, it's a stellar EV performance bargain.
First Up: Gripes
My six-day test of the Mach-E—an all-wheel-drive First Edition model packing 270 miles of estimated range—wasn't without a few gripes. I'll get those out of the way first.
The door handles suck. Too many automakers try and reinvent the wheel (or other things that do not need reinventing) with their EVs for the sake of feeling like "the future." Tesla is the worst offender here, but Ford jumped on the bandwagon with little electrically operated buttons with small handles on the front doors.
The back doors have no handles at all. As this CNET Roadshow story explains, Ford swears there's "no extra complexity" here and the approach cuts down on the number of parts inside the doors, but I wouldn't completely trust these electric actuators over mechanical handles. It's unclear if there are any manual overrides if the rear doors get stuck due to some electronic gremlin or whatever reason.
Another complaint involves needing physical climate control buttons. (This is an extension of the above complaint, really.) Ford's giant 15.5-inch tablet-like touchscreen was incredibly impressive, actually—it's fast, responsive and looks great. But tweaking the heat or air or heated seat settings, things you often do when you're driving, are operated through the screen and the screen alone.
I missed having easily reachable, physical buttons for these common controls. The screen desperately needs easily accessible "home" buttons for key functions, like on almost every other modern car.
I also thought the gear selector wheel felt incredibly cheap. Even when you get to Park or Drive or whatever you want, the wheel keeps spinning in that direction. The Mach-E is priced pretty attractively and this must be where Ford saved on some costs. Not a dealbreaker, but not great.
Then there's a fake "Propulsion Noise" setting that was really dumb. This setting lets you turn on an artificial noise that ramps up during acceleration. It's not an engine noise; it's kind of a low, burbly rumble, the kind of sound you'd imagine a UFO would make. You won't use it, ever.
Listen, Ford, unless you can make this thing sound just like a 428 cubic-inch V8 from a '69 Mustang Mach 1—which I actually would turn on from time to time for shits and giggles—forget it.
Finally, the hyphen in 'Mach-E' is unnecessary. The hyphen drives me nuts, especially since it was never present on models like the Mach 1. I'm an editor. Sue me.
That's about it for the bad. Now onto the good, which is pretty much everything else, and specifically the "Mustang-ness" of the Mach-E that surprised me so much.
Good: It Feels Like a Mustang
Besides the abundance of horse-shaped badges everywhere, there's a familiar feeling inside if you've ever driven a modern Mustang. The steering wheel is a substantive, thick-rimmed piece of kit. The front windshield is narrow vertically, giving it a sports car-like view of the road but without limiting all of your visibility the way a Camaro does. The speedometer on the all-digital gauge cluster reads "Ground Speed" just it does like on a Mustang with a combustion engine.
Though you sit up higher—slightly so, because the Mach-E is more of a big hatchback than any real kind of SUV—it all feels like a modernization and advancement of the strong-selling pony car we've become accustomed to over the past few years. I wouldn't be surprised if the next Mustang coupe carries over some of this interior tech, either.
It's Your Large, Electric Mustang Son
When the current S550 Mustang was launched in 2015, Ford placed a great deal of emphasis on making it feel more like a globally focused sports car than ever before. It was wider, lower, and finally dumped the solid axle for an independent rear suspension. The result was a Mustang with sharper handling than we had generally come to expect from the factory.
Nonetheless, the current Mustang isn't exactly a Miata. It feels less like an apartment complex on wheels the way a Dodge Challenger does, but it's still a wide, heavy, solid coupe; the current Camaro offers quite a bit more in the way of agility. But I don't think any Mustang buyer wants their car to feel like a featherweight. It should pack some heft.
The Mach-E delivers on this front, in both weight and overall feel. Depending on the spec, your electric Mustang will weigh between 4,394 pounds and 4,890 pounds. Batteries are heavy! It's no Lotus, this thing.
But the result is something that feels authoritative on the road. It has a kind of muscle-car feel to it that not every EV I've tested offers; you certainly won't get that feeling in a Volkswagen ID.4. When you pitch this through the corners, you have some weight to deal with, just like an ICE Mustang. And you don't feel like you're in something flimsy.
Bad Behavior Machine
You may have hang-ups about the name and the design, and those are understandable. But one thing is objectively true: The Mustang Mach-E is a true performance car. It's legitimately quick and, more importantly, just fun to drive.
Ford estimates the Mach-E First Edition's zero-to-60-mph dash to happen in 4.8 seconds; I would've guessed it's quicker than that. Numbers can't account for the thrill and immediacy of instant electric torque, or how engine braking lets you modulate your speeds before a tight corner, or how you run out of guts or road before the thing wants to tap out. Every time I found a good back road in the Mach-E, I felt in danger of losing my license. I often didn't realize just how fast I was going in it.
It's no slouch in the handling department, either. Remember all that stuff I said about the Mach-E feeling hefty? That doesn't really detract from its handling. The Mach-E might be called a crossover, but it really feels more on the "tall, compact hatchback" end of that class. It's a relatively small vehicle, all told, so it's easily negotiable on a fun road. The precise steering-feel helps a lot there.
Does it have the genuine absurdity of the track-focused Shelby GT500? No, but for an EV at this price range—which I'll speak to in a moment—it's an absolute joy to pilot.
An EV Performance Bargain
Done right, a Mustang of any variety should be an everyperson's performance car. And that's true of this EV as well. While most modern electric cars available in North America still aren't truly cheap, this one brings in a good amount of value. The Mustang Mach-E starts at $43,995 in base Select trim. Factor in the $7,500 EV tax credit where eligible, and you're looking at about $33,000 at the lowest.
Realistically, most Mach-Es will fall in the $40,000 range, which, for all you get, strikes me as a solid deal. Depending on equipment, that's in line with a lot of V8-powered Mustangs these days. As near as I can tell, this thing will be pretty comparable, price-wise, to the aforementioned ID.4. And there's no question in my mind which one I'd want. The ID.4 may be slightly stronger in terms of size and practicality (except when it comes to a frunk, which the VW does not offer) but the Mach-E has it beat everywhere else, especially as something that's fun to drive.
And in true Mustang fashion, Ford left some room to grow here. I'd be shocked—and a little disappointed—if Ford didn't go further with this thing in terms of power. And indeed, the even more powerful, 480-HP Mach-E GT is coming soon. Someone there really seems to enjoy screwing with Elon Musk. That alone seems worth doing.
Are you still very mad about the Mustang Mach-E and how it's not a real Mustang? Get your grandson to show you how to use email and send me a note at email@example.com