That was my wife’s first impression of the 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E as we swept down a New Jersey rural road through surprisingly thick curtains of fog last Saturday. It was night, visibility was almost nil, and all I could think about was that this was not the ideal driving test for Ford’s first electric vehicle of consequence. I wanted to drive fast along some mountain road with hairpin turns — it’s an electric Mustang! — but the fog and the slick road conditions ensured that I proceeded with caution.
But I had to agree with her; it was smooth. From the whisper-quiet handling to the sinewy body style to the leather interior, the Mach-E radiated effortlessness. This is one of the most surprising — and satisfying — electric cars I’ve driven all year. After all, the Mach-E is the first new addition to the Mustang lineup ever. There’s no noisy V8 engine, no grumbling supercharger, no belching muffler, no non-existent backseat. Rather, it’s a zero-emissions electric crossover SUV that can easily fit two carseats in the backseats and a load of groceries in the trunk.
Mustang fans are likely to be perplexed, but I think I can safely say that Ford has an unqualified hit on its hands. And Ford definitely needed to knock this one out of the park. Its next EV, the electric Ford F-150, is also sure to be popular. But Ford needed to show everyone that it could make a powerful electric vehicle that was a blast to drive — and it did.
This isn’t just the opinion of a suburban dad who used the Mach-E to run errands and cart his kids around for three days. Everywhere I went, I was swarmed by curious on-lookers. It felt like hanging out with an automotive celebrity, based on the number of questions and requests for photos I got. People were drawn to this car. They had to know more. “An electric Mustang? An electric Mustang?”
Yes, an electric Mustang
There is something inherently disorienting about the Mach-E. The Ford Mustang is one of the most iconic cars in American history. It’s one of the original muscle cars, synonymous with drag strips and Steve McQueen’s epic car chase in 1968’s Bullitt. Somehow, I can’t quite picture McQueen’s irascible detective catching air on the hilly streets of San Francisco in this version of the Mustang, though I do think Lieutenant Bullitt would appreciate the all-wheel-drive and 333 horsepower that this First Edition Mach-E was packing.
This trim level is a limited-production initial run, aptly named because it is the first version of the Mach-E to reach customers before the rest of the lineup reaches dealerships. It comes with special “First Edition” labels, brushed aluminum pedals, red brake calipers, and a bright blue paint job that Ford won’t offer on most other versions of the Mustang Mach-E. (Mine came in “carbonized gray metallic.”) For a suggested price of $59,900, you get an estimated 270 miles of range and a 0-to-60 mph time in the mid-five-second range.
How does it drive?
Let’s start with the good stuff: the Mach-E is an absolute dream to drive. The handling was balanced and controlled. The acceleration was impressive without feeling showy or dangerous.
There are three driving modes named Whisper, Engage, and Unbridled. Each offers specific changes to the driving experience such as steering tweaks, varied pedal feel, gauge-cluster graphics, and specifically tuned sound. When I first picked up the car, it was already in Unbridled mode, which is described as the most aggressive driving style.
I really enjoyed the sportiness of this driving mode, but my wife said it made her feel nauseous, so I toggled between Engage and Whisper for most of my time with the car. Engage is said to be the mode that feels most like a Mustang, with tight steering and punchy acceleration. Like Goldilocks, I found it to be just right.
Ford says the Mach-E will eventually have Level 2 autonomy, meaning a partially autonomous driver assist system analogous to Tesla’s Autopilot. The top trim levels have all the hardware to support hands-free highway driving at launch, but the feature will not be available yet; it’s supposedly coming in one of the first major over-the-air updates for the automaker.
The version I drove had all the basic advanced driver assist functions, including blindspot detection, adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, and automatic emergency braking. They worked fine, nothing revelatory. The lane-keep assist was a little ping-pongy, but not excessively.
While EVs are not necessarily known for their driving sounds, Ford was reluctant to release a completely silent Mustang into the world. The automaker created 30 unique sound profiles for the Mustang Mach-E, using Blade Runner and Batman’s Tumbler as a benchmark. When the EV is started, you get something akin to the ominous theme song from Stranger Things, or a low-key bass slap. Will this satisfy Mustang fans who crave the angry snort of a combustion engine? Doubtful, but I found it to be pleasant and easy to ignore.
The Mach-E is undeniably a Mustang, from the tri-bar tail lights, to the long hood and short nose combo, to the similarities in the bodywork. But in case you forget, Ford has slapped its galloping pony logo on the grille, the steering wheel, the wheel center caps, and the rear hatch. Ford’s Blue Oval logo is there too, at the center of the windshield on top of the vehicle’s vision system.
As a five-passenger crossover SUV, it felt appropriately sized, neither too large nor small, slotting in between the Ford Escape and Edge in length, but with a longer wheelbase than both. It’s lower than a typical crossover — three inches lower than the Escape and five inches lower than the Edge — which made it easier for my kids to get into their carseats by themselves.
Thanks to a narrow A-pillar and a stubby front end, I felt like I could see everything I was supposed to from the driver’s seat. So many SUVs on the market today have gargantuan front-ends, creating dangerous front blind spots for drivers that could be fatal to people outside the vehicle, especially small children. Compact SUVs don’t typically have this problem, but it felt like Ford made the necessary design choices to ensure maximum visibility.
The front end is certainly more aggressive than the Tesla Model Y’s. The multi-module LED headlights, which come with sequential turn signals that flash, are distinctive and expressive. And the hatchback rear-end is the Mach-E’s most crossover trait.
The door handles are…well, missing. Not even a fold out or flip out handle. Instead there’s an itty-bitty fixed finger handle on the backside of the driver and passenger side doors. Above that there’s an electronic button that when pressed pops open the door. The rear doors also have a button, but no handle. It’s a very weird, idiosyncratic design choice, but I can’t begrudge Ford for doing it that way. The automaker says it designed these buttons-as-door-handles with children in mind, and I can see why; they were a big hit with my kids.
Let’s talk about the grille for a quick second. I was expecting to really dislike the faux grille, with its Yosemite Sam-looking handlebar mustache. But I didn’t mind it so much. There was so much about this car that was just thoroughly enjoyable that the grille became an afterthought. Also, I didn’t realize that there was an actual functional grille below the fake one that sucks in air when you run the AC, or when you’re using a DC fast charger.
Speaking of charging, I can’t recommend using a DC fast charger enough when charging the Mach-E. I tried using the charger that came with the vehicle, plugged into a normal 120-volt outlet in my garage, but I shouldn’t have bothered. Ford says you can only add 3 miles for every hour of charging through this method; an overnight charge barely moved the needle. But using a fast-charger that was in the automaker’s FordPass Charging Network, I was able to get from 40 percent to 80 percent in less than 30 minutes.
(Full disclosure: I charged the vehicle when I was out by myself, sans wife and kids, and I can’t speak to anyone else’s patience with charging times but my own.)
A 240-volt charger would get me 22 miles for every hour of charging. Ford has plans to sell a faster home charger through a partnership with Amazon Home Services to help with installation — though it has yet to release pricing and availability.
Ford claims that its FordPass Charging Network is the largest public network in the country, featuring 35,000 plugs at 12,500 charging stations in the US and parts of Canada, some of which are DC fast chargers that can charge the Mach-E to 80 percent in about 38 minutes. But Ford didn’t build its own network like Tesla; rather it leverages third-party EV chargers. The company is also offering two years of complimentary charging for all new Mach-E owners, which is a nice incentive.
Inside, the seats are black leather with red stitching, a nice compliment to the grey paint job and the red caliper brakes. I found the driver seat to be very comfortable, and the headroom to be expansive. The panoramic sunroof was similar to what’s found in most Teslas these days, and was a joy to sit under. The soft fabric on the dash was a nice touch, and the air vents are real air vents, with open and close knobs, so this might be the car for you if you find Tesla’s digital air vents off-putting.
What about that screen, though? Of course I’m talking about the massive 15.5-inch touchscreen that sits in the center of the dash. Like most other EVs on the market, the Mach-E is lacking in physical buttons, save for one at the bottom of the screen that serves as volume control. There’s another dial in the center console that works as the gear shifter — but other than that, everything is controlled through the touchscreen.
The screen is really enormous, floating above the dashboard like the ether. The vertical tablet reminded me more of the Tesla Model S than the Model 3, or perhaps even more like those tablets you’d find embedded in a high-tech refrigerator.
I found the Sync 4 software to be one of the biggest drawbacks to the Mach-E. The layout was fine, but the user experience was lacking. Navigation was essentially worthless; after inputting a destination, the map offered no turn-by-turn directions and seemed to be lacking many street names. After a few non-starter attempts, I simply defaulted to CarPlay for most of my navigation and infotainment needs.
The Mach-E supports both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto wirelessly. The smartphone integration only uses the top half of the screen, though the latest version of CarPlay supports portrait orientation, so Apple could have used the whole screen if it wanted. That said, the image is large enough, about nine to 10 inches across, so you’re not really losing out with just half the screen.
Tapping through the settings gets you to the camera feature, where you can see the 360-degree image of the car from the top down, as well the view from the rear-mounted camera. Ford uses a good amount of the screen to show you these images, which really helps when reversing or navigating tight spaces.
There are still a bunch of buttons on the steering wheel, as well as buttons on the turning and wiper stalks. Ford has found a nice balance between Tesla-style minimalism and the need to have some tactile controls.
This may sound like missing the forest for the trees, but the Mach-E has got me really excited for what comes next. This is a fantastic electric car, superbly designed and really fun to drive. But that said, I’d love to see Ford take all the basic elements and stick it into the body of an Escape — something that retails for less than $25,000 and would instantly be affordable to a bigger swath of customers. Give me a cheap, bland midsized Ford electric SUV to bang around town with my grubby kids, dammit!
The Mach-E is a gorgeous car with a less than attractive price tag. The base model is the $43,895 Select version. Even with the $7,500 federal tax credit, that version will just barely crack the average sale price for a new car in the US. I get it; it’s an electric Mustang. That’s very cool, and cool costs extra.
I get why Ford chose the Mustang nameplate for its first EV. It wanted our attention. And now that has it, it’s time for Ford to show us what it can really do with this technology.