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2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E Review: What’s in a Name?

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Auto123 reviews the 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E all-electric SUV.

I’ll be darned if the Ford Mustang Mach-E isn’t one of the most controversial vehicles we’ve seen in many a year, if for no other reason than its name.

After all, “Mustang” is one of the most recognizable and long-running nameplates in the car world, and it’s always meant two doors, a long hood and rear-wheel-drive (RWD). In short, it’s always meant “pony car”. Or maybe muscle car. But never EV power and most definitely, never “crossover sports utility vehicle”. But that’s exactly what the Mach-E is: an battery-electric vehicle (BEV) of the CUV persuasion.

Of course, with a nameplate as popular as this has, you’re going to have legions of folks taking a sharp interest in anything to do with it. These folks tend to harbour a very distinct view of what they cherish and you’re loathe to upset that apple cart too heavily, lest you upset a great many fans.

Ford was undoubtedly well aware of that long before they announced the Mach-E about two years ago, but they pressed on nevertheless and unleashed on the braying masses the vehicle you see here.

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2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E, profile
Photo: D.Heyman
2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E, profile

Indeed, you have to squint when looking at the five-door hatchback body style to see it, but there are aspects of the design that do, in fact, harken back to the Mustang we’ve always known. The three-bar taillights, for a start, as well as the way they sequentially alight when the indicator is on. There’s still a fairly long hood, the headlights are a take on the Eagle-Eye headlamps the current Mustang sports car sports and the shape of the grille is familiar, not to mention the Mustang logo standing proudly in the middle of it.

Other than that, though, there is no denying that this is a compact crossover that cuts a profile that’s more Escape CUV than Mustang Coupe; a look at its silhouette leaves little doubt to that fact.

You could probably say the same for the interior, which is dominated by a 15-inch central display that’s your hub for everything, from climate control to infotainment, from battery charge status to navigation. There is what could be called a gauge cluster, but it’s also a screen and a pretty tame one that doesn’t display all that much info, since you’ve got the main display for that. Gone is the classic Mustang three-spoke steering wheel, and gone are the deeply-recessed gauges. The way you’d know you’re in a Mustang of any capacity? The greeting message on start-up and of course the logo on the wheel hub.

Here's the thing, though: while I do like the traditional Mustang stuff, if you put that connection aside just for a second it’s plain to see that this is actually a great cockpit. It’s airy, it’s got the tech we talked about and since there are no gear levers or centre consoles to speak of, really, there’s little to snag your belongings on or infringe on your interior space.

Ford Mustang Mach-E 2021, édition California Route 1, intérieur
Photo: D.Heyman
Ford Mustang Mach-E 2021, édition California Route 1, intérieur

Taller folk will take some issue with rear sat headroom, but the low-mount seats do help attenuate that problem better than other similarly-sized CUVs, as does the fact there’s no driveline to worry about underneath it al, even though this is what one might call the “AWD” version of the Mach-E.

There’s a rear-wheel-drive version as well, by the way, and it’s the one you want if the longest range is what you’re after. The RWD standard-range model has a claimed 370 km of range, while the AWD standard-range version I was driving tops out at an estimated 340 km. Yes that’s right - those figures aren’t able to match those of the Tesla Model Y but right now, very few models can. (Note that an Extended-Range AWD model is available delivering 434 km, as is a RWD extended-range version that stretches things to 483 km. Obviously, those variants are costlier).

For my part, I actually started on a full charge with 365 km on the trip computer, likely because the system has a bit of a memory that tracks what previous drives have been like, and provides an estimate on that. Either way, I was happy to see that range claim, as I am with the ability to charge the Mach-E with DC fast charging as standard.

2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E, California Route 1 edition, front
Photo: D.Heyman
2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E, California Route 1 edition, front

Starting up the Mach-E is an event – actually, the “event” starts even before that because the Mach-E comes with an app that turns your smartphone into your key. That means you can leave your house sans keyfob but with phone in-hand (or in-pocket), walk up to your Mach-E, brush against the little touchpad on the door pillar that acts as your door release, tug on the weird notch that acts as you door pull, and of you go. Of course, you can also set your charge parameters, climate-control pre-conditioning and a host of other features from that app.

Essentially, where traditional Mustangs used to be all about loud starter motors and idle levels, this “new” Mustang is all about making everything as seamless as possible.

So you select drive with the gear select dial – it looks like all other Ford gear select dials, and I feel they could have gone a little more “special” there – and ease off, powertrain gently humming beneath you as you roll slowly away on nothing but electrons.

This being a direct-drive situation, just a little poke on the throttle will give you a proper boost of speed as all four wheels power you forward down the road, just fast enough to at least simulate the feel of a Mustang sports car. This is a quick little crossover, that’s for sure.

2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E, three-quarters rear
Photo: D.Heyman
2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E, three-quarters rear

Of course, the real takeaway for me when it comes to the drive of the Mach-E is actually just how anti-Mustang it is when it comes to its on-road manners. It rides incredibly smoothly, almost luxuriously as most everyday bumps are swallowed up with little drama as you waft your way down the road. There’s no real powertrain noise of course – also very un-Mustang – but that contributes to the sense that you need to shift your focus a little bit when it comes to this vehicle.

For me, that meant thinking about how I could get the most out of the range allotted, and a very simple button helps one do so. That’s the iPhone-style slider button – many of the Mach-E’s controls look like this – marked 1-Pedal Drive, and it allows you to move through town without every having to hit the brakes. Basically, as soon as you release the throttle, the EV motors run backwards to both slow the vehicle and regenerate the battery. I wouldn’t recommend it for highway uses as the slowdown upon throttle release is pretty severe, but in the city it’s great and it permitted me to undertake a 70-km drive…and end up having used only 30 km of charge. I’ll take that any day.

Since all the driving gear is jammed nice and low in the chassis, the center of gravity is low as well, so the Mach-E is pleasantly flat through corners and doesn’t dive much under hard braking. The ride is a comfort-first affair, so again: not exactly Mustang coupe material.

2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E, badging
Photo: D.Heyman
2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E, badging

Which, really, we should stop bothering with at this point. So why the Mustang name at all? After driving the Mach-E, the reasons for that become clearer – and it’s pretty simple. When one thinks of what car would appear beside the word “EV” in the OED, one sees a Tesla there. Plain and simple. Tesla is EV, EV is Tesla. To name its new EV CUV “Something EV” or “Something E” would not have had the same punch as naming it “Mustang”.

In other words, Mustang is a name with a ton of brand equity, and while die-hard Mustang aficionados were understandably taken aback at the outset, the Mach-E is selling in droves – in Canada, in the U.S., in markets as far away as Norway – so it seems that either many hard-core folks relented (after all; you can still buy a “proper” Mustang in any number of configurations), or a whole bunch of new buyers have been lining up for something with the name Mustang on it because they’ve always wanted that name, but needed the practicality.

Sure, it doesn’t have the range of the Tesla and if that’s important, then go there, young man. But if you want something different, something with better looks, a cool name and one that replaces the ubiquitous vibe of a Tesla with the legend status of the Mustang, the Mach-E deserves your attention.

2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E , California Route 1 edition, rear
2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E , California Route 1 edition, rear

We like

Uncluttered, no-nonsense interior
Smartphone integration
The equity of Mustang
    
We like less

Range could be better
Back seat legroom
    
The competition

Audi e-tron
Chevrolet Bolt EUV
Jaguar I-Pace
Kia Niro EV
Nissan LEAF +
Porsche Taycan 4S
Tesla Model Y
Volkswagen ID.4
Volvo XC40 Recharge

2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E, rear light
Photo: D.Heyman
2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E, rear light

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Photos:D.Heyman
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