Ford leverages its legend to build a Porsche-beating crossover
Deep underground at Ford’s Product Development Center, a large studio has been converted into an “immersion room,” its temporary walls papered with endless PowerPoint slides. Normally, vision boards like this are a clear indication that both imagination and inspiration were snuffed out of the project three months in.
But then something caught my eye—a slide titled “Winning Will Not Be Driven by Compliance.”
Below the headline were four cars: a BMW i3, Nissan Leaf, Chevy Bolt EV, and an electric Ford Focus. Although I strongly dislike the poor-driving i3, have forgotten about driving the Leaf as many times as I’ve driven it, and imagine that a small battery shoved into a Focus would be ho-hum, I genuinely like the Bolt. We voted it our 2017 Car of the Year. So why was it on this slide? Then it hit me: As good as the Bolt might be, Chevy’s electric hatchback looks just as dorky as the other three compliance vehicles.
Back in 2014, Ford saw the writing on the wall; the decision was made to go electric. We were shown a quarter-scale clay model of an equally dorked-out, front-wheel-drive CUV that was set to go into production right around now. Luckily for car enthusiasts, smarter and cooler heads intervened.
Instead of delivering an electric car that Ford didn’t want to build to dealers who didn’t want to sell it to customers who didn’t want to buy it, in a decision that went all the way up to Bill Ford, the Blue Oval decided to put a pony on its first proper, mass-market electric vehicle.
Meet the newest member of the Mustang family, the Ford Mustang Mach-E.
A Mustang-badged electric vehicle? And an SUV, at that? Really? Yeah, for real. Ford leveraged the brand’s great strengths—namely, the fact that almost every person on earth likes the Mustang. Not only that (and I found this next part particularly gratifying to learn), but performance car customers are also much better educated about battery electric vehicles (BEVs) than the average car buyer.
We take a first ride in the 2021 Mustang Mach-E right here.
One of the hurdles to BEV adoption is the persistent myths about cars powered by batteries. A few Ford shared with us: 92 percent of new car buyers think electric cars are toylike; 75 percent wouldn’t drive a BEV in extreme weather; 51 percent suffer from range anxiety; and thanks to the success of the Toyota Prius, 42 percent think that BEVs require gasoline. The solution then, if you’re going to sell an electric car, is to attract the buyers who think EV tech is sexy. Who dat? People who dig performance.
The other side of Mustang: See the 760-hp Mustang Shelby GT500 here.
Ford’s design team began by working on three versions of the Mustang Mach-E. The first was meant to be powerful and emotional. The second pure and minimal. The third was slavish (for lack of a better word) to the current Mustang’s design language. In the end, Ford picked the first proposal then added healthy amounts of Mustang couture. The result is an aggressive-looking, spacious five-passenger electric SUV. Truth be told, having climbed around inside a pretty-far-along styling buck, the Mustang Mach-E is just barely an SUV. If the batteries weren’t hidden inside the floor, the thing would look like a hatchback. I think it looks pretty much OK, though I’d love to see the GT version. The nose is supposed to be quite different with a big plate replacing the body-colored snout.
The Mustang Mach-E’s Interior
Inside, Ford smartly uses a no-animals-harmed interior. Scowl and scoff all you want, but out here in Los Angeles, I’ve known more than a few people who’ve flat-out refused to buy a car because dead cow hides were the only interior option. These seat coverings feel like leather but aren’t; there’s no cloth option. Think of the seats as Beyond Leather or Impossible Seats, and you get the idea. Feels just like the real thing but ain’t.
Cool tech? Your phone is your key. There is a key, but its functionality is limited in order to encourage you to use your phone as your key. Don’t have a phone? You can use the keypad to enter the car and a second keypad to start the car. That said, are there any Luddites shopping for a new electric car who don’t have a smartphone? (BTW, for them, the big, prominent 15.5-inch screen has a volume knob.) Ford used the term “physidigital” to describe the interface, but my mind automatically tunes out such argot, so I missed the rest of it. It looks pretty useful, though.
Mustang Mach-E vs. Porsche Macan? Performance Promises
The 2021 Mustang Mach-E will initially be available in three flavors. One is pure rear-drive with a single large traction motor on the rear axle. The Mach-E4 will be all-wheel drive with a second smaller motor added to the front axle. Then there will be the Mach-E GT with a twin of the rear motor added to the front for an AWD Mustang-flavored performance SUV.
Ford claims the base RWD machine will be as quick as a Porsche Macan, though no one specified which Macan—I’ll assume the 248-horsepower base model. We’ve never tested a plain old turbo-four base Macan (though we recorded a 0–60 time of 4.6 seconds for the Macan S), but Porsche claims it hits 60 mph in 6.3 seconds. The Mustang Mach-E GT, Ford says, will accelerate like a Porsche 911 GTS—a 450-hp car we’ve tested hitting 60 mph in 3.1 seconds.
The Mach-E GT will come with 459 horsepower and 612 lb-ft of torque (that’s Ford’s current estimate). That said, the Mach-E First Edition will have an estimated 332 hp and 417 lb-ft, while Ford is targeting 255 hp and 306 lb-ft on the Mach-E base models.
As for dynamics, Ford is having the same people who tune Mustangs tune the Mach-E. Fingers crossed that they threw one of the Shelby guys or gals at it. Because magnetic suspension similar to what’s on the GT350 and GT500 will be an option, we might get my wish.
What About Range? And What’s the Mustang Mach-E’s Release Date?
Two battery packs will be available. The small pack will provide 210 to 230 miles (338 to 370 km) of range (depending on whether you choose RWD or AWD), the big pack 270 to 300 miles (434 to 483 km), though they’re a ways off from EPA certification. The small battery holds 75.7 kW-hr of juice and weighs approximately 1,050 pounds (476 kg); the larger battery is rated at 98.8 kW-hr and weighs 1,275 pounds (578 kg). Ford didn’t say, but you can expect the Mach-E to weigh in at more than 5,000 pounds (2,268 kg).
As for charging times, Ford claims the batteries will DC-fast-charge to 80 percent in 45 minutes. The team was also quick to remind us that 80 percent of BEV charging happens overnight at home. Want a Level 2 home charger? Ford is partnering with Amazon to hook it up. Buyers will also be able to purchase the car digitally.
Heard enough to open your checkbook? You can place a $500 USD deposit on one right now, though you won’t be able to purchase a Mach-E outright until fall 2020. Those interested in the Mach-E GT (Hi, Mom!) will have to wait until late in 2021. Pricing? Nothing official yet, but a starting point just under $45,000 USD is a good guess, and Ford indicated that unlike Tesla and General Motors, Dearborn still has lots of those lovely $7,500 USD federal tax credits left.
Should you be upset? If you’re deeply conservative in the traditional sense of the word, oh my, yes! The Mach-E is no more a Mustang than my Chrysler! And get off my lawn while you’re at it. However, as Ford not so loudly brought up, this is the second time it’s expanded the Mustang family. Anyone remember the Mustang II? Full disclosure, we do; it was our 1974 Car of the Year. Meaning, there’s precedence for this move.
There are millions of Mustang fans out there—why not leverage their love of the model and make something way cooler than a dorky compliance car? Do you think the front-engine Porsche Panamera looks just like the rear-engine 911 by accident? No way, dude. All Porsches must answer to the 911 and, at the same time, milk that same 911 for any and all credibility and sex appeal. Looks like the same will be true for Ford and the Mustang. I call that smart.