2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E first drive review: A very good EV, just an OK Mustang

Of all the years for Ford to slap the Mustang name on an electric crossover, 2020 seems about right. Subverted expectations are the name of the game as we crawl toward the start of a new decade and while the nomenclature might not sit well with everyone, rest assured that the 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E is a lovely little EV that speaks of great things to come.

The normal Ford Mustang’s M.O. is pretty straightforward: It’s meant to deliver balanced handling with power that has the capability to overwhelm the rear end. To that end, my First Edition tester holds the party line. With about 332 horsepower and 417 pound-feet of torque, there’s definitely enough go-juice, but with the majority of the powertrain’s heft located as low as possible, it takes a whole lot of brute manhandling to unsettle the Mach-E. As expected, the instantaneous electric torque makes for exciting starts, but it’s not enough to rip a toupee off an owner’s scalp. Even in its sharpest vehicle mode, there’s still plenty of sensible right-pedal modulation on offer, making it easy to power out of one corner and into the next.

Aside from the exciting starts, the Mach-E feels somewhat tame, as if Ford is aiming for more of a grand-touring-style experience. The suspension’s standard fixed dampers err toward softness, with a bit of body roll in corners and a surprisingly well-cushioned ride on the highway. Magnetorheological adaptive shocks are on the docket, but only for the upcoming GT, which seems like a missed opportunity — not only to milk a few more bucks from buyers, but also to offer a slightly sportier experience without requiring the full chunk of change the GT variant will command.

The Mustang Mach-E’s regenerative brakes don’t exactly command a sports-car level of precision, but that doesn’t make them bad. The one-foot-driving mode is stellar, with the right amount of lift-off deceleration making for easily controllable stops. My issues only become present when the left pedal is actually required; the blend point between regenerative and friction braking is incredibly obvious, with a marked shift in deceleration as I push further into the pedal’s throw. Some more linearity would inspire more confident braking and make for more Mustang-y dynamics, so I’m hoping that this gets sorted out on the GT.

The Mach-E offers three different vehicle modes. Whisper is my favorite, taking advantage of the car’s inherent on-road smoothness with a numb accelerator and comfortably light steering feel. Engage, the middle-child option, sharpens throttle and steering while the sportiest mode, Unbridled (groan), ramps the response up even further. Each setting also has its own volume level for the fake “engine” noise that Ford pipes into the cabin, which is more of a low-pitched thrum that actually sounds pretty good — better than the usual spaceship-like low-speed noises that most automakers rely on. You can turn it off if you don’t need to pretend you’re driving something non-electric, though.

The First Edition before me has an EPA-estimated range of 270 miles from its 98.8-kWh battery, but Michigan’s cold ambient temperatures have sliced the onboard computer’s estimated range down to 220 miles and driving with a heavy-foot can bring that number down even further. While the battery can accept up to 150 kilowatts of charging power, a trip to a 50-kW charger delivered just 35 kW of max power, requiring a whopping 45 minutes to add about 18% of juice.

For a bit of context, EPA range estimates vary from 211 miles on the low end, representing AWD variants with the standard-range 68.8-kWh battery, to 300 miles on the high end, which covers big-battery versions with rear-wheel drive.

Impressive tech abounds in the Mach-E and it’s obvious from the first glance at the dashboard. The standard 10.2-inch digital gauge cluster focuses only on the most pertinent information, limiting itself to a speedometer, range estimates and the current gear. Enabling lane-keep assist or turn-by-turn directions will add those to the screen, as well, but everything has a distinct place and is easy to reference with a quick glance. It will also change its background in different vehicle modes, which is a fun little touch.

I sincerely hope that Ford puts this screen — and this system — into as many future vehicles as possible. It’s really, really great.

Andrew Krok/Roadshow

The real meat and potatoes of the Mach-E’s cabin tech comes from the honkin’ 15.5-inch portrait display centered on the dash. It’s running a modified version of Ford’s Sync 4 system, so it’s responsive and easy on the eyes, with both light and dark motifs available. The top half of the screen is devoted to a single thing, whether it’s a navigation map or audio info, while a series of tiles just beneath allows for quick swapping between various corners of the system, and you can see it all with just a quick glance away from the windshield. Climate controls are at the bottom and, while I miss having physical switchgear for these, the touchscreen controls are easy enough to use at stoplights. Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Waze integration are all included, as is a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot running on AT&T’s network. Charging comes by way of two USB ports (one Type-A, one Type-C) per row.

There’s one part of the central display that deserves an award, though. There’s an incredibly powerful settings menu that’s accessed by hitting the Mach-E in the top left corner of the screen. Unlike most menus of this kind, which just sort of expect you to know what everything means, each setting has an information icon that, when clicked, gives you a plain-English explanation of what the various modes or settings do. It’s little things like this that I love and I’m sure people new to the EV experience will also appreciate a bit of handholding to ease the transition.

While some parts of EV life might take some getting used to, the Mach-E’s interior proves that some electric-vehicle benefits are easy to live with. A lack of mechanical bits under the body means there is so much space on offer and it’s only enhanced on my tester thanks to a glass roof that makes the cabin feel quite airy. Usable space is everywhere, with two levels of storage (including a wireless device charger) just under the screen, in addition to sufficiently deep door pockets, another cubby under the armrest and a trunk that, despite the cut roofline, is deep enough for a family’s worth of golf clubs or groceries.

There’s no such thing as having too much storage space.

Andrew Krok/Roadshow

The Mach-E’s interior is mighty pleasant, with supportive front seats that aren’t so tight as to be uncomfortable for more Rubenesque occupants. The fabric interior trim is a lovely touch that zhushes up an otherwise straightforward and sorta-plain dashboard design, and I like that the same trim also covers the speaker housings to bring it all together. I’m hopeful that some of the hard plastics on the A-pillar and lower center console of my preproduction tester are upgraded before reaching buyers, because those parts don’t really feel at home on a car that starts at $43,000. Second-row occupants are in luck, too, because that coupe-ish silhouette doesn’t impugn much on headroom and there’s plenty of legroom available, to boot.

If anything, the closest connection between the Mach-E and the actual Mustang is the exterior design. The coupeover roofline and the fat rear haunches would look just as appropriate on a regular ‘Stang and the rear taillights are pretty much plucked straight from the real deal, albeit with new protuberances that bridge the visual gap across the tailgate. The front end’s “grille” bears a slight Mustang resemblance, as do the headlights, but worry not — with a new Mustang generation on the horizon, something tells me the differences between EV and pony car will dwindle.

While I believe that some connections to the actual Mustang do exist, the Mach-E is more of a grand-touring-focused EV that can be a little sporty when it wants. Considering its price range, which starts around $43,000 and tops off near $60,000 for a First Edition, that seems like the right place to be. Yes, hardcore variants like the GT are on the way, but as it stands, the Mach-E also offers daily usability in a way that most Mustangs don’t. I think the Mach-E is a sign of great things to come from Ford — not only for its most precious nameplate, but for every future EV the automaker produces.

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