Nothing highlights the difference between what we think the word Mustang means (V8 coupe) and what Ford thinks it means (freedom, pioneering spirit, a hint of rebellion) better than pony badges on an electric SUV.
How can this be a Mustang, you ask? Because ethos outweighs powertrain, Ford's marketing team reply.
It’s fair to say the naming of the Blue Oval’s debut battery car has been a divisive move (I’ve read your comments below) but this isn’t the first time a maker has used an established nameplate to unite a family of different shaped models – Fiat put 500 badges on everything up to a seven-seat people carrier, while BMW will sell you a decidedly un-small off-roader with Mini written on it.
So at the very least Ford can claim to have successfully got your attention by putting that most iconic badge on its first all-electric car. From a marketing point of view, that’s mission accomplished. But it does leave behind some fairly substantial horseshoes for the Mach-E to fill.
How can an electric SUV be a Mustang?
Ford calls the Mustang a sports car and in the States that’s fine but over here it’s always felt like an odd fit – it’s kind of a softer Mercedes-AMG C63 Coupe that prioritises involvement over agility and precision. Not really a GT but also not strictly a 911 rival. Almost a genre of its own.
In reality that does the Mach-E a favour – although there are all-wheel-drive models, you can still pick one with rear-wheel drive for that authentic tail-out-at-every-junction Mustang experience, and because nobody is expecting Macan-like handling, it doesn’t need to defy the physics of lugging a great big battery around.
For now, the purest model seems to be the one that makes the most sense – its combination of rear-drive dynamics, a very usable 0-62mph time and Tesla Model Y-beating range makes the Extended Range RWD model the most Mustang-like, and the one to go for.
Does it drive like a Mustang?
Ford has rolled out plenty of footage of the Mach-E being pummelled around Lommel by European engineers who go on to say how it’s been set up for continental road conditions, but the reality is the ride is quite firm at low speed.
This is a bit of a concern given the sheer amount of sidewall on our 18-inch-wheeled car.
Still, things improve at speed, and as always the trade-off comes in the form of surprisingly good body control. The Mach-E weighs nearly two tonnes but a lot of that is positioned low and between the axles, so you don’t feel it in a corner anywhere near as much as you’d expect. It turns in neatly, resists understeer well and holds itself upright admirably.
However, it might be the throttle mapping, but there is a sense of bulk when pulling away – almost like the car needs half a second to get into its stride – rather than that pinged-elastic-band sensation we’ve got used to in electric cars.
Once you’re up and moving it’s certainly punchy enough, and the brakes do a good job of hauling up all that mass, even if the pedal is a bit numb.
The same goes for the steering, as we alluded to below in our test of a left-hand-drive car. Not actively bad, but a slightly off-putting combination of light heft and on-centre vagueness that speeds up very quickly when you start to turn the wheel.
It takes a bit of getting used to but the accuracy you want is there, and that low roll rate means it doesn’t feel like it’s going to topple over mid-bend in response to a sudden direction change.
There’s plenty of trademark Mustang flamboyance on the corner exit too – bring the power in gradually and the car rotates neatly around the driver. Mash the pedal and the rear steps out on-demand. It doesn’t seem as keen as a petrol Mustang to get really sideways, though, and that’s perhaps a nod to the more daily-drive, family-friendly nature of this model.
You can turn the traction control off but it’ll still interfere, and because it’s a button on the touchscreen now, there doesn’t appear to be the option to hold it down for five seconds to turn it off properly.
There’s plenty of trademark Mustang flamboyance on the corner exit too – bring the power in gradually and the car rotates neatly around the driver.
Is the touchscreen annoying?
Well, it’s certainly very large, and there’s no hiding the fact whoever designed it clearly spent a bit of time in a Tesla.
Most if not all of the main car controls now reside within its 15.5 inches – save for the lights, handbrake, hazards and now quite comically outdated drive selector dial.
It’s not completely intuitive in its layout, there are still a few conflicting menus that will leave you hunting around a bit for the setting you want at first, but it’s bright and easy to read with big buttons that are easy to find with your finger even when you’re being bounced around.
In a welcome juxtaposition, the dial screen is letterbox-sized and shaped, with the information you need and nothing more.
The wheel itself is pleasingly minimalistic by today’s standards, just a cluster of buttons for the cruise control on one side and media toggles on the other, although it does feel quite large in diameter.
Despite a few throwback stalks and switches, the cabin feels like one from a more expensive car – the tweed material on the dash and silver trim add up to quite an upmarket feel, and the large panoramic glass roof lights up the whole cabin.
I’m still not sold on the door-popper buttons – they feel a bit 2000s future-gazey at best and at worst feel a bit like poking C-3PO in the eye.
It’s also odd that Ford went to all the hassle of smoothing the door panel off, only to graft on a weird plastic winglet for you to swing off instead. They do look a bit like the aero door handles on a Ferrari 458, though, so that’s something to tell your mates.
How practical is it?
The Mach-E's boot is a few litres smaller than the petrol Mustang, but then again you do get usable back seats as a trade-off, and because it’s a hatchback the luggage capacity is a bit more accessible.
There’s also a front boot with a handy 81 litres of space, plus a cable storage system to keep things neat and tidy. It also has a drain plug, like the Ford Puma’s Megabox, so you could use it for wet or muddy sports equipment.
Inside there’s a big open space under the screen with a large wireless charger and separate storage underneath, plus slim and shallow door pockets plus a bigger cubby under the armrest.
Charging the car on test takes about 10 hours from a home wallbox, while a 150kW Ionity pump promises 118km in 10 minutes, or a 10-80 per cent charge should take 45 minutes. There’s also a ring of five lights on the charger release button to give you a visual of how full the battery is at a glance, which is a cool feature.
If you're among the first to order your car, in Europe at least, you’ll also get five years of free access to the FordPass Charging Network and a year of Ionity membership. Handy.
What difference does all-wheel drive make?
All-wheel drive on the Mach-E (like other EVs) comes from having an electric motor at each end.
The rear-drive models have a motor in the back, driving only the rear wheels; the all-wheel-drive versions add a motor up front, driving the front wheels. Both are available with Standard Range or Extended Range batteries.
Although the larger battery pack doesn’t impact cabin or boot space, it does add a chunk of weight. So the Extended Range rear-wheel-drive car is actually heavier than the Standard Range all-wheel-drive model – the bigger battery pack adds more kilos than the extra motor and drivetrain hardware does.
The combination that gives you the longest range is the Extended Range battery with rear-wheel drive: 610 kilometres.
If you want the quickest 0-100km/h time, the Extended Range with all-wheel drive does it in 5.1sec. That will change later in 2021 when the GT version arrives – it’s got two motors and all-wheel drive again, but much more power and torque, and does 0-100km/h in 3.7sec.
Although Ford insists on calling the Mach-E an SUV – when really it’s a roomy five-door hatchback – that doesn’t mean it has any off-road ability or inclination.
The all-wheel drive is not there to help you cope with sand or mud, but to offer extra all-weather reassurance and get more of the considerable output of the motors onto the road.
Stats show that both the all-wheel-drive versions are quicker to 100km/h than the single-motor cars, thanks to their extra traction. But the big change is how different the rear- and all-wheel-drive cars feel as you exit a bend.
The AWD Mach-E we drove (an Extended Range model) was happy to accelerate much earlier as you straightened up, and felt more stable and composed doing so.
Not that the rear-drive cars are unstable – they have a pleasingly organic, involving feel to them, always letting you know what they’re up to.
Think rear-drive BMW versus all-wheel-drive Audi. It’s a tidier experience as well as a more rapid one – and more expensive.
The Mach-E is plainly not an electric replacement for the petrol car.
That said, importing however small an amount of Mustangness to the driving experience does make it feel significantly more special than an all-electric Kuga, which is the other direction Ford could have taken.
Like it or not, Ford’s naming strategy and badge-worthiness will be pretty inconsequential to the majority of buyers. We’ve only been treated to a right-hook pony car in the most recent generation, don’t forget, so the Mustang remains for most a film screen icon rather than a genuine ownership aspiration.
Buyers of this car are more likely to be drawn in by the driving range and tech on offer. The fact it’s great fun to drive and has a horsey badge are just attractive extras.
A version of this story was first published at carmagazine.co.uk
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