FIRST LOOK: Pony badge or not, Mustang Mach-E's a ground breaker

As with the original pony car, this vehicle is certainly a game-changer

Published: November 20, 2019, 4:30 PM
Updated: November 23, 2021, 4:05 PM

Ford Mustang Mach-E

LOS ANGELES – The iconic Ford Mustang has always been a vehicle that evokes emotion – now the automaker is expecting the Mustang to be electrifying, too.

For the first time in its 55-year run, Ford is expanding the Mustang lineup to include a utility vehicle. Not just any utility vehicle, mind you; this one doesn’t even have an engine. The Mustang Mach-E is pure electric, with a pair of electric motors and a massive under-floor tray stuffed with lithium-ion battery cells. Depending on the model, it will accelerate past 100 km/h in a very Mustang-like mid three seconds, while its driving range is in excess of 475 kilometres.

“At the first-ever Detroit Auto Show, Henry Ford said he was working on something that would strike like forked lightning. That was the Model-T,” Ford executive chairman Bill Ford said as the Mach-E made its global debut in a spectacular production held in an aircraft hanger literally next door to Elon Musk’s Space X factory and the same venue Tesla has used for vehicle unveilings.

“Today, the Ford Motor Company is proud to unveil a car that strikes like forked lightning all over again. The all-new, all-electric, Mustang Mach-E. It’s Fast. It’s Fun. It’s Freedom. For a new generation of Mustang owners.”

Now there is already plenty of debate about whether the Mach-E really is a Mustang – just check out the chatter on Mustang owners’ forums – but that issue aside, this vehicle is certainly a game-changer. Its engineering is impressive, the styling is sleek, and its performance will surprise you.

Pony car performance

While the media here weren’t able to drive the Mach-E, we did have an opportunity to take a test drive with a Ford driver. The first segment of the drive was along a few streets in Hawthorne, Calif., where we first experienced the vehicle’s instant acceleration from stoplights and mixing through traffic. Then it was back to the Hawthorne airfield, where the Mach-E was put through a 0-100 km/h acceleration run and a slalom circuit.

The prototype model we were in was not the performance GT version, yet its burst to 100-plus was still accomplished in about five seconds. The torque of the powertrain pulled you back into the seat and it showed no signs of fading as the vehicle reached the end of the run. Even more impressive was the way the Mach-E attacked the slalom layout, holding firm through the twisty course. Body roll was minimal, and the vehicle never felt like it was being pushed to its limits.

In terms of these dynamics, the Mach-E does appear to be worth of wearing the pony badge.

Ford has taken styling cues from its iconic model and embedded them in the Mach-E’s design. Comparing the front end of a Mustang coupe and this new crossover, especially with them sitting side by side, one can readily see the family DNA. The wheel arches are similar, the Mustang shark nose is apparent, the hoods share similar wavy lines, the sculpting in the side panels and the signature tri-bar front light assemblies all help the Mach-E connect with its sibling. The A-pillar is pulled back to enhance the long-hood look and the haunches above the rear wheels bear a definite resemblance, too. Even the CUV’s sleek roofline silhouette shares a resemblance to the fastback shape of the Mustang coupe. Of course, the tri-bar taillights complete the family connection.

Room to grow into

Inside, the first thing I noticed was the amazing headroom the Mach-E provides. Even 6-foot-plus occupants have several centimetres of space above their noggins whether they’re sitting in front or in the rear. One journalist in our group was 6-foot-4 and even he, sitting in back, still had space above his head. The cabin itself was roomy, with seating for five, and the panoramic fixed-glass roof provided a bright, airy environment. The roof glass has a special coating that provides infrared protection, helping the interior stay cooler in the summer.

The Mach-E delivers the flexibility and storage space expected in a utility vehicle. The rear seatback folds flat, providing 1,688 litres of cargo space. There’s also 822 litres of space in the rear trunk, plus a 136-litre front trunk that will accommodate a carry-on suitcase or backpack – or sufficient ice and beverages for a pre-game “tailgate” party. When the fun is finished, there’s a plug at the bottom of the bin so you can let the leftovers out.

While this CUV’s design and dynamics are impressive on their own, the real ground-breaking feature is the Mach-E’s all-electric propulsion system. It’s not the first time Ford has dabbled in electric vehicles. Henry Ford collaborated with Thomas Edison more than century ago on electric power and his wife Clara’s personal car was a gasless 1914 Detroit Electric Model 47 Brougham. Appropriately, the group that developed the Mach-E was dubbed Team Edison and they were set up as a start-up organization within the Ford Motor Co., working in a renovated old brick building just a few blocks from where Henry Ford’s original factory in Detroit was located.

Much of Team Edison was made up of designers and engineers who’d previously worked on Mustang projects. One team member, who’d just finished working on the Shelby GT500, conceded he was less than enthused when he was informed he’d now be working on an electric CUV. “There was some grumbling among many of us – until we learned what we were going to be working on. Then, the enthusiasm really soared.”

Ford hoped that passion for Mustang that kept staffers pumped would carry over to the Mach-E project and the finished product suggests that’s exactly what happened. During our briefing sessions with various team leaders here, their passion and enthusiasm for this vehicle was obvious.

Charged up platform

The all-new architecture for the Mach-E is a chassis that incorporates a waterproof flat tray, positioned under the floor between the two axles and surrounded by crash absorption protection, that’s packed with liquid-cooled lithium-ion battery cells in two configurations. The standard system has 288 cells or “pouches” that are rated at 75.7 kWh, good for 370 to 443 kilometres. The extended-range package has 376 cells, with its 98.8 kWh delivering a 475-km range.

The batteries feed a pair of permanent electric motors – the smaller motor up front is rated at 50 kW and powers the front wheels in all-wheel-drive models; a larger 210-kW motor is mounted in the rear. The motors work independently. Rear-wheel-drive models only require the 210-kW motor.

The motor technology is already a proven entity, with electric Escapes in the New York City taxi fleet accumulating nearly 644,000 km on the original battery and powertrain without issues. In testing, the Mach-E’s system has already proven itself efficient to -40 C.

Output from the motors is expected to be 332 horsepower and 417 lb-ft of torque in the extended range, all-wheel drive configurations. Ford predicts the standard all-wheel drive variation will post quicker acceleration times to 100 km/h than the base Porsche Macan series. When the GT Performance model comes online (in spring 2021), the small front motor will be replaced by a second 210-kW unit. It’s expected to have 459 hp and 612 lb-ft on tap.

For recharging the batteries, the Mach-E comes with a charging pack that will plug into a 120- or 240-volt outlet. Since 80% of electric vehicle owners do their charging at home, this set-up should suffice – it averages a range of 35 km per hour using a 240-volt outlet. There’s also an available 240-volt Ford Connected Charging Station that can boost the rate to 51 km per charging hour. Ford dealers not only can include the station’s cost in the Mach-E financing plan, they can also offer advice on a professional electrician who can install the unit.

When you’re on the go, the Mach-E’s navigation system can identify up-to-date public charging locations during trips and direct you to the most convenient points to recharge on the route. Owners will also be given access to the FordPass charging network – the largest public charging network in North America – with more than 12,000 charging stations. Using DC fast chargers, it will take just 10 minutes to add about 76 km of range and approximately 38 minutes to charge from 10% to 80%.

Technology packed

The Mach-E will feature three drive modes: Whisper, Engage and Unbridled. The latter mode was initially dubbed Stampede, which still showed up on the prototype used for our test ride. Apparently, management thought that label might be considered extreme, so it was toned down to Unbridled. Regardless, it’s the all-out mode, with more aggressive steering and pedal mapping and accelerator tip-in set to the max. Engage mode sets the vehicle up to be driven in a sporty, but less aggressive manner. The steering is tighter, though less than Unbridled, and accelerator pedal response is stepped up a notch. The Whisper mode, as the label suggests, is set up to deliver a calm, more relaxed drive.

The latest technology is a highlight feature of the Mach-E, which is fitted with a 15.5-inch tablet-like touchscreen and Ford’s next-generation SYNC communications and entertainment system. Its sleek interface replaces complicated layers of menus for easier access to features using the touch, swipe and pinch controls we’re become used to with our smartphones. The system is also capable of learning drivers’ preferences and making them readily accessible. It will also install over-the-air updates to the system as they become available, including changes to improve vehicle performance, offering maintenance updates and even adding entirely new features such as programming for autonomous driving – the hardware is already installed.

Priced to move

Pricing for the Mach-E in Canada starts at $50,495 for the entry-level Select model, while the Premium trim starts at $59,495. The First Edition lists at $71,995, the California Route 1 at $64,495 and the GT Performance Edition will start at $82,995.

The First Edition and Premium models will be the first to hit the streets in late 2020. The Premium model will be offered in both rear-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive configurations with a choice of standard- or extended-range batteries. The First Edition will only be available with extended range and AWD. As production of the First Edition will be limited, buyers planning to purchase one will be asked to make a $3,000 deposit with their order.

The rest of the lineup – the base model Select, California Route 1 and GT Performance Edition – will go on sale in early 2021. The Select will be offered with rear- and all-wheel drive, as well as the standard or extended-range battery pack. The California model will be rear-wheel drive only with the extended-range battery and the GT Performance Edition (due in spring 2021) will be AWD with extended range. The base GT package will not be offered in Canada.

While the public debate as to whether this vehicle is truly a Mustang rages on, there’s no question the Mach-E is ground-breaking for Ford – an impressive response to the environmental issues facing the automotive industry. It opens doors to a totally new clientele, and it demonstrates that driving green can still be fun. The company has also managed to bring it to market at a price point that is thousands less than competitive battery-electric vehicles such as the Jaguar i-Pace or Tesla Model X.

Whether Mustang owners will be attracted to it is a mute point – the Mach-E can stand well on its own, pony or no pony.