The electric Mach-E is competent, cool, and composed, an excellent car to drive. But it’s not a Mustang, and Ford’s decision to portray it as such is a head-scratcher.
Despite an epic media blitz, a gallimaufry of tacked-on design elements, and a 0-60 time that trounces some of its two-door equine cohorts, the all-new, battery-powered Ford Mustang Mach-E SUV is not a real Mustang. Before you accuse me of being a pedant or a purist, know that I love brand experimentation, even when it overreaches. I’m a devotee of front-engined Porsches, of convertible trucks, of stick-shift EVs, of Honda pickups. I don’t even really like pony cars—they’re generally noisy, flashy, and cheap, and thus remind me too much of myself. So I don’t have a horse in this race.
But a Mustang is supposed to be exuberant, unbridled. (It is, after all, a wild horse.) It’s supposed to make driving an occasion of joy. And while the Mach-E Premium AWD that I tested is a very competent and well-constructed electric crossover with some features that offer minor delight, the experience of driving it around the streets and parkways, interstates and beachfront back roads of New York City and Long Island was about as exhilarating as shopping for chest freezers.
Mustangs are meant to draw attention. Despite its Rapid red metallic paint, glistering 19-inch wheels, and galloping pony emblem up front, my passenger noted, a little sadly, “No one is even looking at us.”
The Mach-E is a smooth operator, especially in its tamest “Whisper” mode. This is true for its acceleration and ride, which feels expeditious and well-damped, as well as its slippery-yet-muscular shape. The smooth profile is aided by trick doors that open with the touch of a button on the B- or C-pillar, obviating the need for bulky door handles. (There is a little plastic finger-hook on each door, which almost feels designed to snap off.) The vegan interior—no leather or animal-derived products here—is high quality, with the same sort of nubbly, near-luxury, Pendleton-esque finishes first seen in the BMW i3. It is handsome for a crossover, a form factor that’s about as easy to make alluring as a burlap sack of yams. Its mesomorphic sculpturality is aided by its clever roof, which simulates a coupe-like fastback silhouette while hiding additional rear-seat headroom under a second-level roofline that’s painted black for visual camouflage.
This winking chicanery extends to the interior. Select the highest-performance drive mode—named “Unbridled,” we kid you not—and electric drivetrain whinge is piped in over the excellent B&O sound system. Since humans tend to associate speed with sound, and are terrified of silence (and wind howl and tire slap), I’m not opposed to some Eno ambiance in the cabin. But does every electric car have to sound like a spaceship gargling a milkshake? The other two drive modes, Whisper and Engage, offer enhanced quietude and improved balance, respectively, toning down the intergalactic hamburgling while also reducing the regenerative braking. This diminishes the capacity for one-pedal driving, one of the proclaimed joys of driving an EV, at least among those who find slowing down joyous.
Not that adding range is so much of an issue. Ford claims that the AWD Premium Mach-E will go 270 miles on a charge; the RWD version is said to hit 300. In our days of galavanting around NYC and the North Shore of Long Island, I never worried about juicing up. Clear and accurate range graphics, access to a broad national charging network, and a handy “Charge” button on the nav system to find the closest electron juice stations alleviated any concerns about being stranded.
I was, however, a bit enervated by the black-fronted plastic box that sits atop the steering column, looking like a pill-minder attempting to sneak into a nightclub. None of the operator’s manuals explained its purpose, and I couldn’t find anything online to explain it, so I had to text a Ford public relations representative. “It’s the Active Drive Assist camera for eye gaze monitoring when driving hands free,” he wrote back, as read aloud to me wirelessly via Apple CarPlay and my wirelessly-charging iPhone. “Monitors head position too, to make sure you’re paying attention to the road.”
Read more: Road and Track