This sleek new SUV with the Mustang logo will go 230 to 300 per charge; produces up to 459 hp; comes in rear-wheel and AWD; and can go from 0 – 60 in 3.5 seconds.
But the true innovation and agility shown here was Ford’s realization that they needed to get serious about their participation in the EV market and build something that the public ‘had to have’. By relying on their current strengths - building pickups and SUV’s and adding the iconic Mustang Pony Ford was able to re-shape itself for now and the future.
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LOS ANGELES — Sounding a bit like a flying car from “Blade Runner” and accelerating like an audition for the chase scene in “Bullitt,” the 2021 Mustang Mach-E electric SUV drew a line connecting Ford Motor Co.’s muscle-car history to a high-tech future as I took a first early ride on public streets, days before its public debut at the Los Angeles auto show.
Rolling down El Segundo Boulevard, the Mach-E prototype’s Mustang-style shark nose, tri-bar lights and sporty proportions turned heads as development driver and Mustang racer Kai Goddard wheeled it through late afternoon traffic to an active taxiway at Hawthorne Municipal Airport for slalom and acceleration runs.
The machine I sat in, which was formally introduced to the public Sunday night with much fanfare, was born in a moment of corporate soul-searching.
Inside the Mach-E: More Sync, fewer buttons
The Mach-E is a small SUV, about the size of the Ford compact Escape, but it offers considerably more passenger space, thanks to an efficient architecture Ford developed to underpin a family of upcoming electric vehicles. The battery fits beneath the floor, pretty much filling the space between the axles.
It’ll have one or two electric motors, depending on whether you want rear-wheel or all-wheel drive. Each motor is mounted in the middle of the axle it powers, so there’s no engine under the hood. Combine that with an under-floor battery replacing the gas tank and no need for a center tunnel to connect the rear wheels and you have a surprisingly roomy passenger compartment for a sleek and sporty looking SUV.
Mustang Mach-E will be available in both Standard Range (75.7 kWh lithium-ion battery) and the Extended Range (98.8 kWh battery) that is targeting en EPA-estimated 300 miles of range in its rear wheel drive configuration. (Photo: Ford Motor Co.)
There’s 29 cubic feet of storage behind the rear seats and 4.8 more — enough for a standard carryon bag — under the hood. The total is a bit less than an Escape offers.
The controls include a big tablet-style touch screen for climate, audio, navigation and other features. A dial mounted low in the screen looks likely to control volume and several other functions. There’s no tuning dial. Ford promises this latest version of its Sync operating system will be the easiest to use, with better speech recognition, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and easy access to apps on your phone.
The gauge cluster is a thin rectangle in front of the driver with largely digital displays. There are no round gauges, though it’d be easy enough to program the screen to provide them.
Ford plans options including a full-glass roof, animal-free interior and scooped sculpted seats.
Sales should begin in the third or fourth quarter of 2020, as a 2021 model.
The GT performance model will follow in the first half of calendar 2021.
Prices will start just under $44,000, according to information Ford inadvertently leaked the day of my first ride.
Fast, nimble, futuristic
My demo model was a prototype Mach-E Premium, with extended range and AWD.
The more powerful Mach-E GTs will have AWD, 459 hp and 612 pound-feet of torque. A base model, rear-drive Mach-E with a single e-motor on its rear axle will have 255 hp.
The ride is smooth and comfortable, cushioning the impact of bumps and railroad tracks.
Despite aggressive Michelin tires for performance runs on a closed course, there’s not much road noise. That’s hard to achieve in electric vehicles, or EVs, because their batteries and motors are much quieter than a conventional engine and transmission.
The Mach-E leaped forward when Kai floored the accelerator — don’t call it a gas pedal; you’re burning electrons not dinosaurs. The Premium AWD hit 60 mph in about 5.5 seconds, about the same as a Jaguar I-Pace electric SUV and a respectable figure for the mid-performance model of any Mustang.
Equipped with an extended range battery and rear-wheel drive, Mustang Mach-E has a targeted EPA-estimated 300 miles of range. (Photo: Ford Motor Co.)
We braked and turned at the end of the taxiway, setting up to run a slalom of traffic cones laid out between small aircraft hangars.
At an aggressive 37-40 mph, the Mach-E had little body roll and easily threaded the space among the cones. The steering appeared to be fast and precise.
Getting the sound right
Mustang owners relish the rumble of a 5.0L V8, so Ford went to great lengths to create appropriate sounds for the Mach-E. Engineers studied performance cars, and visions of the future ranging from the Batmobile to Formula E electric race cars.
They settled on sounds ranging from an unobtrusive hum to a throaty rumble, along with new chimes for startup and alerts. The drive-train sound is related to what the mechanical components do, not pure fiction, so don’t expect any silly warp-drive effects. For pedestrian safety, the Mach-E produces a futuristic hum.
The Mach-E will have three drive modes, in rising order of performance: Whisper, Engaged and Unbridled. The modes will adjust performance, interior and exterior sound, even ambient lighting.
In addition to my ride down El Segundo, Mach-E prototypes are being tested in Death Valley, Alaska, Germany and other spots around the globe.
Ford plans to build the Mach-E in Cuautitlan, Mexico.
The Mach-E will offer hands-free highway driving shortly after sales begin. An over-the-air software update will enable the system, which uses hardware that’s built-in for features available from the start — presumably adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping.
The system will have eyeball-tracking to make sure the driver is awake and paying attention in case of emergency, but it’ll handle routine driving from highway entrance ramp to exit.
The Mach-E’s drive modes include a setting for maximum regenerative braking. That setting will slow the EV to a stop without using the brake pedal. By maximizing the amount of energy recovered during braking, so-called ‘one-pedal driving’ increases an EV’s range between charges.
Using Ford's new all-electric architecture that places batteries inside the underbody of the vehicle, Ford engineers and designers made room for five passengers. (Photo: Ford Motor Co.)
Model names will be self-explanatory: a Mach-E4 X will have all-wheel drive and a long-range battery.
Ford hasn’t revealed detailed pricing, but you can reserve a Mustang Mach-E at ford.com/suvs/mach-e/2021.
Why Ford made it a Mustang
In 2017, Ford leaders looked at the EV they planned to build — a compact hatchback not unlike the Focus Ford recently dropped — and yawned.
It oozed “compliance,” the kind of vehicle automakers build to meet regulatory requirements, not inspire passion. The kind of vehicle that is forgotten.
Then somebody asked the right question: “If we’re serious about electric vehicles, why don’t we make one that’s the kind of vehicle we’re good at: Mustangs, SUVs and pickups?”
Inside Mustang Mach-E, a wireless charging pad makes it easier to cut the cord with compatible smartphones. (Photo: Ford Motor Co.)
Few companies understand the importance of branding and heritage better than Ford. The decision to use the Mustang name and image — icons of Detroit’s greatest era of design and performance, one of the assets Ford used as collateral for loans that helped it escape bankruptcy during the Great Recession — went to the top. When Bill Ford, company chairman and Henry Ford’s great-grandson, greenlighted the plan, people in the organization got chills.
"You don't mess with an icon," Bill Ford said at the Mach-E's debut at a Los Angeles airport. "It's gotta drive like one, feel like one, have the soul of a Mustang."
Ford designers created hundreds of sketches, leading to the long hood, shark nose Coke bottle shape, short overhangs and coupe-like profile. Scrapping bureaucratic conventions, the team built interior prototypes out of detritus like leftover Keurig cups and pieces of cardboard. The project went from sketches to ordering production tools in just over a year, unprecedented speed for a company that’s been known to tie itself in knots.
Can the Mustang lead to a second automotive revolution?
Based on a brief ride and what I’ve seen of the Mach-E, you’d be a fool to bet against it.