Opinion: Why Ford Needed Mustang Mach-E to be a Mustang
Even a quick drive of the Mustang Mach-E versus the Mustang GT shows more than brand sacrilege
The announcement sent palpable shockwaves through the Internet: Ford’s all-electric crossover would be called a Mustang Mach-E, and folks all over weren’t having it. And it wasn’t only amongst Mustang diehards; Mustang and EV owner groups alike wondered what Ford was thinking.
Well-known as a brutishly entertaining gas-guzzling sports car, how could the iconic Mustang name be used on a futuristic all-electric, quick-but-quiet four-door crossover with optional all-wheel drive?
“It’s insulting to the tens of thousands of Mustang enthusiasts who love the Pony Car,” argues Mustang by Design co-author Jimmy Dinsmore, in the Ohio-based auto journalist’s online petition against the name. He launched the petition soon after the Mustang Mach-E was announced in November 2019, and it has garnered 16,646 online signatures, as of this writing.
Ford has since then argued that it didn’t take anything away from the traditional Mustang appeal, just added to it. And after some seat time in both the Mustang GT as well as the Mustang Mach-E, it’s easy to see Ford’s argument, with the extra practicality to go with similar or better acceleration numbers of the Mustang Mach-E.
But it seems more than that. The Mustang name is clearly treated carefully after more than 56 years by Ford, its spectacular early sales and steady-if-declining volume numbers over the decades giving Mustang designers and engineers rare corporate targets for fun and performance-tinged features on the Mustang to this day. Particularly important, Ford invested the extra funds needed into those Mustang performance and competition-baiting features.
And that’s exactly what Ford has done with the Mustang Mach-E.
Clearly, this is a statement vehicle for Ford. A statement that Ford can build a fast, fun and futuristic EV from the ground up, its corporate gaze clearly locked onto Tesla and its Model Y electric crossover that as of now is its only true market rival. And even if the family-friendly, electron-phasing Mach-E has a vastly different driving feel than the rip-snortin’ V8 and 6-speed manual-equipped GT coupe also seen here, the performance and desirability that just wouldn’t be possible without the extra effort and investment necessitated in part by the Mustang name.
Just look at Ford’s only other battery electric offering in Canada, the Ford Focus Electric. Introduced in 2012 for a starting price of over $41,000, it was obviously a quick chop and swap job with the regular Focus, stuffing its 23 kWh battery largely where the gas tank and cargo area previously resided, leaving little room for actual luggage. It had no engine, but the area up front was taken up by Its single electric motor driving the front wheels, power electronics and battery management system. Its 147 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque was generous compared to its electric hatchback rivals, but far from Mustang or even VW GTI hot hatch numbers of the day.
Of course, the ’21 Mach-E is in a different segment now, with much advanced technology. But that original Focus Electric’s starting price would be roughly $46,366 in today’s money, so not far under the base Mach-E’s $50,495 MSRP. The cheapest Mach-E also offers a 68 kWh battery, 18-inch wheels, rear-drive, 266 hp, 317 lb-ft of torque, a flat cargo floor, and additional storage up front in an extra frunk space.
The Focus Electric was clearly built as a compliance car meant to meet zero emissions vehicle rules, but it also showed a clear lack of EV ambition or performance enthusiasm on Ford’s part for what was up until 2018 its only battery electric vehicle.
Contrast that with the Mustang Mach-E, which is starting to trickle into owner hands now. It has multiple power levels above that 266 hp figure (from 290-346 hp, up to 480 hp on the upcoming GT later this year), and V8-like torque figures of 428 lb-ft, on up to a supercharged V8-worthy 634 lb-ft (in GT models). With 0-100 km/h times that start at a sports coupe-like mid-six second level, which is what the Premium Mach-E tester with the larger 88 kWh battery offered, the top Mach-E GT can blast as quickly up to 60 mph in a supercar-teasing 3.5 seconds.
So while quick acceleration blasts in this Mach-E were relatively quiet and composed, with enough thrust to be eye-opening without throwing your passenger’s phone into the back seat, the Mustang GT coupe’s bellowing V8 was instant excitement on demand, helped by that manual transmission that could interrupt conversation at any downshift. Different, but both with a fun performance kick.
That Mach-E closely targets Tesla, and has invested funds into its ‘cool factor’ as well as performance, is clear even before one hops inside. The Mach-E doesn’t offer regular door handles, but electronic E-latch buttons that unlatch the door, with the driver’s door offering a protruding hand ‘wedge’ to help guide along your hand in the dark, as well as Ford’s traditional but handy combo look integrated into the B-pillar.
Inside, flat screens replace gauges in front of the driver, while the massive vertical centre screen that can adjust the Mach-E from Whisper, Engage or the most fun Unbridled mode, a clear nod to Tesla’s Ludicrous acceleration mode that helped the brand become so well-known and widely featured in YouTube drag videos.
The Mach-E is also the first Ford to offer over the air updates, which will help it offer new or revised features going forward, which again has long been a Tesla staple.
The regular gas Mustang may not have this level of configurability, but Ford has offered increased adjustability in the Mustang coupe screens in recent years, with a digital tachometer that can be stretched across the binnacle as well as integrated drag race-style timing lights with its Track apps. Performance-wise, a Drag Mode has been available on automatic GTs since 2018, which Ford says helps GT drivers get the quickest time down your local quarter mile strip, while big numbers in the middle of the tach will help remind manual drivers what gear they’re in now.
From a Mach-E perspective, it’s really the 4-door crossover body, AWD, OTA updates and EV powertrain that are the most revolutionary aspects here for a Mustang. But they and sub-four second acceleration have all been available from Tesla for many years – even though the Model Y launched in mid-2020 in Canada, the Model 3 it’s closely based on arrived in 2017, giving Ford engineers a very close look at what time of performance and cool features it would offer.
An enthusiastic thumbs up from a Tesla Model Y driver while I was behind the wheel of the Mach-E suggested that the Ford BEV holds some visual or overall appeal to some (maybe many) recent Tesla owners. Another Model Y happened to be parked along my suburban and highway test loop, so I parked the Mach-E next to it for a sense of how the two compared size-wise. The Mach-E seems notably wider and lower than the Y, and more aggressive overall than the engorged Model 3 look of the Model Y.
Yes, the turn signals of the Mach-E still actively point in the direction of travel, just like a Mustang, but there’s clearly way more than the vertical taillights and other minor Mustang styling cues to tie these vehicles together. The Mustang Mach-E is an ambitiously great electric vehicle, with 340 to 491 km of range, with acceleration and the aggressive style that Mustang buyers have long appreciated.
Both gas and electric Mustang offer high performance, but with their own distinct pony car-inspired flavours. With a side of future tech flashiness inspired by Tesla, it simply wouldn’t have the backing, tech or performance to be this desirable if Ford had called it anything else.