Last week, I had the good fortune of driving the hottest EV on the market, the Ford Mustang Mach-e.
Well…Teslas are driving themselves into road hazards, Bolts might be the literal hottest but for the wrong reasons, and the VW ID4…huh, what was that? I fell asleep.
Suffice to say, my time with the Mach-e gave me insight into how EVs can capture the attention of a car-driving public that’s deeply committed to their gas-guzzling vehicles.
The Ford Mustang Mach-e is fun, surprisingly refined, and proves that you can borrow the best innovations and still come out with something unique.
1. It’s Fun to Drive
There are three modes to choose from when whipping around town in the Mach-e (and believe me, you will want to whip): Engage, Whisper, and Unbridled.
It doesn’t take much to guess what each mode does. Engage is your basic, around town mode that gives you a good amount of torque and pickup. It’s sporty without whiplash-inducing starts and stops. It’s got just a hint of growl piped in (thanks to the faux-engine noise Ford created to help maintain that Mustang feel). It’s a balanced driving mode that feels more fun than average.
Whisper mode gets rid of the fake engine noise and focuses on the ride. This is the mode you’ll want to stay in for gentle acceleration arcs and one-pedal driving that isn’t going to surprise the cars behind you when you take your foot off the accelerator. Ford says that there’s no difference in watts used between the modes, but I was able to consistently get more range out of the Mach-e in Whisper mode than in any other. Maybe that’s due to the fact that it performs more like a Chevy Bolt than a Mustang in this mode.
Unbridled gives you the full Mustang experience. That engine growl hinted at in Engage is full-throttle in Unbridled. Though amusingly enough, the polite rumble heard through the Bang & Olufsen speakers is just for you, the only exterior sounds are the low-speed hum and backup chimes to alert pedestrians. Acceleration is “bring-a-smile-to-your-face” fun in Unbridled, letting you catch up with full-speed highway traffic in seconds (and possibly earning you multiple speeding tickets if you aren’t careful). That likely accounts for the plummeting range estimates I experienced in Unbridled. It’s just too tempting to press that accelerator to the floor and experience that roller-coaster launch feeling. Steering is also tighter too, which a lot of drivers will appreciate.
Oh, and the engine noise? You can turn it off completely if you prefer. I thought I’d hate it, having driven a Bolt for the better part of the past two years. I’ll be honest, though, there’s a bit of a Pavlovian response when you hear the accelerator respond to pressure. It’s hard not to grin. You’ll also get more aggressive engine braking with Unbridled, letting you recapture more energy, especially when one-pedal-driving is enabled in the Mach-e settings.
2. It’s Loaded with Tech
The other thing that you’ll notice when you aren’t putting the Ford Mustang Mach-e through its paces is that it’s absolutely packed with tech. The first and most noticeable is the gigantic 15.5-inch infotainment touchscreen that dominates the center of the dash. From here you’ll control nearly everything—the radio, environmental controls, car settings (and there are a ton of them), navigation, and more. It’s also what you’ll use when you’re backing up or using the Park Assist function.
The giant touchscreen does take some getting used to and some controls are confusingly buried. Here, Ford could take a note from their rival—Chevrolet learned that dedicated buttons to climate control are important (given how A/C and heat can affect your range). It’s also unforgivable to bury the hatch lift button two menus deep. That should be an actual button on the dashboard.
The main screen is very customizable and intuitive, with large landing areas for your prodding digits. Thankfully some things, like changing the radio station and volume, have very handy switches and buttons on the steering wheel. There’s also a dedicated physical volume knob that interacts with the touchscreen through engineering magic.
Speaking of, the dashboard is a low-profile, 10.5-inch screen, providing all the in-the-moment information you need: speed, cruise status, current posted speed, battery capacity, range, following distance, lane assist status, navigation steps (if using Ford’s built-in nav), plus any warnings or error messages. The dash also gives you an at-a-glance view of what driving mode you’re in with a different animated graphic and background for each of the three. It doesn’t have quite the detailed feedback of my Chevrolet Bolt and I did miss seeing how my driving style was directly affecting my range but most drivers don’t really care beyond how long the battery will last.
My only complaint is that some of the systems are a little too smart. The rear-collision assist was consistently foiled by a shrub in my driveway, bringing the car to a stop, along with alert beeps and warning messages. The “Intelligent” cruise control was frequently fooled into adjusting my highway speed based on the 45 MPH signs posted at the weigh stations I passed along I-75 (conversely, when using it around town, it would fail to adjust if a vehicle was blocking line-of-sight to a speed limit sign). Suffice to say, driver’s assistance tech is just that, assistance. Ford’s Blue Cruise self-driving tech is coming to the Mach-e but it isn’t here yet. These systems don’t eliminate the need for you to pay attention.
Then there’s the key system. The Mach-e didn’t always recognize my phone-as-key, requiring me to start it from the app even though I was sitting in the car (ironically, it would recognize my phone and light up, ready to drive every single time I went to my garage with zero intention of driving). Sometimes the doors would unlock. Other times, I’d be stuck typing out a quick code on the hidden panel in the door frame. Since you only get one key fob, I had hopes that the Bluetooth recognition of the Mach-e would be more consistent than other similar systems I’ve encountered. Suffice to say, make sure you have your fob handy, just in case.
Still, I love the personalized driver settings that the phone-as-key settings enable. The Mach-e remembers and adjusts your seat, driving mode preferences, and more based on who’s in the driver’s seat. I’m hoping that future app and over-the-air car updates can smooth out the rough edges. Because, when it all works, it’s absolutely wild sitting down in your car, having it adjust to you, then driving off, all without a key anywhere nearby.
3. It’s Comfortable
Ford and luxury might not be seen together often but the truth is the Mach-e provides a very upscale experience. Soft leather appoints most surfaces and carbon fiber-patterned textiles are everywhere you look. Switches and buttons are solid and very tactile. The one oddity is the use of rather chintzy-looking chrome for the drive mode selector and touchscreen volume knob. But I chalk that up to a styling quirk from an old-school auto manufacturer.
Turn your head towards the ceiling and you’ll be met with an expansive polarized glass roof that stretches back over the rear seats. It provides a serene passenger experience…assuming your passengers aren’t two teenagers who’d rather stare at their phones than the early evening sky. I was surprised that all that glass didn’t leave the Mach-e a broiling hotbox when I left it in the Florida sun. Then again, I can always start the vehicle from my phone and have it cool itself down before I get back in.
The Bang & Olufsen speakers are covered cloth covered and surround the cabin, providing a fantastic all-around audio environment. Road noise isn’t a factor either. Smaller EVs (like my Chevrolet Bolt), you can hear every bump and there’s a constant hum. The cabin of the Mach-e is silent, soaking up outside noise and creating a driving oasis.
There are additional conveniences as well, like an integrated wireless phone charger just below the center screen and multiple cubbyholes throughout the interior.
4. It’ll Turn Heads
Everyone has an opinion about the Mustang Mach-e.
Before I even took delivery, my friend was decrying the abuse of the brand’s pedigree, aghast that Ford would sully the Mustang name by attaching it to a crossover. One of the stylists where I get my hair cut just scowled at it and shook his head in disapproval (while the other absolutely loved it). People will stop you in parking lots, make you roll down your window at stop lights, and drift back towards you on the highway.
If Ford’s goal was to create a vehicle that engages the general public and gets them talking about the Mustang brand (and Ford and EVs), well then, mission accomplished.
And people aren’t wrong to be excited about the Mach-e. From nearly every angle, the Mach-e looks powerful, ready to take off from whatever starting line you’ve chalked on the ground. The headlights and taillights are distinctive, the Mustang emblem immediately recognizable (smart move by Ford to ditch the blue oval here). Heck, it’ll even announce its branding when you approach it in dim light by shining the Mustang logo on the ground by the driver and passenger doors.
Yes, it does adopt some of the lozenge-y cues that are the curse of all crossover vehicles and it does have some shockingly large blind spots as a result of aggressive body pillars (thankfully the blind spot collision avoidance system is top notch). But it still manages to be different enough that it doesn’t get lost in a sea of Tesla wannabes.
5. It’s Convenient
But here’s the thing about crossovers, they’re damn handy. With the rear seats folded down, you can swallow nearly a whole college apartment’s worth of boxes (I had the good fortune to be moving my son back to college the weekend I had the Mach-e). And if you still need room, there’s an actual frunk – a fun feature that surprisingly few manufacturers are adding to their EVs.
The Mach-e’s frunk has dividers built in…I guess for sorting groceries or small parcels? But it’s not climate controlled, so you’ll want to keep the chocolates tucked away in the cabin. There is, however a drainage plug, So go ahead and fill your frunk up with ice, drop in some choice beverages, and pull up to the party. I just wish I could pop the frunk remotely (it requires an odd double-lever pull from under the dash).
The frunk is there because, of course, the Mustang Mach-e doesn’t have use for an engine, instead relying on two motors (four if you have AWD) to drive the wheels, delivering up to 346 HP. That means no fluids to top off, no oil to change, no plugs to replace. With one-pedal driving, you might not even have to replace your brakes. About the only thing you need to concern yourself with is tires. Maybe, eventually, you’ll have to think about battery degradation, but that timeline is measured in years.
The battery sits in the center of the vehicle, providing stability, mass, and power. With an impressive 300+ miles of range on average, you can easily zip around town for weeks at a time without ever having to stop and charge up the battery. This is because, especially if you enable one-pedal-driving (something every EV should have, Volkswagen), you’re reclaiming energy from your braking. Most of the time, I arrived at a location only having used a fraction of the Mustang’s available range compared to the distance I’d driven.
When it does come time to charge, it takes quite a while (eight hours or so) on a Level 2 charger if you’re charging from empty. If you have access to a high-capacity Level 3 charger, you can pour 80% of the charge back into the battery in about 20 minutes. But with a Level 2 charger in your garage to top off occasionally and driving around town, you’ll always have plenty of range. Plus, EV-only spots with chargers are becoming more prevalent. What range anxiety?
This Range Anxiety
To be fair, this last point isn’t really a mark against the Mach-e it applies to any EV on the road that isn’t a Tesla.
I took the Mach-e out of town, driving about 180 miles to Gainesville. Taking a road trip with an unfamiliar EV is always a roll of the dice, since the estimated range is calculated based on your particular driving habits (and long highway drives throw that algorithm out the window). But planning out the trip, I could see there was a destination charger recommended by Ford’s nav system on the edge of a Target parking lot. Electrify America’s station had multiple chargers listed as available, including four super-fast 350W chargers. I was ready to plug in, spend 20-30 minutes getting my college-bound son some stuff for his new apartment, then drive back home, blissfully free of gas stations.
Except when I pulled into the empty 350W spot and hopped out, there was a grumpy Porsche owner on the other side, topping off his Porsche Taycan. “Doesn’t work!” he shouted over the roar of the 150W charger he was plugged into.
Turns out this was his local charging station and he’d been calling Electrify America for six weeks to let them know none of the 350W chargers and only half of the 150W chargers were operational. Lucky for me, he was nearly done so I was able to use the 150W charger. But by the time I came back 40 minutes later, there was another Taycan and a Volkswagen ID4 parked next to me, both owners angrily barking at Electrify America customer service.
I was at 80 percent (the max you can charge to with fast chargers) so I gave the grateful second Taycan owner my spot and headed over to a nearby Chargepoint station to get some food for myself and pump a few more watts into the battery (since I didn’t trust that the Mach-e was correctly estimating my available range). Except the Chargepoint station wouldn’t accept contactless payments (the only way to unlock the chargers). I stood there so long trying to make it work, I discovered the fire ant pile covering the entire base of the charger. Attempts to contact customer service sent me to their app where I could fill a complaint with the charger owner. Less than ideal.
So I didn’t get my extra charging. And it turns out I didn’t need it. I switched the Mach-e to Whisper mode so that I’d be less tempted to whip through traffic and drove the speed limit (anything over 70 reduces the efficiency of the battery considerably), arriving home with 50 miles to spare (almost exactly what I would’ve had if I’d been in my ICE Mazda).
But the entire incident opened my eyes to the ugly truth of EVs – we simply don’t have a reliable charging network. I’ve experienced this around my hometown as well – unless a charging station is brand new, it’s likely that only one or two stations actually work. And once a charger is broken, no amount of reporting it or complaining to the company will get it fixed.
That is, unless it’s a Tesla charger. Tesla’s smartest move was building and maintaining their own charging network as they built their vehicles. In the above scenario, if I’d had a Tesla, I could’ve pulled right into one of the half dozen pristine Superchargers right next to the Whole Foods.
Until the U.S. can create a fast charging network as reliable as Tesla’s (and hopefully the 7.5 billion earmarked for this in the new infrastructure deal can kick off such an effort) any trip that requires you pull up and use an unknown charger means you’ll potentially be stranded, having to rely on a convenient plug, your emergency charger, and a wait of several hours.
But there’s hope! There are rumors that Tesla is planning to open up its charging network to non-Tesla vehicles in the coming year. This’ll happen in Europe first, where EVs all use the same plug. Here in the U.S., where non-Tesla EVs use a different charge plug standard (sigh), Tesla will have to develop and provide an adapter. Hopefully by the end of 2022, all EV owners will have access.
Incidentally, I reached out to Electrify America for a statement after my less-than-ideal experience and got this in return:
“Every week, thousands of electric vehicle drivers have come to rely on successful ultra-fast charging experiences at Electrify America charging stations across our nationwide network. While we understand your experience at our Gainesville, FL station was not ideal, the offline chargers are currently awaiting maintenance parts with two remaining operational chargers at this location. Our stations are configured to have three or more charging stations available, providing redundancy for this type of situation. Customer satisfaction and quality are and continue to remain the top priority for Electrify America.”
Which all sounds fine but judging by the hot tempers and frustrated EV owners I encountered, Electrify America isn’t planning for worst-case scenarios. Then again, to give them the benefit of a doubt, it could be they’re just as affected by the chip shortage as every other tech manufacturer in the world and in a Covid-free world those chargers would’ve been operational weeks ago.
But all of this begs the question…
Should the Mustang Mach-e be Your Only Car?
As things stand right now, the infrastructure in the U.S. is fossil-fuel based. In a worst case scenario, a gas car will get you farther than an EV. After all, you can carry a can of gas back to a stranded ICE vehicle. The same can’t be said for an EV.
For now, my home is a one-EV/one-ICE family. But I would 100% love for the Mustang Mach-e to be that one EV. It just seems a shame to not be able to rely on it for road trips when it provides such a smooth, comfortable ride. This is the first car I’ve reviewed that I’ve taken out multiple times, not because I had to, but because I wanted to.
The night before it went back to Ford, I walked up to the Mach-e, the virtual key recognizing me immediately and unlocking the car. I set it to Unbridled, turned the engine sound back on, and pointed the nose south, just enjoying a ride around town as the sun set. It’s only fitting that one of America’s original car manufacturers can still generate enough love and vehicular magic that you’ll just want to cruise.