I’m not supposed to like this car. For a Mustang fan like me, the 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E is evil. And yet, as I make my way to the historic Ford Model T factory on the infamous Woodward Avenue in Detroit, I find myself having fun. A lot. The devil on my shoulder has something to do with it.
Now you know everything about the Mach-E. This well-dressed electric crossover has garnered near-universal praise among automotive journalists, counterbalanced by the near-universal hatred of Mustang enthusiasts. This poses a problem for me, because I am both an automotive journalist and a Mustang enthusiast. I have owned three Mustangs in the past 10 years, including the red 1995 GT convertible (below left) which is currently in my garage. I have joined clubs and attended many Mustang events over the years, wearing Mustang shirts and hats along the way. I even have framed photos of my Mustangs hanging in the living room. Yeah i am this guy.
I’ve also driven every generation of pony car with just about every engine you can imagine, from an emissions-smothered 1977 Mustang II to a 700 horsepower Shelby Super Snake. You could say I know a thing or two about these cars, but I’ve never driven a Mustang like the Mach-E. Its semi-spacious interior with four doors, all-wheel drive and quiet operation is indeed a very different experience, but after spending two days and 200 miles braving the twisty roads and crowded highways of Southeast Michigan, this Ford guy is reconsidering his definition of a Mustang.
The devil on your shoulder
There’s been a lot of talk about the tangible definition of Mustang, and I’m not going to dwell on it. I’ll just point out that these cars lived as coupes, fastbacks, hatchbacks, convertibles, and two-door sedans with a wide array of powertrains, so why not a five-door two-engine electric crossover? Instead, I’m focusing on two intangible sensations that are often found in high-performance small cars, but which are important to Mustang enthusiasts. And the one that interests me the most is something I call The devil on your shoulder.
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In short, it’s the voice in the back of your head that stings, stings and provokes until you become a 16 year old kid in daddy’s car again. Come on, put it down. Come on, get aside at the next turn. Come on, burn out. Everyone is watching. The folks at Mustang are particularly sensitive to this, and if you don’t believe me, do a Google search for Mustangs leaving Cars & Coffee.
And the fucking devil was there in the Mach-E, begging me to be mean.
Even without a V8 soundtrack, and with all four wheels putting the power to the ground, that damn heck kept pushing me to misbehave in the Mach-E. Come on, stab the throttle. Come on, pass that Camaro. Come on, make some AWD donuts. Everyone is watching. FYI, I did not succumb to donuts, but I wanted to. Otherwise, I’m not in the least ashamed to say the devil was right. That’s what 428 lb-ft of instant electric torque will do for you, and this particular Mach-E wasn’t even the high-output GT.
Electric torque is quite different from driving a bonkers V8, and by different I mean better. A combustion engine still needs a while for the fuel and air to mix, another moment to ignite, another to reach full power, then the peak disappears until the next gear come. But the Mach-E has a push toggle switch that pops up without waiting and continues endlessly. This is my first experience with an electric vehicle and I can’t imagine how a person who loves power would find it soulless or boring. V8s sound great, but if you’re such a noise addict, you have my sympathy because you’re missing out on a whole new world of thrilling performance.
Size matters, but not the way you’d expect
I mentioned two intangible sensations as criteria for this special assessment, and the second is height. I’m not talking about the physical size of the Mach-E, which is actually shorter, narrower, and just a little taller than its traditional counterpart. Every Mustang I’ve driven felt like the occupants were an integral part of the car, buried in the middle with a long hood up front and a bridge that disappeared into the back. Even the big 1973 Stang, measuring almost 16 feet long, has that feeling, and from the outside the Mach-E looks like it.
Without a huge motor up front, most EVs have a short, boring front clip. But behind the Mach-E’s digital dashboard, there’s a surprising expanse of red aluminum stretching forward that provides legitimate Mustang familiarity. Looking in the rearview mirror, the hatchback design also provides a sufficiently short bridge. The seats support without being intrusive, the cabin is comfortably comfortable without being intrusive or expansive, and while digital displays make the dashboard look empty, everything changes when you press the start button.
Some think the interior of the Mach-E is a bit drab. To counter this argument, see the red porn housings in my 1992 LX 5.0 convertible.
However, I am immediately aware that I am sitting higher than normal, and not because of the ground clearance of the Mach-E. In fact, at 5.7 inches it’s actually a bit lower than my SN95 convertible on the stock springs. It’s the seating position in the cabin that’s higher – an ode to its crossover nature – that makes me feel like I’m slightly above the car instead of inside. I don’t feel like I’m sitting in the middle either. Mustangs have rear seats, but this one is actually functional for adults (small adults anyway) and then there’s a decent amount of storage behind.
It doesn’t look like a Mustang.
As a result, I don’t feel like I’m an integral part of the Mach-E, also surrounded on all sides by a badass car. Instead, I’m sitting too high and too far forward, making the Mach-E feel bigger than it is. For a practical vehicle, such an attribute is a good thing. For a car that claims to be a Mustang, this is a problem. Pity.
I was really hoping the Mach-E would pass my two tests because I honestly don’t mind a four-door, all-wheel-drive pony that’s fun to drive. In fact, you can get rear-wheel drive if you want, and when it comes to powertrains, the vast majority of the 10 million Mustangs built since 1964 weren’t equipped with V8s. Electric motors are just another rung of the ladder, so really, we end up with the four-door body as the only sticking point in this controversy. It is, from a tangible point of view, anyway. My intangible test drive only got 50%, and as fun as that instant torque is, speed and horsepower aren’t the only determining factors here.
It’s not a Mustang, but it could be
Full Disclosure: I didn’t feel as special cruising Woodward in the Mach-E as I did in my 2003 SVT Cobra convertible back then. My wife came to the same conclusion from her perspective in the passenger seat, and I don’t see any die-hard Mustang enthusiast ever accepting this car, no matter how good it is. But at the risk of losing a few friends, the hardcore team doesn’t matter here. The Mach-E will grab attention, both for its looks and performance. Owners always smile with every pivot of the accelerator. And it will always sell like hot cakes. No purist disdain will change that.
Ford didn’t build the Mach-E for purists, and they won’t have anything to do with it. But he will appeal to gentler amateurs like me.
Driving towards the old Ford Model T factory on a sunny Sunday in November, my Rapid Red test vehicle drew a lot of attention on Woodward. Whether the people of Mustang admit it or not, they love beware so this is another victory in my book, and i still had enough power to satisfy the devil at red lights. Plus, I had enough electricity to participate in 200 miles of auto nonsense, and when the charge was low I charged the batteries using public charging stations for $ 1.75. I really enjoyed not having a $ 60 fuel stop, but not as much as I enjoyed my overall time behind the wheel.
My 2003 Cobra was an exhausted rockstar, but the Mach-E makes better donuts. Allegedly.
Others also appreciate the time. Ford told me that demand for the Mach-E is still very high, with buyers flocking to higher trim levels like the Premiums and GTs that offer more power and range. Through October 2021, sales of Mach-E totaled 21,703 units, good enough to rank second in the electric SUV segment behind the Tesla Model Y. The real reveal is that it matches sales of gasoline Mustangs. month after month. He won’t beat the traditional pony in overall sales this year, but he could do so in 2022.
And if those benefits help keep snorting GTs and Shelby GT500s alive – just as the four-cylinder and V6 models rejected by die-hard enthusiasts have done over the past 30 years – then I haven’t. no problem changing my definition of a Mustang to include the Mach-E.
In fact, parked outside the old Ford Model T factory near Woodward in Highland Park, I realized I had already made this adjustment. Driving the car for photos at the historic monument, I didn’t call him Mach-E. I called it Mustang, without even thinking about it.
I can’t think of a more poignant place for a Ford dude to have such a reveal.
Photos: Christopher Smith / Motor1.com