A landmark moment for Ford. Lacking in some premium lustre and Mustang-typical driver engagement, but an appealing and very credible all-electric debutant all the same.

What is it?

Ford has electrified a new Ford Mustang; sort of. Note the use of the indefinite article there, folks, because we’ll come back to it. 

The new Ford Mustang Mach-E is a high-rise, four-door crossoverish hatchback not unlike a Polestar 2, and it comes with a choice of either one motor or two; a bigger drive battery or a slightly smaller, lighter one; and with up to 379 miles of WLTP-certified range (which, not-so-coincidentally, is as much as any current Tesla  will give you, and more than you’ll get from any electric Polestar, Jaguar, Mercedes or Audi).

It’s an impressive debutant EV for plenty of reasons, but perhaps not quite as impressive as the strategic design and positioning behind it - which, if it works, could be a masterstroke. The designation of an electric car as a Ford Mustang will be anathema to some, and it puts a weight of expectation on this car’s driving experience which those same critics will inevitably claim it can’t possibly get out from underneath of. But I don’t think it does too badly with it; that, or the physical weight it carries, actually. 

But the thing is, this is very much ‘a’ new Mustang; it’s not ‘the’ new Mustang (imagine the reaction if Dearborn had simply swapped a 5.0-litre V8 for a couple of electric motors). It’s not the killer of Ford's V8 pony car icon that so many might fear, but rather the perfect modern sidekick for it come along not as a threat (at least, not for now) but rather to extend the old-timer's life for as long as it might.

Like plenty of other big car-makers, Ford’s current ‘big job’ is to cut the average carbon emissions of the new cars that it sells in order to avoid big fines. This is not news - and it’s partly why there’s been such an all-round rush to introduce electric cars this year, which is the first for which financial penalties are being imposed. Selling so many V8-powered Mustangs in Europe - and they’ve been doing rather more of them than they ever expected to, by the way - isn’t currently helping achieve that ‘big job’.

An EV will help to achieve it, though; and the Blue Oval has been working on its first proper EV since 2014. It could have been something smaller and more affordable than the Mach-E, left to sit in a new and zanily decorated corner of the showroom and quietly do its own thing; and, but for some bright spark, I suspect it would have been. That’s precisely the way plenty of Ford’s European-based competitors have set about the problem.

But a couple of years ago, a voice in the Ford design department said something along the lines of “hold on: why don’t we stick it right in the middle of the showroom instead? Why not design it like a Mustang, sell it like a Mustang, stick our chests out and be proud of it?” 

Why not indeed. Because a cheaper EV like a Nissan Leaf or VW ID 3 might have sold in greater numbers in Europe, but Ford needed a global EV to do the business in North America and elsewhere too. It needed a bigger and more usable car with a longer range; and because making it like that would also make it expensive, it also needed a global pseudo-premium brand to sell it under.

An electric Lincoln would have meant nothing to people in Europe. An electric Mustang, on the other hand, makes a brilliantly inclusive implicit statement to Ford’s most enthusiastic, evangelistic and big-spending customers. “Electric cars aren’t for other people,” it says, “they’re for you, too. This is your kind of car. Buy a Mach-E and you can be part of the solution to our emissions problem. And if you do, when you want to replace your Mustang V8 in two, or three, or five years time, there’s a much better chance that we’ll be able to sell you one.” Mustang owners are being given a buy-in here; albeit tacitly, they’re being trusted to ‘get it’. If they can, surely everyone can?

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2 Ford mustang mach e 2021 uk first drive hero rear

What's it like?

Some will say that the success of this car might be defined by whether it drives in a way that’s worthy of that Mustang badge on the not-quite-a-radiator-grille at the front (the only place you’ll see Ford badges on this car, by the way, is on the corners of the windows). Well, maybe. And you might say that it does; and, in a way, it doesn’t. Underneath the Mustang tribute styling and the monolithic infotainment setup, it’s also got one or two issues with premium-level perceived quality of the sort that have made bigger and more expensive Fords unconvincing so often over recent years. 

But, on balance, I’d still say it’s a good car; a pricey one, sure (the UK showroom range opens at just above £40,000) but not much moreso than bigger, more usable EVs tend to be. It gets the really important answers right, in terms of dynamics and usability, in order to appeal both to owners of existing electric cars coming to Ford for the first time, and to the Ford faithful as they adopt “the new religion”.

For a start, the Mustang Mach-E is relatively light and well-packaged. It’s been built on underpinnings adapted from those of the Ford Focus and Ford Kuga that the brand now calls its ‘GE2’ platform, and has a mixed-metal-and-composite construction. An entry-level, one-motor, rear-driven version weighs less than 1900kg, and has almost as much usable battery capacity as Polestar 2. With the bigger battery and extra drive motor of our test car, that kerbweight grows a bit but remains low by bigger EV class standards at least.

You get five usable seats and a couple of very useful boots in the car. Passenger space puts you in mind of the Jaguar iPace in the way it exceeds your expectations of a car with a plunging roofline, that doesn’t dominate a parking space like a taller SUV might. There’s just over 400 litres of carrying space under the window line in the back. There’s also another 81 litres under the bonnet, in a plastic storage box with a drain hole in its middle, in which you could store a dirty charging cable and one or two other items, and then clean it really easily. Yup, they thought of that, too.

The car’s dashboard has a version of the ‘double-bubble’ design made so famous by Mustangs over the years, but the interior is otherwise wholly un-Mustang-like. The majority of the switchgear used in it is Ford parts-bin stuff; Focus column stalks and steering wheel buttons, for example. But don’t sigh just yet. The car’s standard on material quality really ought to be a bit better for the money: the leathers in it are shiny, some of the fixtures are just a little bit wobbly, and very few of the materials used appeal much to the senses. But will owners care about the lack of premium lustre, given they may be getting a bigger drive battery and better usable range here than they might in the car’s premium-brand rivals, and paying 25% less? They might not, you know. It’s far from a deal-breaker.

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15 Ford mustang mach e 2021 uk first drive on road nose

There’s a smallish digital instrument screen ahead of the driver, but a whopping 16in, portrait-oriented infotainment setup on the centre stack. It comes with all grades of the car. It doesn’t quite hoover up every single opportunity for a physical button, knob or switch around the interior in the way the equivalent in a Tesla seems to, mercifully. It doesn’t have a built-in web browser; and there's no 'autopilot' here either, thank heaven. It is a fully networked system capable of wide-ranging ‘over the air’ updates for the car, though, as well as fully connected navigation and entertainment.

So, is this car fun? Hmm. Well, the names for the various drive modes certainly are (Active, Whisper and Untamed, cringe). You can turn ‘one-pedal’ driving on and off, and while battery regeneration isn’t fully controllable, it certainly varies with those drive modes. The digital ‘propulsion sound’ the car plays through its audio speakers is switchable also, and varies in its volume with those driver modes. It does, at least, sound a bit like a gently rumbling V8, rather than the Starship Enterprise or someone having a seizure next to one of those Theramin musical instruments that you play by waving your arms around.

Our test car was a mid-range version (the 480bhp ‘GT’ firecracker comes later), and it had usefully brisk performance up to motorway speed. It was quick though not quite Tesla-punchy; drivable and smooth, but once you’re used to the response and the torquey performance level, the powertrain offers little else to engage you: a familiar state of affairs, that.

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The chassis does go a bit further than electric cars often can to keep you interested in what you're doing, however; just a little. The car steers meatily, with scant feedback but consistent pace and the right kind of weight. Body control is good though corners, if a bit leaden and cumbersome over lumps and bumps where the car starts to feel a bit heavy and firm. 

You wouldn’t call it agile, but the Mach-E does handle precisely and it grips quite keenly, where so many electric cars feel short on mechanical grip if anything. Even in our four-wheel drive test car, there was just a suggestion of a rearward torque bias about the way it could be powered out of corners, which is an added bonus if you like a naturally balanced-feeling car.

I don’t imagine that rear-driven Mach-Es will handle like proper Mustangs; the four-wheel drives ones certainly don’t. But there’s enough dynamic poise, bite and accuracy about this car that a keener driver might seek it out, in the way you might a Jaguar I-Pace over an Audi E-tron, or a Mini Electric over a Peugeot e-208.

As regards real-world range, for now I can only give you the kind of indication you get on a chilly December day, which is likely to be a bit tough on the car. Ford's 'standard range' Mach-E gets 68kWh of usable battery capacity and a claimed WLTP range of up to 273 miles; the 88kWh 'extended range' version takes that up to 379 miles of claimed range - although in both cases range is reduced if you want two motors and four driven wheels.

Our twin-motor, extended range test car had an advertised WLTP range of 336 miles, and on our wintery test day it indicated a fully charged range of about 260 miles, in mixed, slightly stop-and-start running. On that basis, you could probably expect an average 220-miles from an entry-level car, and almost 300 real-world miles from the rear-driven 'extended range' model. A warmier ambient temperature might well nudge that latter figure over the 300-mile marker; and even if it didn't, it would probably still be enough to shade most of the Mach-E's rivals for running autonomy.

The Mach-E comes with an 11kW onboard AC charger for at-home charging, and it can be recharged out-and-about at a DC rapid charger at up to 150kW, at which rate an 80 per cent charge can be restored from flat in less than an hour. That peak recharge rate only applies to the 'extended range' version, however; 'standard range' 68kWh cars can be rapid charged at 115kWh, but because they also have less battery capacity to fill, overall rapid charging time for them is broadly comparable with 88kWh cars.

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7 Ford mustang mach e 2021 uk first drive cabin

Should I buy one?

Making that choice will mean accepting one or two fairly obvious compromises about the Mach-E; and, for some I suppose, reconciling yourself with the fact that Ford had the nerve to put a Mustang badge on it in the first place. 

And that may be impossible for the most diehard fans of the Mustang. For the majority of those already in the electric car market however, it shouldn't be hard at all; not for a genuinely usable, zero-emissions family car with smart looks, good running prospects and pleasing dynamic qualities, whose price may not seem so high when you compare it with what else the full-sized EV market currently offers.

18 Ford mustang mach e 2021 uk first drive on road corner

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Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

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Tonrichard 17 December 2020

This looks to be a pretty credible effort by Ford. The entry level model is good value for range and space. It might be a tougher job for the higher price models where the interior quality probably won’t measure up to that of the German manufacturers. I am not a fan of the minimalist dash of the Tesla Model 3 and the Model Y and the build quality of all Tesla’s can be variable. 

jason_recliner 16 December 2020

Wow.  Ford knocks it out of the park, yet again.  Makes the Tesla and VW offerings look like the shit that they are.

rob26 15 December 2020

This doesn't look like a £57k car. It looks like a Focus level of quality inside and that isn't even really very good in that class. I almost think I'd prefer an ID3 than this and they cost £30k.