At a certain point, technology matures. Over the past 20 years, the original wave of jokes about crappy cell-phone reception spewed by standups and echoed by actors on both the big and the small screen has gone the way of equally dated complaints about pixelated internet video, hallmarks of an era whose digital frustrations and foibles have receded comfortably into the rearview.
So it goes with the 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E, a battery-powered car that proves the old arguments against electrification have been equally ironed out by the passage of time. The Mach-E’s driving experience, design and styling stand unflinchingly alongside similarly priced fuel-burning crossovers, making it one of the most complete of the affordable electric cars currently on the market.
If only the same could be said about the infrastructure supporting Ford’s latest EV addition. Unfortunately, while electric car design has now moved past its troublesome teens, the world around it has failed to keep up its end of the bargain. As a result, the ownership experience awaiting would-be Mustang Mach-E owners could easily be less impressive than the actual vehicle itself.
Avoiding the Mustang Heritage Trap
Survey the current crop of electric cars and it’s clear that realistic options abound for buyers at nearly every price point. Ford has elected to position the Mach-E somewhere in the middle, with a starting price of $43,995 for base models and a ceiling near the mid-$60K mark for high-performance GT editions of the hatchback (not including the available $7,500 federal tax credit).
While some would point to the use of the “Mustang” name as a requirement for the go-fast GT trim’s existence — the pony badge has been strongly associated with Ford muscle for decades —much of the indignation surrounding the alleged watering down of the vehicle’s legacy fails to take into account the car’s original ‘60s mandate to present an affordable and stylish commuter option to buyers on a budget.
Over the years the Mustang has contained multitudes, and to see the sub-brand stretch into the all-electric space feels more like continued evolution than heel-turn on heritage.
Fitting in With the Crossover Class
What the Mach-E brings to the table certainly doesn’t do anything other than bolster the Mustang’s image in the eyes of prospective customers. First and foremost, the crossover is useful, offering 60-cubic-feet of storage space with the rear seats folded and just under half that with the second row occupied. You’ll have to deal with a slightly higher load floor than normal (pushed up by the battery underpinning the platform), but I had no trouble using the Ford to haul home a set of tires.
My passengers were equally content with their lot, as space is generous and the interior finish, if not luxurious, is certainly in keeping with what most buyers would expect from all but class leaders like Kia and Hyundai when it comes to mid-range people movers. Ford has chosen an oversized touchscreen as the primary point of contact between the driver and the vehicle, and it hangs ponderously from the center of the dashboard where it controls almost every aspect of the Mach-E experience.
The limited production First Edition model I drove (which has completely sold out) also came with vegan leather seats and a few other unusual niceties, but much of its equipment is duplicated by the Premium trim level, which at $47,000 also happens to be more than $10,000 cheaper. Certainly a better deal for those who don’t care about being the first on the block with bragging rights.
Power and Range? Check.
The First Edition features the largest available battery (98.8 kWh) matched with a dual-motor all-wheel drive setup that produces 346 horsepower and 428 lb-ft of torque. Despite being relatively heavy for its size due to the weight of its battery, the crossover is sport-sedan quick in a straight line, and reasonably competent in the corners (although it’s forced to fight against its tall ride height when driven aggressively).
If you want even more punch and purported handling prowess, the GT delivers with a focused suspension, 480 horsepower and a scary 634 lb-ft of instant-on twist. More modest 255 horsepower versions that forgo all-wheel drive in favor of a rear-wheel setup occupy the lower end of the Mach-E’s order sheet, and a smaller 75.7 kWh power pack is standard for these.
With 270 miles of driving on tap from a fully-charged battery, the First Edition I drove proved to be excellent at keeping me abreast of electron flow, accurately counting down range while underway and faithfully keeping score of how much juice the regenerative brakes were pouring back into the power pack. Although I mostly avoided the somewhat aggressive one-pedal drive setting, I found that regardless of whether I set the Mache-E to the whimsically-named “Unbridled,” “Engage” or “Whisper” modes it remained comfortable in nearly all traffic conditions. I never felt particularly encouraged to flog the Mustang, but that’s true of nearly any midsize crossover regardless of whether it’s motivated by gas or electricity.
Good Luck on Your Plug Hunt
Almost every aspect of the Ford Mustang Mach-E’s EV experience is transparent in day-to-day operation, with only the unusual hum it broadcasts to warn pedestrians of its presence at lower speeds breaking through its “normal car” façade.
My adventures in keeping the Mach-E’s battery topped up were an entirely different story. Simply put, if you do not have access to a plug at home at work, you’re going to be beating your head against the wall after you’ve encountered your third or fourth busted, blocked or already-in-use public charging station in a row. Even the street-side plugs I was able to access often refused to cooperate with my charging app, leaving me to guess at how much electricity was siphoned into the Mustang over the hour or two it remained plugged in.
It’s here that the Mustang Mach-E’s ownership experience begins to sour, and through no fault of its own. Given the patchwork state of charging infrastructure even in larger cities, EV ownership is hard to recommend if you don’t possess a driveway, a garage or an employer with an understanding policy regarding the use of extension cords. This is a failing that affects all electric vehicles, not just those built by Ford, and it’s a situation with no clear path towards a resolution. Yes, charging stations are added across the country every day, but as far as a concerted national strategy to make them ubiquitous in building codes and city planning meetings, there’s really very little to look forward to.
In this sense, despite having outgrown its awkward years, EV technology is forced to endure an extended and awkward adolescence that continues to ask owners to assume the role of pioneers. The Ford Mustang Mach-E might be ready for prime time, but the infrastructure surrounding it is still stuck making flip-phone quips to an increasingly restless audience.
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