Plug-in pony

Ford Mustang Mach-E review: Better than the Tesla Model Y

A reminder that legacy carmakers can make great electric cars when they put their minds to it.

Ford Mustang Mach-E First Edition AWD Carbonized Gray front view
Craig Wilson / Input

The Ford Mustang Mach-E isn’t an instantly iconic car. Nor is it a perfect one. Frankly, it’s probably not going to be fought over by collectors at auctions in decades to come.

But it deserves a spot in the history books nevertheless. It’s an excellent, polished, fun-to-drive car that offers great value for money and an attractive alternative to the big name in electric vehicles.

With the Mach-E, Ford’s demonstrated it can make a superb EV when it puts its mind, ample resources, and century-plus of carmaking experience to it. That bodes very well for both the forthcoming F-150 Lightning and the inevitable hybrid (or fully electric) Bronco.

The Mach-E’s “Mustang” nomenclature is best ignored — it’s borrowed valor — and the car only really looks like a Mustang head-on. The rest of the vehicle is unignorable, though. Ford fans stopped me to talk about it. Tesla loyalists did likewise. And plenty of general car enthusiasts committed to neither camp wanted to talk to me about it, too.

And that’s why the Mach-E is brilliant. It’ll force other legacy carmakers to step up their all-electric efforts while also keeping Tesla from getting any more complacent. That’s a massive win for car buyers, no matter what they’re buying.

From the profile and rear, the resemblance to a Mustang dwindles, but it’s a handsome vehicle nonetheless.Craig Wilson / Input

Riding out

Ford lent me a 2021 Mustang Mach-E First Edition AWD in “carbonized gray” for a weekend, and it arrived 89 percent charged, which the digital dash proclaimed was good for an estimated 228 miles of driving. The first challenge, though, was getting into it. Instead of conventional door handles, the front doors have a button on the B pillar that pops the door open a couple of inches when pressed, and a small, gutter-like handle beneath (the rear doors have their own button, but no handle at all, so you open them by grabbing the edge of the door).

The driver’s side also has rows of capacitive, illuminated numbers (0-9) on the B pillar that can be used for keyless entry with a PIN code (for instance, when you’re going for a run and want to leave the key behind). Once you’ve connected a smartphone to the Mach-E and downloaded the FordPass app (assuming you have a recent Android or Apple device) you can use it for keyless entry, too.

The steering wheel includes physical media, cruise control, and call controls.Craig Wilson / Input
The B&O sound system is ideal for drowning out the last remnants of road noise.Craig Wilson / Input
Ford’s choice of door handle is... interesting.Craig Wilson / Input

Unlike a Tesla, which relies on one jumbo, tablet-like display, Ford uses a combination of a large, 15.5-inch central touchscreen, a handful of physical dials, and the conventional array of thumb-controlled buttons on both sides of the steering wheel.

There are plenty of menus to dive into, which let you set everything from the hue of the interior ambient lighting at night, to the driver assistance settings, profiles for multiple drivers, and access controls like keyless entry, smartphone pairing, or valet parking limitations.

The Mach-E supports both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.

The Mach-E supports both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and the FordPass app is as slick on devices from either ecosystem. The app also makes it possible to control elements of the car remotely or set schedules so that, for instance, if you habitually leave at 8 a.m. and want the cabin preheated (or cooled), the Mach-E can do so while still plugged in and charging, rather than squandering potential extra miles while on the road. Similarly, the app lets you check charging status, which is indispensable when you’ve parked the car at a charging station and gone elsewhere.

The panoramic roof is stunning and makes the cabin feel even roomier.Craig Wilson / Input

Drive time

A single button press turns the Mach-E on or off, but as with all EVs, because it’s silent, it’s only thanks to on-screen animations and information you actually know the car is on. A slew of cameras and sensors make getting in or out of parking bays easy. And once on the move, there are three drive modes to choose between: the fairly self-explanatory “engage,” “whisper,” and “unbridled.” If you like, you can have the ambient lighting adjust to match the mode for further visual clues as to which you’re in.

In the same drive mode menu, you can choose to engage 1-Pedal Drive, which engages strong regenerative braking the moment you ease off the accelerator; it works extremely well. I seldom reached for the brake pedal all weekend. There’s also the option to turn on the “Propulsion Sound,” which prompts the Mach-E to emit an ersatz, electric roar when accelerating enthusiastically. The result is a sound that’s a cross between a charging capacitor and a conventional Mustang’s roar. It’s novel but unnecessary.

The jumbo, 15.5-inch touch display is intuitive to navigate.Craig Wilson / Input

Sound on or off, the Mach-E is a delight off the line. With a 0-60 mph time of a little under 5 seconds, it’s not nearly as speedy as a Tesla Model 3 or Y, but compared to most gas-guzzlers, it’s still fast, and enough to push your head into the plush headrests. Spring for the GT variant and that time drops to 3.5 seconds, which is still off the best Tesla can offer, but do you really need to get to 60 mph half a second faster?

Sound on or off, the Mach-E is a delight off the line.

In fact, the seats and headrests are one area Ford’s done a much better job than Tesla. While the latter’s seats have a tendency to be unforgivingly firm, the Mach-E’s are softer and more supportive (even if they could use a little more lumbar support).

I spent most of my time in “engage,” which lived up to its name. Acceleration was smooth and brilliantly responsive, the steering felt both engaging and accurate, and — thanks to most of the weight coming from the battery cells beneath the floorboards — the Mach-E felt totally glued to the asphalt, even in tight turns at speed.

An admittedly fierce face.Craig Wilson / Input
Strong haunches and Mustang-style rear lights make for an attractive combo.Craig Wilson / Input

Ford’s also done an admirable job of minimizing road and wind noise in the Mach-E’s cabin, which is essential when there’s no V8 engine to otherwise drown them out. It also makes the Mach-E feel as luxurious as its interior and exterior promise.

Creature comforts

Lane assist, cruise-control, auto-follow-distance (which also works in stop-start traffic), 360-degree cameras, a range of 12V, USB-C and USB-A charging ports, and a built-in wireless charger are all present and accounted for, and all worked as expected. During highway driving, the Mach-E kept me in my lane at cruising speed with minimal interventions, but I was prompted to retake the wheel if I let go of it for too long, or held it too loosely.

The assistance features felt dependable and weren’t overly aggressive like some others I’ve tested that seem to resist you changing lanes even when you legitimately want to. Ford’s also promising further autonomy features in future updates (some of them to software, others via optional hardware).

An included Bang & Olufsen sound system (standard on the top two trims) proved more potent at high volume than I could handle without feeling self-conscious and douchey. But I loved it. If you’re more self-assured you may be braver about cranking it up.

This dial looks and feels unforgivably cheap.Craig Wilson / Input

My only complaints, really, stem from some of the physical control choices. While I was glad to have a physical volume dial centered at the bottom of the tablet-like display, making it a donut with the center touchscreen exposed makes it unnecessarily fiddly to use. And building it (and the shifter next to the parking brake switch) out of flimsy, shiny plastic feels like a jarring and wholly unnecessary cost-saving measure in an otherwise luxurious vehicle.

The interior door handles also left a lot to be desired. Resembling physical switches of the sort you might find in a light aircraft, they feel too similar to the electric window controls when you’re not looking at them, which is a little unnerving. Sure, you’ll get used to it fast enough, but it feels like a novelty for its own sake, rather than an ergonomically considered design decision.

Charging up

Compared to the Tesla Model Y, the Ford Mustang Mach-E feels more refined, better-finished, and less cold and clinical. But there’s one area it still can’t compete: recharging. If you have a garage, charging infrastructure at your office, or a DC rapid charger conveniently located near you (or on a route you take frequently) this might not matter. But if you don’t, it’s going to remain a serious issue until public charging infrastructure improves.

A muscular profile with beautiful lines.Craig Wilson / Input

With a range of around 250 miles, the Mach-E is close enough to the Model Y (which comes in variants with comparable, or slightly greater range), but it just can’t compete with Tesla’s Supercharger network. Ford has to rely on its own, far more limited network of DC rapid chargers, and a mix of AC and DC chargers from third parties like Electrify America, ChargePoint, Electrify America, and EVgo.

That’s far from ideal. I live in a Brooklyn apartment so home charging was not an option (New York has only just announced plans to roll out 100 curbside chargers by October, so that’s not going to change for a while yet). Instead, I planned to find a rapid charger toward the tail-end of my test weekend.

Compared to the Tesla Model Y, the Mach-E feels more refined, better-finished, and less cold and clinical.

On the Friday that I received the Mach-E, I drove around 25 miles (into Manhattan, to a drive-in in Greenpoint, and home to Bed-Stuy). Saturday was far more ambitious, encompassing Bed-Stuy to Harlem, then to Coney Island, Far Rockaways, back to Harlem, and home again (around 80 miles). Sunday morning, I headed up to Stamford, Connecticut, and then onto Fairfield. I decided to stop en route to “top up” using a rapid charger I’d found via the infotainment find-a-charger feature. The charger was located at a Jaguar dealership in Darien, and I figured I’d grab a bite at a Shake Shack across the road while I waited.

Charging is easy enough, but not that speedy, and chargers can be tricky to find.Craig Wilson / Input

The experience was... less than seamless. First, finding the charger was hard as there were only two on the lot, their signage wasn’t clearly marked, and one had a pair of Land Rovers parked in front of it. Then I couldn’t get the FordPass app to activate the charger, despite it claiming to do so. Eventually, I tapped my phone on the charger instead with Google Pay open and connected the cable to the port on the car without issue.

Despite being a ChargePoint DC fast charger, the car (and app) told me that getting the Mach-E from 36 to 80 percent (after 80 percent it recommends switching to trickle charging for the sake of the battery’s longevity) would take a little over two hours. Not even I eat that slowly. I settled for a 35-minute boost that took me back to 50 percent (about 129 miles) for less than $5, and headed onwards to Fairfield, before heading home on the scenic Merritt Parkway. I got back with over 60 miles to spare.

Two hours to get to 80 percent via a rapid charger isn’t ideal.Craig Wilson / Input

Ideally, I would’ve been able to park in a garage and connect the Mach-E to a Ford-fitted and approved AC charger, which would’ve given me plenty of range for the next day. Because EVs are like smartphones and smartwatches: you want to recharge them every night, and you don’t really want to run their batteries nearly empty if you can help it.

Until you can recharge an EV on the streets of New York (rather than in paid parking lots, select office parks, or at car dealerships) that’s a serious obstacle to uptake in the city. And many people are going to want a network of high-speed chargers on every Interstate before they’ll make the leap. But both of these things are coming, and fast.

Serious game

The First Edition Mach-E I drove has a base price of $49,700, which climbed to $59,400 when the optional extras (wheels, B&O sound system, etc.) were factored in. Considering you can get a $2,000 rebate in New York (and up to $7,500 in federal rebates), that’s right in line with Tesla’s Model Y (the Long Range variant starts at $52,990, while the Performance iteration starts at $60,990).

Boop!Craig Wilson / Input
Hot wheels.Craig Wilson / Input
Comfortably seats five adults...Craig Wilson / Input
... or some Home Depot shopping.Craig Wilson / Input
The frunk has removable partitions.Craig Wilson / Input
At the Skyline Drive-In for Ghostbusters.Craig Wilson / Input

Ford has a long way to go to beat Tesla when it comes to charging convenience, but the Mach-E shows how serious it is about doing so. Plus, its slicker finishes, higher build quality (except for those accursed dials), and generally more refined air make it a seriously attractive alternative for those who don’t like Teslas, simply love Fords, or merely like its silhouette and want something electric.

The Mach-E is a really confident reply to Tesla and one that should have the world’s best-known EV maker paying close attention. If you have somewhere to charge it and you’re considering a Tesla, you really ought to test-drive a Mach-E before committing.

To judge the Mach-E against a regular Mustang simply doesn’t make sense.

To judge the Mach-E against a regular Mustang, meanwhile, simply doesn’t make sense, but you can’t blame Ford for wanting to capitalize on the brand recognition and ideas about performance the marque carries. A regular Mustang has two doors and a trunk, the Mach-E has four doors and two trunks. Conventional Mustangs are pony cars, while Ford describes the Mach-E as an SUV (but really, it’s more of a crossover-sedan-hatch hybrid).

Undeniable curb appeal.Craig Wilson / Input

But none of that matters, because the Mach-E is almost as much fun to drive as its gas-guzzling stablemates. And because, where a traditional Mustang is ostentatious, brash, and impractical, the Mach-E is understated, demure, and can fit a family of four and a dog or three. That could make all the difference when it comes to getting hesitant U.S. consumers to make the switch to electric for good. Ford and its rivals have Tesla in their sights, and if it leads to more cars like the Mach-E for buyers to choose from, that’s good news for everyone.