Has a car ever launched with such undue expectation on its shoulders? The Mach-E didn’t choose Mustang life, but as a demonstration of Ford’s willingness to bet the farm (or at least the stable and paddock) on its electrification, Mustang life chose the Mach-E.

Ford’s first mass-market electric car was going to be somewhat more humdrum; a battery filled version of a pre-existing model. Instead, Ford tore up its plans, started afresh and took the giant leap of turning the Mustang name into a brand. It also spun the Mustang’s Mach-1 name into Mach-E, for electric, and there we have it. Rewind five years, tell Ford executives their first electric car will be a Mustang SUV and hearts would have stopped, yet here we are.

The Mach-E is clearly a member of the Mustang family with its recognizable front and rear lights, plus the complete lack of Ford badging anywhere on the vehicle. You can’t criticize Ford for not going all-in on the Mustangification of the Mach-E, even if that means bypassers unfamiliar with the galloping horse logo ask what on Earth it is. But this was while driving in rural England. I suspect the reaction might well be different in the US.

Anyway, I don’t plan to waste your time asking whether this car is a Mustang or not. It’s called a Mustang, it has annoyed purists – “what were they thinking?”, Richard Hammond told me after its launch – and I doubt the vast majority of buyers, at least outside of the US, will care what the badge does or doesn’t say. Ford buyers will see the Mach-E in their local showroom and, first and foremost, they’ll be interested in what it has to offer as the Blue Oval’s first proper EV.

Here’s the answer to that question. Depending on specification, the Mach-E has a range of up to 379 miles in single-motor, rear-wheel-drive configuration, and up to 335 miles if you opt for the pricier dual-motor, all-wheel-drive example loaned for this review. Maximum power output is 346PS (341 horsepower) and the 0-62mph sprint is dispatched in as little as 5.1 seconds. The more potent GT model due out later in the year takes that down to 3.7 seconds. Prices start at $44,995 (£40,350) and will climb to beyond $60,000.

None of these are numbers to keep Elon Musk up at night, but by now we are hopefully past the obsession with comparing every new electric car to a Tesla. For what it’s worth, the Mach-E is closest to the Model Y but I suspect brand loyalty will play a major factor on both sides of that particular argument.

Inside, the Mach-E features Ford’s all-new Sync 4 infotainment system. This runs on a pair of digital displays with the central portrait-orientated touchscreen measuring a whopping 15.5 inches, and the letterbox-like driver display measuring 10.2 inches. Interestingly, the touchscreen has a rotary dial for controlling volume, complete with a power button at its center to switch off the radio or audio playback from your phone.

It’s a nice touch, the physical dial, and a suggestion that Ford understands why Tesla’s all-touch approach to car interfaces isn’t necessarily the best. But I wonder why the volume was chosen for this token gesture, when that can already be controlled with a physical rocker switch on the steering wheel? I would much rather have a physical dial for climate control, or two to share the duties of temperature and fan speed. On a long drive I’m more likely to adjust these than the radio volume. If manufacturers want to offer some physical controls on the center console, they should be for something that can’t already be controlled by buttons on the steering wheel.

The rest of the Sync 4 system is almost as simple and intuitive as Sync 3 in other current Fords, but I didn’t quite bond with the big touchscreen in the way I’d hoped to. Some digital buttons are huge and easy to tap, but others are small and require more attention than feels necessary. Tesla has made many interface changes to its own display over the years, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see similar stages of evolution from Ford – especially with the company partnering with Google and using Android Automotive from 2022.

I also hope that partnership improves the performance of the Mach-E’s user interface, which is one of the least smooth I have used for a while. Swiping elements out of the way often resulted in a slight judder from the interface, and it lacked the smoothness of a Tesla or Jaguar’s new Pivi infotainment system. Another complaint I have is with the wireless phone charger, which constantly failed to charge my iPhone 12 Pro, resulting in a message taking up a quarter of the screen and telling me the phone had lost connection, despite not moving.

The secondary display behind the steering wheel is a simpler affair, showing your current speed, range, battery percentage, gear and key info like the status of your lights and whether one-pedal driving mode is on or not. With Tesla getting rid of its driver display (and steering column stalks, buttons on the wheel, and gear selector…) the Mach-E’s familiarity and unwillingness to offer minimalism for minimalism’s sake is welcome. It’s a Mustang for the future, but one that doesn’t feel unnecessarily or intimidatingly futuristic.

Other sensible practicality is found with the use of both USB-A and USB-C charge ports and the fitting of wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard. Setting a driving destination was as simple as looking it up on my iPhone, then getting in the car, upon which CarPlay automatically connected to my phone, and with one tap of the central display the route was ready to go. It is connectivity like that (and Android Auto) that demonstrates why Ford’s deal with Google makes so much sense.

Ford also has its FordPass smartphone app. This works much like other apps offered by automakers, connecting to your car over its internet connection and showing live info like battery charge and remaining range. You can also use the app to remotely switch the car on, control the windows and tailgate, sound the horn and set the cabin temperature. There is a section for locating public chargers, thanks to Ford partnering with a number of charger operators (including BP Pulse and Ionity in the UK), and user profiles can be created for each person you allow to drive the car. When it all works, car and phone feel like companion accessories to your digital life.

With the destination set, it’s time to see what the Mustang Mach-E is like to drive. As with most electric cars, the Mach-E launches with more urgency than you’d expect from a car weighing 2.2 tonnes, reaching 60mph in 5.1 seconds. It is no Tesla-killer but I feel it is becoming apparent that not every manufacturer wants to play Elon Musk’s Acceleration Game, and are happy to invest their R&D dollars into more useful pursuits than a stomach-turning 0-60 time.

Like all modern Fords, the Mach-E is agile – again, more so than you might expect – and with steering that is precise but, as with most EVs, devoid of feedback. With the weight of the battery down low, the car exhibits minimal body roll and gives its driver the confidence to hustle it smartly along country roads. It’s not a sports car (sorry, Mustang fans), but the Mach-E is still an entertaining thing to drive and realistically as quick any any family-friend crossover need be. This is especially true in Untamed mode (called Unbridled in the US), where the car’s augmented sound track is tuned to sound a bit like an engine.

It’s not the most unpleasant noise an EV has ever made, and I suspect some drivers will revel in their electric car having a bit of acoustic character, but to my ears it’s not as interesting a sound track as the Mazda MX-30 or Porsche Taycan.

The three drive modes of Whisper, Active and Untamed don’t adjust the ride (because there are no adaptive dampers until the GT model arrives later), but instead electronically alter the sensitivity of the accelerator, brakes and steering.

I spent most of my time in Active with the occasional switch to Untamed, and I imagine most owners will follow suit. I also suggest they enable one-pedal driving, as the brakes tend to feel too unresponsive at first, before biting harder than expected. As with other electric cars, one-pedal mode slows the car using regenerative braking from the motors when you lift the accelerator, and means you rarely ever have to press the left pedal and use the brakes themselves.

The ride can be a little hard at low speeds and road noise is noticeable, but then that’s an issue with most EVs as there is no other sound to drown it out. At cruising speeds the Mach-E settles down and is perfectly comfortable for longer journeys, while the optional Bang & Olufsen sound system is a must-have.

Ford claims the rear-wheel-drive, single-motor Mach-E can manage up to 379 miles, while the all-wheel-drive version driven here is rated at 335 miles.

As ever with electric cars, this figure will vary quite considerably depending on how you drive and the ambient temperature, with lithium batteries performing less well when cold. When delivered, the car stated 97 percent charge and an estimated range of 283 miles. With mixed driving and winter weather, I feel 250 miles is a more accurate figure. I’d be interested to see how close the more frugal, single-motor Mach-E can get to its quoted 379 miles on a warmer day.

The Mach-E is, of course, the most practical Mustang ever. It has seating for four – or five with a bit of a squeeze – and there is decent trunk space at the front (81 liters) and rear (402 liters). It isn’t too big as to be a pain to drive and park through town (the latter aided by this particular model’s automated parking system), and I can see it being perfect for young families who need space and practicality but not a full-size SUV.

I truly hope the Mach-E is a sales success for Ford, and that early issues with the infotainment system can be addressed with over-the-air software updates. I then hope Ford ignores the purists, sticks with the Mustang name and turns it into a premium sub-brand all of its own.

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