Corrections & Clarifications: An earlier version of this story gave a wrong first name for Robert Oppenheimer.
If you care about cars, technology or climate change, it’s impossible not to feel a thrill walking up to a 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E.
Not that the first electric SUV to bear the legendary Mustang pony badge is a big deal, or anything, but hey, the first edition is sold out, and the waiting list for others isn’t getting any shorter.
The sleek, five-seat newcomer successfully transfers the magic of the Mustang to the vehicle that launches Ford’s transition to electric power. It’s a handsome, tech-rich vehicle. Like the classic Mustang coupe and convertible that created the pony car’s mystique, buyers who want all-out performance will have to wait for coming GT and other models, but initial models of the Mach-E make Ford a strong player as electric vehicles bid for widespread acceptance.
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The battery-powered Mach-E is everything most of its owners will ask for: easy to operate, room for people and cargo, up to 300 miles range on a charge, no obvious twitches or glitches to alienate EV skeptics.
In an afternoon driving Mach-Es on highways, city and country roads and a closed course, the Mach-E checked key boxes:
Able and responsive in traffic.
Mustang has far more passenger and cargo space than the coupe.
Easy to drive, with no bleeding-edge quirkiness. If you can drive, you can drive Ford’s new EV.
The advanced features appear reasonably intuitive, including an app to help plan charging stops on road trips.
Eager early-adopters who ordered in advance should get their Mach-Es shortly. Vehicles ordered now – online or at your dealer – will arrive in 2021. More powerful performance models arrive next summer.
Get in line.
Standard safety and driver assist features
Blind spot and cross traffic alerts.
Adaptive cruise control.
Speed limit sign recognition.
Automatic high beams.
Automatic front braking and collision alert.
Automatic rear braking.
Lane keeping alert and assist.
Mach-E prices start at $42,895 for a rear-drive model. Adding a second motor powering the front axle for all-wheel drive raises the base price to $45,595. Prices for currently available models go to $49,800 for a California Route 1. A limited first edition of AWD models sold out at $58,300 apiece. All prices exclude destination charges.
More powerful GT and GT Performance edition models coming this summer will probably boost prices to around $70,000, but nothing’s official yet. All Mach-Es are eligible for incentives including a $7,500 federal tax credit.
The base RWD Mach-E comes with a 68kWh battery and EPA estimated range of 230 miles on a charge. That falls to 210 for an AWD base. RWD Mach-Es develop 266 horsepower and 317 pound-feet of torque. All Mach-Es have a direct-drive single speed transmission.
Extended-range Mach-Es have an 88kWh battery – a $5,000 option, and destined to be a popular one. It boosts the EPA range estimate to 300 miles with rear-drive and 270 for AWD. Power is 290 horsepowerwith rear-drive and 346 with AWD.
Those figures seem easily attainable based on my time behind the wheel.
I tested two Mach-E’s on a windy November day.
RWD with normal range
This was tested on a closed handling course at the American Center for Mobility proving ground just outside Detroit. It stickered at $45,895.
Heated front seats and steering wheel.
Foot-operated power tailgate.
Preparation for Ford’s coming system for hands-free highway driving.
Infinite Blue metallic paint.
Power front seats.
Memory for driver’s settings.
AWD extended range
This one was tested on a longer drive that included highways, twisting country roads and suburban streets. It stickered at $55,100.
Compact and midsize electric SUVs are a growth stock. Buyers’ choices are about to expand from the Tesla X, Jaguar I-Pace and Audi E-tron to 2021-arriving newcomers including the VW ID 4, Mercedes EQC and GMC Hummer 1,000-hp crew-cab pickup.
The Mach-E’s price and features appear competitive. Its power and range also stack up well, a comparison that will only get better when the GT and GT Performance Edition arrive this summer with 480 horsepower and 600 and 634 pound-feet of torque, respectively.
Ford’s new EV architecture carries its batteries in the floor pan, a design common among vehicles engineered from the start to be EVs, as opposed to old-style cars and SUVs that were modified to hold batteries.
That delivers a couple of benefits:
The battery doesn’t intrude on passenger or luggage room.
Putting the heavy battery so low in the vehicle creates a low center of gravity, which contributes to good road-holding in quick maneuvers. As a result, the Mach-E’s center of gravity is just 1.25 inches higher than a Mustang coupe, despite the fact that the SUV is 9.1 inches taller than the sporty coupe.
The AWD Mach-E I drove for an afternoon stuck to the road like 2½ tons of metal on Pirelli rubber, which is exactly what it was.
My car’s 4,838-pound curb weight made itself felt in incipient push around fast curves and traffic circles, despite the SUV’s sporty 49/51 front/rear weight distribution.
Mass isn’t easily destroyed unless you’re Robert Oppenheimer, but an adaptive magnetic ride suspension on the performance models coming this summer should at least make some of that weight disappear in enthusiastic driving.
New tech, familiar driving feel
The acceleration of extended-range AWD Mach-E Premium is more than acceptable. Ford claims zero to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds. Electric motors deliver torque immediately, as you’re sick of hearing if you follow the technology.
If you’re not plugged into EV development, that’s different from internal combustion engines, which need to reach and remain in a specific rpm range to generate maximum torque, the force that best equates to acceleration. The upshot is that the Mach-E seems to jump forward when you hit the accelerator.
The Mach-E will be the first time many drivers experience another EV characteristic: one pedal driving. It’s just what it sounds like: a setting where the energy from deceleration is recaptured so aggressively that the driver seldom has to touch the brake pedal. The energy goes back to the battery, extending the SUV’s range.
One-pedal driving can take some getting used to in other EVs, but the Mach-E quickly felt intuitive. By the end of an afternoon driving, I only occasionally touched the brake.
The Mach-E’s steering is firm, with good on-center feel. The suspension holds the body level in quick maneuvers and absorbs bumps well.
The interior is roomy, sporty and straightforward. The controls are easy to use, including a 15.5-inch tablet style touch screen jutting from the dash. The gauges are clear. With no engine, there’s no engine note, but a natural-sounding generated rumble connotes performance in sport mode.
A tinted glass roof is standard. There’s no shade. That wasn’t an issue on a sunny November day, but I suspect I’d like one for a long summer drive.
The Mach-E is fun and responsive. The launch models are the appetizer for its ultimate performance, but they deliver enough performance to satisfy most drivers.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E: Electric SUV charges into the future