What we discovered from our first ride in the Ford Mustang Mach-E

Has there been a car in recent years that’s provoked as much controversy as the Ford Mustang Mach-E? It’s not even been launched yet and already the internet is full of people howling with anguish that Ford has appropriated the holy Mustang name. For an electric SUV.

Keen to turn people on to the Mustang Mach-E, and educate them about electric motoring in general, Ford has set up a Go Electric display for the public in Marble Arch, central London. And they also brought a prototype of the new Mach-E along. “Would you like a passenger ride?” they asked us. “We’d like to drive it!” we replied. They gave us a hard look and offered us a passenger ride again. We accepted.

In the flesh

We’ll get to the thorny issue of the name shortly, but for now let’s talk about the car itself. In the metal, it’s not a bad looker. It’s sleek and sporty as SUVs go, with hints of Alfa Romeo Stelvio, Ferrari FF and Infiniti FX to it. The front grille is curious, and we can’t help seeing a moustache in there, but the headlights and rear lights are unmistakably Mustangy. There are no door handles, just small buttons on the pillars and a small hook to pull the front doors open. How easy those will be to use in the real world remains to be seen, but it keeps the lines clean.

In the back there’s lots of leg space. The electric powertrain means no need for a lumpy transmission tunnel, so passengers get extra foot room. Up front there’s a huge central screen, a la Tesla, and another, smaller screen in front of the driver in place of analogue instruments. The prototype car also had a large red emergency STOP button grafted to the dash, which we’re assured won’t be there in the production vehicle.

On the move

As passenger rides go, ours isn’t the most informative. It begins with a straight-line acceleration in an underground car park, which is very brief but does confirm that the Mustang Mach-E has some serious electrical beans. The acceleration of an electric car is different to the swells you get from an internal combustion engine, as it finds its peak power and pauses to change gear. In the Mach-E it’s instant and continuous with no let-up in momentum.

After that, we set off for a jaunt around Central London. If you’ve ever driven there, you’ll know it’s not ideal for road testing. I don’t think we top 10mph. I can tell you that the car is nice and quiet at low speeds, and the ride, while it has a firm edge, isn’t harsh on the old backside. The standard Mustang will ride on set dampers, while the GT model – which will be more hardcore, and introduced a year or so after the standard car – will have adjustable magnetic suspension.

Our driver is Guy Mathot, Ford’s vehicle dynamics man tasked with bringing the Mustang vibe from a V8-powered coupe to a battery-powered family car. No small challenge.

“What we typically want to do, especially with a Mustang badge, is give a car good body control. So if you turn the steering wheel, the car doesn't roll that much.That obviously gives you a good sporty feeling,” he explains, without being able to demonstrate as another Uber driver cuts us up.

“Any EV vehicle uses a heavy battery, but the characteristic of this platform is that the battery is placed really central in the car, between the front and the rear axle, and it's really low down, so it has two big advantages. It pulls the center of gravity down, which is always a positive for driving dynamics.

“Secondly, the inertia of the car is lower than a comparable vehicle with the same size and the same weight. And lower inertia means you can more easily have a responsive vehicle characteristic. So if you turn the steering wheel, the car will turn in quicker or easier, it doesn't have a large pendulum effect. We’ve used this to our advantage to give the kind of a sporty feel from the Mustang badge, without having to make large compromises for comfort.”

But why Mustang?

Later, I talk to Roelant de Waard, the general manager of passenger vehicles for Ford. I asked him the question that the internet has asked since the Mach-E’s reveal: why call it a Mustang?

“Well, obviously, because it's a very exciting brand, it immediately attracts the attention,” he says. “but at the same time, it gives you a lot of responsibility because you have to execute something that's worthy of the name.

“But it also immediately gives you a lot of direction. So when you call something a Mustang, everybody knows what to do. It has to be a performance vehicle. It has to have a cool design.”

To those that have a set idea of what a Mustang should be, de Waard says: “the market evolves. So what used to be the automobile 50 years ago has moved on. And so does the Mustang. We've got other examples as well, and we're not apologising.

“I think it's an opportunity. There will be an electric future, and our customers who want to move towards that future at the same time don't want to lose the emotion that the Mustang brings. I think that's the unique combination only Ford could make, to marry a brand with such heritage to that new technology and bring something to that segment that nobody has really done.”

So is the Mustang Mach-E worthy?

Dunno yet. We won’t have a chance to drive the Mustang Mach-E for a while, and can’t give a verdict until we’ve got behind the wheel. But here’s what we know: it’s happening, and you can’t change it. The world loves SUVs, Ford wants to make money, electric cars are the future. The people that have built the Mach-E have known it’ll be rocking the Mustang name since the start of the project, and they’re well aware of the promises that name makes. And wouldn’t you rather be in a world where Mustangs are still made, even if they’ve evolved?

Keepin' it old school

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