HAWTHORNE, Calif. - By now, you've heard all about the forthcoming 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E, Ford's forthcoming battery-powered SUV. While it's not Ford's first foray into electrification, it is the company's biggest - and the first one aimed at the heart of the American car market, where SUVs account for nearly half of all auto sales, but electric vehicles account for only about 2%, with the lion's share going to Tesla.
But with the Mustang Mach-E due to hit showrooms late next year, that could change. The new model is the first fruition of Ford's $11.5 billion investment in electric vehicles.
"I've always had two great passions at Ford," said company chairman Bill Ford Jr. at the Mach-E's unveiling in Hawthorne. "One was the environment and the other was sports cars and driving fast. And, and I've always cared deeply about the environment. For too long, my two great passions are frankly diametrically opposed. Yeah, if you wanted to be green, you had to give up performance and if you want to have performance you couldn't be green. That's not true anymore. We've finally created a new ... Mustang, where it all comes together."
Aside from whether it should be considered a Mustang or not, it's hard not to be impressed by the Mach-E's sleek styling and class-leading capabilities. Available with a standard 75.7 kWh lithium-ion battery pack and an extended-range 98.8 kWh battery pack with rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, Ford says the Mach-E will have an EPA-estimated range of at least 300 miles on a charge while providing 332 horsepower and 417 pound-feet of torque. On the hotter end, look for the GT Performance Edition to offer 459 horsepower and 830 pound-feet of torque, enough to generate 0-60 mph times of 3.5 seconds, faster than a Porsche 911 GTS or Ferrari Portofino. "And we all know how Ford likes to beat Ferrari," Ford said in reference to his company's 1960s rivalry with Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The Mach-E's instrument panel is suitably modern and features a mammoth 15.5-inch screen that controls many of the cars functions. Prices start around $43,895, and customers can reserve one online with a $500 deposit.
Ford's strategy is shrewd; cut through the noise of forthcoming electric SUVs by using a tried and true name on a product that captures some of its forebears' excitement, while grabbing car buyers' attention.
The Mach-E's performance may not be in doubt, but many of the Mustang faithful have rightfully cried foul. Sure, Ford considered producing a four-door Mustang and a Mustang station wagon back in the 1960s, but they never went through it. Ford did try to make the Mustang into an economy car in 1974 by eliminating its V-8 and using subcompact Pinto parts, but executives soon saw their mistake. To pony car fans, who kept the faith alive for 55 years, the Mustang Mach-E's four doors are anathema; that it's a crossover makes it unthinkable as a Mustang. Their undying affection is as uncompromising as the pony car they adore.
And this is why Ford has nine different Mustang traditional, state-of-the-art variants to choose from for 2020, all of which leave little doubt that they're Mustangs. Case in point: the 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500. Very much the powertrain antithesis of a Mach-E, it's the most powerful street-legal Ford ever built, powered by a supercharged 5.2-liter V-8 engine rated at 760 horsepower and 625 pound-feet of torque mated to a new Tremac seven-speed dual-clutch transmission and a Torsen limited-slip differential. Performance outguns its electric rival, but not by much: 0-60 comes up in 3.3 seconds, with the quarter mile coming in at less than 11 seconds.
But it's how it does it that makes traditionalists smile. An EV is quiet. The Shelby is not; performance fans aren't used to going quietly into a corner - or into the night for that matter.
You'll find the Shelby GT500 to be so fast, so furious and so mind-numbingly fun that you'll wonder if your license will withstand your ability to put this steed through its paces, particularly since it does it so effortlessly and easily. When thinking of cars with equal performance, you have to contemplate European ones that cost considerably more. That said, adding the $18,500 Carbon-Fiber Track package adds exposed 20-inch carbon fiber wheels with 0.5-inch-wider rear wheels wearing custom Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires, an adjustable exposed carbon fiber GT4 track wing and splitter wickers with integrated dive plane. Finally, the rear seat is deleted to reduce weight. In addition, an optional Handling Package incorporates adjustable strut top mounts and spoiler with Gurney flap. Adding these items pushes the $73,995 GT500 past the $100k mark but in the process transforms this crazy colt into a true supercar, one totally capable of dominating the track. Its capabilities are most likely beyond those of most owners' ability to exploit.
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But what's truly remarkable is when the GT500's exhaust is put into quiet mode, this wild pony turns out to be the perfect long distance cruiser. That it could do both so well is a testament to the excellence of its engineering. This is the ultimate pony car, and truly one of the world's great sports cars.
That said, too much of the interior is standard Mustang fare, even with the excellent optional Recaro bucket seats and carbon fiber cabin trim.
But given its high starting price, you have to wonder if this isn't a last gasp of brilliance.
Is the new Mach-E the new performance paradigm for sports cars? Do sports cars like the GT500 become strictly track time playthings? If your new electric SUV can keep pace with fossil-fueled pony car, what's the reasoning for buying the latter? Ultimately, consumers decide which products survive, and it's smart of Ford to play both ends, since both may survive and flourish, pleasing two masters with one classic name. But it's a big gamble.
While Ford has other names that could've been chosen, none has the marketing muscle of Mustang, although the impact of using the name only works well once.
Still, it only proves the dictum of the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus: The only constant is change.
The Ford Mustang proves that, one quarter-mile at a time.
ABOUT THE WRITERLarry Printz is an automotive journalist based in South Florida. Readers may send him email at TheDrivingPrintz@gmail.com.