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Ford takes the bridle off the all-electric Mustang SUV

Norris McDonald
Written by Norris McDonald

LOS ANGELES – For the second time in five years, the Ford Motor Co. has taken an icon and pretty much turned it upside down and inside out.

In 2015, Ford took its best-selling Ford F-150 pickup truck, the best-selling vehicle in North America, and remade the body using lightweight aluminum instead of heavier steel. Critics suggested the automaker had doomed itself but, as of today, the F-150 is still the best-selling vehicle on the continent.

Now, on the eve of the 2019 Los Angeles Auto Show, Ford has taken the Mustang pony car and announced it plans to offer for sale, in late 2020 and early 2021, an all-electric Mustang SUV. You read that correctly: a Mustang electric SUV that Ford has branded the Mustang Mach-E and it comes in five models. Some are suggesting the company is intent on committing suicide. Others say it’s a remarkable step being taken by Ford at a crucial moment in the company’s history.

Whatever, it’s an intriguing automobile and the North American President of the company, Kumar Galhotra, says Ford knows exactly what it’s doing.

At a reception and coming-out party in L.A. Sunday night, Ford officially announced that, for the first time in 55 years, the company is expanding the Mustang lineup with the Mach-E SUV, which will join the current sports coupe, convertible and special editions lineup. At the reception, the company said the vehicle will feature an all-new infotainment system and connected vehicle technology, among other advances.

Ford emphasized that the Mach-E will embody the “Mustang spirit,” from its sleek silhouette and muscular curves to drive experiences and sounds. “The Mustang Mach-E wholeheartedly rejects the notion that electric vehicles are only good at reducing gas consumption,” said Hau Thai-Tang, Ford’s chief product development and purchasing officer (seen introducing the car, above). “People want a car that’s thrilling to drive, that looks gorgeous and that can easily adapt to their lifestyle – and the Mustang Mach-E delivers all of this in unmatched style.”

So, let’s take a look at this car.

The Mustang Mach-E has SUV-size proportions, all right. The overall length is 4,724 millimetres, width is 1,879 mm and height is 1,600 mm and it seats five.

When it goes on sale in late 2020, the Mach-E will be available with standard and extended range battery options with either rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. Equipped with an extended range battery and rear-wheel drive, Mach-E will make 332 hp and 417 lb.-ft. of torque and have an estimated range of 475 kilometres.

Ford will offer two special performance versions: the GT (available in early 2021) is targeting zero to 100 km/h in under four seconds; the GT Performance Edition is targeting a comparable zero-100 in the mid-three second range. Which is, if you’ll pardon the pun, motoring.

Aerodynamically, it’s a winner. There are no door handles. None. You open and close the doors using latch buttons that are mounted on the pillars. Wheel sizes start at 18 inches on the entry-level Select model and go up to 20 inches on the Premium and the GT models.

The real coup of this car rests in its design (above) – it has a long, sleek roofline. It could be an optical illusion. The rooftop will always be black, explained exterior design manager Chris Walter, but your eye will always go to the roofline, which will be painted a different colour and will slope down toward the back. The Mach-E will look like a sports sedan on the outside but feel like an SUV on the inside, where there will be plenty of headroom in the back seat and more room for legs and knees because the front wheels were moved ahead 70 mms and the rear wheels back 30 mms, extending the wheelbase. An optional panoramic fixed-glass roof – it has a special glass coating with infrared protection – will help to keep you warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

Walter calls all this “clever engineering.”

The centrepiece of the interior is a massive centre screen (see above) that’s 39.37 centimetres (15.5 inches) deep. The extra space on the screen has enabled Ford to take extraneous information out of the cluster in front of the driver. So the really important information a driver needs – speed, range – is where it’s supposed to be and the rest is parked on the screen.

The technology associated with the screen is mind-boggling. Your profile – habits you have when you get into the vehicle, what radio stations you like to listen to, whether the Leafs or the Raptors are playing and where you can catch the game with a touch of the screen – is filed and, as you approach the vehicle, it “recognizes you” because of your key fob or cellphone (that can be programmed to unlock the doors, start the car and so-on). You are one touch away from loading your apps, your vehicle controls, systems settings, navigation – whatever.

As it gets to know you better (I’m not making this up), it will make suggestions so you don’t forget commitments. If you key in that you want to go to Toronto Pearson, it will map out the best route, taking into consideration traffic reports of crashes or construction and let you know where the charging stations are along the way, plus whether or not any are available (not in use). And all this will get better over time. You won’t have to purchase a new Mustang to get improved technology; as it’s released, over-the-air updates will keep your car on the cutting edge.

One last thing about the screen. There is one button on it: you can still turn up the volume of the radio, or turn it down, just like the old days.

The rear trunk offers 29 cubic feet of space. With the seats down, there’s lots more space – 1,689 litres, to be exact. And because there isn’t an engine where one would normally be found (under the hood at the front), a second, front trunk (some other EV manufacturers call it a “frunk”) adds to the amount of space available to carry luggage and so-on.

Now, sometimes automakers get excited about their brilliance and get carried away. This is one of those times. There is a plug in the bottom of the front trunk (left). Why? Because when you go tailgating before the Sunday NFL game, and have ice keeping your burgers and beer fresh, and the ice melts, this plug will let you drain out the water. Sheesh.

And since I’m on the subject of negatives, there’s something else I don’t like about this prototype. On all the models, the Mustang horse logo is at the front and rear of the car. For some reason, that logo will not be at the rear of the GT. Instead, it will be replaced back there by the letters GT. I do not know why they would do that. If they want to call these cars Mustangs, then put the GT letters elsewhere at the back of the car and stick the Mustang logo back where it belongs.

Ford has made a good attempt to solve a never-ending problem confronting women: where to put their purses? A flip-up arm rest in the centre console reveals a place to store purses or bags. I know at least one female automotive writer who will be delighted by this initiative. You can bet there are more.

And that centre console is more-or-less a digital port. The driver can put his (or her) smartphone toward the front of the console, where there is wireless charging. There are two USB ports available for the front-seat passenger to utilize. And by moving the front-door speakers up to the middle of the door, Ford has improved storage space.

Ford likes to do things in secret – even more than most OEMs. They really like the cloak-and-dagger stuff. When the company surprised the motoring world several years ago with the introduction of the Ford GT sports racing car that was developed and built to beat Ferrari at Le Mans 50 years after it did it for the first time (the movie about that is out now), it involved a hand-picked special team, a company based in another country (Multimatic of Markham) and clandestine midnight meetings. Testing was carried out at the Ottawa-area Calabogie Motorsports Park, which is out in the middle of nowhere, to ensure that nobody but the core team would know about it.

They did the same thing with the Mach-E. Developed in a century-old brick building a few blocks away from Henry Ford’s first factory in downtown Detroit, Ford brought the Mustang Mach-E to life as the result of knowing what their customers wanted. In short: Mustang owners grow older; they have families and priorities change. They are perhaps more environmentally conscious than they were when they were younger. What could the company do to reward their early loyalty? Easy: design and build a Mustang SUV powered by electricity.

Bingo!

Said Galhotra: “It goes straight back to focusing on our customers.”

I was taken for a ride in the Mach-E prototype by Roger Yasukawa, a retired Formula Atlantic driver (he raced in the Grand Prix de Trois-Rivieres, years ago) who made several IRL starts, including the 2006 Indianapolis 500. He said, first, that the prototype I was in still had development work to do but that Ford had really pulled out all the stops in its testing. Acceleration and handling was developed and refined on race tracks (Yasukawa took the prototype through a slalom course and it felt glued to the tarmac) and the all-wheel drive system was put through its paces in the ice and snow of winter. The simulator normally used by Ford’s NASCAR drivers was used extensively in the development of the chassis.

There is instantaneous torque. Think of what it’s like when you flick the switch and the lights go on instantly in a room in your house. That’s what it’s like when you punch the accelerator of an electric car. You take that torque and you add the handling (to date) and what you get is awesome.

There will be five versions of the Mach-E available for sale in Canada. The Select will start at $50,495 (plus taxes, etc.); the Premium will go for $59,495; First Edition, $71,995; California Route 1, $64,495 and GT Performance Edition, $82,995. If you think you’re interested, you can get in line now by visiting their local Ford EV certified dealer or just go to Ford.ca to start the process.

(A limited First Edition will be available in extended-range all-wheel drive, with red painted brake calipers, metallic pedal covers, contrasting seat stitching and a scuff plate marked First Edition. If you think you’d like one, see the previous paragraph about getting in line.)

And if you want to know more about this really interesting car – driver modes and so-on – well, you’ll have to wait till Saturday and read an expanded version of this story that will be published in Toronto Star Wheels.