Ford takes the wraps off the $45,000 Mustang Mach-E electric SUV

Ian Thibodeau
The Detroit News

Los Angeles — Ford Motor Co. packed many "firsts" into the Mustang Mach-E unveiled here Sunday night.

It's Ford's first fully battery-electric SUV. It's the first electric Mustang. It's the first four-door Mustang. And it's the first all-new Ford to have been fully planned, designed and launched by CEO Jim Hackett and his executive team since he was appointed more than two years ago.

Available beginning next fall, the five-passenger 2021 Mustang Mach-E will have multiple models, battery options, and rear-wheel and all-wheel drive configurations. The automaker says rear-drive models equipped with extended-range batteries are targeting an EPA-estimated range of at least 300 miles, comparable to that of a single tank of gasoline in similar SUVs.

The Mustang Mach-E is the result of a roughly two-year sprint under the direction of Hackett to scrap plans for a smaller electric vehicle more akin to the Ford Focus, and create a performance-oriented SUV leveraging one of Ford's most iconic nameplates — the Mustang.

"Being a compliance-car wasn't going to cut it," said Ted Cannis, Ford's global director of electrification. "We had to do something different."

Said Kumar Galhotra, Ford president of North America: "We chose to do something only Ford can do."

Enter a new kind of Mustang.

►MORE: Ford's new battery-powered Mustang Mach-E challenges Tesla

►MORE: 10 cool things about the Ford Mustang Mach-E

All five trim levels of the Mach-E take exterior design cues from the Mustang line. Familiar tri-bar headlights and tail lamps are coupled with a recognizable swooping shark-nose hood. Designers and engineers lengthened the wheelbase from original plans to give the silhouette a crouched, sporty look. Rear "haunches" create a powerful-looking back end. Designers said they wanted the Mach E to look like a fist punching through the air. 

They also took streamlining cues from the Lincoln Continental by hiding door latches and buttons in the windowline above the doors.

The Ford Mustang Mach-E GT is revealed in Los Angeles.

The Mach E needed to move like a Mustang, too. A low center of gravity aims to let it handle the road like a pony car.

The instant torque from the battery-powered motor promises to give it a new kind of acceleration. The all-wheel drive Mach-E equipped with extended-range battery will deliver the equivalent of 332 horsepower and 417 pound-feet of torque. The standard rear-wheel drive model is aiming for a 0-60 mph time faster than the 5.1 seconds of the base Porsche Macan.

Two additional performance trims are planned: The GT is targeting a 0-60 time under 4 seconds; the GT Performance Edition is targeting a mid 3-second 0-60 time. Both would deliver 459 horsepower and 612 pound-feet of torque.

The Mustang Mach-E will start $44,995, including $1,100 destination charge. GT models will start at $61,600. All qualify for a $7,500 federal tax credit. They will be built in Cuautitlan, Mexico.

The Mustang Mach-E borrows the familiar tri-bar tail lights of Ford's pony car.

Ford benchmarked the Tesla Model 3 (starting price: $39,490) for the Mach-E design that shares Tesla touches like a panoramic glass roof and a big vertical tablet screen.

Company officials have said the new vehicle is a result of timing as much as an internal push to innovate. Ford has lagged the competition on EV investment. While it has had electric vehicles — and a number of hybrids — in its lineup, it never sold many.

The most recent push by the automaker includes an $11 billion investment and plans for dozens of EVs around the world. The Mach-E aims to set the tone for that initiative.

"Ford has taken a lot of heat for being behind on EVs, but the Mach-E could be just the thing the company needs to quiet the naysayers," said Jessica Caldwell, Edmunds executive director of insights. "The green-car market is split into two camps: those who want to make a flashy statement with a luxury EV, and practical buyers who want a more efficient version of a vehicle they’re already familiar with. Mach-E is trying to offer the best of both worlds: a functional SUV with a design that stands out, from a brand shoppers know and trust."

Said Paul Johnston, who worked on the vehicle architecture for the Mach-E: "We're asking one car to do a lot."

Ford's all-new Sync system will debut on a 15.5-inch vertical screen on the Mustang Mach-E.

Three drive-modes will be at drivers' fingertips: "Whisper" is the tamest, with no amplified motor sounds or flashy instrument cluster animations. "Engage" and "Unbridled" modes amplify all of those sensory points, and add synthesized acceleration sounds in the cabin. 

An all-new Sync system will debut on a 15.5-inch vertical screen; it will learn driver preferences and make personalized suggestions for apps and other things. Mach-E's will be equipped with hardware ready for Ford's first true hands-free driver-assist system; over-the-air software updates will be delivered once the system is ready.

The electric drivetrain allows for a few new interior quirks. Because the battery pack is under the floor, that frees up a "frunk" under the hood up front with 4.8 cubic feet of storage  to hold the equivalent of a carry-on bag. Because the compartment is made of plastic and has a drain, Ford thinks customers could use the frunk to hold things like ice and beverages, dirty boots and particularly fragrant carryout food. The rear trunk has 29 cubic feet of space, and seats fold down for 59.6 cubic feet.

Storage space in the "frunk" of the Mustang Mach-E is big enough for a carry-on bag, but could also be filled with ice for tailgating.

Ford has also reworked the cabin to make the most of the freed-up space. The center console has a tiered stowage system. A flip-up armrest offers a place to stash handbags.

The 288 lithium-ion cells in the standard-range battery pack and the 376 cells in the extended-range pack will be protected in waterproof cases surrounded by crash protection. The liquid-cooled batteries are designed to handle cold as low as minus-40. Ford is partnering with battery-maker LG Chem Ltd. to make them.

Ford is taking pre-orders for the Mustang Mach-E with $500 deposits. Performance models won't be available until early 2021, but officials said the pre-order system will help the automaker allocate supply as they start rolling out in Mexico later this year.

The automaker will offer charging options, including home installation of charging ports. Buyers will have access to the FordPass Connect Network with 12,500 charging stations around the country and the ability to plan long trips.

Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau