mustang mach-e road trip

Road Trip Review: The 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E from California to Colorado

The Car

2021 Mustang Mach-E 4x First Edition in Grabber Blue Metallic. This specific one has AWD, an 88-kWh battery, 346 hp and 428 lb-ft of torque, and 270 miles of range. The total MSRP is $50,800.

The Trip

Venice, CA to Denver, CO. 800 miles on the highway, then another 500 miles on back roads (paved and unpaved) through Aspen (fancy!), over Independence Pass (best road in the USA) into Twin Lakes, then onto Colorado Springs to climb Pikes Peak, before relinquishing the car in Denver.

The Question

Is the Mach-E a good adventure road trip rig for enthusiasts?  

Does it easily chew up highway miles and twisty mountain passes? Will the interior soak up the gear and detritus of a week-long adventure? Is the “road trip” vibe adversely affected by range and charging? I’d rather focus on the drive, the playlist, where we’re eating, and where we’re staying (this is very much uncertain); is that possible? Or will the long shadow of range anxiety darken the trip?

The Ground Rules

 One: Much has been written about the Mustang name on a crossover, so I’ll spare you. At this point, the conversation is a bit tedious. (There’s a joke in there somewhere about beating a dead horse…) Also, the name doesn’t affect the performance, even if it’s useful for metaphors.

Two: This is not a technical debrief. For detailed data and analysis, there are many great videos and stories. For a thorough and articulate overview check out the Hooniverse review (even though I don’t support Jeff’s “assertions” regarding the Galax-E name). For “quirks and features”, Doug Demuro, of course. For comparisons with Tesla’s Model Y just… internet… but Jason Fenske of Engineering Explained is very good. And for EV-nerd analysis check out Inside EV’s reviews and Kyle Conner’s thorough and thoughtful review on Out of Spec. I’m not puking out a bunch of numbers, range testing down to zero, focusing on peak charge duration, or analyzing each charging station. 

The goal here is different. We’re checking out the performance of the Mach-E as a multi-day road tripper for drivers (but not necessarily the EV evangelists) who like the skinny pedal, DGAF about the data, and simply want to feel good about the drive.

The Setup

The Mustang Mach-E is a triumph for Ford. It’s a great car. It’s exciting to drive. It looks good. It charges fast. It’s the first real competition for Tesla. And when the Blue Oval narrows its focus and the blinders go on it can win. After all, the company won LeMans to sell cars. Okay, Carroll Shelby, Ken Miles, and Matt Damon helped, but you get it. The Mach-E is also a triumph for CEO Jim Farley and his EV team. Without Mr. Farley’s vision and commitment, Ford’s first major EV could have been stillborn. An uninspired, emotionless, compliance corpse. Early images from before his tenure show a front-drive electric crossover (lifted Focus?) with an anonymous cab-forward design and that derivative but trendy c-pillar/d-pillar break – a now tedious and outdated design flourish. Under Jim’s leadership, the EV team thankfully adjusted course, called upon their Mustang colleagues, and made a bet on rear-drive handling characteristics. 

The Outside

I think the Mach-E is exciting for the eyes. It’s more aggressive than its peers and the long folded hood snarls like a steed on meth. I love it. The wide hips visualize the 25/75 rear-axle bias, even if the rear hooves are a bit narrow for a Mustang. The sloping roofline’s design wizardry looks quick, like a jockey hunched down at full gallop, even if it’s not 100% honest. Also shapely but misleading is the faux grill. 

EVs don’t need big front grills and the Mach-E is no exception. Yet, designers feel the need to include them on new model version one body designs, like the original Model S. Below the big, beautiful, fake grill is very real active aero, louvers that open to assist battery cooling. How about incorporating the louvers inside the grill to motivate the design? If we’re leaning into aesthetic critique, the door handle winglets are an unnecessary visual flourish – if deleted, the functionality wouldn’t change (the rear doors work great!) and the design would be streamlined, more consistent, and more confident.

Dimensionally, the Mach-E is similar to its classmates. Length (~186”), width (~74”), and height (~64”) are within an inch of the Tesla Model Y and Volkswagen ID.4, except the latter is five inches shorter. The Mach-E looks much better than both. Interestingly, the Mustang Mach-E is over six inches SHORTER than the 1973 Mustang Mach One.

A digression on EV shape. Basically, there are two camps: Cabin Forward – think Tesla Model X, 3, Y, even the Cybertruck, Nissan Leaf, Kia/Hyundai, BMW i3. These designs leverage the EV’s motor location and size to maximize interior cabin space while chasing aerodynamic slipperiness. Then there are the Long Hoods that mimic traditional ICE shapes – think BMW i4, Polestar, Rivian, Bollinger, the Hummer EV, the F-150 Lightning, and the Mustang Mach-E. These designs are hunting the emotional response: familiarity, excitement, and power. In the Mach-E, I think it works. I like those feelings.

There’s no Ford branding on Mach-E (no Blue Oval!) and it doesn’t say “Mustang” anywhere.  There’s just a  galloping horse, racing toward the future, at the front and rear. The design is a clear winner at one thing: attracting attention. Whether driving the highways and side roads or parked on the street in town people stop to look, take photos, and ask questions. The Mach-E got thumbs up from drivers in a broad range of vehicles, from a heavily stickered and winged Nissan 240 (got downforce?!) to a 2021 911 speedster. Everyone seems to love it. Such is the power and novelty of the shape and logo.

On the road, the attention-grabbing design makes me feel good. It’s a ton of fun. Like I’m never a stranger and always have someone to chat with. For me, road trips are also about meeting different people from different places. And the Mach-E was a reliable social partner. But, warning, it’s not a good car for attention shunning misanthropes.

The Inside

My impressions of the interior are consistent with the high marks it’s already received. Materials feel premium for the price but stop short of luxury. It’s thoughtful, intuitive, and comfortable. It’s also familiar and feels like a car. It’s not overly minimalist as sometimes less is too much. And it’s not trying too hard to be “techy”, like a drivable gadget. My personal Chevy Bolt is the latter and doesn’t “feel” like a car to me. The Mach-E is slim on switches and knobs in a good way, yet there are manual controls in natural spots: window switches on the door, cruise and media buttons on the steering wheel (not my favorite steering wheel controls), and a parts bin PRND knob in the center. There’s even an instrument cluster behind the steering wheel, which is a feature that’s useful but endangered for reasons I don’t understand. 

This 10.5” digital display provides critical info like speed, speed limit, navigation, and state of charge (but additional info during charging would be appreciated, specifically kWh). Above, the fixed panorama glass roof (included in the premium package) is striking and makes the cabin feel like a Model S (ahem) I mean, feel bigger than it is.

The seating position is low-ish for a crossover, with leg positioning ever so slightly more horizontal and less “chair-like”. The car “feels” sporty, as if it handles well even if the front view includes a lot of hood. The seats are comfortable but side-bolstering is noticeably absent. This omission undercuts the sporty feeling and contradicts the Mustang brand… but seems to ensure comfort for a greater variety of body types. (Will Recaro’s be available as an option like the coupe? Maybe in the GT?) The perforated ActiveX synthetic leather feels premium. But the lack of cooling to go with the tiny holes is a bit of a tease, especially when available elsewhere at this price point. Max lumbar support is my jam, especially on long trips, and the lack of lumbar height control doesn’t bother me at all, even if this annoys others. My son thinks the back seat is spacious and 38-inches of legroom is indeed bigger than the 36-inches in the back of our Bolt. Good eye on that kid.  

Overall, the setup (essential manual controls and eye-line display) is perfect for long hours on the road in a ride I’m just getting to know. But will 12 hours of direct sun and 100-degree heat burn out our road trip?  With the “heat dome” descending on the West and 100-plus degree days along the route I really wish we had cooled seats. But I’m still psyched to spend time in the cabin. For those going full EV but looking for a familiar (and very good!) interior – the Mach-E is perfect. Is it good for a 1300 mile adventure road trip?  We’ll see.

The Screen

The 15.5” portrait-oriented, rectangular, glass monolith is best-in-class and the single physical knob for volume is thoughtful, practical, and innovative. You’ll also find this setup in the new F-150 Lightning. I love it. There’s no denying the efficiency, usefulness, and inevitability of touch screen computers controlling vehicle systems. But, newsflash: the digits at the end of our arms are really useful, especially the incredible opposable thumb! Sometimes the brain is most satisfied by using this incredible system to adjust its surroundings. A single-digit sliding across a smooth surface to adjust every possible outcome in our environment isn’t how we’re designed – no matter how good the UI is. The act of grabbing a physical dial to crank up Radar Love through the superb Bang and Olufsen system on a beautiful stretch of empty road is satisfying in a way that’s impossible to replace with a finger slide. It sounds minor, but this is about a road trip and here moments like this matter: emotion, anticipation, and gratification. So, bravo Ford, you nailed this one. Bravo. But don’t take a bow yet, the UI still needs some work.

The Mach-E runs Ford’s new Sync 4A, the same system used in the new F-150 Lightning. It’s very good, considering it’s their first shot at an EV “user interface” with a screen the size of a pizza box. I don’t experience any lag and the menu file structures are intuitive. In reverse, the multiple camera views are appreciated. But the “overhead” “satellite” view (stitched together from side cameras) leaves a black border along the sides of the car, exactly where a visual is most needed. The “overhead” view on our Chevy Bolt is seamless to the edge of the vehicle and if GM can get that right, surely Ford can do better. Most importantly, the system has CarPlay (wireless!), and pairing the iPhone is simple and quick. So many manufacturers get this wrong and it’s inexcusable for new cars to omit CarPlay (looking at you Tesla), honestly, it’s a safety issue. While the wireless CarPlay works flawlessly, the wireless charging, not so much.  There are two, side-by-side, wireless charging positions in the center stack – a great feature and useful on a long trip. Unfortunately, my phone only charges about 10 minutes before an error indicates a “charging malfunction” suggesting the phone was misaligned. This message is consistent during our week with the car. I stubbornly refuse to plug in the damn iPhone, despite two ports, USB-A and USB-C, located in the same area.

While the Sync 4A is good for a first pass, there could be more oddball features that surprise and delight. The Mach-E doesn’t need to put on a light show or fart like a Tesla – that would just be derivative. But, it’s a computer, and opportunity is only met halfway. The designers and engineers could take more chances and have more fun. Or, the execs could let the team run with a few crazy ideas. Crazy concepts must exist in notepads and minds.  Jim Farley is, after all, a cousin of legendary comic genius Chris Farley. If the team could channel a bit of that panache… imagine! Yes, the synthetic engine noise has been well received but this feature takes itself very seriously! And it won’t make my kids laugh, or surprise guests. OK, spitballing here, how about including an option to play the sound of galloping “mustang” hooves that match the speed of the car during acceleration. Too much? Terrible? Probably. So, I leave it to you Ford, surprise and delight.

Listen, like many of us, I have trust issues with manufacturer navigation software so I rely on a patchwork of third-party apps: Google Maps, Waze, and various EV charging providers. In the Mach-E, this is a misstep but an understandable one. The Sync 4A map is good. The search feature is excellent and the integration into the overall system is functional. I’d like to know where Ford sources the map data – this might bolster confidence for myself and others. (NOTE: the system will not allow both vehicle navigation and CarPlay navigation simultaneously. Choosing “confirm route” on one system will cancel the route in the other.) But, and this is a but that Sir Mix-a-Lot would appreciate, the navigation isn’t perfect. 

  1. Charging locations are buried too deep, grouped with restaurants and accommodations. This is a mistake. “Nearest charging station” should be up front, always visible as options on the map (see Tesla). This proves to be an annoyance throughout the trip.
  2. After searching within the map (mostly for charging locations) you cannot “pinch to zoom” to look at specific results within the map.  Basic handheld device functionality is missing here, surprising for a 15.5” screen.  Interestingly, the map and search features within the FordPass app are much better and I often used this app for the initial search. (More on the FordPass app later.) 

These are minor annoyances, not dealbreakers, and Ford is continually updating the system. (NOTE: Between our road trip and publishing Ford added a “view chargers” button to the front page of the app.)

Besides navigation, the system offers convenient customization. Frequently used “app buttons” auto-populate on the main page. The climate control takes a hot minute to learn – but we’re a long past the days of three simple knobs for fan speed, temperature, and floor/vent/defrost. The “E-heat” icon is sure to confuse everyone, Ford should go ahead and lose that. (Note: The Mach-E doesn’t use a heat pump but Darren Palmer, Ford’s GM of Battery EVs told me they’re working on a “high-efficiency vapor injection heat pump”. So… it seems like they’re waiting to incorporate the newest, best technology. For now, that could be a dealbreaker for customers in colder climates.) “Driver assistance” options are thankfully easy to find, where traction control can be turned off (stability control is always on). The system also has three driving modes – these made me crazy. Let’s talk about that.

The Driving Modes?

Yes, the Mach-E is a helluva fun ride. But when saddled up, this pony only travels in one of three “modes”:  “Engage”, “Whisper”, or “Unbridled” (basically normal, mellow, or aggressive). I’m not a fan. I can’t be sure what they do so I don’t feel in control of the driving experience. The “mode” descriptions veer into “yoga babble”, a term coined by NYU marketing professor Scott Galloway to describe corporate mission statements that replace specificity with lofty rhetoric. “Whisper: Seamless, calm, and quiet” doesn’t say much but “Unbridled: Exhilarating drive, machine, and road align as one” somehow uses more words to say even less. This misstep is compounded by the expanse of the blank screen under the text! It seems Ford is trying to describe a desired “vibe” or “emotion” for the driver. Umm, no, just, please… no. Just tell me what the modes do to the car and be clear so I can make a decision and move on. Despite their electric powertrains, EVs are still mechanical instruments and precision is king when expressing vehicle setup.  

There is a time and place to employ wordsmithing to express intangible emotional quality but too often this tactic dances around certainty and sidesteps decisiveness. I like certainty and decisiveness in my cars.  Don’t misunderstand, driving modes can be very useful but only if you know what they do. In the Mach-E, the descriptions don’t explain what the driving modes do. Drivers can find a bit more info with a deep dive into the digital user manual. Here, they’ll find longer descriptions (more words!) and may be able to decipher what specific characteristics the modes adjust. But this is inadequate.

Don’t present a problem without a solution! 

  1. Ford could take a cue from Tesla and offer individual driving characteristics as separate choices:  Steering resistance, throttle responsiveness, lift-off regen, along with one-pedal driving and all the rest. (In the future, suspension stiffness would be an appreciated addition.) Then the driver can create a personal setup to save in their driver profile. (Their own, personal “mode”.) 
  2. 2) Ford could still offer their three driving modes, Engage, Whisper, and Unbridged, as options for customers that don’t want to build a custom profile using specific characteristics. I also suggest adding “conservation mode” dedicated to maximizing regen and reducing power usage for those special occasions when all you care about is squeezing out every last mile per kWh. It happens.

The Storage

Similar to exterior dimensions, interior storage (~ 30 cu.ft. behind rear seats, ~60” cu.ft. when seats folded flat, and ~5 cu.ft. in the frunk – all rounded up) is less than a carry-on bag shy of the Tesla Model Y and Volkswagen ID.4, although the later “people’s car” doesn’t have storage up front. The Mach-E has additional storage under the rear floor, convenient for the charging equipment or keeping items out of sight but it should be said the Model-Y has more under-floor storage. The rear footwell is flat and perfect for a row of grocery bags full of snacks. For us, there are enough cubic inches for a week’s road trip into the mountains. The rear soaks up the XL duffel, climbing and camping gear, (plus extras) and it all fits under the rear shade. The shade rises up with the rear hatch so it’s out the way while loading. A nice touch, but not quite “Built Ford Tough” – high speeds and low windows blow the shade off of its holders every time. However, the shade is removable and conveniently folds up, a feature I should have used. (Yeah, yeah, I know open windows are a gut punch to efficiency but it’s a road trip and this is about Dark Side of the Moon and Colorado mountain air, not the drag coefficient.) 

A couple of 12 packs of LeCroix are stored in the frunk and whew, not only is it not insulated (if this is still a question) but the cans get hot, hot, hot. Not so sure about ice, but the drain hole is nice. The dividers are still in place (no one is climbing in the frunk on this trip!), an inconvenient compliance detail that’s easy to remove. The only criticism is the vestigial “hood release” mechanism located under the steering wheel and requiring two pulls. Accessing the frunk is like stepping into the past to access an engine. An annoyance compounded by a double whammy: both the app and the key fob lack a frunk button. Maybe the former will get a button via a software update.

NOTE: In a moment of duress I checked out the trunk to ensure I could sleep there with the seats folded down (the kid gets the front). Sure enough, my 5’ 10” frame could just barely stretch out and catch some z’s if needed. Luckily, it didn’t come to that.

The FordPass App

At the time of writing the Ford Pass app has 4.6 stars on the App Store. That’s about right. For me, it’s solid and functional. The car controls and “phone as a key” (PAAK) work fine. But it’s not perfect (Though it’s much better than the “myChevrolet” app). Annoyingly, to use PAAK, you must set location permissions to “always”. PAAK does not work if you close the app, yet, Ford still wants to track you. Not cool Ford. Not cool at all. Moving on, to their credit, the Ford team knows the app needs constant improvement. And with Jim Farley betting big on electrification, they’re ante-ing up on the updates. 

While app functionality is a convenience for ICE vehicles it’s nearly essential for EV charging. Yet it seems the FordPass app is serving both ICE and EV vehicles and this tension could be a drag on customer experience. There are oddities like a “fuel” button next to the “charger” button. As well as a “find a dealer” button on the front page (it’s TWICE as big as “view chargers”) and a “dealers” button on the map page. (They already bought the car, you don’t need to get them into a dealership). Also, one of the best features of EVs is nearly zero maintenance, limiting dealer visits to… nearly zero. The dealership experience remains one of the most disliked aspects of automotive purchasing and ownership. EV customers don’t want dealership reminders unless there’s a DC fast charger there. Perhaps the “fuel” and “dealer” buttons can be removed to optimize the app when used for EVs.

For EV customers, Ford’s biggest challenge isn’t a slick interface or superior functionality. It’s customer awareness and adoption of the ambitious and extensive FordPass charging network. Despite the marketing might by the Blue Oval, convincing EV customers to incorporate the app into their world remains tricky. My story is a case in point.  With an EV in the stable, I use an array of charging and map apps: EVGo, Charge Point, Electrify America, and PlugShare combined with Google Maps, Waze, and Apple Maps. Annoying but effective. So, like many, I plan the trip using a system I know. I assume the “manufacturer” app is… suboptimal. And, other than the aforementioned automotive functionality, I give FordPass… a pass. This is unfortunate. It’s not until a nightmare charging experience in Aspen (more on that later) and a call with the Ford team that I learn the most important feature in FordPass – the Charging Network.

Here’s the deal (literally), the FordPass Charging Network aggregates data from the biggest standalone charging providers (Electrify America, ChargePoint, EVGO, etc…) and seamlessly combines this info to create the biggest single charging network in the country. This means I can use the network to find available chargers (filtering for desired options like level 2 or DC Fast, etc.) and I can use the FordPass app to pay and start charging (instead of the charging unit). This does, in fact, mitigate a big EV pain point. The next day I adjust the filters, then use the FordPass app to find a (ChargePoint) DC Fast charger on the route, and activate it when I arrive. No more third-party charging apps. One app to rule them all, and it actually works! I use this system for the rest of the trip.  For me, it works great. Seriously.

Listen, the FordPass Charging Network still doesn’t have all the chargers. To see everything, PlugShare is your huckleberry. But Ford says they’re continuing to add more providers to the network. FordPass could be a game changer. Could. Now, Ford just needs to spread the word.

The Battery (for the nerds)

Let’s talk about the battery. The Mach-E has a 98.7 kWh battery.  That’s big. Bigger than the biggest battery available the Tesla Model Y. But Ford adjusted how they’re communicating the size, now saying the same battery has 88 kWh “available”. That’s 11% of the battery that seems to be “unavailable”. Honestly, I’m unsure exactly what this means or how to compare it to contemporaries. Info is tough to find. And this makes it tricky to build a point-of-view on the Mach-E battery performance. But, do customers care? Most people don’t even know the volume of their fuel tank.

So, because the charging curve drops like a rock at 80%, if you’re on the road, you’re disincentivized to charge beyond that – not worth the time. If the math works, this means you’re only using 70.4kWh of the battery, or 71% of the TOTAL battery size. More math. If the 98.7 kWh battery in the Mach-E weighs about 1,500 lbs. (300 pounds heavier than Tesla’s smaller Model Y battery) this means you’re hauling around 435 lbs. that you’re almost never using.  Literally, dead weight. And if the Mach-E weighed in at 4,365 lbs, as opposed to 4,800 lbs., the revised power-to-weight ratio would approach 12 lbs/ hp and a very different driving experience. And it’s already very, very good.

(NOTE: Battery weight info is hard to find so the data could be off.)

An analysis by Green Car Reports suggests Ford may be leaving this some kWh (11%) on the table to soak up battery degradation over time (all batteries slowly lose charge capacity, like a gas tank slowly getting smaller!) ensuring the Mach-E’s battery maintains it’s original advertised charge capacity for “six, eight, or possibly even 10 years.”  However, when Ford has more data on battery performance (years of data!) the numbers may suggest the batteries are performing better than expected. Then Ford may unlock part of that 11% to offer new customers a larger capacity battery without new hardware. Getting crazy here, the increased capacity could also be provided to existing customers through an OTA update. Just a bit speculative for now but oh so interesting.

(NOTE:  When Ford, or other manufacturers, do OTA updates information flows both ways. If you opt-in, they collect information on your EV performance. This is a VERY good thing. This keeps the technology moving forward).

The Highway Charging

Our highway route runs from Venice, CA to just beyond Grand Junction, CO. It’s entirely Electrify America stations, except a single level 2 charger at a hotel (it didn’t work). There are more than enough EA stations along the route and the longest distance between stations is about 110 miles. The 88 kWh (available) battery in the Mach-E gets 270 miles at 100%, but we never charge much more than 80%. This is a result of a charging curve that goes full kamikaze after 80%, only adding around 1 mile every 5 minutes (that’s slow!) and a dearth of overnight charging infrastructure at hotels. (Corporate partnership opportunity?) 

At 80%, the Mach-E estimates around b miles of range, on average. (Range estimates vary from mid 170s to mid 190s because yes, I’m driving like an a-hole. Don’t judge.) If my math is correct this is about 2.63 miles per kWh. Some people like that stat, for me it’s not important. We’re driving fast, going uphill, using the AC, and blasting music. And it’s a press car. I assume estimates are on the low side. EA jumps are typically ~90 miles or less and with 185 miles in the “tank” there’s no range anxiety here. I feel good, free to focus on other things. This makes for a good road trip. Playlist? Food? Hotels? 

The first section is Venice to Barstow via Palmdale. This avoids an ever-present blood-red ribbon representing the 15 just north of San Bernardino. We pull into Barstow at 38%. The data says we can make it to the next EA station in Baker but I don’t want to risk it. This exemplifies the entire highway leg. EA stations are about 80-90 miles apart (EA says 70 but like most things out west, this section is more stretched out) and range estimates around 185 miles, to leapfrog or not to leapfrog, this is the question.

Road trip charging strategy is kinda like F1 tire strategy. Do you go for a two-stopper and absorb more downtime or do you attempt to finish (each leg) in one stop, riskier but potentially faster?

Normally, I don’t mind pushing the fuel gauge deep into the red. But it’s not the same in an EV. Ford’s Darren Palmer said the car can run into single digits without concern. And reviews indicate Ford underestimates the range. But still… we’re climbing nearly 5000 feet before turning off the highway and elevation gain is a range eater (Is there a Naismith’s Rule for EVs?) We’re also on a tight schedule with a limited window to climb the mountains. We can’t afford to get stranded. How would that even work? We decide on two-stoppers.

So here we are, hopping from EA station to EA station, to hotel. Rinse and repeat. The chargers are typically in a Walmart or Sam’s Club parking lot, or a gas station/convenience store. Serviceable. A notable exception is the EA facility at the impossibly cute Green River Coffee Co. in the eponymous town. An unexpected pleasure. Typically, we’re pulling in with 20-30% charge. Charge times are consistently 30-40 minutes. I’m not really counting minutes in either direction. The system works and it’s consistent. That’s what I care about. Remarkably, the “plug and charge” feature works perfectly almost every time. (Honestly, I had low expectations.) This means you pull in, plug in, and the car charges. No app, no payments, no worries. The “handshake”, or time for the charger to communicate with the car prior to charging, seems to vary between 10 seconds and over a minute. This is largely based on the charger. I know others have had charging issues, specifically with the plug and charge feature, but this isn’t my experience. The EA “plug and charge” is very good. Is it perfect? No. A 38 kWh charge rate forces us to swap charge stations once (but only once!) and at the final EA charging stop, the car won’t accept a charge. Instead of electricity, we get 30 minutes of error messages. The cause of the error messages is frustratingly unclear. After a day burning through Utah with average speeds over 90 and ambient temps over 100, I worry the battery is too hot and must cool before charging. Later, Ford tells me this likely isn’t the case – but either way, after 30 minutes the car mysteriously starts charging. No idea why. 

We’re the only car at the EA facilities except on two occasions. At a North Las Vegas Walmart there’s not one, but TWO other Mach-Es. (Vegas, Baby!) Interestingly, when we pull up one owner tells me the charger didn’t work for him but I plug in and bam(!) it starts charging, right to 159 kWh. (Charging voodoo works both ways!) Both owners love their Mach-Es, almost in that Tesla acolyte kinda way. One guy actually swapped from a Tesla into a Mach-E. And he’s using the frunk as a cooler – who knows, maybe that’s why he swapped! He dumps several bags of ice into the frunk, with drinks, and couldn’t be happier. I’m not sure so sure. The LeCroixs in our (uninsulated!) frunk are like drinking from a volcanic hot spring. In 15 minutes that Mach-E will be leaking from the drain like a Cars character with bladder problems. Despite the overwhelming enthusiasm for the vehicles, both owners complain about the FordPass app: problems with pairing and not-so-great experiences with PAAK. But it’s their only issue. (And they don’t know each other!) Hopefully, Ford’s aforementioned updates ameliorate their woes. At the next stop, we meet a family in the Volkswagen ID.4, on their own road trip. The wife loves the Mach-E, test drove it, and thought it handled better… but “the ID.4 was a better choice” for them. Subtext: price was the decider. With the Mach-E close to a $10k premium for similar range, that’s understandable. Especially when the young kids will reign destruction (and boogers!) upon the interior.

CAUTION: We all must sleep. So, unless you’re camping, trucking, or behind bars, (gotta watch those speed traps!) you’re overnighting in a rented room. And hotel EV charging infrastructure is thin. You can find it, but what must you sacrifice? Outside St. George, Utah there’s a new Best Western with a few chargers, but these don’t work for us. And neither our Hilton property in Colorado Springs nor Denver has chargers. The lesson, if you’re taking to the road in an EV, don’t count on overnight charging. ALL hotels should install, at minimum, multiple Level 2 chargers and educate their employees on the systems. Looking at you Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott, and IGH. Sort. It. Out.

Overall, my experience with highway charging using the Electrify America network and “plug and charge” is very, very good. Not perfect, but nothing is. As long you keep tabs on the EA stations and don’t get caught out between stations, all is good. The same goes for gas stations when you’re driving out west, it’s a thing. Sure, it takes a bit longer to “fill up” compared to gasoline but how often are you going for F1 pit stop speeds (2 seconds!) on a road trip? Unless you departed the Red Ball at zero-dark-thirty and have reservations at the Portofino Hotel you’re probably taking a beat to hit the bathroom, clean the windscreen, and grab a drink. And at that point, in the Mach-E, you’re back at 80%.  

NOTE: Ford included free charging within the FordPass network so charging cost was not considered. I did not run a comparison on cost per mile. I was testing smiles per mile.

The Highway Driving

Superb. Hauling ass on the highway in the Mustang Mach-E is great. This e-pony gallops for long stretches in the high double digits and still passes instantly when provoked. Immediate EV torque, even at highway speeds is gratifying, helpful, and dare I say it, safer. There’s no downshift, pause to build power, or second thoughts, simply make the request and you’re already past. The ride is smooth and predictable on rougher sections of “maintenance deferred” tarmac (even at speed!). The driving is even better when the highway weaves into Utah and Colorado’s canyons. Here, you’re still just shy of triple digits but the beautiful roads have more bite. Weaving through long radius esses, the Mach-E feels stable, planted, and predictable. There’s a hint of body roll but very little relative to the weight. As the canyons tighten, the car gets more fun. But these aren’t mountain twisties. There’s no braking just confident, subtle, and smooth direction change. Even if the handling is a bit short on feedback, it’s still a good ride!

Co-Pilot 360 Assist 2.0 is great. For our road trip, it’s huge. The lane centering and adaptive cruise control system is the third member of our crew, the grabber blue metallic missile seemingly driving itself on hundreds of miles of highway. This is a real help when you need your hands to eat a sandwich or slam some GORP. (No meal breaks!) The Speed Sign Recognition catches me by surprise but I love it – a clever layer of defense against the dreaded reduced limit speed trap. Co-Pilot 360 is a great system but not yet at the level of Tesla’s autopilot. When tested, tighter sections of highway are too much and the system gives up control. You need to pay attention. But… the Mach-E (along with the F-150) is equipped with the latest hardware to enable (via an OTA update) Ford’s new BlueCuise level 2 driver assist system, unlocking autonomous driving similar to GM’s Super Cruise and Tesla’s Autopilot. If only the damn cars could pick up my kids from soccer practice.

The Backroad Charging

The backroad route dives off the highway in Colorado, between Grand Junction and Denver, and climbs into the Rockies toward Aspen, with a detour to Snowmass. Then we continue climbing over Independence Pass, down through Twin Lakes, into Buena Vista, and onto Colorado Springs with another climb up Pikes Peak. If you haven’t been to Colorado that probably doesn’t mean much. So, it’s like 500 miles of backroads climbing and descending thousands of feet. Amazing roads, but is the charging infrastructure sufficient?

Charging the Mach-E on backroads isn’t as smooth as the Electrify America highway system. There are no “plug and charge” or 350 kWh chargers.  And DC fast chargers a few, far between, and of varying wattage (50kWh instead of 150kWh).

In Snowmass, the Mach-E sucks down juice from a 110v outlet and takes a nap alongside an AMG S63 Cabriolet, Audi SQ7, 1965 Porsche 356SC Cabriolet, Defender 90, and an assortment of dirt bikes. Come morning, the stablemates all want to hear from the Mach-E. They’re impressed by this new EV. We don’t mention last night’s lackluster charging. After exactly 10 hours the car adds 25 miles or 2.5 miles per hour. You know, walking speed.  Note to self, don’t get caught out and need to wall charge – deadlines will crumble.

Next stop Aspen. I love this town but… it’s BY FAR the worst charging experience on the trip. Away from the EA network, I’m using PlugShare to sort chargers (haven’t yet pivoted to the FordPass Charging Network). There are nine charging locations and only two are DC Fast. Should be okay… riiiiiight? Ha. No. It’s the middle of a weekday and both DC Fast chargers are occupied by Teslas… looking smug. The Level 2 chargers on the street? Also occupied. No available chargers… in town… at all. 

Now, let’s talk about America’s EV charging infrastructure. There’s not enough of it for future EVs. Aspen is affluent and ahead of the curve. People here own EVs now. But the technology’s getting better and more affordable. Soon most people will own EVs. It will happen fast. Sure, people can charge their vehicles at home, overnight, etc. But most residences don’t have the infrastructure to DC fast change, and they won’t. So, this whole charging SNAFU in Aspen, it’s coming to a town near you in about five years. Unless we double down on electric infrastructure.  Which we won’t. Because we like to learn the hard way.

The experience doesn’t improve when I finally get a spot at a DC Fast Charger. After a few tries, the damn ChargePoint system still won’t give me electricity. And the stainless steel flap covering the charging handle bites my hand. Now I’m bleeding all over, the car’s not charging, and I’m late for lunch at Clarke’s. Expletives flow forth like the crimson fluid covering my hand. The humiliation is amplified by the stream of people looking at, asking about, and photographing the Mach-E. A couple of teenage boys utterly ignore a Ferrari burbling by (license plate: FERRARI), intoxicated by Ford’s latest concoction. But don’t worry, we sort it out. I’ve got a medkit in the climbing bag – hand sorted. And… I delete my entire ChargePoint account and reinstall – Boom, charging sorted. Walking away from the car I get a call from a Ford tech (I called them in the middle of this nightmare) and she tells me the ChargePoint system should be in the FordPass network and if I had used the FordPass app to activate the charger it probably would have fired right up. 

After lunch, the battery’s at 92% (with 208 miles of range) and we point the Mustang’s snarled nose toward Independence Pass and flick the reigns. I love this road. We’re now wide awake after that midday charging nightmare and the drive is all the more beautiful. The road and sky are clear and we’re at 12,095 feet before we know it. We drop down the east side of the Continental Divide to the tiny town of Twin Lakes, home for the next couple of days. No charging here. The innkeeper offers a 110 outlet but I decline. It’s not worth the trouble and we’ve got more than enough range to cover the 44 miles to the next DC Fast charger in Buena Vista, CO. He’s considering installing a level 2 – I’m not the only guest asking about charging. I bet he’s not alone. I bet there are lots of small business owners, B&Bs, motels, etc. that want to install EV chargers.  Someone should help these people.

The Mach-E takes a rest day while my son and I take on Mt. Elbert, the second-highest mountain in the lower 48. During post-climb beers at the Twin Lakes Saloon (for me, not my son, he’s only 12!) I deep dive into the FordPass app and Charging Network. After tweaking the filters, sure enough, the system shows the charger I so thoroughly mismanaged in Aspen. The Ford tech was right on. The system also identifies an in-network DC Fast charger in Buena Vista. Onward. 

The beautiful town of Buena Vista has one ChargePoint DC Fast Charger. Only one. And at 50 kW it’s not that “fast”! Once plugged in I find the charger in the FordPass app, make sure to select the correct unit (there are a few level 2 chargers on site) and then select “Activate”.  Sure enough, after a couple of clicks and hums from the charger, the Mach-E is charging. Easy enough, but not perfect. After a few minutes, the car throws an error code: “Charge station fault. See manual.”  (NOTE:  There’s no mention of “Charge station fault” in the digital or physical manuals!) But despite the error message, the Mach-E continues charging. Glitchy, but I’ll take it. We add about 90 miles in 50 minutes and move on.  No resolution on the error message.

This is a good lesson. On road trips, charging stops with only a single DC fast charger don’t inspire confidence. If there are any technical issues or other EVs you’re stuck for hours at a level 2, charging at 7 kWh, adding only 25 miles each hour. Luckily, this didn’t happen to us, but it sure could have.

The rest of the charging is in Colorado Springs where there are three DC Fast charge locations (still doesn’t seem like very many!) and Denver where there’s plenty of juice. At the ChargePoint locations, activation is smooth with the FordPass app. (Once again!) Lesson learned.

Overall, the charging experience on Colorado’s backroads is good. There are just enough DC fast chargers (almost exclusively ChargePoint) to make the most out of the Mach-E’s typical range of 185 miles at 80% charge. Honestly, with more focused planning that prioritizes accommodations with overnight charging, you could stop much less. But that’s not what this is about. We’re asking if you can simply jump in the Mach-E, go on an adventure, and sort out “fueling” en route. The answer is definitely yes! But like any adventure or any great road, be ready to embrace the twists and turns. If the sole DC Fast charger is down, you might be stuck in a random town charging at 25 miles per hour. But who knows, you might be luckier for it. There’s no adventure without risk.

The Backroad Driving

Independence Pass (Colorado State Highway 82) runs 37 miles, climbing 5000 feet from Aspen before crossing the Continental Divide at 12,095 feet and dropping 3400 feet to Twin Lakes. A beautiful drive with long radius sweeps, lots of medium-speed turns, and a couple of tight switchbacks. It’s fun and just a bit edge-y, occasionally narrowing to just over a car width, squeezed between mountain and cliff. It’s no wonder Red Bull featured Independence Pass in Max Verstappen’s cross country adventure in the beautiful RB7, (check out the link!) the same car in which Sebastian Vettel won the 2011 F1 championship!

The Mach-E is fun as hell – better in the mountains than anticipated considering its mass. While precise, it’s not a precision instrument, it doesn’t “attack the corners” like an F1 car, but the RB7 can’t hold climbing gear in the back, food in the middle, and drinks (On ice!) in the front. Independence Pass is mostly medium and long turns and the car feels exceptionally planted with only a whiff of body roll. (Wait, does that sound kinda weird?) The handling inspires enough confidence along the cliffs to make passengers nervous. The steering is sharp and compliant (I wish I could say the same about so many people), if not eager. It’s definitely not twitchy like other “sporty” EVs. It rotates nicely but as turns tighten and turn-in speeds drop, understeer creeps in. But at over 5000 pounds (including the driver) what do you expect? Maybe I’m just struggling to arrest that momentum. Maybe it’s the… brakes. The braking system is a blend of regenerative braking via the electric motors and mechanical friction brakes, 18-inch vented rotors and 4-piston calipers up front, and 17-inch solid rotors with a single caliper in the rear. (The red Brembos look hot!) So, the first part of brake-pedal travel is only regen with the mechanic brakes kicking in later. For me, the transition to mechanical brakes was unpredictable and grabby. The experience may be specific to this vehicle (Press cars get a workout!) but either way, when I’m hard on the brakes before a tight turn this Mustang feels just a bit unsettled and unpredictable, throwing off the turn. Honestly, it’s a minor quibble. The Mach-E’s not designed exclusively for performance. (Tracking is discouraged!) And overall, it’s a blast to drive.

Pikes Peak Highway climbs just over 19 miles from base to summit, a combination of long, sweeping turns and tight, cliff-edge switchbacks. The higher you climb, the more incredible the view. (After all, this view inspired America the Beautiful.) The mountain’s also a tourist destination and it takes 6 miles of climbing before traffic thins out enough for enthusiastic driving. Luckily, we’re only concerned with the top two-thirds. This is the route of the annual Pike’s Peak International Hillclimb: The Race to the Clouds. Started in 1912, it’s one of America’s oldest races. Climbing 12.42 miles through 156 distinct turns with massive temperature changes is one of the world’s most challenging circuits. And we came to drive it.  We’re here for the road, not the view. But we’re not “racing”, we’re simply seeking gaps between SUVs and passenger vans loaded with view-seekers.

Here, the brakes are still grabby but it’s less unsettling. Maybe I’m used to the feel or maybe I’m better at tossing around the weight. Either way, the brake-turn transitions are smoother and I feel more confident. This is… (ahem) good… because the top third of the mountain is non-stop, hairpin, switchbacks, with copious exposure. (There are some gnarly videos out there of brave PPIHC drivers misjudging corners.) The sheer quantity of slow-speed corners is an opportunity to fully appreciate the pull of this pony upon exit. Enthusiastically load up the go-fast pedal as the road straightens and the Mach-E shoots out. Grabbing a bit of speed is anything but unbridled, it’s linear and controlled. For me, the Mach-E’s acceleration is most exciting with some momentum, rather than from a standstill. If you’re into stoplight-to-stoplight time trials en-route to soccer practice, the Mach-E will beat most kid haulers, but some 5-seat EVs are more violent on blast off. But… to haul people and gear on a road trip through the mountains while enjoying every twist and turn… look no further the Mach-E.

The last couple of miles atop Pikes Peak are closed due to construction at the summit. (PPIHC is also adjusting this year’s finish line!) Interestingly, a thunderstorm descends on the summit while we’re there. But the lightning and hail have little effect on a group of EV owners interested in checking out the Mach-E! Heading down I use “one-pedal drive” mode to gain range. We don’t experience the “One-Pedal Drive Fault” or re-gen related overheating reported elsewhere.

Between Twin Lakes and Pikes Peak are beautiful stretches of unpaved state roads. A perfect place to check out the Mustang-ish 25/75 rear-axle bias. This is where I have the most fun, here on the dirt and rock, where the Mach-E nukes expectations. (And the car is at home?!) A few clicks through “driver assistance” and traction control is “off”. (Stability control is always on. Will off be an option in the GT?) A quick flick along with the skinny pedal consistently induces yaw… and smiles. In a medium-speed series of bends (esses?) the rear swings from one turn (kinda) into the next in a lively but messy maneuver. The chassis doesn’t complain despite the low, 5.7” ground clearance. (About the same as a stock Mustang coupe!) I expect it to bottom out at least once but the gnarly scraping and accompanying wince never arrive. (OK, we weren’t exactly rock crawling, but still…) The car feels solid and Earle McPherson’s tried and true suspension setup carries the weight well. (Original 1949 Ford patent #2,660,449!) The electronics don’t take over or glitch and seem ok with slip they’re likely programmed to mitigate. Listen, an early review found the Mach-E lacking on unpaved roads… this wasn’t my experience. The steed is surprisingly composed with reasonable input, but with a flick of the reins and a whack of the spurs, it swings its ass side-to-side and tosses stones in the air like it just doesn’t care. Love it. LOVE. IT.

Looking in the rearview mirror, the Mach-E is a fantastic driver, mostly because it’s not a one-trick pony. The long highway stretches, twisting mountainside ribbons, lose dirt backroads… it’s all a ton of fun. Ok, maybe two and a half tons of fun. And it’s sophisticated, comfortable, and familiar… with usable interior space.  For this adventure road trip, it’s perfect. Is it a perfect car? No. Lots of room to improve.  Is it perfect for us and for this? Yes.


Ok, I get it, we’re all short on time. So here you go.

Is the Mustang Mach-E 4x First Edition a good adventure road tripper for enthusiasts? Yes. I love it. The exterior looks great. It’s sporty, muscular, and attracts attention (if you’re into that kinda thing). It’s the best-looking EV in its class. All this makes me feel good. The interior is also very, very good. The screen (15.5”!) and accompanying dial, materials, seats, seating position, and glass roof combine to make Mach-E a superb place to spend time and make up for the limited USB outlets and UI that need a bit more work. The vestigial “hood release” is laughable but there’s enough storage in the front and rear for a road trip. Charging is fast and the available range makes the trip easy and relatively drama-free, even though the charging curve limits the car to 80% of battery capacity on road trips (~185 miles of range) and requires us to stop a bit more often. Most importantly, it’s tremendous to drive. On the highway, in the mountains, on the dirt, it’s… So. Much. Fun. I don’t want to give it back. And this is what matters most to me. Like all good things, I’m left wanting more. I’m looking forward to Ford’s next big EV moves and the true potential of this incredible Mustang Mach-E platform. I can’t wait for the GT… and the models after that. How will the technology and lessons from the incredible Mach-E 1400 find their way into production? (How about a “safari” version with a light lift and an offroad body kit? Oh, hell yeah.) Good times are ahead.

But… make no mistake, Ford is the underdog. Their years behind Tesla and Ford’s EV production is a fraction of what Tesla cranks out. Ford has produced maybe 40,000 EVs in-house, Tesla has produced over a million. (Enthusiasts looking for a fight might cite the companies’ size: (on paper) Tesla is over 10x bigger, by market capitalization. But I would never use such a loaded statistic.) No, the rich history and cultural significance of the Blue Oval don’t guarantee victory, even if the company defeated Ferrari at LeMans. To use a final Formula One reference, the Mach-E is in second place but it’s not in the slipstream, it’s in dirty air where following is tough and gaining… even tougher. Now, Jim Farley and his talented EV team need to drive smarter and push harder to continue making up ground. The Mach-E is very, very good, but still, it’s not good enough… not yet. And I don’t know about you, but me, I root for the underdog. Every time. Drive fast and take chances.

The Epilogue

Not only did I love the Mustang Mach-E for an adventure road trip story, now I want to buy one for my family. Seriously.

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9 responses to “Road Trip Review: The 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E from California to Colorado”

  1. William Byrd Avatar
    William Byrd

    Awesome experience! I just (begrudgingly) had to turn my press loaner Mach-E in last week. It’s very much something I would spend my own money on, and I don’t say that about most press loaners.

  2. outback_ute Avatar

    Interesting read, thanks. I laughed at the TL:DR, if you’ve made it that far…

    With the frunk mounted with all the powertrain cooling stuff I dare say even insulating it is probably a waste of time for storing cold stuff (versus a cooler in the trunk, boring as that may be), better to store stuff not affected by heat.

    Have you seen Sandy Munro’s review of the Mach E? I’ve only seen a bit where he was making a big deal of less than elegant/simple cooling circuits, and also a mention that now he is a Tesla shareholder and not as impartial as he used to be.

  3. Idaneck Avatar

    I have to ask. How was the AC in this serious western desert heat? Our Accord with auto climate struggles (it’s 10 years old) but our GX is like an old GM frigidiaire. I hate loud blowers, adds to the fatigue of a long drive in hot temps.

    1. scoutdude Avatar

      One of the big benefits of EVs and Hybrids is the electric AC compressor. The electric power means that compressor can run at the needed rpm instead of being tied to engine rpm. With the ICE driven compressor it needs to be designed to not explode when you rev it to redline but then is expected to be able to cool the car when loafing along at cruising speed.

  4. Sjalabais Avatar

    Interesting comment on the Mach E and charging infrastructure. I never thought about the US 110V electrical system being an issue for overnight charging on granny plugs…my house is at 254-256V, and the difference does work out to be substantial for everyday charging/driving. It’s an obvious thing, but it became clear to me only now. Taking boogers into account upon car purchases makes sense and is an age-old approach for tired parents.

    Here in Norway, charging infrastructure is good and you have at least type 2 charging at most overnight locations. There are still issues though. With two pandemic style summer vacations in a row, in a country with ~60% EVs among new cars, almost everyone has to wait for charging. From Tesla’s network to various other offerings, prepare to take a longer break. Some camping sites have also been reported to have ridiculous pricing; 40$ for 4$ worth of electricity are common. You’re still beating gas, but in a lacklustre way.

    There’s also a few things I disagree with. Ford is never the underdog. They’re literally the first behemoth, and never stopped being one. The fact that they’re late is only and exclusively due to decisions at the product planning level. Every single big car company had the means to take on Tesla right away, but they didn’t. That doesn’t make them underdogs. The Mach E isn’t the first real Tesla match either, I’d look to Polestar for that and say the Hyundai Ioniq 5 is the real Tesla beater with an existing, progressive lineage – also from an industry titan though.

    The issues with rapid charging to 80% are not Mach E specific. That’s just a lithium battery thing and shouldn’t be Ford’s troubles alone. Overall, I’m not very clear on what exactly are the negative points on the Mach E ref. your tl;dr.

    1. Idaneck Avatar

      US homes also have 220-240V circuits, typically for high consumption appliances and often used for installed EV chargers. 110-120v is the normal plug which will only give that trickle to an EV.

    2. scoutdude Avatar

      “Some camping sites have also been reported to have ridiculous pricing; 40$ for 4$ worth of electricity are common.”

      Many of the early adopters of EVs used the campground trick to do road trips. I know a couple of those early adopters and they reported a range of reactions from the camp grounds. There were a few that let people charge for free if they had unsold spaces, others that wanted a full night’s rate and others some where in-between. (In the US it is not uncommon for campgrounds set up for larger trailers and RVs to have a 30a 240v or occasionally 50a 240v outlets for each space) One of the guys who were early Leaf buyers and the Tesla Roadster owner had their charging equipment on a piece of plywood with a cord attached and they carried a number of adapters so they could charge from various RV and dryer outlets.

  5. Sjalabais Avatar

    Yeah, I’ve read about that. There’s a difference between occupying a full RV spot for charging and having outlets and chargers at the parking lot though. I can understand if the campground is near full, occupying a spot has a cost. Chargers at the parking lot though should function by different rules with reasonable prices.

  6. Neight428 Avatar

    I’ve lamented the lack of a four door shooting brake based on the Mustang as it would be my ideal car, I could see the Mach-e filling that void and being a damned fun commuter.

    Re: Big trips out West…I was in Lajitas, Texas one time and there was a dude that bravely took his Model 3 all the way out there. There’s no fast charging infrastructure in Lajitas, because in Lajitas, there’s barely anything at all. Anyway, he left his car plugged in for like 3 days, hope he made it back to the one charger in Marfa or Fort Davis.