(Pocket-lint) - There are few cars more iconic than the Ford Mustang. It's the muscle car, impossible to separate from spinning rear wheels and a roaring V8 - proper poster-on-the-wall stuff, whether you're lusting after something from 60s, or a more recent reincarnation.  

Nothing in that picture fits with the electric car revolution, so it was a surprise that Ford pinned the pony badge on the Mach-E, its first proper electric car.

The debate about whether this is a Mustang - or most definitely not a Mustang - will likely rage until the death of the car. But that's perhaps immaterial: because this is a really interesting electric car, name aside.

Designed to look like a Mustang SUV

There are some elements beyond the badge that have a passing resemblance to the most recent Mustang cars. The bars in the head and taillights, the excessive folds on the bonnet and the muscular rear wheel arches, all of which bring Mustang to mind.

Beyond that, you can almost drop the pretence that this has anything to do with Ford's muscle car and get back to the real world: this is a SUV, riding high with plenty of road presence. We also think it's rather good looking, so the novelty of Ford's Mustang design isn't completely lost.

As it is, the Mach-E roars into the same space as the Jaguar i-Pace, Audi e-tron, Mercedes EQC or more recent BMW iX3. There's tonnes of road presence and an interior that offers plenty of space.

There's a dropping roofline for a fast back - common on electric cars - giving sporty lines but meaning you don't get such an expansive boot as some traditional hatchback SUV styles. The 502 litres is respectable, with the false floor lifting to reveal a decent-size storage space for accessories like charging cables and so forth.

There are two versions of the Mustang Mach-E: a rear-wheel drive (RWD), or all-wheel drive (AWD). The former gets 18-inch wheels, the latter 19-inch. Both options will come in either standard range or extended range, with the extended range models getting a few additional features along with a higher asking price.

The extended range model also gets red brake callipers to continue the sporty theme, as well as the Technology Pack+, adding a full panoramic roof, which is glorious and really adds a sense of spaciousness to the rear of the car.

Ford has gone next-gen with door openings, ditching the door handles and replacing them with a simple button instead. The front doors get a small finger grip to pull the door open, with the rear door popping out a little to let you grab the frame and open it.

It's certainly techy enough to suit the car and adds instant appeal, saving the Mustang Mach-E from feeling like it's been built from parts you'll find elsewhere in Ford's portfolio.

A refreshed interior

A great thing about the Mustang Mach-E is that it doesn't feel or look like other Ford cars, beyond the expected family design alignment. Unlike the Audi e-tron, which is an identikit version of the Audi Q8, the Mach-E feels completely new.

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There are few options at this point in time (in the UK at least). The extended range top-end pick gets a few extras, including a B&O sound system and a few other bits. This helps avoids the debate around "trim" level, with everyone getting essentially the same interior depending on the model you buy. To a certain extent, that's a reflection that this is a high spec model - as is often the way with electric cars.

However, the interior can't quite compete with what you'll get from some of those rival models - but with Mercedes, Audi and Jaguar all being premium marques there is a sense that Ford is pulling a Mustang here, slipping into the game with something that's a little more affordable, while offering all the power those competitors deliver.

At the same time, there's plenty to like about the interior. On the extended range models, the mesh coverings with subtle B&O buttons give a quality finish to the 10-speaker system that makes up a section of the doors and spreads across the dash like a soundbar.

There are sections that look like carbon fibre, red stitching lending a quality distinction to the finish, while all eyes will be drawn to the huge 15.5-inch floating display in the centre. That is very much a focal point of the design, helping to highlight the fact that there's a flat floor through the cabin.

In the rear you'll notice that the middle passenger might actually be able to put their feet in front of their seat, while there's double layers of trays for storage in the front for the driver and passenger, along with a cubby hole hiding under the armrest.

It's a light and airy interior - especially with that glass roof - while visibility is also good around the car.

The seats are comfortable enough, too, but given the relative height of this car they could be a little more supportive to reduce body roll in the corners for those who like to take their bends at speed.

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Overall the quality isn't quite up there with the best in class, but we don't feel that the Mach-E is let down by this. For many, it's an ideal midpoint between practicality and tech-focused modernity.

About the only thing in the interior that doesn't seem to fit is the steering wheel. It just doesn't seem as modern as the rest of the car - and that probably comes from the Mustang badge sitting in the middle.

A Mach-E tech fest

Technology now plays a huge role in modern cars, often top of the list when it comes to customer demands. Electric cars have embraced this, leading the charge in connectivity and consumer-facing features. The Mach-E really is no different - although there's space for refinement here, which could easily come via updates in the future.

We've mentioned that 15.5-inch central display, but the driver also has a 10.2-inch display. It's slightly odd, ditching dials completely for a rectangular display that you can see through the top of the steering wheel.

The centre of this will show messages, navigation instructions and other details; the left shows the charge and range; the right the speed - including speed sign recognition - as well as the drive mode. It's a basic display and our immediate response was that there seemed to be no way to customise it or control the information using the steering wheel controls. But, simplicity sort of wins through and while it is small, it only really handles the essentials.

There's also a separate hazard light button and a plethora of steering wheel controls - for cruise, voice, and basic media controls - but really it's the massive central display is what people will be talking about, taking a leaf out of Tesla's book and piling most of the controls into this screen. 

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The Mach-E is the official debut of Ford Sync 4, but we're not expecting many other cars to have this type of display, so it's unique. The best part is the big physical dial at the bottom for volume control, with a power button in the centre. It's neatly integrated, easy to grab and use both for driver or passenger.

The bottom of the display is dedicated to climate control, popping up huge sliders to adjust things like the fan speed or temperature. There's heated seats and a heated steering wheel, as well as the usual climate control offerings.

Above this you have a line of recent app tiles. These will change as you use the system and provide an easy route back to what you used recently. People are creatures of habit so it's a convenient way to hop from one area to another without returning to the menu.

The big space above this is dedicated to the main function you're using, whether that's navigation, trip details, or even Android Auto or Apple CarPlay - both of which run in this section, meaning it doesn't take over the entire screen like it does in many cars. It's a good compromise, because, again, you can click those shortcuts to get to other functions without having to exit one system - whether the car's own or Android/Apple - in favour of the other.

At the top of the display are the menus, with a selection of functions accessed via the car icon and a different selection via the button top centre. Exactly why these are split, we don't know, but it feels more like a quick-access panel from the centre and the proper settings menu accessed via the car icon.

What's striking is that the colour scheme - a choice of either dark or light - isn't hugely engaging, with monotone mapping for the most part sitting in contrast to the bright visuals you'd get from a smartphone-based system.

All the essentials are covered, however, the Trips option serving you useful information like your average consumption for the current journey and two other trip counters. There's a breakdown of what's been eating power - including exterior environmental conditions, which is fairly unique - and a couple of efficiency scales to show how your speed, acceleration and deceleration are affecting the power consumption.

Ford has got the search for things like EV charging station pretty much nailed, quickly and accurately finding local charging locations, with reasonable navigation to get you there - although we can't help feeling that firing up Google Maps or Waze will give you a slightly more engaging experience.

The voice control system is pretty last-gen though. While it can do useful things like change the radio station on command and find the closest Nando's, it does tend to vanish down a rabbit hole. Once you've found a location, it insists on trying to pursue that command even if you ask for something else. It's just not hugely dynamic compared to experience of Alexa or Google Assistant.

The B&O sound system that you get on the extended range version really sings though, while there's also a wireless charging pad and USB-C and USB-A ports for easy connectivity and phone charging, so you're well covered.

There's also a really good 360 degree camera on the extended range versions that will give you a top-down view so you can accurately get yourself into parking spaces - which is useful on a car of this size.

Mustang Mach-E range, drive and handling

The Mach-E has a 68kWh battery, increasing to 88kWh in the extended range model. Naturally, the latter offers the better range - the clue's in the name - with Ford citing up to 379 miles for the RWD extended range model, and 248 miles for the AWD on the smaller battery.

One thing to note is that the batteries are actually a higher capacity (76.8 and 98.5kWh respectively), as the given figures are for the "usable" capacity, suggesting that some is kept in reserve to ensure long-term battery health.

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Range is always a huge talking point for EVs and can be wildly variable from the official figures. Thanks to the long-term trip computer on the Mach-E we had, we can see that it has averaged 2.5 miles per kWh, which comes out at 220 miles. That's not great for the extended range version, but this will have been through the hands of a number of car reviewers driving it in a range of different styles.

The Mach-E offers three driving modes - Active, Whisper and Untamed (Unbridled in the US) - which basically equate to auto, eco and sport.

During more considered driving, using the car's Whisper mode and with the aircon off, we got that figure up to 4.8 miles per kWh, which would return 422 miles, in excess of Ford's given figure. Granted, this was only a short drive, but an indicator of how much driving style will affect the range.

The practical average range will sit somewhere within those limits. And having driven plenty of electric cars over the past couple of years, there are still winners in range for your money - like the Kia e-Niro - and losers - like the Audi e-tron - and the Mach-E doesn't really break out of this mould.

It will charge at 150kWh, however, so when you find a fast charger you'll be able to get back on the road quickly. That's on par with Tesla's Superchargers.

But back to those driving modes for a moment. The Untamed option feels a little too twitchy - that instant response from the throttle means it is easy to have a nauseating ride unless you just want straight line acceleration. It's also joined by faux growling audio when you put your foot down - another throwback to the Mustang link - but we can't see that this sort of novelty will really sell cars to adults (Jaguar also insists on it in the i Pace, which we also find jarring).

Whisper mode offers better battery economy and the smoother ride overall, and will likely be the mode that people stick to once they've had a play with the Untamed mode to get it out of their system.

The ride isn't hugely refined and you'll feel that when you get on some of the poor stretches of the UK's motorways, where those big wheels will fill the cabin with road noise. The smaller wheels on the standard range might reduce that (as might different tyres), but the suspension is also a little harsh, most likely to try and control this SUV's roll through the corners. You'll feel those bumps and potholes and this is one area where those premium rivals really offer better performance.

We like that Ford gives you options to engage one-pedal driving. While there's no option to change the level of lift-off regeneration on the fly, one-pedal driving will let you drive without touching the brake in most circumstances - something that the Polestar 2 takes to a whole other level.

Verdict

There will be a big debate about whether the Mach-E is a true Mustang or not. As a car, no: it's not as planted as a Mustang, it doesn't drive or handle like a Mustang. You're not going to feel like Steve McQueen in Bullitt, but you might feel like Steve McQueen in the 1997 Puma advert. 

But philosophically, there's something Mustang about the Mach-E. It undercuts some of those big rivals offering similar space and range, but at a lower price, making that performance more accessible. That argument works against the likes of BMW or Audi, but might not work so well against the likes of the Tesla Model Y - which is the car that Ford seems to have in its sights.

Ultimately the Ford Mustang Mach-E is a great car. It looks good, it has a fun interior and it has practical charm. Given the looks and usable range that will suit many wanting a family SUV, we can't help feeling that it's going to be a popular option. However, the top-of-the-range model sits too close in price to those higher-quality rivals, so we suspect the rear-wheel drive models will be the bigger sellers.

Alternatives to consider

Audi e-tron Sportback

Sitting in the same space, Audi has a higher price on the e-tron but delivers more refinement with it. It's not as original as the Mustang - it looks like any other Audi except for the cameras for wing mirrors - but it does struggle to deliver range that will compete with the Mach-E, even if those miles are delivered in a blissfully refined manner.

Tesla Model Y

Although the Model Y is yet to arrive in the UK (2022 is estimated), it is available in the US sitting in a similar space to the Mach-E. The standard range RWD model starts around the same sort of price, with the advantage of its dedicated Supercharger network. Tesla has massive brand value, but some might prefer the Ford's interior over Tesla's minimalist take. 

Writing by Chris Hall. Editing by Mike Lowe.