Payne: Road trip! Turning heads, chasing chargers up north in Mustang Mach-E

Posted by Talbot Payne on October 2, 2021

Charlevoix — While I waited for my 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E tester to charge at an Electrify America station in a Meijer parking lot in Gaylord, a couple waiting for their Model S to recharge at the adjacent Tesla station asked if they could check out my filly.

“I really like it,” said Raj after I gave him the full tour. “It’s better looking than a Model Y and it really feels solid.”

My encounter captures the promise and limitations of Ford’s first EV.

The comely Mustang gets a lot of interest in a hungry Midwest market that has been dominated by Silicon Valley’s sexy Tesla brand. But it’s a niche market of people willing to spend their road trips hanging out in, um, discount store parking lots for extended periods of time.

Ford v. Tesla. The 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E charges at Electrify America station in Bay City next to Tesla chargers in a Meijer parking lot.

I spent a week with Ford’s first EV up north. Like renting a Mustang convertible on a vacation trip, it’s a refreshingly different experience: high-tech, high-torque, high style. And, like my Tesla Model 3 (in which I’ve made the same trip many times), it demands patience when outside its metro comfort zone.

“Training a wild mustang (horse),” Sunset Magazine once wrote, “can be, to no one’s surprise, an intimidating task.” So can driving an electric Mustang Mach-E on a road trip.

With 197 miles on the Mach E’s battery, I left Oakland County for a vacation cottage in Charlevoix. “Navigate to Charlevoix, Michigan,” I barked at the nav system. I might have heard the navi voice sigh as she plotted my trip. It would be a two-stopper.

I did not have enough juice to go the 255-mile distance —  a distance easily covered in, say, a gas-powered Ford Explorer. I would have to stop first at an Electrify America fast charger at a Bay City Meijer on the way.

With the outside temp at a pleasant 72 degrees, Mach-E and I trotted along with traffic at 80 mph. But speed (and temperature) drinks electrons. Above 75 mph, I start losing 20% of range (that is, for each 10 miles I traveled on the odometer, I took 12 off the battery). I backed off to 70 mph to conserve electrons, swallowing my pride as Explorers blew by my ’Stang at 80 mph. As the outside temp dropped to 50 degrees in the evening (in, ahem, July. What’s this I hear about global warming?), I even suffered range loss at 70 mph.

Detroit News auto critic Henry Payne took the 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E - RWD, 211-mile range battery - up north for a week. Local horses approved of Ford's first EV.

My standard-battery Mach-E tester stickered for $47,235 — a significant 10 grand under the price of a long-range, 326-mile Model Y, which is the only Tesla available right now (standard range model not available). Mach-E wore a striking shade of Rapid Red (I like) which, at $400, is also cheaper than Model Y’s $2,000 red coat option. Factor in the $7,500 federal tax subsidy (no longer available on Teslas), and the $39K is a no-brainer for budget-minded EV buyers (if still significantly more than a comparable gas-powered Ford Bronco Sport).

“I want to arrive at my friends’ house in a Mustang,” smiled the Detroit-raised motorhead.

The brand appeal was not lost on others on my journey. “Is that the new Mustang EV?!” thrilled a middle-aged couple in Charlevoix. “That’s sooo cool.”

Convincing them (and my son) to buy one, however, is the challenge. “Good luck beta-testing EVs for Ford,” they said, walking away. At the local Ford dealer here, customers had put in 11 orders for the new gas-powered Ford Bronco — none for the Mach-E. Bronco Sports are outselling Mach-Es by 6:1.

Owning an EV requires doing a lot of math. After a half-hour at Bay City’s Meijer charger, I stopped at 80% charge. Why 80%, you ask? Because the charging rate drops off sharply after 80% (charging an EV, the analogy goes, is like filling a beer glass — the last bit is slow). Charging to 100% would take another two hours. Gotta’ know these things owning an EV.

Also of note: it costs more to fill your EV (14.5 cents per mile) at EA’s 43-cents-per-kWh rate than your gas car (13 cents per mile) at $3.20-a-gallon gas prices. For now, though, automakers are providing free charges.

Mach-E told me I had 160 miles left, enough to make it to Charlevoix — albeit with 0% of battery left. I needed to charge in Gaylord to bank enough miles to get around in charger-poor Charlevoix. But Mach-E couldn’t find the Electrify America fast charger. I called EA’s 800 number to confirm it was working. Whew! After my Meijer stop (and conversation with Tesla-philes), I arrived in Charlevoix at 1:25 a.m.

Mach-E got a lot of interest from my Charlevoix neighbors. I gave a lot of test-drives.

The SUV’s Mustang styling cues — muscular shoulders, three-bar taillights, brooding headlamps — drew them in. Inside, it’s a Tesla clone with a big 15.5-inch center screen running the show (and a helpful LCD screen behind the steering wheel bearing key data like range and mph). It’s roomy and a hoot to drive (for a ute) with instant electric torque and low center of gravity.

The 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E offers good camera visibility. A fellow filly in Boyne City comes to check it out.

Susie, a 76-year-old granny in tennis shoes who owns an Audi Q5, was smitten. She took an extended test-drive enjoying Mach-E’s single-pedal driving, hands-free drive assist and artificial engine sound in Unbridled mode. We did lots of range-sucking Unbridled mode.

With just 76 miles of range left on Mach-E (I needed 50 to get back to Gaylord’s EA charger to top up for the trip home), I went to charge overnight at Charlevoix’s lone 240-volt charger. It was blocked off by a summer carnival in town. What to do?

Mach E’s nav said a dealership three miles out of town had a 240-volt charger. The Jeep dealer was nice enough to let me use the charger, but it was slow. A just-installed Ford dealer charger across the road (which did not show up in the Mach E’s charger finder) worked best. I plugged in and rode 20 minutes back to our cottage on a bicycle I’d stashed in the Mach E’s hatch.

Maybe EVs should be sold with bicycles.

The lesson: if you want to travel north in your EV, install a charger (cost: about $2,000) in your second home (indeed, that’s what a Model S-owning doctor I met at another Meijer had done in Traverse City). Or keep your EV in Detroit for local commutes, then buy a gas-powered Explorer for trips everywhere else.

To get back and forth from a Ford dealer's charger in Charlevoix while the 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E juiced up overnight, Payne had to bring along a bicycle. Trip on bike? About 40 minutes round trip from Payne's cottage.

2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E

Vehicle type: Battery-powered, rear- and all-wheel-drive, five-passenger SUV

Price: $43,995, including $1,100 destination fee ($47,235 RWD Select with standard battery as tested)

Powerplant: 68-88 kWh lithium-ion battery driving single-or-twin electric motors

Power: 266 horsepower, 317 pound-feet of torque (as tested)

Transmission: Single-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 5.8 seconds (mfr.); top speed, 134 mph

Weight: 4,394 pounds (as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA MPGe 101 combined city/highway; range, 211 miles

Report card

Highs: Gets folks’ attention; useful hatchback for carrying stuff

Lows: Inferior refueling network; pricey compared to gas peers

Overall: 3 stars

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

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