The auto market is an interesting place. There is a tremendous amount of variation. There are hundreds of models, and while there are certain ones that are more popular than others, millions of buyers decide each year to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a model that millions of others hate — mostly because of style, identity, and culture. Naturally, if someone spends $20,000–100,000 on a product, they spend some time determining if it’s really the one they want rather than hundreds of others, and what is often under-appreciated is that the wide variation on the market is due to preferences for little differences. And sometimes those little differences are “make or break” matters for consumers, let alone the big differences in classes and features that also exist on the market.
The good news for those of us who care about cutting pollution and stopping climate catastrophe is that we now have a handful of good/great electric options in the tremendously popular crossover/small SUV category — such as the Ford Mustang Mach-E, Tesla Model Y, and Volkswagen ID.4.
Having driven the Mustang Mach-E for a few days and the Model Y for a bit as well, I wanted to explain further why someone might want to buy each of them. Since the ID.4 just hit the market and has its own advantages, I’m roping it into the discussion as well.
First of all, even if pollution wasn’t a thing and the climate was as stable as the Rock of Gibraltar, I’d have a hard time understanding why anyone would buy a gasoline- or diesel-powered crossover or SUV over an electric one. Powerful electric motors, a low center of gravity from large batteries, a much smoother driving experience, the convenience of home charging, and much lower operating costs all make electric crossovers and SUVs so much better in my opinion that I’m inclined to say it’s even an objective fact. So, you might say, why isn’t everyone buying electric? Well, people are uncomfortable with change. I think that is by far the biggest factor on the consumer side. (On the automaker side, there isn’t nearly enough battery supply.) New technology is often scary to us. We feel like it must not be ready yet, that we won’t know how to use it, or that it’s just not better in general and will always be a niche option. It takes time for people to learn about new tech, consider it, and jump in. Not to say that there aren’t some corner cases where going electric doesn’t quite work for a buyer, but I think that’s much more rare in reality than is often assumed.
Now let’s get to the fun. Why would someone buy a Ford Mustang Mach-E, Tesla Model Y, or Volkswagen ID.4? Before getting into the differentiators, the good news across the board is that they all have plenty of range for normal use, and charging networks are good enough across the board that charging needs should be satisfied rather easily. Generally speaking, tech is also at a level that is plenty satisfactory for most buyers — but I’ll come back to that topic. Additionally, these are not giant vehicles, but they are large enough for normal consumer needs and desires.
Ford Mustang Mach-E
First and foremost, a person may want to buy the Ford Mustang Mach-E for its style and cultural heritage. It is truly a fun, cool-looking vehicle by many people’s standards, and the one we had for a week definitely drew a lot more attention, pointing, smiles, and questions than our Tesla does these days. (Teslas are just extremely common in this area.) There was enormous amount of attention put into every inch of the Mustang Mach-E, especially since Ford was bringing its iconic Mustang name to both a new vehicle class (crossover) and new powertrain (well, EVs have been around for more than a century, but you know what I mean). That attention to detail and commitment to continuing the sporty, fun, carefree design history of the Mustang comes through and I think is broadly noticed to some degree or another.
Inside, the vehicle is very comfortable and again carries a fun, sporty, yet “common man” appeal. Spatial organization and console design is superb, the seats are firm yet comfy. There’s nothing really lacking if it’s the style for you. The blue stitching on the seats on the model we tested was also extremely popular — a little thing that just stands out for some reason and increases the “love level” a notch or two (or perhaps I should say stitch or too).
For a crossover/SUV, the driving is also extremely sporty and fun, with surprisingly great handling. And we didn’t just test it on city streets. We took it to the famous Sebring Raceway and had a professional race car driver (and winner) take it through the paces for hours, swapping out who got to sit in the passenger seat with a helmet on. The consensus — from the race car driver, Blake Fuller, three Tesla owners, and a Mustang fanatic with a Mustang tattoo who lives on the track — was that it was a surprisingly great car on the track due to the lower center of gravity plus some truly superb engineering from the Ford team.
The steering is much less firm than in a Tesla, which was not my favorite thing about the vehicle (I like the Tesla style), but many people would surely prefer that. Also, the braking was much more sensitive/stronger than the braking in the Tesla Model Y or even Tesla Model 3, another driving style element that may appeal to certain buyers a significant amount.
The infotainment tech is very clearly following Tesla’s direction, which many people will appreciate. It’s a big appeal for me over any other non-Tesla. But I will come back to that topic in a moment.
The autonomous driving features were quite good, better than I expected. However, I think I need to spend a full article on them, because they had a completely different implementation — coming with both pros and cons — than the ones in a Tesla.
The door-opening system is the best on the market in my opinion, and one of the top things I love about the Mustang Mach-E (as crazy as that may sound). You press a little circle to pop the door open, and then you have a tiny handle to pull the door with your finger. It looks like it’s going to be difficult or clunky, but it’s insanely easy and comfortable. As I said, best on the market.
The Mach-E also had better sound insulation and dampening than a Tesla.
At the end of the day, though, when it comes down to buying the Mach-E versus something else, I think the overriding factor is style and culture. If it pulls you, it’s the vehicle for you (or may be). If it doesn’t, so be it. Personally, I would love one in my garage. However, not quite as much as I prefer a Tesla, so no Mustang Mach-E for me — but a ton of love and respect for the vehicle.
Tesla Model Y
Aside from Tesla’s own style and culture, which may pull many people in, Tesla’s got a handful of features and selling points that stand out from the crowd. A bullet list may be in order. Here are top reasons I bought a Tesla Model 3, and they all apply to the Tesla Model Y:
- Top NHTSA safety score in its class — in all of history.
- Tesla Autopilot/Full Self Driving features that are best in class, continuously get better, and may soon lead to full-scale door-to-door autonomous driving. (I’m hopeful, others are skeptical.)
- Tesla’s Supercharging network, which is unmatched for reliability, expansiveness, ease of use, and charging speed for the Model Y’s class.
- Infotainment — absolutely in a league of its own, thanks to a great in-car theater and gaming system that provides access to Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, and multiple video games.
- Performance. Again, the Mustang Mach-E was great! But the Model Y has even more performance, and it’s obvious.
One thing that surprised me quite a bit as well is that the Model Y had far more storage space than the Mach-E (68 ft³ with back seats down versus 59.7 ft³). As I said, I think the Mach-E has enough for a normal person, but the Model Y has so much more that it’s a clear advantage of the Y that you have to consider. It also has a bit more cargo space than the ID.4 (64.2 ft³).
You can get a bit more range from a Model Y if that’s what you’re into — 326 miles for the Long Range variant compared to 305 miles for the Mustang Mach-E California Route 1 or 250 miles for the ID.4 Pro S.
What about the ID.4? What’s it’s big selling point? The first one has to be its cost. Its MSRP starts much lower than the Model Y’s (more than $10,000 lower*) and much lower than the Mustang Mach-E’s except in the case of the Select trim (which starts just a few thousand dollars higher). It gets an extra $7,500 cost advantage over the Tesla in the US as well due to the fact that buyers can still get the federal ZEV tax credit — as long as they are eligible for that much of a tax credit. (*You can reportedly get a lower-range, lower-cost Model Y “off menu,” but it’s not indicated on the website at the moment, so I’m not including it here.)
The Volkswagen ID.4 also has the benefit of looking like a “normal” SUV — if you’re into that kind of thing. I’m not into that, much preferring the style of the Mustang Mach-E or Model Y, but I understand and respect the appeal. The controls and infotainment screens are also more conventional, which I consider to be a downside but I know others will consider an upside of the model.
But, yeah, the ID.4 is about lower cost when compared to the other models above, and significantly better features and performance for the cost compared to gas-powered vehicles that come to a similar cost of ownership.
Anything I’m missing?
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