“Immature poets imitate;” wrote T.S. Eliot, “mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.”
No one who looks inside a 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E will disagree the design borrows heavily from the Tesla Model 3 and the Tesla Model Y. The Model Y absolutely dominates the midsize electric SUV segment and, like all Teslas, has a devoted following. Winning over Tesla owners and potential future Tesla buyers is the name of the game for Ford and everyone else, and Ford’s strategy is clearly to give them exactly what they want, but nicer. Given the Ford Motor Company is one of the oldest in the world and Tesla the youngest, it’s more than clear Eliot was right in this case.
2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E: The Front Seats
We can start nowhere but the dashboard, the defining feature of both vehicles. Tesla’s extremely minimalist design, a simple horizontal bar with a trim piece and a floating touchscreen, is at the same time clean and simple and cost effective. It provides everything you need and nothing you don’t. The utter lack of character has been controversial, so it’s not surprising Ford designers chose to liven things up on their version.
Look very closely, and you’ll see the one true Mustang design element aside from the steering wheel pony badge and the optional light-up “Mustang” door sill plates: the dashboard topper. Notice how it dips in the middle, behind the screen? It’s a callback to the dual-binnacle design of the Mustang coupe’s dashboard, itself a throwback to the design of the ’60s classic. Aside from that, though, it’s very much influenced by modern Tesla design.
Our Mach-E 4X Premium was fitted with the optional B&O soundbar that adds the first bit of pizazz to the Mach-E’s interior. The cloth draped across the center of the dash and reflected on the door speaker grilles adds texture and a bit of warmth. Assisting it is contrast stitching on the vegan leather wrapping the dash, doors, center console, and seats. Ford also added some brushed metal strips and a carbon-fiber-look plastic trim to help break up the black-on-black motif. Overall, the material choices do a good job of avoiding the typical plasticky, built-to-a-price feel of most moderately priced EVs.
For its own massive screen, Ford’s gone with a portrait layout like the original Tesla Model S. The Mach-E can do this because Ford’s chosen to put another little landscape-oriented instrument screen behind the steering wheel rather than force everything onto one screen as the Model 3 and Model Y do. You get used to looking over to the center of the dash on a Tesla to see how fast you’re going, but it feels more familiar to just glance down like you do in other cars. It also leaves more space for other things.
The big screen runs Ford’s Sync 4A software that blends Tesla elegance with a more traditional interface. We’re especially big fans of Ford’s clever integration of a volume knob right on top of the screen. Little faux fingers on the back of the knob work the touchscreen as if you were drawing circles with your finger. Best of both worlds. The rest of the screen is nicely broken up into big, easy-to-read tiles with a particularly large navigation map that you can make even bigger by shrinking the other tiles.
Although it offers over-the-air update capability, Ford is way behind Tesla on that front. First on the list from Ford: the ability to open the front trunk (frunk) from the smartphone app. Meanwhile, Tesla’s uploading video games and extra performance wirelessly. Ford says it can and will do this, too. Only time will tell.
Controls elsewhere are more on the familiar side and less on the futuristic. The steering wheel utilizes real buttons and rocker switches rather than do-all scroll wheels (Tesla) or touch-sensitive pads (Mercedes). This is a net benefit for the Mustang Mach-E as buttons and switches are easy to use and function as you expect them to every time. There’s even a typical vehicle on/off button, which while familiar, is less cool than the Tesla’s ability to simply be ready to go as soon as you sit down, buckle up, and put your foot on the brake.
In the middle resides another lifted Tesla idea, an integrated charging tray for your phone located directly below the big screen. Ford has unfortunately not improved the design here, but rather gone backwards. Whereas the Teslas can fit two large phones side by side and charge both at the same time, the Mach-E can only fit and charge one while the other rests awkwardly half in the tray and half on the edge. It just needs to be a little wider.
Like the Teslas, you sit up high in the Mach-E with a commanding view of the road. Whereas a Tesla’s hood is invisible from the front seats, the Ford’s is there at the bottom, a concession to its long-hood Mustang design influences. The seats are comfortable and provide some bolstering for aggressive cornering, but not a lot.
2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E: The Rear Passengers
Like most EVs, the Mach-E has a completely flat floor for the rear seats, giving all passengers plenty of foot room. Both have all-glass roofs, but Tesla’s extends reward to the rear-seat headrests, where Ford’s stops a few inches farther forward, lowering the roof height right where you need it the most. The more dramatic falling roofline and rising window line on the Ford also make the rear windows more pinched, making the rear seat feel cozier.
2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E: It’s All About Cargo Space
In the way-back, both have large cargo spaces, but Tesla found a bit more room carving out the sides behind the taillights where Ford didn’t. Up front, both have similarly sized frunks under their hoods, but Ford offers a configurable divider to keep your things from sliding around.
With such similar designs, it’s obvious Ford studied the Model Y extremely closely and replicated and improved on many of Tesla’s groundbreaking ideas. In many cases, Ford seems to have leveraged its years of practice and economies of scale to make the Mach-E’s interior a bit nicer than the Model Y’s at the same price point, and that’s certainly welcome. Tesla still has a few more tricks up its sleeve, but Ford is coming up fast.