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First Drive

Ford Mustang Mach-E Rally (US) review: muddy fun... with limits

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Published: 30 May 2024
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So Ford went and made an electric rally car, did it?

Something like that. Meet the Mustang Mach-E Rally, the latest addition to the electric SUV’s ranks. Let’s say it’s more rally-inspired than an outright rally car.

Ah, not much of an actual race car, then?

It’s not the off-road equivalent of the Jaguar I-Pace eTrophy race car from a few years ago, if that’s what you’re asking. The Mach-E Rally is, at its core, the Mach-E in GT spec. In terms of hardware, it’s fitted with a dual e-motor setup that gives it all-wheel drive and it’s paired with the 91kWh extended range battery. The Mach-E Rally lays down 489hp and 700lb ft of torque, the same as the GT.

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What makes it more than an appearance package is the independent suspension, raised by an inch and with its dampers re-tuned for off-road use. There’s also underbody shielding and software tweaks to the drive modes to accommodate dirt play.

Doesn’t sound like a lot.

No, but the beauty is in its complicity, and all that. Ford’s engineers put the Mach-E Rally through rigorous testing to get it right, and - to their credit - they’ve accomplished something quite unique. The Mach-E also looks the part with rally-inspired accessories like the front shield with integrated LED fog lights, a front splitter that allows better clearance, and white 19-inch wheels shod in Michelin all-season performance rubber.

It also sports a wing that harkens back to the beloved Focus RS, a car that had proper rally sport credentials. There’s also a bunch of graphics to spiff it up along with a handful of interior tweaks, though there’s not much of an interior to really mess with in the Mach-E.

Alright, let’s hear it: how is it in the dirt?

Where to start. The Mach-E Rally is a very fun and capable plaything when it comes to off-road shenanigans, but it’s far from perfect. In fact, you could say it’s pretty good in spite of itself.

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We were given the opportunity to drive the Mach-E Rally at Washington state’s Dirtfish rally school, a 315-acre facility that’s a nest of dirt, gravel and mud courses intertwined with each other. It’s basically a huge playground for rally cars.

In a straight line, the heft and low center of gravity makes the Mach-E Rally feel incredibly planted on gravelly roads, and the tweaked suspension accepts its beatings dutifully, absorbing the bumps while still giving feedback needed for this kind of horseplay. Interestingly, it seems like it takes pounding the heck out of it on rough terrain for the Mach-E to provide proper driver feedback.

Yeah, but did you slide, though?

Absolutely. There’s plenty of weight to transfer here, so it doesn’t take much at all to get the Mach-E Rally to rotate, and the amount of instant power it has to give makes maintaining the drift quite easy. That is, when it lets you.

Beyond the mechanics, it has a RallySport mode that’s better suited for the types of lateral movement expected of the Mach-E. Similar to the Mach-E GT’s “unbridled” mode, it’s very aggressive on throttle response and tuned to keep drivers safe while having fun.

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It’s a bit of a monkey’s paw in that regard, as the safeties are big obstacles to the Mach-E Rally’s true capabilities.

Doesn’t sound very unbridled, then, does it?

Yeah, it's pretty… bridled. Ostensibly, more power is pushed to the rear in this mode and there’s enough slack given by the stability and traction controls to allow the back to kick out, with the front wheels maintaining control as a dirt racer should. But even with the broader than usual threshold, the Rally will intervene sooner than you’d like, cutting the power and causing understeer, often during an aggressive flick.

Performance modes on fun cars can be hit-or-miss. As it is with the Mach-E, they’re there to manage loads of power and make you look like a hero while keeping the shiny side up. Ford wouldn’t let us fully disable the ABS and traction control, but it provided a couple of professionals to show us the Mach-E Rally’s untapped potential.

Professionals?

The very best. None other than WRC driver Adrien Fourmaux and Formula Drift champion Vaughn Gittin Jr, both on hand to offer tips and the mother of all demo laps. With pros at the wheel and the safeties switched off, the Mach-E Rally was (pardon the pun) electric, crackling with energy, drifting sideways and powering out of bends without any hesitation.

Formaux and Gittin Jr even looked like they were having a great time driving it, despite being used to, er, much lighter machinery. We just wished we were able to have as much fun as them (and an ounce of all that talent) when it was our turn in the hot seat.

And that’s the crux of it. For a car like this - where software is as important as the hardware - mere mortals shouldn’t need to disable all the safeties to have fun. It’s a toy, not a race car.

So what’s the takeaway?

We wanted to like the Mach-E Rally more than we did. It’s great that Ford is leaning into its rallying history to give it more of an identity from its fastback Mustang stablemate, but it’s clear that it isn’t prepared to treat the Mach-E as a serious sports car. Instead, Ford has dressed it up in performance cosplay so you can pretend you’re a drift champion waiting to be discovered. It’s not that it isn’t fun… but it could be so much more.

That’s a shame because the Mach-E Rally looks cool with its accessories, and we’d likely take one over the GT for that alone. Particularly if we lived somewhere rural with rough roads.

It’s also worth mentioning how the Rally is tapping into new territory for off-road EVs. The Hummer EV and F-150 Lightning might be overland-worthy but there are few fully-flickable electric EVs to speak of. Maybe - just maybe - the Rally might blaze a trail for stuff like the Rivian R3X

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