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Why the Ford Mustang Mach-E's door handles are so weird

Yes, they're electrically operated, but no, they're not exactly like the door handles found on other electric vehicles.

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Ford Mustang Mach E

Push-button convenience is the name of the game with this SUV.

Nick Miotke/Roadshow

Like some other battery-powered vehicles, the new Mustang Mach-E electric SUV has electrically operated door handles, but Ford engineers have done something a little different than what you find on rival EVs such as the Tesla Model S or Jaguar I-Pace.

On these competing models, the door handles actually pop out from the body as needed. When the vehicle is locked or driving, they retract flush with the outer door surface to deter theft and minimize wind resistance.

Ford has gone its own way, fitting the Mach-E with electronic latches. But there aren't really any handles -- at least not in the traditional sense. When triggered by pressing a round button, the doors motor open about four inches, pushed to this position by a small actuator. A tiny and decidedly vestigial fixed grab handle is fitted to each front door, blending in with the window trim. But at the back, there are no handles at all. Once one of these doors is popped, you open them by pulling on a hidden grip pad in the the hem area where the outer door skin meets the inner door panel.

At first, this arrangement seems like a lot of unnecessary intricacy and cost, but according to Ron Heiser, Ford Mustang Mach-E chief program engineer, that's not really the case. "There is no extra complexity," he told Roadshow at a backgrounder event last week. "And we do really believe it's enhancing the total experience the way that we've executed it."

Ford Mustang Mach E

The vehicle's front and rear doors are electrically operated.

Nick Miotke/Roadshow

There are several reasons why Ford went this route instead of going with traditional, mechanically operated latches. Heiser explained, "First of all, we wanted to free up having to package all of the hardware in the door." This gave the design team an opportunity to really sculpt the Mach-E's body. Additionally, the inclusion of electric latches signals to customers that this battery-powered SUV is a vehicle of the future, one that's not only retro inspired but in line with current trends. "It's just a more modern experience," Heiser said.

Drivers in regions that experience the fullness of all four seasons might be concerned about these electronic door actuators functioning properly in snow and ice. Are the motors strong enough to break through a thick crust of frozen sleet? Heiser maintains this is no problem at all: "[The design] meets all of our requirements," with no durability concerns. (Having said that, we've heard similar refrains from other automakers, only to see online complaints pop up when their door handles freeze.)

Outside, the Mach-E's doors are opened via push buttons, but only the front ones have small grab handles because, as Heiser explained, "Your hand naturally falls there anyhow." Not surprisingly, the Blue Oval says there's also a reason why they left them off the rear doors: "First of all, who gets in the backseat of cars?" asked Heiser. "A lot of kids do, right?" He explained many children, even when operating traditional vehicle doors, pop them open, then reach for the hem area to pull them out the rest of the way. "So, that's why we did that," he said.

The Ford Mustang Mach-E battery-powered SUV is slated to go on sale next year. A wide range of variants will be on the menu, with different powertrain configurations, driving ranges and, of course, price tags.

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