Electric car purchases have outpaced expectations, even in the US. Looking at the segment you also see a lot of white space on the design front—too many EVs have debuted as near lookalike, pill-shaped forms. There’s a good reason for that, since early EV tech just isn’t that efficient, and every fold in sheet metal increases drag and reduces range. Carmakers have been selling EVs as stand-ins for luxury, with early models signaling virtue-as-luxury with a form that breaks with tradition.
With the arrival of the VW ID.GTI, MINI Countryman E and the Ford Mustang Mach-E Rally, we are now seeing an echo—electric cars that look like gas-powered ones. It’s smart. “Petrolheads” are not going to change to a different propulsion system if you don’t give them an iconography they recognize, especially one that shouts fun-to-drive attributes and ties back to the cars they love.
You’ll notice those historical nods more clearly on the ID.GTI. Volkswagen’s design head, Andreas Mindt, first penned a concept that debuted this past spring, called ID. 2all—but already knew both that car and the GTI were set for production. With the ID.GTI, Mindt took the remit of 48 years and eight GTI generations and made sure to work within what was once a pioneering “hot hatch” segment. Details like a red grille surround (found on the Mk1 GTI), a honeycomb grid below the bumper, a boxy blacked-out spoiler over the hatch window and red-accented squoval tail lamps all revisit generations of prior GTIs. VW teased two types of wheels, a tribute to the Pirelli rim from the Mk1 Golf GTI and another to the Denver design from the Mk5.
Interior renders are a little show-car fanciful, but not extremely so, and we could well see some of this tech when the car goes on sale in 2026. For instance, designers say you could call up the analogue instrumentation of a Mk2 GTI when activating “vintage mode,” which works in conjunction with the drivetrain to simulate steering feel, engine sound and shift points in the style of prior gas-powered GTI models. Since this will be a front-wheel-drive electric car, at least some of that simulation seems theoretically feasible. Volkswagen says that the car will sport plaid seats—a GTI tradition—and with a wink the fabric is called Jack-e (E, as in “electric”) as opposed to the name first used for this pattern on the Mk6, which was called Jacky.
Volkswagen says they’re “studying” the car for the US market. The design looks winning to us, especially since it scales back on the size bloat of too many cars for this country, shrinking by six inches from the current gas Mk8 but within an inch of that hatch’s wheelbase—and with better packaging that seems at least as roomy as that model. We’d love to see it Stateside.
The MINI Countryman E, by contrast, grows over the current car by five inches. This was probably inevitable; MINI does a fine business staying relatively small, but their older buyer base overlaps a lot with the likes of Subaru and Volvo, both of which offer bigger vehicles that add practicality.
MINI-style is what people want—and that’s a hit of cheekiness stirred into the mix. You see that in the Countryman E’s Union Jack taillamps, but also in the redesigned trapezoidal headlamps. True traditionalists will squawk, and that’s why MINI will retain circular beacons on the new electric Cooper, but the Countryman E is walking a finer line, which is why it’s more interesting. Its bulky shoulders and floating roof both pass the DNA helix directly from the Cooper, but there’s more weight to the roof, announcing that can-do-ness that those kayak-and-bike-hauling rival brands showcase.
This is still a MINI, right down to the M-I-N-I winged logo strutting prominently forward from the hood, and inside the artistry includes a great deal of welcome freshening and streamlining. MINIs have been almost VW New Beetle cutesy, and it’s nice to see the clutter stripped away. For instance, a prominent and gorgeous round instrument screen splits the passenger cell—à la Tesla’s clunky tablet but here executed with joy and intention, not brutalist penny pinching. MINI also ditched BMW-derived plastic paneling for woven, recycled polyester fabrics that deepen the chic factor of the brand. We should add that MINI hasn’t said whether they’re bringing both the FWD and AWD cars to the US, on-sale timing, or set a price. Still, from a design perspective, the Countryman E is a sharp turn for the brand but still a conservative one.
You could say that for Ford’s Mach-E Rally too—minus the sharp turn. If you’re a cynic, the slightly lifted, significantly clad WRX-wannabee electric doesn’t go far enough, and Ford would likely state that they didn’t they want it to.
During an online briefing Ford spokespeople said they benchmarked the look of Subaru’s WRX and cues from their own Focus RS. That yielded pronounced side sills, a very large rear wing, about an inch of lift, body cladding around the fenders, a reworked front grille and white, rally-style rims. The rally-inspired color palette includes Grabber Blue, Shadow Black, Eruption Green and Grabber Yellow. With its white wheels and black hood stripes, the Mach-E Rally looks great in the optional white or gray, too.
Since this car is already slated for production Ford shared that it will be spec’d with AWD, 480 horsepower and torque increasing to 650 lb. ft. from the Mach-E’s 634, and it will get a unique rally mode for driving off-pavement. Engineers worked to make constant power delivery more sustainable, and they reengineered the suspension for both on- and off-road, added Brembo brakes up front and its revised nose is cut to make the Mach-E Rally better at tackling steeper approach angles. Ford added protection to the undercarriage, too.
Fans of car design as an ethos like to see progression, not unrecognizable radicalization. They want riffs on known quantities and canvases on which to mod and personalize on their own. Up until now, only the ID. Buzz could be called such a template, and adding an ID.GTI shows a tangible direction for VW, just as the Countryman E does so for MINI. Ford calling up the Focus RS may just be a napkin sketch of where they go next, but it’s better to see that effort than not. This shows carmakers realizing they have to sing new tunes some of the time—and also play a bunch of covers as they look to expand the EV landscape.