Elon Musk’s approach to running a company is anything but conventional. But whatever you might think of him or his strategies, there’s little doubt of his indelible impact across multiple industries, including aerospace, personal technology, and, yes, automotive.
His vision is a central reason Tesla has come to dominate today’s EV market despite—or perhaps because of—its relative lack of history or legacy. Yet in just 18 years, the electric car manufacturer has gone from producing small-volume baubles like the original Roadster to pumping out hundreds of thousands of mainstream crossovers and sedans like the Model Y and Model 3. Of course, Tesla’s vehicles are only part of the story. The history books are likely to give Musk and his firm just as much credit for getting the general public geeked about EVs—and sending nearly every other company scrambling to build them as a result.
Tesla is certainly a large reason the Ford Mustang Mach-E exists. Originally conceived as a front-drive, Fusion-based electric crossover under former CEO Mark Fields, the Mach-E was reshaped when new CEO Jim Hackett underscored its importance by telling executives the “heart of the company’s on trial here.”
Jim Farley, who succeeded Hackett as CEO but was then Ford’s president of global markets, steered the project in the direction of the Mustang brand, which clicked with designers and engineers. The vehicle added rear-drive and targeted 300 miles of range, and although the final product isn’t a carbon copy of the Model Y, you can tell which vehicle was in Ford’s sights.
Our Model Y and Mach-E test cars are closely aligned in terms of performance, range, and size. Our Model Y Dual Motor Long Range is a 2020 model sourced from our friend Richard Hak at Precision One Design; its novel, disparate front and rear motors make 384 hp and 375 lb-ft of torque combined, and it’s EPA-rated for 316 miles of range (that rises to 326 for 2021). Power is transmitted through a single gear ratio at each end, providing an all-wheel drive. Its base price is just shy of $52,000, but with the $10,000 Autopilot option, paint, and interior options, the final sticker rings in at $63,190.
The 2021 Mustang Mach-E 4x shares the Tesla’s same basic setup—front and rear electric motors, two single-speed automatics, and all-wheel drive. Powertrain output stands at 346 hp and 428 lb-ft, and the EPA states it can travel 270 miles on a single charge. This model starts at $55,800, with a few additional bits elevating our tester’s price to $56,450. Those interested in the Mach-E will be pleased to know it is still eligible for federal tax incentives; Tesla has sold too many vehicles for its offerings to qualify under existing federal regulations (though legislation introduced in February could change that).
In the end, will the Blue Oval’s electric SUV have the goods to take it to Tesla? Or is the Model Y still king of the heap? To find out, we gathered examples of each, drove them back to back, examined the charging experiences, and poked and prodded their interiors.
Although the pair knock noggins in the same segment, they approach their missions differently. The Mach-E’s ride, for example, is more polished and plusher than the Tesla’s. “On smooth streets, the Model Y is a dream, with an excellent ride and amazing performance,” head of editorial Ed Loh said. “On bad pavement, however, its crashing grates, tossing head and belly.” The Ford’s dampers deliver a settled and controlled ride in all situations, quickly dissipating vibrations over even heavily broken pavement. It’s clear which was developed in Michigan, a state well known for its awful tarmac.
The Californian of the duo, the Model Y, shone on our drive route covering the twisty roads overlooking Southern California’s Palos Verdes Peninsula, but so did the Ford. Both keep body roll nicely in check, thanks in part to the underfloor placement of their heavy battery packs. Still, the Mach-E is just a tiny bit more controlled; credit its slightly lower overall height. But the flip side is that the Model Y offers more ground clearance (6.6 inches versus 5.8) and a higher, more commanding driving position.
Although the Ford looks low and lean, and both of these EVs are certainly powerful and sporty, the Model Y is the one that feels quicker in use—and actually is quicker at the test track. The Tesla’s power delivery is more linear and easier to modulate compared to the somewhat overeager Mach-E’s; we sprinted the Model Y to 60 mph in 4.1 seconds, 0.7 second quicker than the Mach-E. That illustrates how easily the lighter Tesla’s 19 percent weight-to-power advantage overcomes the torquier Mach-E’s slimmer 3 percent weight-to-torque edge.
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